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Tuesday, 30 April 2013

AUSTRALIA, Major Art Exhibition, Royal Academy of Arts, 21 September, 2013-8 December 2013; includes Dorchester's Tom Roberts

This is an exhibition for your diaries. 

It includes this work by Dorchester's own Tom Roberts:

Tom Roberts, Allegro con brio: Bourke Street west,
 c. 1885-86, reworked 1890

More on Tom Roberts

Also, some iconic works by Sidney Nolan and Arthur Boyd:

Sidney Nolan, Ned Kelly, 1946

Arthur Boyd, Paintings in the studio: 'Figure supporting back legs' 
and 'interior with black rabbit', 1973-1974

More works from this unmissable exhibition:

 Charles Meere, Australian Beach Pattern, 1940

Arthur Streeton, 'Fire's On', 1891

Eugene von Guerard, Bush Fire, 1859

Rover Thomas, Cyclone Tracy, 1991

Dorothy Napangardi, Sandhills of Mina Mina, 200

Two Poems on Australian Art

Reflecting, Unreflecting

When I first arrived in Australia

I liked the Ripolin enamels,

The slick metallic sheen,

The shiny lacquer house-paints

Of Nolan's naive Kellys.

I wrote to him

Before he died.

Of course, he couldn't answer.

Now that I'm about to leave

I like the mute matt ochres

Of Queenie and of Rover.

Which the real Australia?

The Avant-Gardes from Britain 



The Port Jackson painter. 

Lycett, Martens, Earle and Glover. 

Dorchester's Tom Roberts. 

Fairweather from Scotland. 

Why go any further? 

They depicted and painted Australia. 

Images forever new and true. 

The Pommy cutting-edge, mate, 

All part of the great tradition. 

Corfu, Islands and Escapism; Hydra

Empress Elisabeth of Austria (Sissi) wanted to escape to Corfu, and had the Achilleion Palace built for her.

Sadly, it didn't work out.

Paul Gauguin escaped from Paris to Tahiti in the South Pacific. His life there ended badly, as did Rimbaud's adventures in Abyssinia. Lord Byron didn't fare much better in Greece. Nor did the Australian writers George Johnston, Charmian Clift and their son Martin Johnston, who lived on Hydra.  In an interview by Hazel de Berg (23 June, 1980), Martin said:

"Life on Hydra was, as I say, better in a material sense, less good in an emotional sense. The foreign community was getting bigger and bigger, and beginning to tear itself apart with internecine squabbles and bitchery and...all sorts of sexual and alcoholic tangles, and generally beginning to be a pretty unhealthy sort of a place in which to live. My parents more and more felt this." (Martin Johnston, Selected Poems and Prose, edited by John Tranter, UQP, 1993.

Hydra - stills from British Pathe film-clip, 1964

The Cairns Regional Gallery explored escapism in the Australian tropics, the Far North, where many Australian artists like Ian Fairweather and Donald Friend escaped from the city, and from their demons, in an exhibition (and excellent catalogue), "Escape artists: Modernists in the Tropics" , Gavin Wilson (1998):

Alan Oldfield, The Voyage, First Day (1992)

How many expatriates settle in the Tropics or on Mediterranean islands like Corfu as acts of escapism?

How many find happiness, peace of mind and contentment, find what they are looking for, in the long term, after the novelty has worn off?

I wonder.

There's not so much lotus-eating these days for the average escapist stranded in self-exile on an island like Corfu.

Corfu would make an interesting case study, and a very exciting art exhibition could be mounted on the subject of "Escape Artists on Corfu".

BBC Radio 4 programme on Escapism (IPlayer)

Random Quotes from here and there:

“Paradise was always over there, a day’s sail away. But it’s a funny thing, escapism. You can go far and wide and you can keep moving on and on through places and years, but you never escape your own life. I, finally, knew where my life belonged. Home.” J. Maarten Troost.

"I will arise and go now....
And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow,
Dropping from the veils of the morning to where the cricket sings"

W.B. Yeats

Cavafy, from The City:

Καινούριους τόπους δεν θα βρεις, δεν θάβρεις άλλες θάλασσες.
Η πόλις θα σε ακολουθεί. Στους δρόμους θα γυρνάς
τους ίδιους. Και στες γειτονιές τες ίδιες θα γερνάς·
και μες στα ίδια σπίτια αυτά θ' ασπρίζεις.
Πάντα στην πόλι αυτή θα φθάνεις. Για τα αλλού -- μη ελπίζεις --
δεν έχει πλοίο για σε, δεν έχει οδό.
Ετσι που τη ζωή σου ρήμαξες εδώ
στην κώχη τούτη την μικρή, σ' όλην την γή την χάλασες.

Lord Tennyson, from The Lotos-Eaters:

They sat them down upon the yellow sand,
Between the sun and moon upon the shore;
And sweet it was to dream of Fatherland,
Of child, and wife, and slave; but evermore
Most weary seem'd the sea, weary the oar,
Weary the wandering fields of barren foam.
Then some one said, "We will return no more";
And all at once they sang, "Our island home
Is far beyond the wave; we will no longer roam."

"A book about escapism"

"We are here, all together, on the same small island, living more or less the same way, and looking- alas!- most definitely A Foreign Group, variations on a theme of escapism".

