Monday, 29 December 2014

12 Films At Christmas - 10

The Candidate (1972) - I remember watching this film on television with my father back in the 1970's and I recall in particular his assertion that this was a good example of America's laudable skill in washing its dirty linen in public.

This film prefigures Primary Colors and to a lesser degree The West Wing. As in both of those examples our protagonist is a Democrat  - as in Primary Colors, but decidedly not in The West Wing, the putative hero transpires to have feet of clay. Good stuff - and all of it written before Watergate had even started. 7.5/10

Saturday, 27 December 2014

12 Films At Christmas - 8 & 9

An interesting comparison between the latest (third?) golden era of Disney animation and its first .

Frozen is the modern offering. Slick CGI animation, good characterisation and a plot that zips along. All in all then a good film but, if I must be critical (and I must) I found it mildly unengaging and somehow too clinical in its artwork. Could be an age thing. 7/10.

The product of an earlier vintage is Pinocchio and I think, after due deliberation (and a bit more just in case) that I have to deem this film brilliant. Beautifully hand-drawn, taut ( not a wasted frame) and nicely disturbing - what does happen to all those naughty boys who are not rescued from metamorphosis into donkeys? This and other early Disney set the parameters of what should be expected from animation, parameters which have still not been expanded despite the advent of CGI. 9/10.

Thursday, 25 December 2014

12 Films At Christmas - 5, 6 & 7

I have been keeping my dear old Dad company for the last few days whilst Mater has been in hospital. We have watched three films together and here is my review of each.

In quick succession we on one evening, courtesy of ITV, watched Mission Impossible and Tomorrow Never Dies. The first of these features the ever watchable Tom Cruise and an almost total lack of comprehensible plot. Somehow the lack of plot doesn't matter as the film races from one entertaining improbability to another. You are rarely more than a few minutes away from an explosive piece of action, all under the expert direction of Brian De Palma. The final set-piece has a helicopter chasing a train down the Channel Tunnel. Fun. 6/10.

Tomorrow Never Dies is a not dissimilar piece of work but on an even more lavish scale with James Bond tongue-in-cheekery thrown in. It's not Skyfall or even Goldfinger but it's also a long way from being the worst Bond film. Piers Brosnan is a good Bond, the chase with the remotely controlled BMW is terrific and making the arch-villain a megalomaniac media baron is a neat twist. Also 6/10.

Our third cinematic venture was a very different kettle of fish but the best of the three. The Way Ahead dates from 1944, is directed by Carol Reed, co-authored by Eric Ambler and Peter Ustinov, and features more familiar British acting faces than you can shake a stick at. It would make an interesting companion piece for the much later and infinitely less optimistic Full Metal Jacket (see Overgraduate 17 December) since the latter's structure follows that of the former - raw military recruits being taken through training and then switching to their eventual deployment in battle. 7.5/10.

Advent 24

My apologies to anyone sad enough to have been waiting with bated breath for the concluding calendar entry. Due to a bizarre confluence of funerals, illness (of others) and botched amateur house-breaking (of which I will probably write at a later date) I was remote from internet access yesterday. Still, I'm pretty sure you will have guessed the unimaginative concluding cultural influence. Without apology I give you quite simply the greatest writer of them all - the Boy Shakespeare.

So much has been said about the Bard that his work can seem impenetrable. It categorically is not. If I was conducting a crash induction course I would start at the Globe preferably with a production of Macbeth - the plays were written to be watched live and performed raucously. I would move on to recommend Frank Kermode's Shakespeare's Language, a magisterially composed rescue from critical density of Shakespeare the dramatic poet. Next we would watch Julie Taymor's Titus followed by some WWE Wrestling as an illustration of modern context. And then I would realise that I was being presumptuous and pass the inductee into the hands of the peerless scholar Jonathan Bate, courtesy of his Soul of the Age - from which I now shamelessly quote.
Both 'not of an age' and 'Soul of the Age'. For Ralph Waldo Emerson, writing in nineteenth-century New England, Shakespeare was 'inconceivably wise', possessed of a brain so uniquely vast that no one can penetrate it. But at the same time, he was the incarnation of 'a cause, a country and an age'. It is this double quality that makes Shakespeare, in Emerson's fine phrase, the representative poet.
Happy Christmas one and all, and may your God go with you.

