September 10, 2013
September 8, 2013
At the TUC conference, earlier today. On stage behind Labour leader Ed Miliband, even the hand-picked phalanx of ‘ordinary people’ found it hard to focus on his speech. Young woman of colour, top-right, wore the same expression as my students: I’d-rather-be-texting. White man, front row, gurning on camera. Really! Meanwhile Mr Miliband said his set piece, reciting lines rehearsed too often; making robust gestures – hey, look at my robust gesture – which were mannered and effete.
Westminster, a day earlier. Margaret Hodge MP, chair of the public accounts committee, grilled BBC Trusties and ex-executives about excessive redundancy payments. Already in the pink (living well at public expense must be patterned on Lord Patten), they wriggled and turned red-in-the-face. Hodge herself seemed to be tinted yellow: her skin toned in with her purple top for maximum day glow effect.
On different days in different places, it varies from lacklustre to lurid; but the slow liquidation of British institutions is everywhere irreversible.
Left: eyes on sentry-duty, asking ‘who goes there?’ Right: same guarded look; of course the same piping on the tunic and the same cap, oddly-oversized.
Bus conductor? Russian admiral? No, it’s Thomas Highgate of the Royal West Kent Regiment, first British ‘deserter’ to face a First World War firing squad, 99 years before last night’s Last Night of the Proms.
When they sing ‘Rule Britannia’, Tommy, do you turn in your unmarked grave?
It’s the mouth that’s different. Though in both instances, Highgate’s lips are slightly apart, in the left-hand picture the former farm labourer’s mouth is ‘set on’, as employers and foremen used to say of their underlings: expectant, alert; ready to do his bit. Yet on the right the same mouth seems to be slackening, slackened, slack.
(Looking at these pictures online, I first thought that they were one and the same; only the sepia tint had made them seem different. On closer inspection, I noticed that in one picture alone the hat is higher than the slatted background; but I don’t know whether these two shots were taken in quick succession or on separate occasions.)
In the eyes of the officer class, the face on the left could still be trusted to join in with William Blake’s ‘Jerusalem’, inspired – it is said – by the Kent landscape which Private Highgate grew up in.
If you’d made it home, Tommy, you would have seen the Battle of Britain in the skies above Shoreham. It could have been you in the Home Guard in 1940, rounding up the crew of a German bomber shot down over Castle Farm; giving them a tot of brandy before handing them over to the Army.
Face on the right: no harmony here, no possibility of returning to Sunday matins or Promenade concerts at the Queen’s Hall; any sound emitted will only be the shriek of a Schoenberg.