Tuesday, 27 April 2010

Book review - Kilroy is Here by Gordon Willis


Eminently elusive and enigmatic, Gordon Willis produced only this one book before disappearing into whatever mysterious netherworld these `cult writer` types inhabitat. At least the one he produced was a good one !

`Kilroy` was probably never going to reach a wide audience but certainly it deserves it`s reputation as a bizare, but in many ways compassionate, work of the imagination. Generally, my taste in books is fairly conventional, but I can be flexible about these things.

The mood and style of writing vary as the book progresses. In the first section, a character finds an aspidistra growing out of his back, a situation that is to push him to the very fringes of society. His reaction, however, is admirably adaptable ; 

"Fully grown, it`s leaves were pliant and it was possible, by carefully arranging them under a shirt, to dress after a fashion...He did not foresee himself wearing special costume."

The second part concerns the Kilroy of the title, and his period of employment by the avaricious, psychopathic Felix Grunt. Grunt is strangely likeable (to me anyway).  I especially enjoyed his comments on the fate of a number of decapitated previous employees ; 

"The sharp edges you know. Got the wind up. Panic. Lacked the inner poise. Still, their heads come in handy." 

The third part concerns Felicity and Kilroy, who find themselves in an unenviable position, encased in concrete in the base of a statue. Here the writing is almost ike a kind of poetry ;

"Day breaks starkly. People try to carry out their plans. In the evening imagination fires hope yet again. Day breaks. Felicity holds her memories like a bomb inside her."

Also interesting is the author`s use of phrases rarely heard in conversation now - "on his tod" , "got the wind up" - phrases one used to hear pretty much daily, but now passed from the spoken language and rarely encountered outside the pages of 1940s Sexton Blake mysteries. 

I do not know, but presume it is now out of print. One wonders whether it`s reputation will fade in time. Personally, I hope not, but that`s me - ever the optimist !


As regards Gordon himself, little is known, or at least not known by me. My spies tell me he grew up in Derby but subsequently moved south. I  like to imagine that he outwardly lives the life of a recluse, whilst in reality being the centre or hub of some vastly complicated international conspiracy, though I suppose that`s unlikely.

Monday, 5 April 2010

Yorkshire Snapshot

As I`ve mentioned before, with an election coming up, pundits and politicians will have even less interest in regional matters and grassroots commuinity-based activities than usual. Here`s a guide to goings-on in Yorkshire recently - not a comprehensive guide but a few things I learnt about on a recent visit to The Dales/ Bradford area.

1) The Oxenhope Conservation Intiative is an environmental grouping with links to other groups in the area, notably Bradford Environmental Action Trust / Forests of Bradford and Bradford Ornithological Group. Fairly traditional conservation groups but none the worse for that. http://www.oci-web.org/ , http://www.beat.org.uk/ , http://bradbirds.blogspot.com/

2) At Glusburn near Skipton, a long-running dispute is ongoing concerning proposed developments by Muir Group Housing. 
An initial application was rejected by the local authority, this was followed by an appeal to the Secretary of State by the developers. 
After a Public Inquiry, the Inspector also rejected the application, but the developers then went to Court and had her decision set aside. The developers once again appealed against the initial decision and a second public inquiry has now taken place.
 Some resentment is felt by the local community over the developer`s persistence -"This application has already been thrown out ; it has been through the democratic process and has failed on every level" one local man told the Craven Herald and Pioneer. In fairness, it should be said that the Courts do not intervene in such matters lightly.
 Accounts in the local media can be rather confusing, I suspect because local journalists are not always up to speed on the planning process. The Herald has printed a useful guide to arguments put forward by both sides (Lesley Tate - `Glusburn Housing Inquiry Hears From Both Sides` -  C H and P  March 27 2010 at http://cravenherald.co.uk ), though the paper with the clearest grasp of the inquiries and appeals situation seems to be  www.thetelegraphandargus.co.uk (unsigned article - `Glusburn Housing Estate Inquiry to be Held` - 23 February 2010) .

3) Long Preston Residents Association aka LoPRA can be found at http://www.lopra.org.uk/ . A community-based group, they concern themselves with local issues such as traffic, housing and defence of the Green Belt. Although they include lobbying at either local or national level as being among the activities they may take part in, their emphasis is on working with bodies such as the local Parish Council and the Yorkshire Dales National Park. Their site has links to YDNP and CPRE - no surprises there - and also to The Empty Homes Agency (http://www.emptyhomes.com/), a new one on me, but sounds interesting.

4) IRATE is an Ilkely based group opposed to Tesco`s plans for the area (it stands for Ilkley Residents Against Tesco Expansion). Details from http://ilkleyirate.org/ and/or http://www.tescopoly.org/ .

5) Greenhill Action Group (http://www.greenhill-action-group.co.uk/) are a long-standing group opposed to proposals to build on the northern side of the Leeds-Liverpool Canal near Bingley, an area they describe as "the only green lung for residents in the Bingley/Crossflats area".

