If the COVID-19 crisis has taught us anything it is the life-saving difference between good and bad government, and why the foundation of a successful society is strong, well-funded and universal public services. This, of course, shouldn’t have needed reaffirming. As Stuart Maconie points out in ‘The Nanny State Made Me’, a book that is both wonderfully entertaining and annotate-every-page informative, “The people who complain about the ‘nanny state’ are the people who had nannies”. Nevertheless, in most parts of the western world the public sector has been on the receiving end of a forty year battering. Perhaps this pandemic will be the moment when it bounces back off the ropes.
This weekend’s British Sea Power curated Krankenhaus festival on the Cumbrian coast has been pure joy. Housed in a barn on the Muncaster Castle estate, it felt like a legal rave curated by a nature-loving art-school band. Where else would you get hear everything from folk to tree-people trance, alongside a reading from the poet laureate, late night DJ-ing from a snooker legend, and musically enhanced bingo from Japanese punk band?
A recent blog by my colleague, Luke Sherlock, comes highly recommended by markontour and is well worth a read for anyone still wondering if China is serious about building an ‘ecological civilisation’. Reviewing Barbara Finamore’s recent book, ‘Will China Save the Planet?’, Luke highlights that China’s federal government is quietly delivering something like the Green New Deal that a growing climate emergency movement is demanding in the USA and Europe (and is already being delivered in cities like Los Angeles and New York).
For a quick trip to radio heaven, listen to Cerys Matthews’ show from 9 June 2019. Jeff Towns of Dylan’s Mobile Bookstore joins Cerys to discuss Idris Davies’ poem ‘The Bells of Rhymney’, which may be the most influential poem you’ve never heard. Documenting life in the South Wales mining villages of the 1920s, and based on Davies’ own experiences of following his father down the pits aged 14, the poem clearly influenced Dylan Thomas’ ‘Under Milkwood’ (just listen to the start), inspired Woody Guthrie’s ‘Talking Centralia’ (or ‘Talking Miner’), and was put to music by Pete Seeger, only to be covered first by Bob Dylan and then The Byrds.
In The Three Body Problem trilogy, Cixin Liu has created an extraordinarily compelling vision of humanity’s near future, underpinned by a narrative that is as rich in philosophy as it is in science. While paced like a thriller, Liu’s prose is as packed with multi-layered insight as the plots of most other works of that genre are filled with holes. Perhaps it is the effect of altitude, as my old-technology airship glides over the Black Sea at 35,000 feet, but despite having only just finished reading the second in the series, The Dark Forest, I am ready to declare Cixin Liu the most exciting author of the twenty-first century so far.
If anyone has yet to see ‘To Provide All People’, Owen Sheers’ incredible ‘poem in the voice of the NHS’, dramatised by the BBC, then you are missing out on the television event of the year.
Mariam is tarred from birth as a ‘harami’, an illegitimate daughter of a rich, weak man. She lives a life of pain and loss, in which she grows to believe that no-one cares for her, except the mother whose love she couldn’t properly comprehend as a child. Yet Mariam will live forever in Laila’s heart “where she shines with the bursting radiance of a thousands suns”. So goes the poignant, lyrical story of Khaled Hosseini’s second novel, and what an engrossing, and ultimately uplifting, tale it is.
From Poetry Please this week comes an absolute must-listen – Johnny Cash reading ‘The Cremation of Sam McGee’, by Robert Service.
Thanks to Billy Bragg’s first foray into non-fiction, ‘Roots Radicals and Rockers’, markontour is currently listening to Lonnie Donegan. Although I’m sceptical that ‘Rock Island Line’ would induce the same excitement in twenty-first century kids as it seemingly did in 1957, as Bragg turns out to be as eloquent in prose as he is in lyrical verse, I am nevertheless both highly entertained from taking the book’s journey and prepared to believe that skiffle did indeed change the musical world.
It is the reader, I suspect, and not the author that determines what is the subject of Peter Mathieson’s captivating thirty-year old book, The Snow Leopard. It is variously a travelogue (on which the author accompanies a famed naturalist to study the Nepalese wild blue sheep), a tale of spiritual search (for Mathieson lost his wife to cancer shortly before setting off), or an exploration of the natural beauty of a last wildnerness. For markontour, it was all about the majesty of mountains and a certain kind of welcome solitude.