Ok

By continuing your visit to this site, you accept the use of cookies. These ensure the smooth running of our services. Learn more.

diaphania - Page 6

  • South sea magic at the Barbican

    New Zealand company The Conch's 'Vula' was simply one of the most magical evenings I've ever experienced in the theatre. Four women brought the South Seas to sparkling life in the subterranean darkness of the Barbican's Pit Theatre. They performed on a beautifully lit flooded stage - singing, dancing and acting out stories of the sea and everyday life beside it.

    Passionate, funny and totally involving tales of church-going, washing clothes, goddesses and fishes, told by four strong, proud and beautiful women. A Fijian audience member wearing a hibiscus flower dress was so moved she couldn't help singing along with the songs and whooping with joy as each new scene unfolded. In the finale a tiny outrigger boat is sung to safe harbour. In any other show it might be a cliché but in Vula it was completely bewitching.

    c11a165e99a32d7a9eee2de79dcc8e46.png
  • Waftaroms, indotherms and the graphic language of cartooning

    5e1862021bcdc98a8d317ca95ab3fd5c.png

    Don't know a grawlix from a plewd or an agitron from an indotherm? Finding words for the marks made by cartoonists is a funny business. A jokey article about the marks cartoonists make for things like movement, emotion and radiation is now the stuff of earnest research into the visual language of cartoons.

    It seems to have started with American cartoonist Mort Walker who wrote a satirical article in 1964 called "Let's Get Down to Grawlixes," for the National Cartoonists Society. In 1980 he expanded it to a book The lexicon of comicana. In Mort Walker's Private Scrapbook he writes:

    'I spoofed the tricks cartoonists used, like dust clouds when characters are running or lightbulbs over their heads when they get an idea... I spent many hours at the museum recording their "language". I created pseudoscientific names for each cartoon cliché, like the sweat marks cartoon characters radiate. I called them "plewds" after the God of rain "Joe Pluvius".'

    The spoof didn't quite work (even though the words he invented are very funny), because people really wanted words for the marks cartoonists make. So here is a run-down, from Wikipedia:

    • Plewds Flying sweat droplets that appear around a character's head when working hard or stressed.
    • Briffits Clouds of dust that hang in the spot where a swiftly departing character or object was previously standing.
    • Squeans Little starbursts or circles that signify intoxication, dizziness, or sickness.
    • Emanata Lines drawn around the head to indicate shock or surprise.
    • Grawlixes Typographical symbols standing for profanities, which appear in dialogue balloons in the place of actual dialogue.
    • Indotherm Wavy, rising lines used to represent steam or heat on hot objects -- however, the same shape found over a hot apple pie or something else strong smelling is a wafteron.
    • Agitrons Wiggly lines around an object that is shaking
    • Blurgits, swalloops Curved lines preceding or trailing after a character's moving limbs
    • Hites Horizontal straight lines trailing after something moving with great speed, or indicating reflectivity (puddle, glass, mirror). Likewise, up-hites would be lines above an object falling.
    • Lucaflect A shiny spot on a surface of something
    • Dites Diagonal, straight lines drawn across something flat, clear, and reflective, such as windows and mirrors.
    • Solrads Radiating lines drawn from something luminous like a lightbulb or the sun.
    • Vites Vertical straight lines indicating reflectivity (compare dites, hites)

    1db771f1c85e82a60fbd55ef5e240b79.jpgIt's funny in a Sellars & Yeatman kind of way (something else that deserves to be better known). Dash Shaw responded to the comic challenge with a great cartoon strip using the symbols and The Balloonist drew a booklet for cartoonists using some new symbols. Needless to say, the academically minded take it all very seriously. Neil Cohn just about gets the point. But only just:

    'He also attaches a myriad of useless names to them, to the extant that you feel that his whole point for jargon is to be facetious (which it may well have been).'

    dae386528cc4e0ed3e7dde35b217ae74.jpgSee also an explanation of Kirby Dots (developed by Jack Kirby to show an energy explosion) and a site devoted to cataloguing onomatopoeia like 'kaboom' (apparently first used in The incredible hulk, vol 1, no. 229, 1978).

     

     

  • The elevation of St Boris of Henley

    6ce9024a0d4df7d0315ef3b4c94a8e85.jpg

    There's much chortling that around a quarter of London's electorate decided to make 'bumbler' Boris their Mayor on St Boris's Day. But how has the blonde bombshell served his Henley constituents and what will they do without him?

