Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Photographs, Joyous Photographs

I can only identify this one from its context and date.  It was sometime in 2011 and almost certainly in South Wales where I lived at that time.  It doesn't matter.  Waterfalls are waterfalls wherever they are.  What brings me joy when I see this one is the skein of froth, the deep navy of the water above  - a colour that turns to a toffee coloured brown as it falls.  And the peculiar angle of the photo that makes the water at the bottom look like it's on a slope.

Here's a cluster of mombretias from my garden in that same year, with some ferns behind them.  It was a lovely little garden, private and surrounded by high hedges.  I can take no credit, that's the way it was when I found it.  I just kept it tidy and watched things appear throughout the growing season.  I love the spiky leaves, the way they cast out in so many directions, like a cartoon explosion, the flame of the flower heads glowing within.

Here's an ancient pathway, a shot taken in the mountainous area of northern Tenerife in 2013.  I forget the name of the tribe that formed and used these paths, dwellers in this place long before the Spanish came - but given the state of much of Tenerife it was good to come across something so much more firmly grounded in the place.  In Dorset where I live now, there are numerous 'hollow ways' that are not dissimilar.  The mottled effect you are seeing on the level surface of the path is shadows from the surrounding trees, the white being direct sunshine pouring through the gaps.

How could anyone resist the invitation this tent offers, with its carefully tended little central flowerbed where strategically placed candles wait to be lit, circles of straw bales around the perimeter wait to be sat on and a guitar awaits the hands of a musician?  Not I.  It's a place of worship and celebration in the grounds of Burnlaw, a Baha'i community  in Northumbria.  Every summer they hold a small festival which they call 'Earthing the Spirit'.  In the morning and the evening, anyone who wants to gathers in this tent for a period of time to reflect in silence, read from religious/poetic texts, and sing and play - all in complete spontaneity. Though I do not share their faith, I felt both welcome and fortunate to share in the spirit of this festival on two or three occasions in the early 2010s.  Sadly, it's unlikely that I will return, but I look at this picture and others I have of people enjoying the activities, the fun and sharing the wonderful food, and it lifts my heart.

Pictured on my UPVC doorway back in 2013.  When you look at it this close up, even the squishy bits are jewel-like.

More soon.

Monday, January 7, 2019

Update, 2019

Hi to anyone who reads this,

These blogs started out as a way to promote my work - specifically at first 'Wilful Misunderstandings', my book of short stories.  As time went on it didn't seem appropriate to just plug the book so over the last three years I've tried to keep up regular entries of a varied nature: the occasional samples of my fictions and poems along with musings, dreams, profiles and reviews .  I hope I've provided some interest, entertainment or stimulation to anyone who has found them.

But there do not seem to be many of you discerning readers of this blog these days.  I'm not sure how much of this is to do with the impending/ongoing (?) decline/demise of Google Plus and how much of this is down to other causes, whatever they may be.  In the first year I tried to keep up a weekly schedule, but that proved to be more than I could manage, and I cut it down to two per month.  This I've managed to keep up more or less regularly over the last two years.  However, now, I've decided to cut down to one a month.  I'm not an intensely opinionated kind of person, and it takes me time to formulate and produce a piece of writing.  I have to consider the return on the energy and time invested.  It's not possible to say with absolute certainty, but it doesn't appear that this blog has actually resulted in a single sale of my book or helped me to 'raise my profile' - certainly not in a sustainable way.  The other kind of return, as with any endeavour is to do with how much enjoyment is involved in doing the work.  To that I can give a more positive response - I've had quite a lot of fun writing for this blog, and I still don't want to give up on it.  Hence the compromise, once a month.

For anyone who is interested here's what I am doing with my time in the writing field.  I've recently completed a first draft of my next major project after 'Wilful Misunderstandings' - a novel provisionally entitled 'Flash Company' - and am embarking on revision work.  I'd like to get it out in some form or another in 2020.  It tells of a poet for whom 'the muse' proves to be a powerful and terrifying force of nature.  More on that when it nears completion.