Tuesday, 23 December 2014

Advent 23

Mindful as I am that it is terribly bad form to quote oneself, I nevertheless must refer you to my own entry on the estimable Victorian Web - a brief biography of Walter Bagehot. Readers of this blog and those who know me will already have been bored by me on the subject of this flawed Victorian genius but for anyone interested I refer you to Bagehot Biography

Tomorrow my ultimate cultural hero - about whom I have also unapologetically bored my acquaintances rigid.

Monday, 22 December 2014

Advent 22

Today we have the quite brilliant Clive James. Because his work is so accessible it is easy to overlook the enormity of his intellect. He is poet, lyricist, critic, commentator and novelist. It was dipping into his awesome Cultural Amnesia that gave me the idea for the calendar this year. Mine is a motley collection of twenty-four thumbnail sketches from the edges of reason. James' is an imperious array of one hundred plus cultural essays. Still imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. His essays and my calendar have only one common subject and that is Margaret Thatcher.

Clive James' best work? The lyrics he wrote for Pete Atkins' compositions in the 1970's - the more recent stuff is not quite as good. My absolute favourite lines,
I've got the only cure for life/ and the cure for life is joy/ I'm the crying man that everyone calls laughing boy.

Sunday, 21 December 2014

Advent 21

Rain Steam and Speed
Ruskin judged Joseph Mallord William Turner one of the 'seven supreme colourists of the world.' The
Boy Roberts from his perch in the half grown tree of big ignorance thinks him the greatest painter ever. So two pictures today - one of the man by the man and the other of a train by the man. Don't take my word for it, go to the National Gallery and see the original - it's free. That's why I pay my taxes.

Saturday, 20 December 2014

Advent 20

Simon Raven was described (by Roy Hattersley I think) as having the pen of an angel and the mind of a cad. This is apt. He was a jobbing writer, indeed his ruinously spendthrift tendencies meant that he had to be - Spike Milligan commented that Raven would have dramatised the phone book if there was a fee in it. However his finest output is of great literary merit. By finest output I mean the ten novel Alms for Oblivion sequence which he churned out between 1965 and 1975.

When Alms for Oblivion was republished in 1998 Raven wrote an acidic Introduction which properly punctured the flimsy balloon of Cool Britannia.
Once upon a time, however strong and righteous you considered your message, you scorned to become a pest: in 1998, however trivial your grievance, you find yourself encouraged and even 'morally obliged' to become not just a pest but a pestilence … Enough. This little essay has been about certain types of mind-less or sanctimonious behaviour which you will not find in Alms for Oblivion, except in small quantities deliberately introduced to be deplored, despised and mocked. These days you are not allowed to deplore, despise or mock them: they have become 'politically correct'.    

Friday, 19 December 2014

Advent 19

The most oft quoted remark of Margaret Hilda Thatcher bears repetition in full. That fullness gives it some context - a context denied by her vituperative critics.
I think we've been through a period where too many people have been given to understand that if they have a problem, it's the government's job to cope with it: 'I have a problem, I'll get a grant.' 'I'm homeless, the government must house me.' They're casting their problem on society. And, you know, there is no such thing as society. 
There are individual men and women, and there are families. And no government can do anything except through people, and people must look to themselves first. It's our duty to look after ourselves and then, also to look after our neighbour. People have got the entitlements too much in mind, without the obligations. There's no such thing as entitlement, unless someone has first met an obligation.
If you want to understand the true effectiveness of the Attlee government you need only look at at the collectivist funk into which successive Tory governments got themselves until blasted back into political vigour by Thatcher in 1979. Equally if you want to understand the true effectiveness of Thatcher's three terms in office you need only look at the supine free marketeering of the Blair years. Thatcher, unlike Blair, set the societal mood music.