"What are we doing here under the mad moon watching the promenade pass and repass- the linked girls, the complacent citizens, the gay tourists, the self-conscious artists, the few groups of aristocrats come down from their lofty palaces to mingle with the village people? They all have their places. They belong. Why did we have to protest, burn our bridges, isolate ourselves, strip off our protective colouring as if had been a decontamination suit? Why? Just to sit eternally and eternally around the plastic tablecloth playing verbal pitch and toss, baiting, being baited, being bored, drinking too much wine, becoming too angry or too tired to stop."

"And now, when it is siesta time for any purposeful activity, summer-time, play-time, easy-living time, lotus-eating time, we must be very purposeful indeed".

"The island died long long ago; the antics of all the smart bright people who throng the cafe tables suddenly have the ultimate obscenity of necrophilia."

"It has become an obsession with both of us to try to avoid that tainted arena of the waterfront with its traps of tables and wine flasks, where still the shafts of spite and envy and malice break and splinter, and still under the loops of naked bulbs the dislocated psyches creak and crack..."

Charmian Clift, from Peel Me a Lotus

"Love the subject and love's loss the text.
Grief breaks the heart and yet the grief comes next".

Martin Johnston, from "Grief".

("Martin Johnston, Selected Poems & Prose", ed. John Tranter, UQP, 1993)

Theresa Nicholas's novel, "Suntouched", which begins as an escapist adventure on Corfu, is full of insight as escape becomes a way of life.

"It is the vibrant 1960s, and a young woman, desperate to escape the suffocation of her middle-class English life, flees back to Greece and the arms of her older, married lover, Tasso."

It wasn't just Lawrence Durrell who felt the need to escape from 'Pudding Island'.

Theresa's female protagonist answers the question which is put to her at Brindisi: "Why are you going to Greece?" For a man is only part of the answer:

"To escape an island set in dirty washing up water where you must always say 'sorry' - for an island set in emerald and turquoise, where nobody does anything properly, and never apologises".

 Sinarades, Theresa Nicholas,
 from Corfu Sketches- A Thirty-Year Journey

On Theresa Nicholas

A review of Suntouched

Massive Cliff Fall Near Durdle Door, South West Coast Path, Jurassic Coast

Cliff falls and landslips continue (BBC)

Dorset Echo, Warning

Update, school party ignores warnings

See earlier posting on landslips

Greek Bonds, Cypriot Banks

Kathimerini poses some questions.

Russian 'oligarchs' escape (The Telegraph)

More analysis from EnetEnglish 

Healthcare in Times of Austerity, Greece and Britain

From EnetEnglish, a comparison.

A Basket of Food, Greece in the 1940s (Documentary Film)

Another documentary film of interest

13 June, 2013, Imperial College, London. Details in link above.

An article on Buried Statues (concerning 1941)

Monday, 29 April 2013

Air Pollution (Bang Goes The Theory)

Cycling in cities is not so good for your health as you may have thought

BBC 1 (I-Player)

Verdi's Nabucco

Rehearsal of Va Pensiero

Sorry I'm missing this Royal Opera House production.

Maybe I should respond to this invitation to record my own version of Va Pensiero instead (YouTube)
Watch it, it's fun, sing along to the lyrics. Next stop La Scala.

On second thoughts I'll leave it to Raul and Chris!

The Flying Archaeologist: Stonehenge

A BBC film clip

Poundbury and the Prince, Twentieth Anniversary

Dorset Echo report (on HRH The Prince of Wales' visit and events)

Photo, Dorchester Life

"The uniquely-designed streets, alleyways, courtyards and open spaces now form a community of residents who are proud and passionate about Poundbury" (Dorset Echo, 4 May).

Watercolours of Greece

An article by Nikos Salingaros

N.Salingaros (in Greek) from Principles in Urban Structure

And from The Architectural Review...

Biomethane plant, recognised with award for innovation

Good insulation!

Serbia and Kosovo, A Trade-Off Deal?

From The Economist (Eastern Approaches): a crucial breakthrough after many rounds of negotiations

Greek, French and Spanish Property, Real Estate Market, House Prices

From Hellas Frappe

Is this an accurate assessment of the situation?

Caution advised.

Compare with the situation in Spain (use Google automatic translation).

Update: Ambrose Evans-Pritchard, writing in The Daily Telegraph Business Section on 30 April, 2013, on property price falls in the eurozone, cites Standard and Poor's warning that "Spanish house prices are to fall a further 13pc by the end of next year" and that falls in French house prices were "gaining momentum", with prices likely to fall 5pc this year and a further 5pc in 2014.

His January article

The view from Primeview (France)

"Les conclusions des trois études publiées en 2012 sur l’immobilier français étaient sans appel : tant pour des raisons conjoncturelles que structurelles, les prix baisseront d’au moins 30% par rapport à leur sommet durant les 5 à 10 ans à venir".

West Dorset, West Bay, Broadchurch

The West Dorset landscape, "the glory of the scenery, stealing every scene".

From The Sunday Times Travel Section, 28 April 2013.

Travelling in Evia, Diana Farr Louis (and the food and cooking of the Ionian Islands)

An enjoyable blog posting about Evia on Weekly hubris

And a highly recommended book, Prospero's Kitchen, by Diana Farr Louis and June Marinos

If you like the food, cooking and culture of the Ionian Islands, this is an essential book.

