7 February 2017

Brexit: a sense of foreboding

Britain voted for Brexit in June 2016: eight months later we are still in the phoney war.

As a kid my grandmother and I often took the 113 bus home. I loved travelling on the upper deck of the red London bus. As we turned into Edgwarebury Lane, Granny and I had to prepare to get off, and she warned me, “Don’t stand up before we’ve turned the corner. You’ll fall.” Doubting the wisdom of Granny’s words, I stood up without holding on saying, “See, I didn’t fall.” “Yes,” said Granny, “but we haven’t turned the corner yet.”

Something like that is very much how I feel today about Brexit, the almost mindless amputation of the UK from the EU and the EFTA single market. Britain is going to a very lonely place, and while it is true that very little has happened in the phoney war so far - except for a rise in fear and a drop in the value of sterling - the gathering dark clouds are ominous.

Business will gravitate out of the UK to EU countries simply because it makes more sense to have easy access to hundreds of millions of workers and consumers than to sixty-five millions. The UK will respond by becoming an economic dependent on the US and accelerating towards a low-regulation, low-wage economy.

Who loses? Higher unemployment, lower pay, worse working conditions and poorer social provision will affect all working people. But non-British EU citizens in Britain and British citizens in other EU countries will face the brunt. At worst it means expulsion, creating the worst ethnic cleansing in Europe, Yugoslavia aside, since World War Two. At best four million people will experience discrimination and insecurity in their adopted homelands.

If the future beholds a toxic mix of ascendant xenophobic nationalism and economic dislocation, we have much to fear. Reassuring White Papers and statements by Tory ministers tell us what government wants and what they hope will happen. They might tell us, “Get over it,” but it hasn’t happened yet, and the pain is likely to be bigger and more long-lasting than we think.

1 February 2017

Charlie Kunz: a personal reflection

Charlie Kunz (1896-1958) was the greatest popular piano medley player of all time.

A taste for Charlie Kunz was one of the few things that my father (born 1908) and my maternal grandmother (born 1904) shared. And though as a child I professed to prefer pop music, I always hung around on the stairs to listen to Charlie’s medleys when they were played on the gramophone in the sitting-room.

Before the Second World War Kunz featured in several ball-room bands, but it was in the more egalitarian atmosphere of post-war Britain that Kunz rose to superstar status, apparently, being the first music performer to need police protection to keep him unmolested from his fans.

Anyone interested in hearing Kunz today only has to go to You Tube to get the flavour, but I will describe how his music seems to me. His piano playing has a light up-beat bounce and flow which is entirely distinctive to him; attempts to reproduce it have failed miserably.

Piano and light music, taken mostly from popular songs, musicals and operetta, acquired status for me in my childhood, precisely because such music was held up to be something meaningful by my parents and grandmother. In their view (or at least for my mother and grandmother), the music of Charlie Kunz represented the “old world” - an indeterminate past which ran from the the 1930s through war-time Britain before collapsing at the end of the 1950s. That world was held up in contrast to the “nowadays” of the 1970s when loud disrespectful drugged-up pop stars held sway.

Though I became attached to some 1970s pop music in my teenage years, and then became a follower of the pop charts, I never rejected the senior members of my family’s predilection for Kunz and his medleys. Too much of his influence was embedded in my life.

In the 1970s an odd feature of our family was that we did not have a television set. However, once a month there was a showing of old silent films in a scout hut at the other end of the town. My father, mother, sister and I walked there on winter evenings to meet up with the other ten to fifteen regulars to see the old films projected onto a screen. There was a small charge but money was also raised by a sales table and a raffle, which inevitably the same people always won.

The late middle-aged bachelor, Laurie, who organised the event with his spinster sister, also had an interest in Kunz, so invariably we would watch the old reels of film with a tape-recorder playing his medleys. Though Laurie possessed several cassettes, we tended to hear the same Kunz medleys over and over again. I began to anticipate the tunes.

