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Lewes, East Sussex, United Kingdom
Hello and welcome! I am Colin Bell, a novelist and poet, previously a TV producer-director of arts programmes, also known as the blogger Wolfie Wolfgang. I hope you find something here among my daily blogs. I write about anything that interests me - I hope it interests you too. Let me know.

Friday, 22 May 2015

Life after Mad Men is like falling off a very tall building.

I've just watched the final episode of Mad Men that wonderful American drama series about a Madison Avenue advertising company during the 1960s. It is the latest in a series of brilliantly inventive and original American dramas that have ended leaving me, at least, feeling bereaved. It's not as if our televisions are over-flowing with originality these days so Mad Men has to be cherished and we need to hope for some successors of equal worth.

There were so many things that I loved about all seven seasons that added up to this series which had the complexity and space of a novel. Since 2007, I have been gripped by the lives of these less than saintly people who somehow get under your skin even when you want to reject their values or lack of them. Placing the drama in 1960s New York almost single-handedly brought back a vogue in 1960s fashion, nothing wrong with that, but it also put the characters' dramas into the recent past and offered up the possible stories of people who are now old or dead today. This gave an added pathos to the gradual unravelling of their problems as the decade came to its less than inspiring end. I'm sure some of those who were "there" in the '60s will nit-pick about some of the details but Mad Men, like any great work of period fiction, will stand as commentary on the many conflicts of values and cultures that made up that most exciting time but, more than that, it will be remembered for the complexities and quirkiness of its characters. Now that the series is over, I will take these people with me and think of them, and their various fates, often.

Peggy Olson (Elisabeth Moss), Don Draper (John Hamm) and Joan Holloway (Christina Hendricks)

In that highly sexist period, the so-called liberated '60s, it was tough being a woman and even tougher being a woman who wanted her share of the sumptuous cake that was on offer to men at that time. Mad Men, in spite of its title, was not just about the central character, Don Draper (John Hamm), fascinating, irritating, mysterious and charismatic as he was, it was also about Mad Women.
Even if we have never wanted to be a creative director of an advertising agency, even if we have a deep distrust for the advertising industry itself, no one who watched the series would have given up on their wish for Peggy Olson (Elisabeth Moss) and Joan Holloway (Christina Hendricks)  to make it to the very top of that most slippery of professional poles.

I don't want spoil the plot for those of you who haven't seen the final episode but it is worth saying that that enigmatic smile on Don Draper's face says so much about the particular genius of Mad Men. The plot may have been gripping, the drama often heart-breakingly tense, the characters quirkily vivid but in the end we were never allowed to get inside their heads to find out what they were really thinking. The series was as full of ambiguities and unanswered questions as real life. Remember that the next time you sit on a train or a bus opposite someone with the kind of enigmatic smile that animates Don Draper's face just when you want to know what's going on in his brain. That is why I loved Man Men so much. It showed us our fellow mad men as we really perceive them - whether we like our own isolation or not.

Don Draper (John Hamm) smiles.

And just because I didn't want Mad Men to end, here's the opening titles sequence, one more time:

Thursday, 21 May 2015

The First Rose Of Summer here in my Lewes Garden is a 'Red, Red Rose.'

Here is the first rose to flower in my Lewes garden this year caught in the early morning sun. There is something special about this moment and every year I celebrate it with a slight leap in my heart-rate.

This David Austin rose is Danse de Feu - it grows and thrives without fail on my shadowy and sun-starved North-facing flint wall where the flowers manage to shine out like rubies even on a dull day.

Today, with the sun shining on this new arrival, my single red rose has the promise of so much more to come. It is no coincidence that the first swallows started their pirouettes over my garden too this morning. Summer is well on its way - we just need the temperature to rise a bit more.

No wonder the Scots poet Robert Burns was inspired to his lyrical best by the sight of a red, red rose - "newly sprung in June" - well, mine has beaten Mr Burns' rose by two weeks but the poem still deserves its turn in the sun.

Red, Red Rose

by Robert Burns (1759 – 1796)

O my Luve is like a red, red rose

That’s newly sprung in June;

O my Luve is like the melody

That’s sweetly played in tune.

So fair art thou, my bonnie lass,

So deep in luve am I;

And I will luve thee still, my dear,

Till a’ the seas gang dry.