Thursday, 18 December 2014

Advent 18

The common conception is that the genius of Orson Welles was unfairly constricted by the Hollywood studio system. In her magnum opus, The Film Book, Pam Cook argues against this easy analysis,
Welles came to the film industry from radical theatre and radio, a political and aesthetic background that may have clashed with the prevailing ideology of the studio system but nevertheless found a place there, however unstable. His films appear markedly different from other studio products of the time in that they combined the techniques of deep-focus photography, wide-angled lenses, upward-tilting shots, lighting from below, long tracking shots and sets with ceilings in ways that went against the grain of the prevalent realist aesthetic. At the same time, they take full advantage of studio resources and technology.
Take in a Welles film if one is on the television and if you want an extra treat watch out for any old interviews with the man himself. Always fascinating.

Unoriginally, if I had to take just one of his films it would probably be Citizen Kane but I wouldn't be distressed if made to accept Touch of Evil.

Wednesday, 17 December 2014

12 Films At Christmas - 4

At the very least I would have to count myself an agnostic when it comes to the cinematic deity that is Stanley Kubrick. I have tried to do otherwise but I'm afraid I have always thought 2001: A Space Odyssey pretentious; Dr Strangelove is just not that funny (this may have something to do with personal antipathy to Peter Sellers - sorry I think he was  over indulged); A Clockwork Orange is an actively nasty little film that does scant justice to a magnificent source novel. So I came to watch Full Metal Jacket with less than eager anticipation. But you know what, it's really rather good.

Kubrick would not fly anywhere and for that reason Norfolk had to double as Vietnam - less than convincingly. The light is distinctly and unconvincingly different from the steamy reality of other Vietnam films (think The Deerhunter perhaps)  but this manages not to be an issue, in fact it may even be an advantage as it forces us to concentrate on the studied bleakness of the story. Definitely not happy family viewing but worth 7.5/10.

Advent 17

I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat.
You do not need me to tell you that these were the words with which Winston Leonard Spencer Churchill addressed the House of Commons on the day that he was asked to lead a wartime coalition government. This most martial of politicians had never led a party into an election; he had twice crossed the floor of the Commons, from Conservative to Liberal and eventually back again. He had been both minister of state and a serving soldier during the Great War.

It says much about the Britain he led to salvation that his party was consummately defeated in the immediate post-war election. It says just as much that he again became Prime Minister in 1951.

He resigned from the Conservative Party in 1904 in opposition to Tory protectionism. History probably judges him on the correct side of that debate. He became a staunch anti-communist - again right. But he could be adamantly wrong - he was noisily against Indian home rule in the 1930's.

He was soldier, statesman, artist and author. He won a Nobel prize - for literature. When the BBC ran a series to judge the greatest ever Briton, Churchill's claim was promulgated by a Labour front-bencher. Churchill won the viewers' poll.

Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Advent 16

Carwyn James was the father of modern rugby coaching and the Lions team he oversaw to series victory in New Zealand inspired my generation of players. I read and re-read the school library copy of John Reason's vivid account of that seminal tour, The Victorious Lions - when I returned to school years later to present sports prizes (no one even remotely famous being available) I took the opportunity temporarily to liberate the book from that library. In a later fit of guilt I took the book back. I hope it is still there and that youngsters still read it.

James, by all accounts, was not an easy man. As a fervent Welsh Nationalist (who stood for Plaid Cymru in the 1970 election) he had no time for British institutions, making it ironic that his crowning achievement should be guiding the British Lions to defeat the All Blacks. He died relatively young but left behind successive generations of us who know that the secret is to get your retaliation in first.

Monday, 15 December 2014

Advent 15

George Orwell's fame these days lies principally with his two great fictions, Animal Farm and 1984, but I would argue that the more material glory lies in his non-fiction.

My beloved old Britannica (1959 edition for which I paid the princely sum of £1 on eBay) sums him up in suitably spare Orwellian prose,
As a prose writer, Orwell is in the radical tradition of Defoe and Cobbett. His criticism (Critical essays, 1946) is revealing and enjoyable. In his essays (Shooting an Elephant, 1950 etc), he shows lightness and grace.
One of the best of those essays is The Lion and the Unicorn: Socialism and the English Genius. It was written in 1941 but still reads pertinently today. To quote Britannica again,
He was exceptional among writers of his generation in deliberately living under the social conditions he wrote about.
Here is that arresting Orwell style at work,
Meanwhile England, together with the rest of the world, is changing. And like everything else it can change only in certain directions, which up to a point can be foreseen. That is not to say that the future is fixed, merely that certain alternatives are possible and others are not. A seed may grow or not grow, but at any rate a turnip seed never grows into a parsnip. 