As mentioned previously in this blog I contribute to a couple of magazines.  I'm an associate editor of literary magazine 'Tears in the Fence', focusing on story contributions, but also contributing reviews and poems (there will be three in the next issue - #69, probably out this summer - and I think they're among the best I've written).  I am also an occasional contributor to the online magazine 'Gonzo Weekly' - which you can access by googling those words.  Last January I ran a listing in the blog of pieces contributed  by around that time, which I'll try to update at some point.  'Gonzo' deals mainly with rock music in a variety of styles (anything favoured by its contributors) but also looks at other aspects of the arts and of politics etc.  Well worth a look if your interests lie that way.

Because I think it does me good as a writer, I'm a member of a number of writing workshops, some specialising in poetry others in story writing.  Writing occasional pieces for presentation and sharing in these has built me up a back-log of short tales amongst other things - all in need of further work before being presentable - and could result in another short story collection being somewhere in the pipeline.  Perhaps one of poems too, though I tend to be extremely critical of my own poetic output and there are few with which I feel any great degree of satisfaction.

So there you have it.  That's what I'm up to.  Here's a pic of me reading at last September's 'Tears in the Fence' poetry festival, and the obligatory occasional ad for 'Wilful Misunderstandings' follows.  If you're reading this and you haven't read that, it's my duty to inform you that there is a serious hole in your life which can only be filled by sending off for a copy of that illustrious publication.  Do it now.

Monday, December 10, 2018

Extinction Rebellion - Thoughts following the buzz of participation.

Having covered the Extinction Rebellion day on 17th November a couple of weeks back, I’ve had too much going on to participate in its subsequent actions.  These included several days of ‘swarming’, stopping traffic in London for short periods, and a second day of action commencing in parliament square a week later.  They’ve tended to get less overall media coverage than the earlier forays and I imagine this will be considered in the period of reflection the organisation intends to take before instigating further action in April next year.

Members of our local group have participated in some of these actions when they can, both in London and on a smaller scale in various localities.  Our group will be meeting again next week to consider the long haul ahead – enabling ourselves to participate more fully in forthcoming national non-violent direct action initiatives and considering what can be done to spread the message here where we are.

All well and good, but considering what we are up against, is it yet anything approaching enough?  The message is brutal.  Roger Hallam speaks of mass starvation across the world within 25 years.  We are in the process of societal collapse all across the planet.  While climate change continues to accelerate exponentially (an Arctic without ice by 2023 is one recent estimate), we face massive biodiversity depletion, ocean acidification, air soil and water pollution, water depletion, devastating consequences of soil erosion and deforestation.  The shit is hitting the fan everywhere we look.  Yet there is a feeling that most people don’t want to know.  We, myself included, continue to act as if everything is continuing as normal.  We watch ‘Strictly’, speculate about rifts between Kate/Will and Meghan/Harry, follow our teams/fashion icons/celebrities/rock bands and munch our takeaways as if nothing could possibly go wrong.  The alternative is just too scary to admit,

This of course suits a lot of people – most notably those who own and control most of the world’s wealth.  Look at what’s happening at the 2018 Climate Change conference in Katowice.  We already have the U.S., Saudi Arabia, Russia and Kuwait objecting to the conference ‘welcoming’ the recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report, even in the watered down form it inevitably took.  Insane as it seems, among the wealthy across the world there is a powerful desire to protect the status quo (and fossil fuel industry) right up to the end.  And it is not necessarily because they are genuine denialists or believers that technology will get us out of this.  Preparations are being made, bolt-holes and bunkers are being prepared for what, I’m told, they refer to as ‘the event’.  Meanwhile the media collude with the illusion, maintaining an increasingly dodgy concept of ‘balance’, afraid to upset anyone unduly and perhaps lose ratings as a result.