Till a’ the seas gang dry, my dear,

And the rocks melt wi’ the sun;

I will love thee still, my dear,

While the sands o’ life shall run.

And fare thee weel, my only luve!

And fare thee weel awhile!

And I will come again, my luve,

Though it were ten thousand mile.

Robert Burns (1759 - 1796) by Alexander Naysmith, 1787

Robert Burns remains one of Britain's greatest songwriters so here's the poem as song in its best known setting - to the tune Low Down In The Broom (1821). It is sung with suitable Scots lilt by Andy M. Stewart.  I just love it - but then my Scots blood needed a quick stir after all that British General Election anti-Scots prejudice misery:

Wednesday, 20 May 2015

It's all about beards here in Lewes - they are so now.

I'm told that beards are trendy this year and just as stopped clocks tell the right time twice a day, I've suddenly become dead trendy without realising it. Well I've mostly had a beard so I'm pleased all those stylish guys have caught up with me at last.

In fact some beards have gone decidedly avant-garde - a good thing in my opinion because men do have a tendency to be rather conservative in their appearance and, since the British General Election victory for the Conservative Party, I'm decidedly off the idea of conservative values.

Familiar old faces have sprouted hairs too. George Clooney carries it off well just as he makes grey hair the new black.

As for David Beckham, bless him, he'd adapt the latest trend even if someone told him paper bags placed over the head were the hottest thing on the street. He looks OK in his beard though but presumably it will be shaved off in a couple of minutes so, if you like it, enjoy it will you can.

Why all this stuff about beards, you may wonder. It's not because I've been letting mine grow a bit longer, honestly but, while we're here, this is it.

No, it's not about my beard or George's or David's, the reason for my beard enthusiasm is this:

Yes, my Bearded Irises are in bloom and, be honest, wouldn't you rather look at these instead of a lot of hairy guys? My Irises looked great today, in the sunshine and after the rain.

Now that the daffodils and tulips have gone and just before the roses come out, Bearded Irises fill the gap here in my Lewes, UK, garden. So here's looking at you, Iris. We need a bit of cheering up here in Lewes after you know what. (Don't mention the Election).

Tuesday, 19 May 2015

The spider and the bumble bee - a story of Lewes's Liberal life.

Here in my home town of Lewes, UK,  now thanks to secret voters in the recent General Election, a Conservative constituency, we are learning to take the rough with the smooth. It's spring, which is nice, but it's been unseasonably cold, well, cool in that North West wind that has blown up over the last few days but that has meant that the blossom has hung around longer than usual and that's good too. Yes, we are taking the rough with the smooth here now that we have found out that our new member of Parliament is a Conservative and that our former and rather splendid MP, the energetic Liberal-Democrat Norman Baker has been unceremoniously cast aside after 18 years as Lewes's representative in Parliament.

Now, I like spiders. I've often said that in these blogs and, here in my small town garden in the now Conservative constituency of Lewes, I am lucky to have a healthy community of little creatures all, as far as I can tell, feeling at home here. The spiders are much in evidence and that is good.

In these days when we are told that bees, rather like Social-Democrat MPs, are becoming worryingly scarce, I am fortunate to have a lively community of bees buzzing around in my garden too.

I like bees, especially bumble bees and do everything in my power to help them to thrive here by planting flowers and shrubs that are bee-friendly. I hope I'm making a difference because my environment would be a whole lot less pleasant if bees disappeared altogether.

I do have, of course, spiders and, as I said, I like spiders too.

In the summer months, I'm lucky enough to have beautiful creatures like damsel flies.

Sadly, sometimes, my spiders catch my damsel flies but, well, I have learnt to take the rough with the smooth.

I try to stay calm when I see another example of Nature being red in tooth and claw but it doesn't stop me wishing for a greener Britain one day. Through all of this, I've carried on liking spiders.

The only problem is that I have begun to associate Britain's endangered bees with this country's similarly endangered Liberals because, in both cases, I believe Britain would be less, well,  British without them. 

So, just after that General Election when Lewes rejected Norman Baker, I noticed from my bathroom window that one of my spiders had caught a bumble bee. The more it struggled, the more it got ensnared. Well done to the spider who had got itself a fine meal but, hey, I thought of Mr Baker and tried to ignore the comparison. One day soon, I hope, that friendly buzzing sound will return to my Lewes garden. Lewes wouldn't be the same without bees or Liberals.