    In the Bulgarian Orthodox church at least, the anniversary of the death in 907 of St Boris is remembered. He was notable for his serenity, aside from a lapse in which he blinded his son to stop him turning to paganism. 'Serene' is not the word to describe Boris Johnson MP in Henley-on-Thames. Scarcely an issue of the local paper has been complete without two or even three photos of Boris pressing the local flesh. Opening this or standing against the closing of that, Boris has been there, even during the Mayoral campaign.

    He responded twice to our lobbying on local causes. Once a local hotelier 'laid on a crayfish lunch' to woo him to our presentation of the need for a new bridge across the Thames between Reading and Henley. He watched our video of the 45min queue of standing traffic snaking round narrow village lanes, ate the crayfish sandwiches, and pronounced (fresh from his trip to a local marina) that the best answer to the problem of 13,000 vehicle movements a day choking a tiny village was to set up a ferry to carry passengers across the river.

    This entertaining tendency to make it up on the hoof (remember his disastrous gaffes in Liverpool and elsewhere) conceals Boris's steely determination. At the post-electoral celebrations his sister commented that Boris has always got what he wanted.

    Each time we met him Boris was surrounded by a group of local party faithful. Once or twice I caught them raising their eyebrows - 'Boris will be Boris' was the story. First Hezza represented us (another MP notable for his beazer), then Boris. So who will be next? Perhaps his father Stanley, who confirmed:

    "Put it this way, I'm still on the candidates' list. Obviously it would be up to the Henley association as to whether they invite me for interview, but I don't see why I shouldn't put in for it."

    He certainly has the requisite distinctive hairstyle.

    The the nu-Labour project is on its last legs and Londoners have registered their protest at Gordon Brown's lack of personality. It remains to be seen if (in spite of his goodwill and determination) Boris really will be enough to reduce the death rate of young black men in the capital.

  • In the light at St Ives

    335e43fb751f014c216206ed5260b4b0.jpg

    Ivo (or Yves or Ives) of Kermartin, the patron saint of lawyers and abandoned children, is said to have been commemorated with the inscription "St Ives was Breton/ A lawyer and not a thief/ Marvelous thing to the people." It's somehow reassuring to know that lawyers were mistrusted even in the 12th century, and that there was at least one that broke with convention.

    f3573580925b5e3b03212fcd7dabded3.jpgHowever, that St Ives has nothing whatever to do with the Cornish town of St Ives, which is named after a notoriously tardy 5th century Irishwoman who literally missed the boat that was supposed to take her to Cornwall with her chums St Erth (patron saint of gardeners and electricians) and St Uny. St Ia gamely made her own way across the Atlantic in a coracle, an act of such monumental foolishness that the townsfolk of St Ives decided to name the place after her.

    Cornish people still honour her when they say they'll do something "d'reckly" - meaning at some vague time in the future, when they feel like it. Two days in St Ives this April converted me (again) to the relaxed ways of the place. People take the trouble to say hello just because they saw you out walking the day before; the staff at the Barbara Hepworth Gallery are happy to chat; and even the man who sold me tea took extra trouble to make sure it was just so.

    1413bfdabc3017a27ab6ba81b5404e16.jpgHepworth picked up on it when she wrote "St Ives has absolutely enraptured me, not merely for its beauty, but the naturalness of life". She loved the sense of community as well as the:

    "remarkable pagan landscape...which has a very deep effect on me, developing all my ideas about the relationship of the human figure in the landscape - sculpture in landscape and the essential quality of light"

    6bfd0b7f2eb51c4dcd805c446591d733.jpgIn the mid 20th century these key ideas - about connection to the land, community, and light, drew dozens of artists to St Ives. Nicholson, Garbo, Frost, Heron and the patron saint of British pottery, Bernard Leach, were the most notable, but you don't have to be a painter to appreciate the light in St Ives. It has a remarkable clarity - a sharpness that dazzles. Spoil from tin-mining and powdered granite in the dazzling sand are the prosaic explanation.

    52681678e60f1c65158dd5bc8270a00a.jpgThat light, the fresh sea air, the art, and the friendliness of the locals make St Ives just perfect for a break away from it all. We watched the surfers, walked the coast, visited the Tate St Ives and stayed in the Ped'n Olva hotel, on a rocky promontory with wonderful views of Porthminister beach and the harbour. The train from the London and the Thames Valley takes around 6 hours and costs as little as £30 return, including a trip on one of the loveliest branch lines in the country.