It is so easy to feel helpless, to sit around and say ‘we’re fucked, there’s nothing we can do about it’.  I’ve done a lot of that myself.  The value of Extinction Rebellion for me personally is not because I think it has a chance of succeeding.  It’s because I don’t want to die thinking I didn’t lift a finger, didn’t at least try to do something about what is so plain to see but so hard to accept. 

Does it have a chance of succeeding?  This is what I’ve been wondering.  The feeling on Lambeth Bridge back on the 17th was powerful and good, but even there I found myself unsure about some aspects of what I was observing.  I can’t be one hundred percent certain but I suspect the majority of those who were on that bridge were well educated and middle class.  Certainly I saw very few non-white faces indeed.  Okay, there was a racial equality march in London on the same day, and that was important.  And there were four other bridges where the racial mix might have been less one-sided.  I hope so.  But my general feeling is that ‘Rising Up/Extinction Rebellion’ has been carefully thought out and prepared by a group of people who are academics in the main and that it is being embraced so far by people with the same leanings.  Its goal is mass civil action, powerful enough to make governments reconsider their apparent folly, but it has a long, long way to go before it can consider itself a mass movement.  To manage that, it has to break through social barriers, to sweep up people who have not yet grasped that anything out of the ordinary is going on.  That is one big ask.

And of course it’s not the only movement in the world that is seeking to sweep people up.  We have, as tends to be the case in times of deep insecurity, a resurgence of the right wing, of fascism and worse, as its leaders and rabble rousers offer simplistic pie-in-the-sky.  Over here we have the Brexiteers and the far right, Trump as figurehead for those who run the show in the US, and the likes of Bolsonaro in Brazil doing much the same.  And when it comes to ‘mass’ action, it seems the ‘yellow vest’ protestors in Paris are showing XR a thing or two (though perhaps not a purely right wing movement – don’t know enough to decide).  But I’m finding this paragraph too depressing to continue, so I hope you get the picture.  There is strong competition for hearts and minds here.

So the odds are stacked against XR.  But then I’m pretty sure that at one time or another in our history the odds seemed stacked against the abolition of slavery, women’s emancipation and more.  XR’s organisers make some play of quoting these events, and drawing in Martin Luther King and the civil disobedience that challenged racism in the US, along with Ghandi in India, as examples of how their strategy might work.  I want to believe them.  I really do.  They have my support, but building any confidence in their hope of success will be hard work indeed.

Photographs © Neil Baird |

Monday, November 19, 2018

Extinction Rebellion day of action 17-11-18 - first hand account

My partner alerted me to the Rising Up organisation a month or two back, as plans for the events which commenced with a road-blocking by Parliament Square on 31st October were already under way.  They were offering talks on climate change and the need for immediate action to combat the near inertia of our government (and others) on this urgent issue.  Also the failure of the media to present both climate change and biodiversity loss as the threat to humanity’s continuing existence in the increasingly near future that it clearly is.  The chosen method by which they hoped to highlight this issue was non-violent direct action in acts of civil disobedience, and they also offered training sessions on how to do this.  First thoughts were, this looks interesting but do they have the nouse to pull off something that the Green Party et al have yet to achieve?  We decided to ‘watch this space’ and pick up on it if it looked like it was going to go somewhere.

It certainly does have that appearance now.  Only a couple of weeks ago some enterprising locals got a couple of speakers to come to our town and give a talk on what was by then going out as the ‘Extinction Rebellion’.  Over a hundred people showed up, which for a rural north Dorset town is impressive.  The speakers were a former anti-road-campaigner and a young woman from an alternative community who had only been drawn into the movement herself a couple of weeks before.  They spoke with passion and good humour.  Regarding the recent IPCC report and the muted response it received, they pointed out that since the breakdown of our climatic systems is occurring with exponential rapidity its findings were already way out of date, not to mention the degree to which they were compromised by political input.

