The concept behind the Migration Museum is such a good one and is needed more than ever in our divided Brexit broken country. This exhibition in temporary accommodation in Lambeth shows how seven major migration moments changed Britain. The title of the exhibition is ‘No Turning Back’.
It is useful to be reminded about the history that has forged Britain especially when the version of history portrayed by many in the EU referendum is one rewritten to suit the Little Englanders currently in the ascendant. Here we see that Britain has been connected to the world over the centuries with migrations in and out. Seven critical moments are represented here through artefacts and artistic responses.
I was struck by how the events that formed my own political education have become ‘history’. The Rock Against Racism movement of the 1970s was represented with magazine covers and posters that fought back against the racist comments from some musicians (ones I admired!) in an age when people thought it was okay to make such comments. Also here, though, is the formation of the East India Company and the start of a strong connection between Britain and India as well as the expulsion of the Huguenots from Europe. Migrations of which Britain should be proud include the refuge granted to Spanish children during their civil war of the 30s and the German Jewish children who were brought to safety to escape the Nazi regime in Germany.
The section which I liked the best was the celebration of mixed race Britain. The 2011 census showed this to be a growing area of self-identity. It is the obvious next development of a multi-racial and multi- cultural society.
Photographs, art works, personal recollections and quotes all add up to an amazing exhibition in which to get lost on a wet afternoon. I loved it. As I finished, I was struck by a huge poster with a statement below it of a young man, who might be mixed race but who was not white, who voted for Brexit. I wanted/needed to know more. Why did he? What statement does it make that he is concerned about immigration in a society where he and others like him have been beneficiaries? It troubles me still but maybe I need to be challenged in my assumptions. In any case, there was no more from him on offer.
Central to this film version of Andreas Steinhofel’s amazing novel is the theme of identity. Phil has a gap in his knowledge of himself since his mother, called Glass by everyone, refuses to reveal the name of his father. Phil and his twin Diane grow up in an unconventional way with a mother who is something of a free spirit in a large house that is remarkable because of its bohemian look. The rest of the town may look down on them because of their unorthodox lifestyle but they don’t care because they have each other.
I declare the following: I thought the book was amazing. I loved it when I first read it which was when it first appeared in English, translated from German. I also love the work of Andreas Steinhofel. I did not love this film but I liked it!
Phil is gay so when he meets Nicholas and is smitten he is thrilled to have his feelings returned. The relationship becomes a sexual one and Phil finds himself accepted by somebody outside his family which is just as well as this is the moment when conflict between Diane and Glass threatens their unit. Things are made worse by the fact that neither sister nor mother will tell him why they are in dispute.
Phil retreats into his relationship and appears to have found love. There is even room for Phil’s best and long term friend Kat and the three become friends. Glass may reject lovers after just a short while but Phil is different. So when the betrayal comes, of friend Kat and boyfriend Nicholas, the pain is acute. When the truth of the rift between Diane and Glass is revealed Phil questions his place in the family.
The film has reduced aspects of the book, how could it do otherwise and stay within a reasonable theatrical showing duration? Yet, for me, although the relationship between the two boys is well portrayed and the pain shown by Phil when he realises Kat has betrayed him is poignant, many of the other characters lose their fullness and come across as self- centred or immature, as in the case of Kat and Glass, or are not well developed at all, as in the case of Diane.
Louis Hofmann is brilliant as Phil. ‘Centre of My World’ enters my hinterland but mostly so it can sit alongside the book which remains a true artistic expression of young love.
Frisch verliebt: Phil (Louis Hofmann, li.) und Nicholas (Jannik Schümann, re.)
Having read Ben Judah’s excellent book on Russia under Putin, I was keen to read his insights into London in the twenty- first century. As a Londoner, I am a keen Londonophile even though, like all enthusiasts, my affection is kept intact by no longer having to live there!
This is first class reportage of life in the capital as experienced by those on the fringes, politically and economically rather than geographically. Apparently, over 40% of the population of London was born elsewhere in the world. Yet London remains a magnet and the route to the city is well worn by those with great hopes.
Ben Judah states that he needs to see things for himself. He distrusts statistics. So, in this book, he beds out for the night with rough sleepers near Hyde Park and meets people in diverse situations across the capital. One of the most interesting interviewees was a policeman, offering his views from one side of the law. His insights are made more interesting by the fact that he is Nigerian.
It becomes clear that there is a congregating of ethnic groups in particular corners, a fact that is articulated by many of the subjects interviewed here. Sometimes this is for safety and companionship and other times it is the economics that keeps people in their place.
Judah does not often pass judgement on what he sees; he communicates his findings which are all based on what he encountered by crossing London. At times, things seem grim yet this is still a city that welcomes people. London is continually renewed by the injection of differing cultures. The views of the migrants on the British are illuminating.