    7d23212318346004669afe3dfa706e49.jpg
  • The beast within?

    4e36d189e0cf3670365e8ab8b8bf9eb7.jpg

    A report in Pravda (of all reliable sources) says that centaurs were real. Researchers decided this because of the number of cave paintings depicting the chimeric creatures. The article states, in a somewhat old-fashioned translation, that:

    "Historical sources reveal that buggery was very popular among ancient Greeks and Romans. A legend says that Greek scholar Thales recommended his master Periandr not to engage unmarried shepherds nor to produce more centaurs."

    b8a72e438fe365e06556089db05d744f.jpg

    That interpretation may not convince, but there is no denying the creatures' pervasiveness. For 3,000 years or more the half-man, half-horse has been lodged in the collective consciousness, inspiring myth-making and art, standing both for animal passion and for the genial guardianship of knowledge.

    The Centaur's Smile: The Human Animal in Early Greek Art  is the catalogue of a 2004 Princeton exhibition which charted examples from as early as 750BC. In Pindar's poem, the kindly centaur Chiron 'smiles greenly' (as if with secret knowledge) at Apollo when he seeks advice on seduction techniques.

    Guido Reni (whose 'Rape of Dejanira' is above) is one of countless gay artists since who have been fascinated by beastly half men.

    Bruce Rogers' beautiful typeface Centaur was first used in 1915 for an edition of de Guérin’s prose poem Le Centaure. The font was later issued in a commercial version developed by Rogers and the Monotype Corporation. In de Guérin's sensuous story, the aged centaur Chiron describes his early days to a young mortal who seeks him out on a mountain top.

    889dbff71a823979a2f0a10cf08a01f8.jpgOther interesting editions of the de Guérin story include one printed by Ricketts and Shannon at the Vale Press in 1899 and this art deco interpretation featuring a distinctly un-menacing centaur by George Barbier (1928). Ricketts returned again and again to the centaur theme. In 1902 the artist and his long time collaborator Shannon were the models for a small painting of Nessus and his stolen bride Dejanira in which:

    "This bold defense of Nessus’ “rape” portrayed a willing Dejanira with strong shoulders, arms, and calves."*

    Evidence that centaurs still hold a considerable homoerotic charge is provided by the recent phenomenon of 'boytaurs'. They are celebrated in a somewhat indecent website featuring 'Online resources for boytaurs, multilimbers, shapeshifters, and their friends'.

    One lexicon defines a modern day centaur as "A gay man who lives openly in a predominantly heterosexual suburb."

    6d642effb9fd02df87a81c6d0e7d3185.jpg
  • Pills that make you ill?

    ee4871d0f846569836414e3e3f16420b.jpg

    Another health scare made front page news this week. A Danish study pooling 67 randomised trials with 232,550 participants concluding that taking "beta-carotene, vitamin A, and vitamin E significantly increased mortality". And taking vitamin C had "no significant benefit".

    The mass media attention is fuelled by our mistrust of 'nasty chemicals' which we forget are in natural foods as well as - in pure form - in test tubes.

    The BBC website reports that "After various factors were taken into account and a further 20 studies excluded, the researchers linked vitamin A supplements to a 16% increased risk of dying, beta-carotene to a 7% increased risk and vitamin E to a 4% increased risk." Scary stuff? Maybe, considering how many vitamins are both naturally present in and added to foods, including bread and cereals. How many realise synthetic vitamin A is added to cod liver oil pills, usually taken as a traditional 'natural' remedy?

    One blogger at least believes it is all lies, damn lies and statistics. Letters from a Tory reports that the studies used on average a dose of around 8 times the recommended amount for vitamin A, and other averages were also well above recommended amounts. 