Sunday, 14 December 2014

Advent 14

The last of the entries from this year's calendar to have had the misfortune to meet the Boy Roberts.

Monsignor Tom Fallon conducted my marriage (which as anyone will tell you was my finest life move) and twenty-one years later he heard my first confession and administered my first communion. He could appear disorganised even a little dotty but he exuded spirituality. A great advertisement for his faith, he conducted his ministry by humane stealth. He worked on me for more than twenty year without me ever realising he was doing it.                                

Saturday, 13 December 2014

Advent 13

Of the various heroes recounted in this calendar I have met only three. Of those, we have already encountered Alan Murrall and the third will be related in a couple of days. Today however we have a man I spoke to only briefly and that to get him to sign a copy of his book, The Discipline of Law. He used a fountain pen and in a flowing hand inscribed it, 'To David Roberts, Denning M.R.'

An advantage of being a law student in London and in particular at King's is one's proximity to the Royal Courts of Justice. Nobody would have called me an assiduous student but I did pass time between lectures and before the bar opened watching Alfred Thompson Denning (Lord Denning, Master of the Rolls) administering justice in his matchless style. More than anything else one had the feeling of watching a great and accessible intellect at work. Here is Denning describing his method,

I refer sometimes to previous authorities - I have to do so - because I know that people are prone not to accept my views unless they have support from the books. But never at much length. Only a sentence or two. I avoid all reference to pleadings and orders - unless something turns on them. They are mere lawyer's stuff. They are unintelligible to anyone else. I finish with an epilogue - again as the chorus does in Shakespeare. In it I gather the threads together and give the result. I never say 'I regret having to come to this conclusion but I have no option'. There is always a way round - in my philosophy - by which justice can be done.
Denning lived for a century and I have read it said that in his dotage he betrayed some unsatisfactory opinions. That is sad but it is by his professional body of work that we should judge him and that, to my mind, makes him the greatest jurist of the twentieth century.

Friday, 12 December 2014

Advent 12

Clement Attlee, Prime Minister between 1945 and 1951: the man who in those six years set the agenda for the politics of the United Kingdom for more than a quarter of a century. Mass nationalisation, the NHS etc etc. All else that followed in that quarter century was a botched impression of Attlee's managed economy. His, then, was the world in which I grew up notwithstanding that he had been out of office for  nine years by the time I was born. The assumption of the permanence of socialism was not meaningfully questioned until I was old enough to vote. As legacies go you have got to say that is pretty impressive

He led the Labour Party for twenty years and on his retirement accepted an hereditary earldom. His grandson, the Third Earl Attlee, sits on the Conservative benches in the House of Lords.

Thursday, 11 December 2014

12 Films At Christmas - 3

Directed by Douglas Sirk (most famed for his melodramas) Has Anybody seen My Gal is a 1952 comedy filmed in vibrant Technicolor. Not a second of the eighty-nine minutes is wasted and at its centre is an agreeably amiable performance by Charles Coburn. Watch out also for some efficient juvenile scene-stealing by Gigi Perreau and a very early, very brief sight of a surly James Dean. 7/10.

Advent 11

Clint Eastwood. How cool is he? He went from being lampooned Western star to double directorial Oscar winner. Now the Fistful of Dollars trilogy is dissected by film studies classes and Eastwood himself is an exemplar of the less is more school of cinematic acting - 'Go ahead, make my day' - a phrase which you might like to note was used by yesterday's calendar entry when promising to use his presidential veto on any tax rises.

Tomorrow we will venture back into politics with someone pretty much as far from Eastwood's man with no name as one might imagine.

Wednesday, 10 December 2014

Advent 10

This one may seem risible to those of a politically correct disposition but what the hell.

Ronald Reagan. A man who moved from trade unionist soft left to flirting with the quasi-bonkers libertarian right. Manifestly no intellectual, though equally obviously not as dim as the bien pendant portrayed him. Nevertheless Reagan mattered. He predicted that the Soviet 'Evil Empire' could be made to crumble under its own weight. They laughed. It crumbled. He was a necessary conduit to the conditions that brought many of us to affluence. The abuses to which we subjected that affluence were hardly his fault. This latter point is often wilfully misunderstood.