In 1975 in the latter weeks of August my parents booked a week in a guest house in Bognor Regis, a seaside town on the southern English coast. My mother’s intention was that the whole family should spend the day together, almost irrespective of the weather, huddled up on the beach near a wave-breaker. As a thirteen-year-old boy I was keen to wander off and explore. One port of call in the later afternoon was the park where an organ player gave a rendition of Gershwin and other popular songs - not Kunz, but very much the same thing.

At university and in early adult life Charlie Kunz disappeared from my life. I never went out myself to purchase Kunz, but I did once in the 1980s pick up a second-hand cassette, which is still with me today. Then, with the advent of the net, I was able to re-discover him with a few clicks and could bring back the music of my childhood.

The ready availability of music on You Tube and elsewhere on the net has enabled me not just to re-acquaint myself with Kunz, but to hear him against the background of his contemporaries in Britain, the US and Germany. Though I am largely ignorant of music, the ability to follow links on You Tube has enriched my understanding and enjoyment of Kunz.

In 2009 my younger sister, aged forty-three, died of breast cancer. Some months before her death, I put together some scanned old photos of our family and set it to the music of Charlie Kunz. She could cope with the pictures and enjoyed them, but the Kunz’s music was too overwhelming for her. I switched it off.

I do not think Kunz is outdated in the way that Winifred Atwell’s or Mrs Mills’ honky-tonk knees-up piano certainly is; those popular pianists are firmly tied to an era of post-war Britain. Kunz’ music, by contrast, has a certain timeless gentle sophistication which will keep it going.

Historio de la Esperanto-Movado by Nikola Aleksiev

A Bulgarian Esperantist, Nikola Aleksiev, then in his eighties, expressed his ambitious hopes for the language.

This is a remarkable little book written man an elderly man (born 1909) in a distant corner of Europe. Aleksiev was Bulgaria’s leading Esperantist during the socialist years, and before that a left-wing activist in inter-war Bulgaria. After the change in regime in 1989 his mind remained sharp, and his ability to grasp the realities of US domination in his country is clearly illustrated.

The book begins with a historical overview of the Esperanto movement first internationally, and then in his home country of Bulgaria. The book concludes with two essays; first an analysis of language imperialism (particularly English) in Bulgaria, and second a critique of Mark Fettes essay ‘The future of the European Babylon.’ Aleksiev takes issue with Fettes claim that a generation would be required to introduce Esperanto as a lingua franca in Europe, arguing instead that, if the political will were there, teaching Esperanto in schools across Europe could be accomplished within a few years.

Throughout the book is written in clear, easy-to-understand Esperanto, and demonstrates the potential power of the international language.

ALEKSIEV,Nikola Historio de la Esperanto Movoado Pres-Esperanto, Sofia 1992

Pri Nikola Aleksiev el Vikipedio: Nikola Aleksiev, naskiĝis la 29-an de junio 1909; mortis la 19-an de julio 2002, estis bulgara esperantisto kaj honora membro de UEA kaj MEM. Li estis la unua eksterlandano, kiu ricevis honoran membrecon de ĈEA.

Li estis filo de malriĉa ŝuista familio, li estis kunfondinto kaj sekretario Bulgara Laborista Esperanto-Asocio (fondita en 1930).

Kiel ĵurnalisto kunorganizanta strikojn li pasigis 7 jarojn en karceroj de la faŝisma Bulgario. Post la dua mondmilito li ĉefredaktoris la centran organon de bulgaraj sindikatoj Trud (1946-1952) kaj estis membro de Tutmonda Packonsilantaro.

Li apartenis al plej aktivaj esperantistoj en Bulgario. Li estis la prezidanto de la Loka Kongresa Komitato de la 48-a Universala Kongreso de Esperanto en 1963. De 1964 ĝis 1976 Nikola Aleksiev estis prezidanto de Bulgara Esperanto-Asocio. Li dediĉis multajn fortojn al la komunisma Mondpaca Esperantista Movado (MEM), kies prezidanto li estis. Lingvan majstrecon li pruvis en siaj tradukoj (ekz. Apostolo de Libereco pri bulgara nacia heroo Vasil Levski, Mia vivo de Trifon Ĥristovski k.a.)