    Does that make pills that deliver 100% of RDA 100% safe?  I still somehow doubt it, so I'll mostly be sticking to as much fruit and veg as possible, including my own list of so-called 'superfoods' which, whatever the exact merits of the claims made for them, just happen to be delicious:

    • Broccoli: rich in vitamins A and C and anti-cancer ingredients, reduces cholesterol and has anti-viral benefits*
    • Garlic: regulates blood pressure, anti-viral and good for the heart
    • Mushrooms: anti-viral
    • Spinach: high in beta-carotene, good for the eyes, bones and more*
    • Cooked tomatoes: anti-cancer properties, anti-inflammatory*
    • Watercress: anti-cancer properties
    • Turmeric: anti-inflammatory and anti-viral, resists Alzheimers
    • Ginger: anti-oxidant, anti-coagulant, promotes healing
    • Oily fish: anti-viral and good for the heart
    • Raw olive oil: anti-inflammatory and cholesterol lowering
    • Apples: cholesterol lowering, eliminate toxins*
    • Blueberries: over-hyped but taste good!*
    • Cranberries: good for the kidney
    • Grapefruit: anti-coagulant, and more
    • Kiwifruit: high in vitamin C, anti-oxidant, eye protecting*
    • Pineapple: anti-inflammatory
    • Pomegranate: good for the heart?
    • Strawberries: lower blood pressure, anti-ageing and good for the heart
    • Walnuts: anti-inflammatory and cholesterol lowering*
    • Green tea: anti-oxidant and makes you feel good
    • Dark chocolate: lowers blood pressure and makes you feel good
    • Red wine: lowers cholesterol and makes you feel good
    *I'm able to cut down on food miles by growing these at home.
  • What lies beneath

    bedbc6f2a04b74271cf16c00f36f343a.jpg

    Live in a 400 year-old house and you grow accustomed to the closeness of the past. Reminders of those long gone are many. Ten generations born, living and dying here, each leaving their traces, some obvious, others more subtle. Work the garden and the soil gives up the stuff of others' lives.

    The dark loam seems animate, constantly pushing to the surface unexpected bits and pieces: a little wooden whistle, lost in a child's contented game a century or more ago. A mangled lead buckle, its decoration twisted by a bonfire that consumed an unwanted dress. Big old pre-decimal pennies, never again to be spent, one of solid bronze from the time of the Napoleonic War. Broken clay pipes, discarded by other gardeners 200 or more years ago. And the countless potsherds! Many of them red but most blue willow pattern, the fleeing Chinese lovers long since broken apart: this shattered plate fragment from a service given as a wedding present, accidentally dropped or perhaps hurled to the floor in a blazing row.

    Weeding the rose bed a couple of years ago, I picked out of the earth a beautifully-lettered Boots cherry tothpaste lid. Since the First World War it had lain safely hidden, deep in the same soil which had now, wonderfully, given it up. It reminded me a happy few weeks in my boyhood spent digging over a midden left by our Victorian predecessors.

    0218a87d4694655b65cd520dcc491826.jpg

    The glass and stoneware bottles we recovered shed light on past lives. If the number of syrup of figs bottles is any guide, constipation was a real problem in the 1940s. We found just one of Hiram Codd's fascinating glass ball sealed fizzy pop bottles (the origin of the phrase 'codswallop').

    Solid aquamarine torpedo-shaped bottles containing lemonade made to William Hamilton's 1809 Dublin patent. Trapped air bubbles and the the heavy, imperfect blue-green glass makes these old bottles seem intriguing and precious. Beautifully embossed lettering  and transfer-decorated stoneware, proclaiming the names of long-lost local ginger beer manufacturers: Lovibond and the Ive Brothers of Henley-on-Thames, (patent Galtee More closures), the Tunbridge Jones Company of Reading.

    The Boots logo must be one of the most enduring on the High Street. Its present-day lettering is almost identical to that we found on late 19th century medicine bottles. Salt-glazed ink pots with a pouring lip, a dark green Bovril jar that makes even that product alluring, and cobalt-blue poison bottles, heavily ribbed to warn the blind of their dangerous contents. I even found a complete Victorian spittoon, perhaps half-inched from a local pub by a boisterous local lad, and then embarrasedly discarded on the rubbish heap.

    fadcde36b3b9215fd1a554d5fa8514ea.jpg

     

  • Feeding the multitude

    3b9ea4a9d58a12e6ec54e889ce916fbf.gifThe Telegraph today bewails the fact that customers of Indian curry houses in the UK - which imports more rice than any other EU country - can look forward to smaller portions, higher prices, less meat and more vegetable dishes. In other restaurants: "We've heard that people are taking away the little embellishments - fish and chips might now be missing the coleslaw...Where before you might be offered a 4oz and 8oz steak, now you can only have the 4oz."