Greece: The 'Omnibus' Bill Is Passed; Civil Servant Numbers

Kathimerini report

The provisos: adherence and implementation

"Επίσης, μέχρι να επανέλθει η τρόικα στην Αθήνα (Ιούνιο), το οικονομικό επιτελείο θα πρέπει να εξασφαλίσει την πιστή τήρηση των όσων έχουν συμφωνηθεί. Εάν αυτό συμβεί, τότε όλα δείχνουν ότι το καλοκαίρι θα είναι σχετικά «ήρεμο»."

"The Finance Ministry should ensure adherence to what has been agreed. If that happens, the signs are that the summer will be relatively 'calm'."

On the fate of 15,000 civil servants (in Greek)

Public Sector jobs in firing line (EnetEnglish)

"The legislation overturned a constitutional guarantee for civil servants of a job for life, allowing for 15000 civil servants to be dismissed by the end of 2014, though many are expected to be replaced by younger employees in key sectors such as health" (EuroIntelligence).

The Independent, on the public sector

Keep Talking Greece

Disbursement of tranche approved (EnetEnglish)

UPDATE May, 2013, on the number of civil servants

In the Footsteps of the Argonauts (Film Documentary)

Information and embedded trailer.

Not sure if the documentary is available yet as a DVD.

The film was premiered in Birmingham in May 2011 and in Oxford in June 2011

The Greek Diaspora on Cavafy (150th Anniversary of Cavafy's Birth); The Year of Cavafy

The Cavafy Forum

Read the contributions.

Update December 2013 (more essays)

Cavafy was born on 29 April, 1863 (New Style; 17 April, 1863, Old Style).

His father, Peter John Cavafy, had British nationality (Certifcate of Naturalisation, August 13, 1850).

The Year of Cavafy (in Greek)

The Year of Cavafy (English article)

The Cavafy Archive

Poetry in Greek and English

I've been re-reading Robert Liddell's 1974 biography of Cavafy. Here's a sample of his description of Cavafy's mother and father, to illustrate his style:

"Their floruit was short but brilliant. We are told that Haricleia was soon recognised as one of the most beautiful women in Alexandria. This is hard to believe from a photograph in which she looks like a ball of black suet. An earlier photograph taken in London (probably about 1851) shows the profile of a charming nose, and the mouth is pretty- she was already inclined to embonpoint, but that would render her no less attractive to eastern eyes. She must have made a striking contrast with her tall, fair husband."

Forms of Cosmopolitanism in Cavafy, Karen Van Dyck

Sunday, 28 April 2013

Dorset Landscape Types and Character; The Drawing Inspiration Project (AONB)

For some years now I have been researching  and working on a book project about "Art and the Dorset Landscape" , so I am naturally interested in these AONB activities.

Useful AONB Map (pdf)

More AONB information on Dorset

Fixed Point Photography

The Drawing Inspiration Project

Information supplied by the Project Co-Ordinator, Crystal Johnson
"Your chance to be part of a project looking at Dorset’s landscape, its inspirational quality and how it has changed over time.

Over the centuries, Dorset’s landscapes have inspired authors, poets, scientists and artists. Their work not only tells us about the physical landscape but also the cultural and social changes that have shaped how we live today.

The Drawing Inspiration project encourages people to look at the landscape from a new perspective. In spring 2014, we will be organising a number of exhibitions, walks, talks and events across the county and we’d love you to be a part of it!"

Ways to get involved

* Put on an exhibition or event

* Organise a talk or a walk

* Help with research

* Help monitor landscape change in the future

To find out more please come along to one of our drop in information sessions:

(Tue 23 April, 10.00 – 12.00 Bridport Town Hall)

(Thu 25 April, 10.00 – 12.00 Lyme Regis, Jubilee Pavilion, Marine Parade)

Tue 30 April, 10.00 – 12.00 Wareham Corn Exchange

Wed 1 May, 10.00 – 12.00 Dorchester Corn Exchange

Tue 7 May, 10.00 – 12.00 Beaminster, Skyrm Room

Wed 8 May, 10.00 – 12.00 Swanage, Mowlem Theatre

If you can’t come along but would like to know more, please contact Crystal Johnson, Drawing Inspiration Project Co-ordinator:


Drawing Inspiration is led by the Dorset AONB Partnership, with funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund as well as Natural England, Defra and Dorset County Council.

It will deliver the Past Arts programme of Wild Purbeck.

More from Crystal

Handel, Giulio Cesare (Julius Caesar in Egypt), Access to Opera and Theatres

New York Times

The Met, watch Natalie Dessay

I was really glad to be able to see the Met Opera live satellite transmission of Giulio Cesare in Dorchester last night, but it's a long opera when you are nursing a swollen and injured foot and ankle in a fibreglass lower limb cast. Chris, the manager at The Plaza, couldn't have been more helpful, letting me into the theatre early to settle down, and allowing me to bring a footstool to keep my leg up. I managed to negotiate the front steps with the help of crutches (I'm still no expert with them). Luckily this production was being screened in the viewing theatre on the ground floor. But I was there from 4.15pm until close to 10pm. It made me think about mobility and access issues  for those who are permanently or seriously disabled.

I won't be able to see Verdi's Nabucco on Monday, because it is being shown in a larger screening theatre two and a half flights up, and there is no way that I can negotiate the stairs. I'm not complaining, that's the nature of the building, which is a huge asset to people from all over Dorset. Cinema tickets are so reasonably-priced that it seems that they must be subsidised.