Tomorrow another film star.

Tuesday, 9 December 2014

12 Films At Christmas - 2

I am perhaps overly familiar with the 1994 manifestation of Miracle on 34th Street. This due to its extreme popularity with my girls when young. But last night we watched the 1947 original. I like the modern version but I am marginally more taken with the black and white original. It oozes innocence, is short and sweet but nevertheless finds time to take some sly digs at Freudian psychoanalysis. 6.5/10.

Advent 9

There can be very few studies of our parliamentary system that were so rapidly overtaken by events as Walter Bagehot's The English Constitution … As an account of contemporary fact , the book was out of date almost before it could be reviewed … Yet for anyone who wants to understand the workings of British politics … The English Constitution still remains the best introduction available.
Thus Richard Crossman on my old favourite Walter Bagehot. It is not Bagehot we are concerned with today but Crossman - intellectual, journalist, socialist politician and most importantly for my purpose, diarist. My introduction to both Bagehot and Crossman came in the reading list for the Constitutional Law module of my degree. Bagehot was recommended for those very reasons Crossman cited in his Introduction to the Fontana edition of The English Constitution. Crossman was recommended because his diaries made the matter of legislating and its attendant chicanery come to life.

As a diarist Crossman is mischievous, rarely boring, sometimes even impish. Take this brilliant sketch on Gaitskell in 1955,
He is a man not at all sure of himself outside his special subject, a man who felt himself a hero and a St Sebastian when he stood up to Nye and, most serious of all, someone who takes a moralising and reactionary attitude, which is in my opinion almost instinctively wrong on every subject outside economics   

Monday, 8 December 2014

12 Films At Christmas - 1

As in previous years I will share my filmic experiences for the season - there is no such thing as a prejudice not worthy of infliction upon you.

Although diverting in a rather shambolic way, I have weighed up the pros and cons and I'm afraid that Reasonable Doubt is a far from good film, indeed bordering on the bad. Let's hope things get better as Christmas approaches. 3/10.

Advent 8

Just as an aside, I really ought to point out that this is the first Overgraduate to be brought to you from a train - a picturesque journey through the snow-clad Scottish Borders.

Today we have the first of three filmmakers. Francis Ford Coppola conceives cinematic storytelling on the grand scale. His first Oscar was won for the screenplay for the epic Patton, but we are principally concerned today with the perfect piece of gigantism that is The Godfather Part II. Depending on my mood this can be the very finest film ever made.

Coppola owns a vineyard. Cool.

Sunday, 7 December 2014

Advent 7

I have allowed myself only two sporting heroes in this list - maybe a fuller collection will make a future calendar.

So it is that I have to reject my two favourite male English rugby players, Tony Neary and Richard Hill alongside the matchless Maggie Alphonsi. Instead we have the incomparable Jack Nicklaus.

Nicklaus won 18 major championships (the test by which he himself asked to be measured) between 1962 and 1986. That differentiates him from the challengers to his primacy, Hogan and Player. On top of that he has become the world's foremost modern course architect. He has done all of this while maintaining a solid marriage (cf Woods and Faldo) and deporting himself with an unaffected humility that eschews false modesty. The greatest.

Saturday, 6 December 2014

Advent 6

John Henry Newman (1801 - 1890) is perhaps the most notable convert from Anglicanism to Catholicism. He had links to Birmingham, studying at Oscott College (which sits proud on the horizon visible from the Aston Old Edwardian Memorial Ground) and eventually dying at the Oratory in Edgbaston.

My own passage to a far from devout catholicism is important to me. The mystery of faith has power to move and I detect  that mystery in the motto that adorns Newman's cardinalate coat of arms, Cor ad Cor Loquitur - heart speaks unto heart.

An interesting little fact that further recommends Newman to me - he took a third in his degree at Oxford.

Friday, 5 December 2014

On Me Hols

In Edinburgh for a break with my soul mate. Came up by train which was great but you really do have to travel first class. Does this make me a snob?

Did Princes Street this morning and then spent a good portion of the afternoon enjoying wine and fries in the Newsroom - details at Newsroom

Advent 5

There will be three poets in the progress of this calendar. Today we have the first. My knowledge of poetry is limited so it is with a degree of unaccustomed humility that  I offer this as the most affecting verse of all time.