What impressed me was the careful thought that had clearly gone into this initiative.  The speakers emphasised the requirement to approach non-violent direct action ‘respectfully’ and of a ‘regenerative culture’ within their movement.  This included a recognition that some of us are prepared to face arrest etc. and some aren’t, but that all support is valued at whatever level.  And also that the organisation has a commitment to giving legal and other support its activists.  There’s a lot more to it than I’m including here – the info is out there on the web.  If you care about the situation, google Extinction Rebellion and take a look.

Following the talk, things moved fast.  A local ‘affinity group’ was set up and one of the speakers returned the following week to give us some basic NVDA training.  A number of us were available to go to London for the ‘rebellion day’ on the 17th.   A minibus was hired, and on a chilly Saturday morning at 7am, set off with thirteen of us on board to join the rebellion.  Up until a day or two before we though we would be heading for Parliament Square but then the news came through that Lambeth, Westminster, Waterloo, Blackfriars and Soutwark bridges were to be blocked.  We were asked to go to Lambeth, and headed on foot from our transport to the bridge, passing Roger Hallam – one of the organisers – being interviewed by the media on the way there.

The first part of the action was both tense and kind of bizarre.  We felt like extras in ‘The Third Man’ as we gathered on and around the bridge, in pairs and separate clusters, trying not to look as if we were preparing for what it was clear that almost everyone present knew we were going to do.  This included several police officers, waiting on the pavements.  There was a helicopter overhead and police vans constantly crossing the bridge, with sirens blaring more often than not.  We knew roughly what to do when the signal came, but not exactly when that would be.  At one point a youngish, lightly bearded gent approached us and informed us it would all be happening between 11 and 11.15am, and where best to position ourselves.  It turned out that he was Rupert Read, another of the organisers.

When the time came, it all happened pretty quickly.  I assume that some of the more seasoned ER activists took the necessary action at each end of the bridge, and those of us who were on it became aware that suddenly the road was clear of traffic.  We swarmed over the barriers onto the roadway, and sat ourselves down.  I was not aware of the police taking any action to try to stop us.  We knew they had been informed of what was to take place.  I’d guess that with five bridges to monitor, and the fact that there was also a big racial equality march taking place in London that day, they were simply too stretched to do anything preventive.

For a while after that it was like a good many demos I’ve participated in in my younger days.  There was a sound system set up and after the organisers who were assigned to this bridge – including Mr Read – had said a few words, people were invited to take the microphone and say their piece, as were musicians and readers of poetry.  Preaching to the converted, of course, but all enhancing the sense of common purpose and being given plentiful support whatever the quality of their output.  I was particularly impressed by a woman from Cumbria who spoke articulately and at some length about the effect of climate change and biodiversity loss that she has been observing and experiencing in recent years.  She was filmed – hopefully that clip will show up in due course.  When there weren’t folk speaking, singing or leading chants, there was a fairly funky playlist of music on the go, and a generally festive atmosphere.  Lots of banners and flags with the hourglass ER logo – a couple of banners that caught my eye were the ‘There is no Planet B’ one and the brutally EJ Thribb-ian ‘Roses are red, violets are blue… unless they’re all dead’.  I spent most of the event holding up one end of a colourful painted one by an artist in our group, thus necessitating photographing and eating/drinking to be a largely one-handed affair. 

The group grew considerably in number over the next hour or so, several hundred though I couldn’t be sure how many.  Police were a constant but unobtrusive presence throughout this period, mostly at the periphery of the group, occasionally walking through the crowd and/or conversing with individuals therein.  But then came a warning that they were planning to start making arrests.  Having decided that this time round I didn’t feel ready to go through the arrest experience, I moved to the pavement to be an onlooker, as did some others.  But those who chose to risk arrest were plentiful, bless ‘em, and the bridge remained fully occupied by seated people and some who chose to lie down.  In due course small groups of police came amongst them and seemingly at random made arrests, carrying people off where necessary.  At each one a cheer rose from the crowd, in support of the arrestees.

