June 2011


A while ago, on a bulletin board that can remain nameless (to protect posters’ identities, and as its actual digital whereabouts is irrelevant to my point), someone started a thread that commented on their rootless, international upbringing and asked the simple question “Where do you call home?”

The answers were intriguing. Although some were geographic or family based (ie home is where yougrew up or where your parents live, if they still do), many were not and explored what we mean by ‘home’ – not the same word, or the same associations, as ‘heritage’. Some responses mixed the two, for example:

Aberystwyth, on the Welsh coast, where I lived for five years as a student and lecturer and whose faded Victorian beauty, rugged surroundings and adorable people make me feel instantly secure and integrated the second I go back, which I do at least four or five times a year.”

Others were far more concerned with what ‘feeling at home’ actually feels like and the different ways we can experience it:

  • Wherever i feel safe and comfortable.
  • Anywhere that contains George, some plants I have grown and a pile of books could be home.
  • There used to be an old Goth/Alternative club […] where I worshipped weekly back from the early till the mid-nineties. Until now I’d forgotten just how safe and happy I felt there with all the sights, sounds and of course the lovely people within. It’s a place that helped shape my formative character just as I was part of what shaped its. It was home and I miss it.
  • […] Which, presumably, is why we refer to favourite bars, clubs, cafes and the like as ‘homely’ – we don’t really mean ‘domestic’, we mean ‘comfortable’ in the truest sense: places we feel like we belong. It can even be somewhere you’d never been before – I’m thinking of a tapas bar in Perpignan and a now long gone art gallery in Leicester. Home is a connection we feel through more than just our feet.

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Oh, the opportunities for cheap jokes – an episode of The Apprentice about disposing of waste. Lord Sugar even cracked a (well-scripted) funny about normally having his rubbish taken away in the back of taxis, but given that the tab is probably on the BBC licence payer, the punchline wasn’t quite so hilarious. (He also has a fair amount of waste ferried from luxury pads to prestige locations in some fairly expensive motors, when an Oystercard might have been more cost-effective. Surely even an East End lad should know the tube goes as far as Richmond?) And considering the episode was about the waste disposal business, there was a significant pile of crap still on display at the end of the programme.

I could update you on who won, although it doesn’t seem to be why anyone watches the programme anyway. I could harp on about the schadenfreude of watching metaphorical stiletto heels being inserted between rivals’ shoulder blades – one reason most of us are watching ­ but that wears thin, even if we are less than halfway through. Watching the whole series is like running a marathon, only it’s your brain that starts to feel like it’s turned to lead. As usual, what stayed with me most at the end of the programme – apart from the moments that counselling and a vodka and tonic have now successfully erased – are the bits where the programme has failed itself and its audience.

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Pet food. On The Apprentice? Uh-oh, here we go. Proudly going for the obvious, the jokes about dogs’ dinners and making a meal of it all got wheeled out early on, when saving them for later might have given the episode a sense of anticipation (and helped those playing buzzword bingo drinking games stay … er, focused.) No one said anything I recall about never working with children or animals, or even with star-struck men with autobiographies to sell or Vice Chairs of recently relegated footie teams, but ‘sharp’ in this arena tends to be an attribute of ties or creases rather than minds. Another open goal was missing as no-one uttered the word ‘tripe’. But this wasn’t business about numbers so much as business by numbers. Any self-awareness having been left on the editing suite floor (if it were ever present), many of our thrusting young things ladled on the jargon oblivious of the way speaking in Three Letter Acronyms makes you sound like an Assistant Regional Sales Executive. (This week’s task is to work that one out for yourselves, btw.)

Everything continued to be ‘bold’, ‘strategic’ and ‘passionate’, but I was left remembering an old Pretenders song:

I remember the way he groaned
Moved with an animal skill
I rubbed my face in the sweat that ran down his chest
It was all very run of the mill.”

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I’ve always had a soft spot for the work of Adam Curtis, historian and film-maker. His BAFTA for The Power of Nightmares seemed richly deserved – it was a compelling piece of film-making arguing that Islamism and Neoconservatism not only needed each other – ie having a bogeyman to contest is a short route to credibility – but had more in common than they’d care to admit: both at least partially achieved power by promising to protect us from the spectres they promoted. His work is characterised by rich webs of connection and lateral leaps: it always reminds me, rightly or wrongly, of the conception sequence in Amelie, although the plot is invariably a little darker.

But this time around, with his three-part film All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace (the third is shown next Monday), his penchant for yoking together Big Themes seems to have got a little tangled somewhere in the Big Sewing Machine of Metaphor. Watchable, as ever, but in a more baffling way than usual, he sought to demonstrate links between the Objectivism of Ayn Rand, the cybernetic thinking of Jay Forrester, and the influence of these trains of thought to explain the financial crash and the oligarchy nature of Western democracies. These trains of thought made many an intervening stop too: Buckminster Fuller, the Californian communes of the 1960s and 70s, and the initial ecological concept of eco-systems as naturally self-balancing. (If you’ve not watched episodes 1 or 2 yet, be warned this synopsis leaves out an awful lot more.)

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