Monday, 18 May 2015

Alexander McQueen at London's Victoria and Albert Museum - much more than amazing frocks.

I went to the Victoria and Albert Museum in London on Friday and it was enough just to have tea and a glass of wine in the Victorian Gothic tearoom listening to a solitary-looking man playing Cole Porter on a nicely dusty grand piano.

I've always loved the Victorian ambience of this wonderful example of 19th Century British civic benevolence - inspired by the Great Exhibition of 1851 which brought to London, then the centre of Empire, examples of manufactured products from every nation. The V & A, is still the largest museum of the decorative arts in the world and has, as they say, something of interest for anyone who has eyes to see.

I particularly like the Gothic and Renaissance rooms with their statuary, altarpieces and wood carvings now displayed in impressively wide open spaces.

On Friday, though, I was there for something altogether different or, just maybe, not really that different at all.

I managed to get tickets for the much talk-about and now extended Alexander McQueen exhibition, Savage Beauty and was suitably and surprisingly wowed by this sensational multi-media show celebrating the great fashion designer's genius.

Beautiful it was but savage too - it was also genuinely thrilling even if you have no interest in designer clothes. Photographs can't show the full wonder of this show which was originally shown in the Metropolitan Museum, New York, the city that took Alexander McQueen to its heart long before us Brits caught on. In the wake of what was apparently a triumph in New York, the show has been enlarged and extended for its visit to the very unstuffy V & A in London.

If you haven't seen it yet, then book yourself a ticket because it really is extraordinary. It's a large show, in so many ways, with a series of contrasting rooms each redolent of different aspects of McQueen's macabre sensibility.

Here science fiction meets horror, glamour and eye-watering extremes of Gothic in a series of dramatic displays made even more magnificent by the video inserts, sensational lighting and visceral music tracks reproduced with theatrical and cinematic virtuosity.

Not all of the clothes would be suitable for a respectable afternoon tea party but that might be why I liked them so much.

I had not realised until seeing this show that Alexander McQueen didn't just design frocks, he was a genius. His suicide was a terrible tragedy, of course, but seeing these powerfully probing works with their unflinching eye for the macabre and the sinister, his death appears less surprising. I shall think of him every time I return to those Gothic and Renaissance rooms down the corridor from this conscious-shifting exhibition.

Alexander McQueen (1969 - 2010)

Here is a hologram from the exhibition - Kate Moss totally McQueened:

Friday, 8 May 2015

Britain's Liberal voice silenced and the UK is handed over to the Rottweilers

Lewes MP Norman Baker accepting his defeat last night.

Staying up all night didn't help make things better here in Lewes, UK, after yesterday's General Election. All it did was make me feel tired and disgruntled this morning and thus even more depressed than I would've been to find that my home town, the place I've always thought of as a civilised liberal enclave in a largely barbaric country has gone Conservative.

It is bad enough that the country has now got a fully elected Conservative government but we have also lost our excellent local Member of Parliament, Norman Baker, as part of the general massacre of the Liberal-Democrats in Britain who have been punished for their role in the previous Coalition government. I'm not quite sure what this particular protest has achieved other than a Conservative majority.

Oh well, we live in interesting times and we shall have to get used to the loss of a number of familiar faces in our political life including, of course defeated party leaders Miliband and Clegg, .  The quirky but dedicated and effective Mr. Baker will be missed as will, I'm afraid, Britain's liberal voice. Now it will all be about Nationalism and fear - the little English as well as the Scottish varieties. I suppose, this could well mean the end of the United Kingdom as we have known it.

Norman Baker said: "I don't think it was about anything which happened here. We ran a good campaign...This is about the national picture and fear of the SNP (Scottish Nationalist Party)...My political career is finished as far as I'm concerned. I shall now do something else. I will not be standing for Parliament again."

There was some good news though. The impressive Green MP Caroline Lucas was returned to Parliament down the road in Brighton and the leader of the right-wing United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) failed to win his seat and will, he says, resign. 

It's a bad day for the Labour Party (down to 1982 proportions)  as well as for the Liberal-Democrats (now only 8 seats). Anyone on the left of centre in Britain will have to go and work out what to do next while we wait to see how the new Lib-Dem purged Conservative government will pan out with its fragile majority. Mr Cameron will learn just what his predecessor,  Conservative Prime Minister John Major felt like being a victim of his right wing backbenchers - the Tory Rottweilers he dubbed the 'Bastards'. 