It was rather obvious that there were not enough police to have a hope of clearing the bridge.  I assume that this was also the case on the other four bridges.  At various points we were told that they had run short of vans also.  My, hasn’t austerity bitten hard?  But in keeping with the ‘respectful’ ethos, a lot of sympathy was expressed, and the vibe was pretty much ‘we know you people have just got to do your job here, and it’s a shitty one at that.’  As mentioned earlier there was an odd feeling too.  The police, with vans and signs were doing the actual blocking of the road at either end, protecting us from irate motorists.  There was a token feeling about the arrests – a sense that a show of law enforcement had to be made.

They did eventually return in somewhat larger numbers, and several of them formed a line across the bridge to the south of the assembled group.  The purpose of this was never entirely clear, other than to stop people exiting or entering that way.  At the north end roadblock, people were allowed to leave but not to re-enter.  The police came in amongst the crowd on the roadway small groups to make a second wave of arrests.  I think I heard an estimate that there were around forty, out of the eighty to ninety people in total across the span of the action, arrested on Lambeth Bridge.  It was rumoured that we were mainly targeted being the shortest bridge and potentially the easiest to clear, but I don’t know how authoritative that one was.  Two of our group were amongst them – processed and released later on the same day, with the possibility but no certainty of some prosecution pending.

But then, quite suddenly and unexpectedly, the police left.  The roadblocks remained but with fewer vehicles.  Just a few community police officers stayed hanging around at the edge of the crowd.  Perhaps there was trouble elsewhere, affecting the racial equality march.  Though I’m happy that the event got a certain amount of press coverage (those amongst us with smartphones were monitoring it by the end of the day), it is one of my regrets that the other marchers seemed to have got no coverage at all. 

And that’s about it.  I’m not sure how long people remained on the bridge after we left at around 3.30 to 4pm.  There didn’t seem much point in prolonging it – the statement had been made.  We had a deadline for getting back to our minibus so were unable to join the subsequent action in Parliament Square (where, I later read, trees were planted).  It was clear that we had played our part in a well-planned and effective piece of political action.  The campaign is ongoing and escalating, as it must be if it has any hope to have an impact that will reach our cloth-eared legislators.  I expect to be participating in more such actions, though have too many commitments to take part in those that will take place over the next week or two in this the first major phase of the ‘rebellion’.  I applaud everyone involved.  My hopes for the future of humanity, larger wild-life and the future of the planet are not strong, but I cannot not have some part in this initiative, despite the odds against it.

Here are Extinction Rebellion’s three demands:
1. The Government must tell the truth about the climate and wider ecological emergency, reverse inconsistent policies and work alongside the media to communicate with citizens.
2. The Government must enact legally binding policy measures to reduce carbon emissions to net zero by 2025 and to reduce consumption levels.
3. A national Citizen’s Assembly to oversee the changes, as part of creating a democracy fit for purpose.

It’s drastic stuff, but – as they say – we are facing an unprecedented global emergency.  Let’s not quibble over what is and isn’t possible by 2025, let’s just go for it.

Monday, November 5, 2018

24 Hours: A Breaking News Breakdown

                                         unfolding stories cross this stretch of time
                                         selective recognition
                                         from banner headline mongers
                                         regarding violent death
                                         attention channelled to order
                                         at a word from the elite
                                         deals concealed, re-framed in gilt
                                         young men with neat haircuts and sharp suits
                                         tell yarns with an air of authority
                                         old men clog the future
                                         grab the crotch of hope and squeeze
                                         preaching ‘growth’
                                        distributing the clutter of suffering
                                        while science speaks of end-times
                                        fair warning swept aside
                                        by tides of tattle
                                        celebrity shared vicariously
                                        as the cute-brigade spin
                                        turning like clockwork
                                        to dazzle the eye, plug the ear
                                        and scent away the stink
                                       twenty four more hours of scratch-my-back
                                       and dosey-dosey-doe


written: 23.10.18

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Exploratory Music

A couple of nights back I and my partner went to a gig that looked intriguing on paper.  It featured the cellists Gregor Riddell and his musical (& life?) partner Torun Stavseng, drummer, kalimba player and composer Adam Teixeira, and Nepalese tabla player Sanskriti Shrestha.  It was a mixture of composed music and improvisation, sometimes incorporating loops of found sound on a laptop operated by Gregor.