Some European countries, like Sweden, have exemplary facilities for people who need to use wheelchairs or crutches. Others, like Greece (I'm thinking of Corfu) are almost impossible to negotiate because of the nature of the pavements (where they exist), steps and other hazards.

Having to use crutches for a few months certainly sensitises one to the need for all people to have easy access to public spaces and other places such as theatres, museums, airport departure lounges, trains and underground trains and restaurants (and rest rooms).

Obvious, perhaps. It's easy to forget, even after the Paralympics, how it must feel to be excluded.

Incredibly, the TUC's Action for Rail Disabled Passenger Survey has revealed that one in four disabled rail passengers (especially wheelchair users)  has suffered a hate crime or abuse.

Back to Handel:
I certainly wouldn't have wanted to miss Natalie Dessay's interpretation of this beautiful aria, Se pieta di me no senti, from the end of Act II, but the production and cast didn't hold my attention all the way (probably the cramps). Review "McVicar’s witty staging emphasized the East-West culture clash of the opera by transforming “Rome” into Victorian Britain and “Egypt” into a fantastic medley of Indian and Southeast Asian exotica" (James Jorden). Some other critics thought the production a little too camp. I'm surprised the Egyptian Government didn't lodge a complaint about the stereotypes and depiction of some of the characters, rather as the Iranians protested about the portrayal of King Xerxes in the film "300"!

See also Natalie Dessay, Paris National Opera production.

I regret that I won't be able to see The Royal Opera House production of Verdi's Nabucco. I'll listen to some blues instead. That's alright!

Or how about some Little Richard, singing this well-known Verdi aria.

Greek Minister Nikos Dendias, CNN International

From EnetEnglish

The full Nikos Dendias (Public Order Minister) interview (in English) with Nina Dos Santos on strikes, xenophobia, illegal migrants and the economic crisis

Saturday, 27 April 2013

Reporting from Boston and Bermuda

Nina-Maria reporting from Boston,
Islamic Society of Boston

Alex in Bermuda's Royal Gazette

You Can't Win (Waiting for the Ankle to Heal)


"You should be doing crosswords while listening to music, rather than sitting there looking up at the sky".

"I like to meditate".

"You don't meditate, you vegetate".

Easter in Corfu

I always enjoy the excitement of Easter in Corfu, although I preferred how it was in the old days.

An expat friend, who lives and works in Corfu Town, owns an apartment with a balcony overlooking the central plateia.

Every year on Easter Saturday, his apartment is invaded by casual acquaintances and other uninvited people he doesn't even know - and never sees for the rest of the year. They all traipse up the stairs to enjoy the view, to watch the Easter processions and the traditional ceremony of the throwing of pots.

This year he has let it be known, "I'm going abroad to spend Easter with my mother".

He's had enough of all these people taking over his balcony in order to throw pots and "to watch hairy men in Boy Scout shorts" parading endlessly past his window.

Greek Easter Approaching

Wolfgang Schäuble, Greece, Economic Schlamperei ("Sloppiness"), Impulse Magazine

„Wir haben immer gesagt, wenn die Länder die Ursachen ihrer Probleme – im Fall Griechenlands die finanzpolitische Schlamperei und mangelnde Wettbewerbsfähigkeit – glaubwürdig angehen, dann verschaffen wir ihnen die notwendige Zeit. Das ist die Philosophie der Rettungsprogramme. Das funktioniert“, sagte Schäuble und fügte hinzu: „Hinter Europa steht die Idee, dass wir akzeptieren, dass die anderen anders sind und selbst entscheiden.“  Impulse Magazine.

«Η πολιτική διάσωσης του ευρώ αποδίδει» επισημαίνει ο υπουργός Οικονομικών της Γερμανίας Βόλφγκανγκ Σόιμπλε και αναφέρει ενδεικτικά το παράδειγμα της Ελλάδας, η οποία, όπως λέει, «είχε πέρυσι μικρότερο έλλειμμα από αυτό που αναμενόταν, αύξησε τις εξαγωγές της σε τρίτες χώρες, ενώ η ανεργία μειώνεται».

Σε συνέντευξή του στο περιοδικό «Impulse», ο κ. Σόιμπλε υπεραμύνεται της εφαρμοζόμενης πολιτικής στις χώρες του ευρωπαϊκού Νότου και, ειδικά για την περίπτωση της Ελλάδας, αναφέρει:

«Πάντα λέγαμε ότι αν οι χώρες αντιμετωπίσουν αξιόπιστα τα προβλήματά τους -στην περίπτωση της Ελλάδας την οικονομική 'τσαπατσουλιά' και την έλλειψη ανταγωνιστικότητας- τότε θα τους δοθεί ο απαραίτητος χρόνος. Αυτή είναι η φιλοσοφία των προγραμμάτων διάσωσης. Και λειτουργεί».

Δηλώνει μάλιστα χαρακτηριστικά ότι «πίσω από την Ευρώπη βρίσκεται η ιδέα τού να αποδεχόμαστε ότι οι άλλοι είναι διαφορετικοί και αποφασίζουν οι ίδιοι».

To Vima.