Meanwhile I shall take down my Norman Baker's posters and wish him well in his new life. Then I shall make a cup of coffee and think of something cheerful. Heigh-ho!

As least Norman has his band to keep him going:

Wednesday, 6 May 2015

The UK General Election: Who should we vote for tomorrow?

The leaders of the UK's seven main political parties (not including Northern Ireland)

In case you are one of those lucky people (presumably not in the UK) who haven't been subjected to the very long PR campaigns run by Britain's political parties and the consequent media orgy that has been this, the longest run-up to a general election that I can remember, here's some explanation.

Strangely, or maybe not, the length of the campaign has made very little difference to the opinion polls that show the main two political parties (Conservatives and Labour) almost equal and, even more unusually, that an amazing 40% of the electorate say that they haven't decided how they will vote. - it's not for any lack of publicity.  The election will be held on Thursday this week and, needless to say, everyone thinks it will be very close with the strong possibility that neither main party will achieve a working majority.

There has been more than enough coverage of the 2015 election campaign from people who, probably,  know what they're talking about so I won't pretend to be a political pundit. All I can do is add some of my thoughts now that we only have a day to decide how to vote.

David Cameron

I know some (actually only a few) people who have always voted Conservative and who will continue to do so no matter what. Well good luck to them - I admire people who know what they believe and stick to their principles even if I totally disagree with them. It's quite interesting, in case you hadn't noticed, that the Conservative Party hasn't been elected by the British electorate for 23 years, not since John Major's victory in 1992 - David Cameron became Prime Minister,  without a majority,  as the leader of the party that could form a coalition with the Liberal Democrats (leader Nick Clegg became Deputy Prime Minister).

I suspect, by now, most people will have worked out what they thought about the coalition government even if we as a nation still haven't grasped the realities of political coalition. Certainly the unpopularity of the Liberal Democrats since they entered government  shows that being a party of protest is a lot easier than actually having to do the job.

Gordon Brown

I was sad to see the collapse of the Gordon Brown government and still believe that history will redeem his reputation as the man who prevented a much greater economic crisis than we've actually endured since 2008. I have been amazed how the Conservatives have succeeded in persuading people that the World economic crisis of that year was all Gordon Brown's fault. It only goes to show that people will believe what they want to believe - it's one of the downsides of democracy. The Conservative Party tried to turn the financial collapse into political propaganda and wanted to use austerity cuts as a method of undermining the welfare state on a long mission to fulfil their dreams of a Thatcherite state where there would "be no such thing as society".

Ed Miliband

The Labour Party, led by Ed Miliband, has distanced itself from Gordon Brown too and acknowledged that the last Labour government made mistakes. It is true, they did (Iraq, Bank regulation, pension fund taxation and failing to form a coalition with the Liberal Democrats after the last election) but Ed Miliband, deeply unpopular since coming to the job, has finally started to look like tomorrow's man as we have got to know him better and in spite of a largely negative campaign against him by most of the British newspapers. It is still highly doubtful that the electorate will vote for Labour to go it alone as he would obviously prefer.

Nigel Farage

The loss of electoral support for the two main parties has led to some dramatic and, maybe, exaggerated press predictions, especially over the last year over the rise (and hopefully, fall) of Nigel Farage's United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP - pronounced you-kip) that has been blaming everything on immigration and the European Union. As somebody wrote, people who are tempted to vote for UKIP are voting for some imagined past - probably a fantasy English world circa 1952 when the Queen was a young woman, Europe was a long way away, somewhere on the other side of the world, and the sun always shined in the sky as opposed to Mr Farage's posterior. We will see on Friday if UKIP has made any difference - their popularity is on the wane but, across the country they could still let in the party that their voters don't actually want.

Whichever main party gets to form a government, the experts and the polls tell us that they will have to at least co-operate with some of the smaller parties and thus, this year, we have all taken extra notice of those other political leaders - especially Nigel Farage of UKIP, Nicola Sturgeon of the Scottish Nationalist Party, Leanne Wood of Plaid Cymru (the Welsh Nationalist party) and Natalie Bennett of the Green Party. Putting UKIP to one side (I've already said too much about this depressing party), the others are all to the left of Labour and in with a real chance of keeping a minority Labour government in power. It is important for anyone who votes for them to realise that their vote might,  this time,  actually make a difference.