    These dire depredations aside, it seems likely that most of us fortunate enough to live in Europe and the US will take the consequences of the developing global food crisis in our stride - but what about the rest of the world?

    66490806ca43933f1dd75c6f5bb7c11b.gifWestern motorists are bridling at fuel price rises (petrol up almost 40% in the US in the last year). In the UK, the cost of basic foods, like bread, butter and meat is up by 12%, with overall food prices up 4.6% for the year to February.

    But in places like Nigeria, where people spend about 73% of their income on food (as opposed to around 10% in the developed countries) things are more serious - much more serious. Like one half of the world's 6bn population, many Nigerians are dependent on rice, which has gone up by 75% in just two months. The average cost of rice has doubled in under a year - and the increases are expected to continue for at least another two to three years.

    6f415ddcacb85fb99cb849d1589caf09.pngHow will people survive when their staple foodstuff is unaffordable? No wonder there have been riots and protests in places as diverse as Italy, Bangladesh, Egypt and the Philipines. In Haiti the government has just fallen because it did nothing after a week of protests.

    World Bank Group President, Robert B. Zoellick, headlined the crisis this week:

    In Bangladesh, a 2 kilogram bag of rice...now consumes about half of the daily income of a poor family...The price of a loaf of bread...has more than doubled. Poor people in Yemen are now spending more than a quarter of their incomes just on bread before they pay for other essential foods for their children, let alone basic health care or shelter. 

    cd394f622cb0eeefd29ff749ccddd8cb.jpgZoellick went on to predict that a total of 33 nations are in danger of unrest caused by rising food prices. "the international community must fill the at least $500 million food gap identified by the UN's World Food Programme". In the Philipines, decades of under-investment in agriculture makes the country heavily dependent on rice imports. Traders are accused of hoarding grain to exploit the resultant price rises. They won't be buying from India any more, since that country has this week re-imposed a ban on all rice exports except high value basmati. China reports that although rice production is increasing, its increasingly affluent population is switching to less efficiently produced meat and dairy foods.

    So it was puzzling (to say the least) to hear the head of the United Nations World Food Programme Josette Sheeran (who says that "we are entering a new era of hunger") admit on R4 this week no-one really knows the cause of the food crisis - let alone its solution. Globalisation has spun a complex and so far indicipherable web of inter-dependencies. 

    Global warming has contributed in at least two ways, with increased flooding and drought causing harvests to repeatedly fail in Australia and elsewhere. World reserves of rice and wheat are now at record lows.

    The mistaken drive for subsidised biofuel is also taking land out of food production.

    Biofuel production feeds oil company profits and makes food grain less affordable. Britain now requires petrol and diesel to contain 2.5% biofuel, rising to 5.75 per cent by 2010 and 10 per cent by 2020. Spiralling natural gas and oil prices also mean that fertiliser costs more. In Vietnam dependency on high levels of fertiliser is increasing and prices have doubled. Because of fuel price rises, the cost of farming the land and of delivering crops to consumers is also driving up food prices.

    For free marketeers at least, the answer is simple. They put their faith in the markets' ability to bring about a 'correction'. And anyway, in Europe and the US obesity is at record levels, so people can afford to lose a few kilos. But are we prepared to sit back while the world's most vulnerable pay the price of this necessary 'correction'?

  • Four days in Vienna

    1aa010c67bb32611275fe2fdc2dea992.jpg

    “If you start to take Vienna - take Vienna” said Napoleon. A tall order for the art-lover with just four days in which to attempt to do justice to the major sites. The Kunsthistorisches, the Albertina, the Belvedere, the Imperial Library, the Ephesus and the Musical Instrument collections, the Hofburg, the Schönbrunn. The Cathedral, the Karlskirche or the Peterskirche? Canova, Dürer, Caravaggio or Vermeer? Baroque or Secession?

    60bdf2960e72e3a2047ec0fb346ec6bd.jpgAll the booty of empire gathered within the 4km ring, lined with palaces cascading with statuesque caryatids and writhing atlantes. Churches with walls coated with plaster angels forever tumbling into the inferno. A Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven or Strauss commemoration on every corner. And the cakes!

    a9c19bfd2580f186532a48d450e0f2c5.jpg

    Vienna oozes history and its unconcerned citizens embody a favourite word of Queen Victoria's. They and their city are 'Gemütlichkeit' - contentedly belonging, polite and unhurried. On the plane a Viennese offered tips on getting the best from his home town. In the Graben, the city's busiest shopping street, half a dozen people stopped and waited while I pointed my camera up at a building across the street. At junctions cars halt and pedestrains are waved across. Gentlemen of a certain age wear hats. Their ladies are impeccably (and somewhat conservatively) dressed. Even the frock-coated touts for Strauss concerts are polite in their salesmanship.

    c6995bcbd74ca0ebeb41642ebd8777eb.jpg

    We marvelled at the Prunksaal of the Imperial Library with its ravishing ceiling decorations and perfect proportions, justifying the claim that it is the finest library hall in Europe.