I’d not encountered any of these musicians before and found the performance interesting and at times quite entrancing.  All four musicians are connected in a network of occasional groupings – Teixeira and Riddell in the BirdWorld duo, for example, as well as a variety of other projects.  They operate in no easily definable category.  Modern classical?  Avant garde?  Experimental?  World music?  Jazz?  There were elements of all these approaches and probably more in the work they performed as a foursome and in various other combinations.  I guess they could be termed musical explorers.

I’m not proposing to review the concert.  I don’t have the language or the degree of musical perception to make any judgements about the quality of the work – though I think that individually they were all superb musicians.  For this blog, I just want to follow a chain of thought that this music brought to mind.

I guess I’ve always given ear-space to exploratory music.  First experiences would probably have been via Frank Zappas ‘Lumpy Gravy’, Pink Floyd’s ‘Interstellar Overdrive’, the first album by Hapshash & the Coloured Coat and the improvised sequences in the Grateful Dead’s ‘Dark Star’.  All very much associated with the rock music I mostly listened to back then, but extending its boundaries.  The subsequent era of ‘progressive’ rock often touched on the exploratory side – probably the most obvious example being the later (and continuing) work of Robert Fripp/King Crimson.  Robert Wyatt’s ‘The End of an Ear’ also comes to mind.  And of course, there was jazz and the work of ‘minimalists’ such as Terry Riley.  I would try to listen to as much of this stuff as I could access, but have to admit, not much of it appealed.

Come the 1990s and ever growing access to technology (both for making and recording it), there was a boom in exploratory music.  I got drawn towards it and became a subscriber to ‘The Wire’ magazine, which for some time now has provided some of the primary coverage of the music that was burgeoning then and continues to now, as far as I know.  My tastes drew me to the work of Bill Laswell and his many collaborators, and in passing to the likes of Paul Schutze, Chas Smith, Pauline Oliveros and others.  (I’m rattling through this and barely touching on the quantity of people whose work I gave a listen to, as it’s not the main point of this blog entry.)  But work on the more extreme ends – the ‘noise’ music of Merzbow and the like, for example – was beyond me.  I guess my approach was a bit ‘vanilla’. 

Interestingly too I read of the precedents I’d missed back in the day.  How for another example it was the work of experimental group AMM in the early/mid 60s that inspired Syd Barrett and possibly the remaining original Pink Floyd members to bring an improvisational approach to some of their recorded and live work.  Fascinating.  But when I actually listened to AMM it surprised me how close it was to much of the then-contemporary material I was listening to.  Obviously and as mentioned, the available technology opened up many new sonic possibilities, but the ground covered did not seem that different – sonically speaking.  Could it be that a lot of these experimentalists were doing a kind of ‘re-inventing the wheel’ exercise?  That, out there on the cutting edge, they were just reaching places where other musicians had trod long before?

I don’t know.  I’m not a musician.  But for a while in the early 2000s I learnt to use the ‘Cubase’ music programming system, and though what I eventually produced was pretty clunky, I still reckon that some of it was indistinguishable from the work of the exploratory musicians (check it out for yourself if you want at , try Zone Doubt or Stirred Into Dreams).  So that was an eye-opener.  I began to get an ‘emperor’s new clothes’ feeling about some of this stuff. 

And as we progressed into the 21st century I began to find The Wire increasingly heavy going.  I’d dutifully listen to their free CDs and downloads and find less and less of anything that I actually enjoyed listening to.  With a few exceptions, the writing too seemed increasingly over-my-head.  A few years back I cancelled my subscription.  My dalliance with experimental or exploratory music (call it what you will) largely petered out. 