Greece, More Property Tax Issues

Kathimerini article (in Greek)

Update, from EuroIntelligence:

"The Greek Finance Ministry’s plans for the 2014 property tax are some €1bn off the target for €3.2bn in revenues, writes Kathimerini. The new property tax will exempt small properties valued up to 50,000 euros, allowing a tax benefit of €2bn-€2.3bn, which have to be covered by other property categories. To meet the target, one idea is to levy a high tax rate on properties about €300000. Corporate properties may also be taxed, depending on the purpose of their use. Properties utilized by the Church could be taxed at a rate of 0.1-0.%"

Kathimerini article, in Greek

In English

The DNA of the British People

Interesting article, What Makes the British? by Judith Keeling, in Oxford Today, The University Magazine (vol 25, no 2).

It doesn't deal with more recent migrations, but concentrates on the genetic make-up of the earlier peoples of the British Isles, on the Romano-British, Anglo-Saxon and Viking DNA strains and interactions.

Scandinavian Online Art Fair

A great initiative,, see all the artworks here

Here's a still life I like:

Still Life (Talbot Road, London), by Johanna Ekström (also an outstanding poet).

Closes 5 May!

Wednesday, 24 April 2013

Beyond Rembetika, The Music & Dance Of The Region Of Epirus

This is a boxed set of  4 CDs for connoisseurs of  the haunting music of Epirus


"The very first serious box set release devoted to the absolutely amazing and haunting music of Epirus.

Compiled by the Grammy Award winning Chris King from original recordings he has personally collected from the Balkans this is an incredible set of recordings from the Epirus region of Greece".

I have heard a number of the tracks. It really is an amazing set and labour of love. Bravo Chris!

Update, Thursday: Chris King has very kindly sent me an advance copy of the set.

I shall be listening to it with my foot up in the air (I have another 5-6 weeks in a new leg cast before the ankle injury heels). Perfect timing for the curative properties of the klarino.

Damn You, Foreign Lands

Nice to be given a credit!

Brewery Square, Dorchester: Main Square Open

BBC article on Brewery Square

Wagamama opens (Dorset Echo)

Crowds hit the Square

Update (Vivo Lounge)

Corfu and More, Lawrence Durrell and Henry Miller, Radio Programme

The Durrell-Miller Wartime Correspondence

Listen to the radio programme (Australian ABC Radio National) here

Lots about pre-War Corfu. Very evocative production. I really enjoyed it. Great radio. Catch it before it disappears.

"From 1935 to 1980, Lawrence Durrell and Henry Miller sustained one of the most lively and remarkable literary correspondences in modern history. This program dips into those letters. They're raunchy, sexist, insightful and competitive. They also reflect how different these two writers were in their reaction to WWII. One ran away, while the other stayed and found a new depth in his experience of life.

Henry Miller is best known for his notorious, and for a long time banned, Tropic of Cancer. Lawrence Durrell, on the other hand, is remembered for his intriguing Alexandria Quartet which made a splash in literary and bohemian circles in the 1960s and ‘70s. The first and most famous of these four novels, Justine, was depicted in 1986 by Brett Whiteley, who painted his wife, Wendy, sprawled on Bondi Beach in a blue bikini reading the book Justine through dark sunglasses.

A Wartime Correspondence: Lawrence Durrell & Henry Miller is written and narrated by David Green, who spoke with two Durrell specialists, Ian MacNiven and Michael Haag, as well as Durrell’s step daughter, Joanna Hodgkin. Reading the letters are William Zappa (as Henry Miller) and David Tredinnick (as Lawrence Durrell)".

Justine, Trailer (YouTube)

Miller and Durrell (YouTube)

Meet Lawrence Durrell (YouTube)

Previous posting (Durrell and Miller)

Did Gerald Durrell Have the Corfu Blues?

Sometimes I wonder whether Henry Miller really enjoyed Greece as much as it would appear from The Colossus of Marousi. He doesn't seem to have much respect for most Greek women, men or (Corfiote) cats, to judge from these pages from "First Impressions of Greece" (Village Press, London, 1973), which he wrote in 1939 and gave to George Seferis in manuscript form.

Justine (the movie based loosely on the Durrell novel)

Tim Waterstone, on bookshops and Read Petite

An interesting point of view, and a new project

Read Petite, coming soon

UK Computer Systems Project Disasters, Delays and Problems; BBC Digital Media Initiative (DMI); Dorset County Council; Universal Credit; NHS Records System

A familiar problem in the public sector

"A multi-million-pound computer system intended to revolutionise Dorset County Council is still not working, according to staff. At a time when the authority is facing a financial crisis and has to save almost £50million, concerns remain about the new £16 million IT system that was introduced to save the council time and money" (Dorset  Echo).

In my experience, tried and tested off-the-shelf systems work best- and save millions.

Update, 24 May, 2013:  also true of this major BBC digital project

BBC video

BBC Trust 2011 report on the Digital Media Initiative (pdf)

DMI="Don't Mention It"

The Economist

Listen to Alex Budziev on BBC Radio 4 Today programme (IPlayer), Saturday 25 May at 1 hour 17 minutes and 30 seconds mark-

"Alex Budzier from Oxford University's Said Business School, who has carried out the largest academic study of IT projects, talks about why the BBC's Digital Media Initiative could have gone so wrong. The project was scrapped yesterday".