    1e3e629d5080049ce6821cdd1e3df49a.jpgMohr in Hemd (chocolate pudding) or Kokosbusserln (Coconut Kisses)? The cakes are as elegantly refined as the Viennese. We ate Sacher torte in a relaxed and splendidly old-fashioned café by the rear entrance of the Hofburg Palace. A Secession facade there so offended the emperor with its 'plainness' that he reputedly never passed it again. 

    We resisted other temptations including the discrete entrance of the exotically Turkish Centralbad which was a haunt of the Archduke Ludwig Victor, a brother of the emperor Franz Josef I, who 'was famous for his love for beauty'.

    1a20cdd77bf2f9547461e047d29a5807.jpgWe admired Canova's tomb for Maria Christina at the Augustinerkirche. It was such a success that Canova himself was buried in a copy in the Frari in Venice. In the Kunsthistorisches we ate more cake and lost hours in the galleries. Not one but three Rembrandt self-portraits. Exquisite Roman cameos and gold jewellery quite unlike anything I had ever seen. 

    An incredibly myopic Jehovah's Witness seemed to be stalking us in the clock museum. All three floors are choc-a-bloc with chiming timepieces. He was a museum warden and seems to spend his days reading scripture, held at about 2" from his nose. In the museum of musical instruments (rooms of shawms, serpents and Beethoven and Chopin's pianos) another warden was nervously writing who knows what never to be published masterpiece on scraps he carried round with him.

    941db47bcf3215126085c80aa39c32dc.jpg43748f4450fa44270df33a5722056cfd.jpgAustrian Art Nouveau toyed with plainness but finally embraced ornament with relish. We admired Otto Wagner's Majolica House which is a riot of coloured tiles and ornamental balconies. The secession building has a glorious gilded dome of glittering laurel leaves. More pictures here.

  • Going for a song

    ff6154e8410c96a757a1d29a82504fa7.jpg

    At this time of year the birdsong is a terrific pleasure, but not if you live in the city. The New Scientist reports the end of the dawn chorus, killed off by city noise. It was thought that light pollution was the cause, but now it seems to be simply that the birds can't make themselves heard over the din of the traffic. Late at night, on my way back from the station, I've often been stopped in my tracks by the sad sound of a solitary wren, singing its heart out under the sodium glare. Now researchers say birds are getting stressed out by this forced adaptation.

    So it's a good thing that digital audio channel Oneword is no longer broadcasting. Thanks to the alternative reality provided by the internet, you too can listen to a sample of the channel's replacement, 16 hours a day of birdsong, apparently proving very popular with city-dwellers starved of the sound of the natural world.

  • Send in the droogs

    3842cade7c286129391ac50c2ad55eb3.jpg
    In Anthony Burgess's A clockwork orange the droogs are Alex's violent pals. Now we all get our kicks on the internet and look like meeting fewer and fewer people for real are we becoming a generation of un-socialised droogs, just as Gordon Brown is desperately trying to manufacture national allegiance?

    A new report claims that British children are being 'raised online' spending at least 20 hours a week connected to the internet. In August 2007 Microsoft proudly put the figure at more like 34 hours. The IPPR report states that 57% of young people have come into contact with online porn. 117 videos featuring the term 'happy slap' were posted on YouTube last week, and 312 were posted as 'street fights'. Microsoft claim that internet use increases social interaction – but is this the kind they mean?

    Just what does the availability on the internet of instant gratification of every kind do for tolerance? In the real world, gratification isn't instant. Things don't go to plan and people don't always behave predictably. How are today's kids learning to react?