This is not a roundabout put-down of Gregor Riddell and his cohorts the other night.  I genuinely enjoyed much of what they did.  Perhaps this kind of stuff, like a lot of other music, is better listened to live than recorded.  Perhaps it was because they were such good musicians, capable of far more than I could manage with only Cubase and some virtual instruments.  But still it set me thinking about the shifts and changes in my relationship with the kind of music they make and play. 

To cover all this in the detail it requires is beyond me.  But after sequencing these relatively random thoughts as best I can, my conclusions are:
 It works a lot better when there’s clear evidence that the musicians are skilled.
 That I personally enjoy music that folds in the results of experimentation and exploration to something that works on a more conventional level.

I shall continue to listen to some of it.  But not as much as I once did.

Pics: Gregor (top), Sanskriti, Adam and Torun

Monday, October 1, 2018

Thoughts on Armando Iannucci's 'The Death of Stalin'

A week or two back I went with my partner to see the film ‘The Death of Stalin’.  Familiar with the satirical work of Armando Iannucci, the screenwriter/director, I’d some idea of what to expect.  If you’ve not seen or heard about it, suffice to say it’s blackest of black humour, played for laughs by an ensemble of UK/US actors who make no attempt to sound Russian as they portray the jockeying for position and power of Stalin’s immediate circle following his death.  The ‘milk of human kindness’ has no part in this story.  On first impression, I can’t say I enjoyed it, but its humour hit home and seemed to me to be making some kind of point

Walking back, I discovered my partner had deep reservations about it.  In her opinion a serious political film ought to add to our understanding of the human condition.  She couldn’t see the point of making inaccurate caricatures of long dead political figures and the humour to her was ‘schoolboy’ in nature.  And it lacked all but scant reference to the better sides of humanity.

I found myself having to question my own belief in the virtue of satire.  And to think more deeply about why I thought it a good film – though not a great one as I too had felt the dark view it presented was not what you’d call a ‘rounded’ impression of humanity.  Satire, on the whole, doesn’t do that.  It often exaggerates greed, ruthlessness, stupidity or whatever to make its point.  Its employment of coarse humour is, I suppose, a kind of leveller, a toppling of pedestals.  But why direct it at these particular figures at this particular point in history?

I think the answer I’ve come up with is this.  It’s partly to do with context in the body of Iannucci’s work.  In ‘The Thick Of It’, his satire of modern UK politicians and their supporting staff, he portrayed them as utterly venal characters – it was like a nightmarish and foul-mouthed version of ‘Yes Minister’.  Nevertheless these unpleasant characters were reined in (to some extent) by the conventions by which we abide in Britain in our times.  By imagining Kruschev et al as virtually the same sort of characters, but able (after the precedent set by Stalin) to instigate arbitrary executions, rape and massacre at the drop of a hat, I think Iannucci is attempting to demonstrate what this sort of behaviour leads to when it reaches the point where it is completely unchecked.  It’s a warning that the characters running the show now might well do the same, given half the chance. 

Okay, it can be said that not all politicians are as blatantly venal as Iannucci chooses to portray them.  Some have strong humanitarian views and are motivated to try to advance them.  But the old saying about power corrupting, and absolute power corrupting absolutely still holds sway.  Even those with the best will in the world are, at the very least, forced to make compromises.  Satire digs at the bullshit, the spin, the front that all too often covers up for rather than admits human error and the making of less than satisfactory choices.

I don’t doubt that a serious and balanced approach, a humane portrayal of a variety of characters in such situations, some well-intentioned, some not, might add more to our understanding than ‘The Death of Stalin’.  That might make a great film, one to savour and watch repeatedly.  Iannucci’s film I wouldn’t watch again – but I’m glad I saw it the once.  As a broad piece of satire and as a warning for our times (a US President for example who has stated that he ‘doesn’t have a problem’ with the use of torture) I think it had a fair bit of value.