About Alex Budziev, who is is conducting research on how to improve ICT Megaproject performance by improving decision-making of project sponsors under the supervision of Bent Flyvbjerg, the centre director.

Universal Credit system, £40 million write-off

6.29pm GMT

Glenda Jackson is asking questions now.
She asks about the write-offs.
Mike Driver talks about things being impaired.
Jackson says she does not know what that means.
Driver says the DWP has spent £40.1m on code that it will not be using. That has been written off.

Q: How can that happen?

Driver says, when you create a computer system, you have to re-work code. It is normal to have to re-work 30% or 40% of the code.

Jackson says that if 40% of the code is being written off, whoever commissioned this is an idiot.

Duncan Smith says this is how IT projects are managed. Some bits of code do not work as anticipated. They have to get written off.

6.30pm GMT

Labour's Teresa Pearce goes next.

Q: You are writing off £40m. And you are writing down £90m. So doesn't that take the total write off cost to £130m?

Driver says he does not accept that. Because, over the five years that the £90m is being written down, the DWP will be getting use from it.

6.32pm GMT

Q: Will there be a further write off?

No, says Driver.

6.34pm GMT

Q: Have you issued a ministerial direction to the department?

No, says Duncan Smith. Not on this, or on anything else.

(A ministerial direction is a rare Whitehall device, a written order telling civil servants to proceed with a project when they have warned against it.)

6.36pm GMT

Q: What's the difference between "waterfall" IT and "agile" IT.

Shiplee says a "waterfall" project is one where you start with a clear idea of what outcome you want. An "agile" one is one where you learn as you are going along.

Q: And what is this?

Shiplee says the implementation is "agile".

6.37pm GMT

Q: Has the new timetable been subject to a business review?

Shiplee says it is being submitted to the Treasury soon.
Driver says it is before Christmas, or shortly afterwards.

6.43pm GMT

Q: Why has this IT project been different from other DWP ones?

Duncan Smith says at the early stages of the project, this was meant to be an "agile" process.
But, as it got going, Duncan Smith thought it looked like a hybrid - part "agile", part "waterfall".
Lord Freud says other programmes had been narrow, delivering one change.
This project involves delivering different benefits that interact.

6.46pm GMT

Q: Is there a clawback if the software does not do what it is meant to do?

Shiplee says that in this market, firms will not do the work if they are expected to take all the risk.

6.51pm GMT

Nigel Mills goes next.

Q: Are you working with the right IT suppliers?

Shiplee says they are working with suppliers they have worked with before.
It would have been hard to get smaller suppliers, he says.

6.52pm GMT

Duncan Smith says he is not getting rid of any transitional protection for people going on to UC.

6.53pm GMT

Q: What are the cost implications for the implementation taking longer than expected?

Driver says this will be covered in the business case being put to the Treasury.
And that's it. The hearing is over.

NHS Patient Records Systems, £10 billion

"An abandoned NHS patient record system has so far cost the taxpayer nearly £10bn, with the final bill for what would have been the world's largest civilian computer system likely to be several hundreds of millions of pounds higher, according a highly critical report from parliament's public spending watchdog".

Border Agency

Foreign Office Prism System


Bridport, Entrepreneurial Capital? On Bridport, and David Boyle's "Broke"

Catching up with the Sunday newspapers (as one does when one's leg is in plaster) before putting them out for recycling, I came across the two-page feature "Broke" in The Sunday Times News Review (21.04.13) by David Boyle, a long extract from his book "Broke: Who Killed the Middle Classes?", to be published by Fourth Estate on April 25.

It's an interesting analysis of the plight of the struggling British Middle Classes, of a profound shift in society.

I was puzzled by a couple of his comments. Apart from London, he says, "Dorset and Wiltshire are the least affordable places in the UK".

David Boyle suggests that "the middle classes need to be at the heart of a movement that uses local rebuild production and some measure of independence...It can be done. Bridport in Dorset is an unlikely place to chose as the capital of a resurgent entrepreneurial culture, but Dorset has one of the highest levels of self-employment anywhere in the country- plus the Wessex Reinvestment Trust, designed to use local savings to lend to local businesses. Go to Bridport and you will find a bustling town centre with market stalls, tea shops and butchers, delicatessens and bakers. It is no clone town but home to successful food companies such as Dorset Cereals, Organix and Olives."

Dorset Cereals is in fact based in Poundbury, Dorchester, about 14 miles away. Organix appears to be based in Bournemouth, and if he is referring to Olives Et Al, it is based in Sturminster Newton.

Is Bridport really the model town for the younger generation to emulate? Maybe. There are some excellent literary festivals, which probably attract older age-groups. The Bridport Prize has an international reputation. The music scene is much better than it was when my mother lived there, although I have heard that P J Harvey has moved to London. There is a regular vinyl record fair, and there are gallery venues such as Sladers Yard"Broadchurch" was largely filmed in and around West Bay (Bridport Harbour). But market stalls aren't going to generate lots of local production, as so much of what is sold is recycled or second-hand. They do generate a measure of independence, to be sure. The Saturday market is a great attraction. Bridport is a wonderful town.

David Boyle predicts that "a political battle lies ahead" as the middle classes can "no longer trust their existing institutions, political or financial, to look after their interests".

Even if he is wrong about the home-town of Dorset Cereals, the book appears to contain much food for thought.

See you down at Bridport market!