Natalie Bennett

I have much sympathy for many of the policies advocated (as long term ideals but unconvincingly costed) by the Green Party and I've been saddened by the several public relations disasters that have plagued their charisma-challenged and surprisingly honest leader,  Natalie Bennett, because much of what she has said about the environment and the reordering of economic priorities will be commonly agreed one day and I would like to hear Green Party voices in the House Of Commons even if it is only to act as the nation's conscience.

Nicola Sturgeon

I am not a fan of Nationalism (Scottish, Welsh, Irish, German, North Korean or any other variety) but then I don't have a Scottish or Welsh vote.  However I disagree with those who want to deny the Scots a voice in the UK parliament as some kind of revenge policy because so many of them want independence from the United Kingdom (maybe we should come up with a new collective name for the old UK). At the moment, the Scottish Nationalists come across as an idealist left wing party with a splendidly articulate leader in Nicola Sturgeon, but, if I had a Scottish vote, I would not vote for a party that wants to break up the UK and I have a long enough memory to remember that it was the Scottish Nationalists who voted with the Conservative Party, led by Margaret Thatcher, to bring down the Labour Government in 1979.

Nick Clegg

The other minority party, of course, is the Liberal Democratic party, led by the much maligned Nick Clegg. OK, Liberal Democrat politicians sat around a Conservative cabinet table and agreed many policies that shocked and saddened many of their supporters but it is possible to believe what they say about doing their democratic duty in doing a deal with the Conservatives at a time of economic crisis when the electorate had failed to elect an outright winner. I would've preferred a Labour-Liberal Democrat coalition but the Conservatives had more seats and that, I guess, was democracy at work.

Cameron and Clegg - Coalition Partners

This week the British electorate may well have another hung parliament and, I believe, we as a nation need to wake up to the realities of political coalitions. The Liberal Democrats made mistakes in the last government and agreed to policies that still make me shudder but they also limited a Conservative government's harshest instincts and helped to control the horrors advocated by those right wing Conservative backbenchers - the people who would get their way if the Conservative party wins a workable majority.

So where do I stand just before this important moment in British electoral history?

Well,  I've never believed that any one party has all the answers but there are a number of policies that I can say I support:

1) We should remain in, support and influence the European Union and only have a referendum if and when major policy changes occur.

2) We should maintain the United Kingdom but improve the political structures in each member country including all parts of England.

3) We should adjust the tax system so that it doesn't benefit the richest members of society at the expense of the most needy.

4) We should take much tougher measures to limit gas emissions and end the potentially dangerous use of nuclear power.

5) We should stop playing politics with the National Health Service.

6) We should properly fund universities and make them free at source for all.

7) We should re-nationalise public transport and reintroduce bus services in all rural areas.

8) We should down-grade (but not abolish) Trident when the decision has to be taken in 2016 and then, through example and negotiation, lead the rest of the world towards total nuclear disarmament.

Then again, what do I know!

If I lived in most parts of Scotland or Wales, I would vote Labour but I don't, I live in Lewes in England.

Norman Baker

What I do know is that I have been saddened by the consequences for the Liberal Democrats in the fall-out from the Conservative-Liberal Democrat Coalition and fear the loss of a liberal voice in Britain.  Most of my list above is, I think, Lib-Dem policy.  I live in a town fortunate to have a very good constituency MP, the Liberal-Democrat Norman Baker and I intend to vote for him on Thursday. We are not only electing a government but someone to look after our interests where we live and Norman Baker, who did some good things as Transport Minister in the Coalition Government (as well as resigning from Theresa May's Home Office on a matter of principle),  has also been an energetic and effective local MP.

Caroline Lucas

Just down the road from here is the city of Brighton - a place that also has an excellent constituency MP in the Green Party's Caroline Lucas. I hope she too will be returned to Parliament on Thursday.

I would like Thursday's election to produce an Ed Miliband government with strong Liberal-Democratic and Green backing but I only have one vote.  However, I intend to use it and I hope everyone else in this country will do the same however they vote. We should remember that one of the many good things about democracy is that we can also vote people out of power. So get out there tomorrow and, yes,  you,  the 40% of undecideds, it's make your mind up time so go vote and make a difference.