The interviews are thorough and Judah’s gift is to let people speak for themselves. The stories they tell show that there are many Londons; some are places worth visiting and others you might wish to avoid.
In all the fuss over BBC salaries this week, I heard nothing about the quality of the presenters and the relative merits of their salaries. Bridget Kendall came to mind as an example of the very best of BBC journalists. I wonder what she got paid!
This second series of ‘Cold War Stories’ was essential listening. Just like the first series broadcast on BBC Radio Four last year, it is made up of fifteen minute episodes, each relating a specific event in the Cold War, with contributions from people who actually took part. It takes off where the last series ended with the death of Khrushchev and follows on chronologically, taking in events such as the fall of Saigon, the Prague Spring, the Soviet Union in Afghanistan, and the birth of Solidarity in Poland. There are also episodes on the proxy war in Africa and the Chinese Cultural Revolution. Later episodes cover the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Bridget Kendall is now Master (!) of Peterhouse College, Cambridge. Her expertise in Russian made her an outstanding journalist for the BBC and this series reminded me of her contributions to bulletins when a trusted voice was essential.
This Norwegian television series broadcast by Channel Four in Britain, in the excellent ‘Walter Presents…’ strand, was a superb thriller. Henning and Philip are two school boys who have fallen in love. They intend to keep their relationship a secret so head to a cabin in the woods using Henning’s well-known excursions for motocross rides. Unfortunately, they are interrupted when a gang arrives with a prisoner in the boot of the car. It is obviously an execution situation between rival gangs but it goes wrong when the prisoner gains the advantage and kills the others. He then spots Philip and Henning so heads their way.
This is the scenario that turns into a police investigation; one that would be easier to solve if both Henning and Philip revealed their involvement. Scared of being outed as gay, they continue to keep quiet even though they know that their information would help. To make matters worse, Philip’s foster-mother, Helen, is the chief investigating officer. With her husband, Sven, they look after Philip and presume every sign of odd behaviour has more to do with his concern for his mother than anything else.
Over six episodes, we see the investigation make headway despite some difficulties. When the killer turns up in the most unexpected place, the heat is turned up and the tension increases. Two young men, desperate to keep their relationship secret, and a police investigation stymied by lack of important information makes for a high-class drama.
‘Eyewitness’ is in my hinterland. What’s in yours?
The Channel Four strand ‘Walter Presents…’ is a fantastic way of discovering television from across the world. I loved this hard- hitting drama from Iceland even though the subject matter under discussion by the detectives was grim.
A teenage girl is found hanging in the theatre in Reykjavik in what is an apparent suicide. This is the start of a stream of events that unravel showing how vulnerable young women are treated by disreputable men.
At the heart of it is Gabriela, a determined detective who investigates the case while lawyers acting on child protection cases also take an interest. Also involved is a chaotic, alcoholic lawyer called Logi. What starts as a police procedural soon becomes something more complex as lawyers, family and police all try to sort out what led to a promising ballerina killing herself on stage.
In the course of the series, it becomes clear that polite society in Iceland isn’t! The central plot is hard to see at first since there are blind alleys involving the ballet company’s bullying ballet master, the youth worker with an unhealthy interest in his charges, and the use of websites to humiliate and expose.
Complexity makes the series worth watching. The first two episodes seem to head in one direction only for the third episode to open up a new route. It is worth pursuing to the end. ‘Case’ is in my hinterland. What’s in yours?
For most of my adult life I have been an Americanophile (if such a word exists). I dreamed of visiting. Obviously, growing up in the 60s and 70s much of my cultural background is American- the blog entries here show that! I finally made the journey there in the 90s, when I could afford to fly. I have been back many times since! San Francisco, Boston and Chicago all vie for status as my favourite city.
So what changed? First, the referendum in June 2016 showed me that my own country is divided. I am part of the 48% (this would be the near- half of the voting public discounted by the British Prime Minister as she tries to make Brexit work) and I am part of the majority (?) of people from around the world stunned by Trump’s victory in the USA. I have read acres of journalism on how we got to this point. I am tired of reading about ‘uniting’ as if the diverse views of broken Britain can be reconciled. Instead, I am finding my own way of coping with the current situation.
One of the slogans used by the Leave camp in the referendum was ‘Out and Into the World’. Given that many of the Leave voters were Little Englanders, I cannot believe they actually subscribed to this view but I accept the ‘Into the World’ part of that slogan.
I have decided I need to explore film from the wider world and read more books from, or about, other cultures. My gesture to the Brexiteers is to ensure I read more from Europe and see more European films. My gesture to the USA is to reduce its influence in my cultural life: fewer books from the States; fewer American films. In fact, the wider I spread the net, the better. We could all do with more of the world and less of America.
Others may think my gestures are futile. I will feel better.