Note: The Wessex Reinvestment Trust (pdf file)

David Boyle website

Electric Palace, Bridport

Bridport Arts Centre


From "Bridport-Netting, A history of the Staple Trade of the Borough" (undated leaflet, no printing information, possibly Bridport-Gundry?)

Greece, Unfinished Buildings; Antiparochi; αντιπαροχή. Conservation Attempts

I'm surprised the photographer Patrick van Dam finds these unfinished, abandoned buildings and concrete skeletons beautiful or spectacular (CNN World).

I'm equally surprised to read that he considers it a recent phenonemon related to the financial crisis of the last few years. Many structures have been standing there, scarring the countryside for a decade or three. Sadly the number has increased very significantly.

Thanks to June Samaras for the link.

It was back in the early eighties that the consequences of  another Greek phenomenon, the Antiparochi system, began to be felt all over the country, as lovely old  traditional or Neo-Classical houses were demolished and blocks of flats rose in their place:

Antiparochi: an arrangement with a builder or developer- in exchange for your house or  building plot the developer builds a block of flats and you, as the original landowner, are given one or two flats in the block as compensation, instead of payment for the plot of land*

Nowadays there are plenty of unfinished antiparochi blocks left standing as concrete skeletons. Others are facing problems of heating, as tenants cannot agree about contributing to heating oil costs.

As bank loans, low interest credit and regional development funds became available after Greece joined the EU, more and more people became their own small-scale developers, speculative builders and project managers, often building large new houses or blocks very slowly as they accumulated the funds (once they had obtained building permission and started laying the foundations or progressing as far as a flat concrete roof). That's how many remained, for all sorts of personal family reasons, as well as legal and financial problems.

Alexis Lykiard writes about unfinished buildings in his poem "By Souda Bay", from Skeleton Keys, 2003.

From "By Souda Bay":

"Unfinished business, blocks of concrete
offering, bunched at corners,
their inevitable iron
bouquets. It seems these

rusty sprigs are ruins-in-progress,
eyesores passers-by may read
now as 'Notice of Intent',
with every spikey missive

meant to send a certain
signal for the future.
Villas, eventually, await
rubble-free floor or ultimate flat roof,

homes not yet prepared to rise
to their projected heights...Tomorrow,
avrio. Some hope..."

I scribbled down the following angry protest poem on antiparochi back at the beginning of the 1980s, in Thessaloniki (it was only a little exaggerated):

"They're knocking down another house,
They're cutting down another tree;
They clear the forest in the night,
Then jerry-build, without a right,
Do as they please, without a fight.
They're offering their village plots
In exchange for flats in concrete blocks.
They encroach on conservation zones,
Bulldoze graveyards and grandparents' bones.
They're ready with fencing to claim newly-cleared land;
The agrofilakas knows; he too lends a hand.
They steal a strema of woodland when nobody looks,
And nobody looks when pockets are filled,
And nobody questions, or audits the books,
And laws are not drafted, or they're never enforced..."

We did our best to draw attention to the need for Conservation and Rehabilitation of Traditional Buildings, as in this International Scientific Symposium in 1981 (a losing battle in many parts of Greece):

Tuesday, 23 April 2013

Happy Birthday!

To Milo (and to William Shakespeare), on St. George's Day.

The Google Doodle

Britain's Budget Gap

Eurostat Figures

Nick Papandreou and Kostas Vaxevanis Interviews

Listen to the Nick Papandreou interview (CBC Player, Writers in Company)

Kostas Vaxevanis, New Statesman

Fly-Tipping and Illegal Dumping, Greece and Britain

Fly-tipping is a problem in Britain as well as in Greece.

It is hard to imagine how anyone can do it.

A Dorset case.

Sometimes the municipal bins are inadequate.

See also "The Ionian Islands and Epirus, A Cultural History", pages 58-59.

See also the Oxford University Press (USA) edition.

A Greek case

Recycling in Greece

Back to the land

More from Greece

Into the Fire, Greece, Immigrants and Hidden Victims of Austerity

 Into the Fire, a documentary which has just been widely released.

Commentary, EnetEnglish

"Greece's Modern Slavery", New Statesman

Manolada, the aftermath (video)

Amnesty, Live Wire Blog

Broadchurch, A Second Series and an Extra Scene

I had very mixed feelings about Broadchurch, but I have to admit I watched it to the end, out of a sense of loyalty to West Bay, more than anything else.

There is to be a second series, ITV has announced. An opportunity to put right some of the faults and weaker aspects of the plotting, pacing, acting and production style.

The extra scene

In Praise of Broadchurch (The Guardian)

The Telegraph, A Review

Mail online

Dorset Echo

Shocking cruelty in West Bay

Holiday Costs (Pounds Sterling) in Southern Europe

Apparently parts of Spain and Portugal are keeping their prices very competitive this summer. How do Corfu and other parts of Greece compare, I wonder?

"Although sterling is worth 4.5% less than in April 2012, this year’s Post Office Holiday Costs Barometer reveals that prices are down by up to 20% in Spain and almost 15% in the Algarve".

Greek Honey, Greek Bees

There has been much discussion of the effect of agricultural pesticides on honey bees. See for instance, the feature on bees in Countryfile (BBC IPlayer, from the 9.40' mark)

Neonicotinoids (BBC)

European Food Safety Authority

Here's a perspective from Greece (enetEnglish). Many Greek bee-keepers are able to keep their hives in wilder mountainous areas, well away from agricultural pesticides, but they are still worried.