6) Skipton Properties have come under fire for demolishing a 200 year old mill as part of their Grove Mills development. Councillor Chris Greaves commented "What they`ve done is legally OK..but morally and ethically it`s a different matter" He went on to accept that the council could have been more vigilant ; "Maybe we were naive, but we put our trust in the developer. We did our best to approve a scheme which would keep the mill". He indicated that lessons had been learnt "In future...we are going to have to be more prescriptive in the wording of planning proposals".

7) Footpath erosion in the Yorks Dales Nat Park means that now the YDNP is looking to man-made surfaces to provide a solution. It will be interesting to see how this news will be received by walkers - I would imagine there will be raised voices on both sides of the argument ! 

8) The Friends of the Three Peaks is a group for individuals and organisations wishing to preserve and enhance the Three Peaks area of the YDNP. They can be found at www.yorkshiredales.org.uk/friendsofthethreepeaks.htm .

9) Hebden Bridge is being much-touted as a place to visit for holiday-makers in the area. It has impeccable green credentials with a `no plastic bags` and `welcome to walkers` policy and much emphasis on fair trade, vegetarian food, organic produce etc. The local authority takes great pride in the number of small, independently run shops, with the big chains having little or no presence. When I visited recently, it was much-frequented by smart young things sitting outside cafes sipping cappucinos (I made the last bit up, I didn`t notice what they were drinking !).

Behind the scenes, the area has a higher-than-normal suicide rate and a big problem with hard drug abuse.  These have been the subject of a documentary, Shed Your Tears and Walk Away
and a community group/facebook thingy We`re Not Walking Away. The reasons for these problems are not simple - it may be a combination of different factors - but certainly they need looking into. It is worth pointing out that Hebden Bridge has an industrial past, but the new businesses that have taken root in the area are by no means as labour-intensive as the ones they replaced. One wonders how many other smart, fashionable areas have similar hidden problems.   

10) I like to end on a positive note, so with the problems at Hebden Bridge in mind, it`s worth noting the positive work planned for what seems to be a new project, Project X Calderdale, aimed at promoting social inclusiveness and community cohesion among youngsters and their parents and/or carers in Upper Calder Valley. Their site is not yet 100% up and running, but visit them at http://www.projectxcalderdale.co.uk/

Local media

Oxenhope Outreach (local newsletter featuring OCI and others)

As stated  above, I don`t claim this is anything like a comprehensive guide but hopefully, that gives a picture - a snapshot even -  of a range of activities going on in the area. All this and I never even mentioned the burrowing monks of Barnoldswick !

Derbyshire Snapshot

With an election coming up, it`s pretty certain that low-profile grassroots-based campaigns and regional matters will be overlooked by the media and politicians to an even greater extent than usual ! Here`s a quick update on environmental causes and community-based groups in the Derbyshire area currently.

Butterley Ironworks - Following the timely intervention of the Friends of Cromford Canal, this issue seems now to be resolved, though the future of the site remains uncertain. (see earlier articles on this blog for background and links).

Stanton Ironworks - Public consultation on plans for the site will not now take place until June of this year. However, Erewash Borough Council are inviting comment from people in the area on their Core Strategy (closing date 12 April 2010). Campaign group Greensqueeze are asking supporters to use this opportunity to raise a number of concerns about the site. (Again, previous articles on this blog give background and links).

Say No to Tesco Extension / Save Heanor Town Centre - The local authority has approved Tesco`s plans for this area. It is unclear whether the campaign will continue under these circumstances. See the thisisderbyshire web site and/or the Tescopoly web site for any new developments. 

Derby Incinerator Applications - Contractors Resource Recovery Group and Cyclamax have both had applications to build incinerators in Derby (to dispose of waste material under contract with the Council) turned down recently. Both intend to appeal.

Particular criticism has been levelled at Derby City Council for providing public funding for RRG`s appeal against the findings of the Council`s own Planning Committee.

Both the Labour and Liberal Democrat candidates for Derby North accept there is some role for incineration, presumably to dispose of non-recycleable/non-compostible material without making further use of landfill. The dispute over RRG`s application has been particularly acrimonious, and campaigners have lodged a formal complaint against Councillors over the funding issue.   

Local media coverage at the thisisderbyshire web site.

Interested parties other than contractors and council are ; Sinfin and Spondon Against Incineration, Spondon Against Cyclamax Incinerator, Derby Climate Change Coalition and Derby Friends of the Earth.

Local Action, Local Voices - Derbyshire  County Council, Derbyshire Rural Community Council and the Government Office for the East Midlands  have joined forces to produce Local Voices - Local Action, a "community consultation handbook" described as "a must for anyone seeking the views of their community". It gives advice on "how to organise and run events and design questionnaires" and "explains the `whys and wherefores` of practical action". It also provides a `jargon buster` to explain pretentious terminology like `asset base` and `visioning` ! 

 Contact points are ;



Climate Conference -  Community groups have taken part in Derbyshire`s first climate change conference. The event, which took place in Matlock County Hall,  was addresssed by a representative of the Town and Country Planning Association and workshops were run by represebntatives of the Energy Savings Trust and Global Action Plan. The event was aimed at the inhabitants of towns and villages and was intended to encourage "the formation of groups that will help people cut CO2 emmissions".