Bent double, like old beggars under sacks, 
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge, 
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs, 
And towards our distant rest began to trudge. 
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots, 
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind; 
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots 
Of gas-shells dropping softly behind. 

Gas! GAS! Quick, boys!—An ecstasy of fumbling 
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time, 
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling 
And flound’ring like a man in fire or lime.—
Dim through the misty panes and thick green light, 
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning. 

In all my dreams before my helpless sight, 
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning. 

If in some smothering dreams, you too could pace 
Behind the wagon that we flung him in, 
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face, 
His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin; 
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood 
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs, 
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud 
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,— 
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest 
To children ardent for some desperate glory, 
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est 

Pro patria mori.

Wilfred Owen went back to the front after injury, won the Military Cross  and died just one week before the Armistice on 4 November 1918. 4 November is the birthday of my revered father, who first alerted me to Owen's poetry.

Thursday, 4 December 2014

Advent 4

Abraham Lincoln was not the unreconstructed saint he is sometimes portrayed to have been. He was a politician and we should always remember that politics is the art of the possible. However his conception of the possible was broader than most men's and that allowed him to utter the greatest (and blessedly short) political address of them all. It bears repetition:

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.
Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.
But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate -- we can not consecrate -- we can not hallow -- this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us -- that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion -- that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain -- that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom -- and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

Wednesday, 3 December 2014

Advent 3

Today the most balanced, charming , honest and deserving entrepreneur I ever knew. Alan Robert Murrall was a Black Country boy and autodidact. He loved things mechanical and even at the height of his business flight (and trust me he really soared) he remained a simple mechanic at heart. But actually no, he was so much more than that. Alan got business, simply got it. He proved Marx wrong.

He brought his humane commercial genius to bear in many fields and he took this callow young lawyer on the journey with him. He was a champion in haulage, mining, waste disposal, property and so much more. He was modest in his accomplishments and generous with his advisers. He always said thank you. I never met a good man who begrudged him. He was taken from us far too young and in my direst moments in commerce I try to think of Alan and the sheer bloody privilege it was to be on board for a small portion of his voyage.

Sadly I don't have a photograph of Alan but here is one of his beloved Bowmur trucks.

Tuesday, 2 December 2014

Advent 2

If you asked me my favourite place, Anglesey would stand a very good chance of getting my nomination. The A5 is  the traditional path to that island. The Menai Suspension Bridge was the initial link from the mainland. Both road and bridge were the work of a self-taught Scottish engineer, Thomas Telford (1757-1834).

The Overgraduate likes a good pun and notes with approval that Telford was known in his time as the Colossus of Roads.

Nowadays any sensible passage by road to Anglesey will favour the larger Britannia Bridge. That itself is a wonder but not its least charm is that from it you can see the Menai Bridge. This is man overcoming nature and at the same time decorating it.

Monday, 1 December 2014

Advent 1

Aeons ago I saw Keith Joseph (then high prophet of the English right) speaking to a student audience. The host institution's resident left had come prepared to heckle and make mischief - good for them, I have always envied the left their passion and organisation. But he disarmed them when he asked his audience to name the most important thinker of the previous two hundred years: a few young fogeys ventured improbable right wing totems, but Joseph posited Karl Marx and rather gratuitously pointed out that it had been Victorian England that had provided a home for this great thinker.

So, I suspect rather to the surprise of those who think they know me, my first cultural influencer is Karl Marx. His theories were the dominant seed of political and economic thought in the century into which  I was born, the starting point for discussion even in economies following a starkly non-Marxist agenda.

I am particularly taken, as I survey the moral wreckage of the business in which I work, with the doctrine of surplus value. The labourer produces daily more than enough for his own subsistence but the capitalist pays him only a subsistence wage and the residue is the surplus value which the capitalist/rentier can purloin for himself.

It took Marx to give his postulated nemesis a name - capitalism. No matter what else you might think, you have to concede that it is pretty cool to have naming rights over your sworn enemy.

This will not be an organised ramble through the back alleys of my mind, so tomorrow we will take a different path and consider civil engineering.