Friends of the Earth, The Bee Cause (UK)

Honey Bee, by Muddy Waters (YouTube)

Greece: Taxes on Property and Parcels of Land

Kathimerini report (in Greek)

"Back to Square One", says

Monday, 22 April 2013

Contemporary Australian Poetry

From Poetry International's latest newsletter:


"This week it's all about multi-national Australian poetry. Just what makes an ‘Australian’ poet? Answering that question in their own ways are Merlinda Bobis, Michelle Cahill and Bella Li . Michelle Cahill is a Goan-Anglo-Indian writer who lives in Sydney. She writes poetry, fiction and essays. In an interview with PI editor Michael Brennan, Merlinda Bobis talks about how the poetry she likes "pivots on something deeply felt, something ‘true’ to the poet". Brennan also interviews Bella Li, who argues that it is 'impossible not to be present in some way in the work you create.' "

Modern Greek Translations, University of Birmingham

There are some wonderful books (translated from Modern Greek) published by the University of Birmingham. The General Editor of the series is Professor Dimitris Tziovas.

Natalie Merchant, Leave Your Sleep

I'm always on the look-out for songs suitable for children. I've mentioned the French singer Sophie Forte before.

I've just discovered Natalie Merchant and her album Leave Your Sleep. A wonderful selection of songs, for an older age group.

Listen to her interpretation of Calicoe Pie, a poem by Edward Lear, and discover some other delightful and sensitive settings, including Spring and Fall  (the poem by Gerard Manley Hopkins)..

Dorset Worthies

Are you a Dorset Worthy?

Check out your credentials against those worthy people featured in Wessex Worthies (Dorset) by J. J. (Joshua James) Foster, 1920.

Read the digitised version of the book as a pdf file here.

Weymouth Ferry Bookings, Condor Ferries

Dorset Echo report that bookings are now being taken for the Weymouth Condor Ferries Summer Service

Sunday, 21 April 2013

Sir Walter Raleigh at Sherborne

An Introduction to Sherborne Castle

Dorset History

Richard Burton reads A Passionate Man's Pilgrimage by Sir Walter Raleigh

The Nymph's Reply to the Shepherd

Selected poems and works

From the scaffold

A fascinating visit last week. An extraordinary painting: The Procession of Queen Elizabeth I

Portraits of Raleigh

Portraits at the National Portrait Gallery

Farewell to the Court

Like truthless dreams, so are my joys expir'd,
And past return are all my dandled days;
My love misled, and fancy quite retir'd--
Of all which pass'd the sorrow only stays.

My lost delights, now clean from sight of land,
Have left me all alone in unknown ways;
My mind to woe, my life in fortune's hand--
Of all which pass'd the sorrow only stays.

As in a country strange, without companion,
I only wail the wrong of death's delays,
Whose sweet spring spent, whose summer well-nigh done--
Of all which pass'd only the sorrow stays.

Whom care forewarns, ere age and winter cold,
To haste me hence to find my fortune's fold.

From The Lie

Go, Soul, the body's guest,
Upon a thankless arrant!
Fear not to touch the best;
The truth shall be thy warrant:
Go, since I needs must die,
And give the world the lie.

Say to the court it glows
And shines like rotten wood;
Say to the church it shows
What's good, and doth no good:
If court and church reply,
Then give them both the lie... 

Tell men of high condition
That manage the estate,
Their purpose is ambition,
Their practice only hate:
And if they make reply,
Then give them all the lie.


I like the phrase "all my dandled days" in the first poem. What does Raleigh mean by "dandled days"? Here's one explanation I found in a word forum online:

'He may either be referring to his infancy (where dandled would probably be quite literal) or to his earlier life, where the extended sense of entertained, pampered, treated fondly, etc., might apply. Here are a couple quotations from around the same time which show the transferred sense:

"Which did entertain and dandle him with all manner of delights."
"By blindness thou art blest; By dotage dandled to perpetual smiles." '

There is a good chapter on "The Atheism of Sir Walter Raleigh", in Dorset Elizabethans, At Home and Abroad, by Rachel Lloyd (John Murray, 1967).

"When I was gone she sent her memory
More strong than were ten thousand ships of war"

Violence in America

Lexington's column, from The Economist.

Horsemeat in Greece

From EnetEnglish

Bute found

I can't imagine going to Greece without trying the soutzoukakia, keftedes, kebabs, salami or even the occasional burger.

Not that food labelling is any better elsewhere in Europe.


An Ethiopian Short Story, Maaza Mengiste

"The Invisible Map" by Maaza Mengiste. a powerful and disturbing story: BBC Radio 4, IPlayer.

"In Maaza Mengiste's new short story, 'The Invisible Map', a young Ethiopian woman, hoping for a better life in Europe, finds herself trapped in a Libyan prison.

Read by Adjoa Andoh.  Produced by Emma Harding 

Maaza Mengiste was born in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia and graduated with an MFA in Creative Writing from New York University. Her debut novel, the critically acclaimed 'Beneath the Lion's Gaze', has been translated into several languages and was a finalist for a Flaherty-Dunnan First Novel Prize. She teaches at NYU and currently lives in New York City".

Maaza's website