    Also this week, one third of teachers are reported as having been subjected to classroom violence, with 75% threatened by their pupils. Another report shows four times as many teachers finding knives on their pupils than in 2001, in spite of the increasing use of metal detectors in schools. Across the country, the quality of teaching is suffering as teachers struggle to cope with multilingual classes. In more than one in 20 schools, English is a minority language:

    In the borough of Newham, nine out of 10 schools have a non-English first language majority. The same is true of a third of schools in Leicester and in Blackburn, and a quarter of schools in Birmingham.

    Outside school, people are not mixing like they used to. Every community used to have a pub, church and post office at its centre. They were the hub of local life - places where we met new people and learned to get along. Now 2,500 more post offices are to close and in Langton Green in Kent: 

    Gone are three of the village's four pubs; gone are the two police houses; gone is the horticultural society; gone is one of the two grocery stores, one of the two butchers, the last dairy farm, the YMCA playing field, the doctor's surgery – all in recent memory – and now, gone is the post office. Gone too is the wildlife from the village pond, seen off by a new drainage system which draws in the oil and detritus from the road.

    Publicans say that tradition and the fabric of society is being destroyed by the loss of four pubs per day across the country. Around one church per week is closed.

    Another 2008 survey reports that 15% of people don't speak to any of their neighbours from one week to the next. And 65% said that in the future people will have more contact through the internet than in person:

    "There's a real issue with people being dislocated from the communities where they live," said Ginny Lunn, the director of policy and development at the Prince's Trust. "Everybody needs to take responsibility for communities and make sure people aren't isolated, otherwise we could face a generation of people who will become unconnected from society."

    Pundits say cash will solve the problem. The Government says things are improving. And L'Oreal says you're 'worth it'. At the grassroots, plenty of us are still trying, giving our time, building places like community orchards so that people can connect again. Margaret Thatcher's most memorable line was 'there's no such thing as society'. Don't let it come true.

  • Ancient symbolism at the CND

    edece95e9c83a98361040c3a81be77f9.png

    2d16343a854e57bc3e52a2b8ef12dddd.gifThe CND is 50, and the organisation is commemorating its anniversary by encircling AWE at Aldermaston on Easter Monday, just as they did 50 years ago. A new book commemorates a half century of the campaign's enduring symbol, which according to its pacifist designer Gerald Holtom was based on the semaphore signals for N (nuclear) and D (disarmament).

    Creativity is a mysterious process, unamenable to logical analysis. Much that appears to be original turns out to be an imaginative fusion of things half-remembered. So it may well have been with the peace symbol, which takes the form of a circle around an inverted version of a Norse symbol - yggdrasil, the 'world tree', or great ash at the centre of the universe.

    An Ottawa Citizen review describes how Gerald Holtom asked a shop assistant what she thought of the symbol which was carried by the marchers on what he called 'lollipops'. She liked it, but wondered whether its drooping arms weren't "a bit depressing. Shouldn't peace be something to celebrate?" "He sort of altered his view in that moment," his nephew recalls. "He said, 'Yes, it should be a figure with the hands upwards outstretched'". From then on Holtom always drew the symbol upright.

    fef1de8e77ecd81bc887e2878527a9bc.pngIn his hugely influential 'Book of signs' (first published in German in 1923 as 'Das zeichenbuch' and available on Google Books) Rudolf Koch uses the symbol to stand for a man who undergoes the 'vicissitudes of life'. On his death, the symbol is inverted (and known as the 'todesrune'). With this meaning the symbol was officially specified for the gravestones of SS officers. Gerald Holtom asked to have the symbol - in its upright form - on his gravestone in Kent. That wish was ignored by the letter-cutter.

    In the runic alphabet a similar symbol to the yggdrasil is called algiz, (the elk) and is known as the rune of protection.

    Opponents of CND referred to the logo as 'the chicken's foot' and Hopi Indians use a similar design, based on the footprint of a crane, as a symbol of tribal unification. It can also be thought of as an inverted or broken cross, like that used to crucify St Peter.

    But the roots of the sign may well lie deep within all of us. As a Jungian archetype, it can be read as female genitalia. A sign for the ancient mother goddess, whose message of peace men so often ignore.

    First they came for the Jews
    and I did not speak out
    because I was not a Jew.
    Then they came for the Communists
    and I did not speak out
    because I was not a Communist.
    Then they came for the trade unionists
    and I did not speak out
    because I was not a trade unionist.
    Then they came for me
    and there was no one left
    to speak out for me.

    Pastor Martin Niemöller

    Rudolf Koch's symbols are available as a set of fonts issued by P22.