Tag Archives: Culture


In turning to Kickstarter then getting cross about it, I also backed the Globe Theatre project with its world tour of Hamlet. I must admit there should be a little question mark around an institution such as The Globe turning to crowd funding, trumpeted in a very good film that sang the song ‘a’begging we will go‘ although it probably will be a model in future. Yet could there not be a more shining example of the impoverishment of our enormously wealthy and culturally ignorant society than the fact that the project will probably fail in 4 days time, and so little has come from the top? Just look at the statistics – Pledges of £5 or more 266 backers, £50 or more 66 backers, £100 or more 101 backers, £2500 or more 1 backer, £5000 or more 1 backer.

I’ve long said we’re returning to the kind of social differentials they had in the 16th Century, when actors were classed with the likes of vagrants, vagabonds and strangers to be whipped out of town and the walls of The City of London, but the difference is that society had a true sense of powerful patronage, especially towards literature and the new theatres. We have none whatsoever.

If you have a few grand to spare then, or just want to show some last minute solidarity with a £1 or £2 why not cheer them up by CLICKING HERE

1 Comment

Filed under America and the UK, Culture, The Arts


Fukayama, what do you do with a journalist whose nose for sniffing out truth might have been a tad bunged up by taking out his own Super Injunction? You have the all compassionate BBC slash the budgets and behind the scenes talent, then give us ANDREW MARR’S HISTORY OF THE WORLD. BBC 1, Yesteryear. “And God divided the waters and made the Heaven and the Earth and Adam, Eve and possibly Transexuals, to dwell therein, or in Middlesex, and saw that it was Good, and Man made the BBC and CGI and Andrew Marr’s History and everyone saw that it was awful and turned off.”

Except that it is so side splittingly funny, it is almost worth watching. With terrifyingly tacky historical reconstructions, to match Mr Marr’s up to the minute journalese and ‘just like Eastenders’ comparisons, including an ‘Out of Africa’ moment and a CGI sequence stolen straight from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade – mind the exciting drop – we got big-turning-points-in-astonishing-but-troubled Human History, as wise Mr Marr bestrode the plastic world like a colossal twit.

So we SAW the Mother of Mankind, from whom we are extraordinarily all genetically descended, except the poor Sub Saharans, not a bad bit actually, then nasty Neolithics hunting down cranially challenged Neanderthals (although, hush, scientists argue about it, and Mr Marr proves elegant Neanderthals are still among us). Then ‘Caveman wos here’ handprints in France, with not one thrill of real wonder because reconstruction kills wonder, to the 11,000 year old equivalent of the Cat’s Eye – you got it, woman invents the animal-bone knitting needle. Thus giving us domestic sewing, fitted clothes, and why Commissioning editors despise the public and love those dinky little symbols at Ralph Lauren. On to Anatolia and, yes it must be, underfloor-overheating Ancestor Worship. Do you ever get the feeling you are being stitched up? Mr Marr, the tapes and the production crew should all be immediately buried in the Leicester car park where they just dug up Richard III, who was a GOOD KING.

So to reconstructed women on Tigris bank, suddenly pondering simpleton grass-eaters, to invent the SEED and AGRICULTURE. Eureka. The heavens shattered, lighting broke and they really did give three minutes to little round stone wall and woman watching single seed sprout. ‘I shall pedal the window box franchise and move to Hollywood’. The tears of laughter started to burst like the banks of the badly reconstructed Yellow River. ‘And you know, there really is evidence there was once a big world Flood?’ Never! Thence to Egypt and Man invents writing, LAW and the whipped tomb raider. Not all those boring Pharaohs, but what its like down there at street reporting level.

If Mr Marr is one of us though, or one of them, he makes the study of history completely pointless, by engaging in modern relativisms so extreme we should have stayed up the trees. Which is why, like travel writing, you should never give history to journalists, but only Sirs Kenneth Clarke, or perhaps David Attenborough, although at least Sir David defiantly sticks to what he knows and loves so deeply. Like that time Andrew hung out for a night in an Indian slum, he should remember his giving us the experience ‘as they experience it’ is just not the same, since he is always about to be whisked back to White City. David Ike was right, TV is evil. Then TV journalism these days is just a chance to climb The Shard in public, visit expensive Shanghai hotels or become a National Treasure.

It is hard to entirely dislike Andrew Marr though and don’t fear, in an hour, Civilisation had arrived and we reached The Minoans. Phew. But this is top scoop, so we learn the hot-off-the-press news that Sir Arthur Evans’s Super Injunction was breached, and he really rebuilt in 1920’s Voguish Art Deco, while the Mayans might have had a dark side too. No Minotaurs or Labyrinthine clichés here though, heavens no, but Andrew squatting by real stones, with truly authentic scientific evidence of blood sacrifice, a warning from history, and then a wailing, knife wielding priestess warning from TV land, only worthy of Up Pompei.

Of course archaeology and science wins the day with pre-history, but history is not a science but art, itself an act of civilising, and this was not it. Who can wait for the joys to come? As every cut-n-past moment is pulled out of the Lady Bird books, to bring us ancient Greece, Alexander The Great, awful Empires, but why the present Queen is the pinnacle of all human life, God Bless you Maam.

David Clement-Davies


Leave a comment

Filed under Culture, Education, Science, Science Fiction


Spectacular but inclusive” was Danny Boyle’s hope for his directed opening of the London Olympics, last night, also talking poor little Britain acknowledging it’s real place in the world. Are we fourth, sixth, or last, in the great global rat race? But so Mr Boyle threatened to accept a natural Brit mediocrity too, as gloomy but reliable as the Wimbledon-style weather. So what did we get, out of all that secrecy, as rain threatened play?

Well, if you think we’re nuts at Phoenix Ark Press, welcome to Boyle’s World, because it’s truly balmy! As bucolic farmers and fulsome milk maids wafted about, below a mock-up of Glastonbury Tor, in an Olympian version of the Wombles meets the Hobbit, the rings, my precious, the rings, enter lovely lovie Kenny Branagh, dressed as a mix of Isambard Kingdom Brunel and Abraham Lincoln, but quoting the Tempest – “Be not afraid, the isle is full of noises”. We were terrified, not only of the mixing metaphors.

If the Tempest is a tour around Shakespeare’s generative, magical imagination, dark and light, this was a tour de force around Danny Boyle’s rock n’ roll head. With that oddly holy British mysticism, and a beautifully sung-out Jerusalem, the Ents (Tolkien’s talking trees) of our green and pleasant lands, were then uprooted into the dark, satanic mills of industrialism. Before it bowed to a great many talented Britains, put WorldWide Webster Sir Tim Burners Lee at its digital heart, and exploded into export UK, (the Queen was not so much amused, Mr Bond, as just bemused), in a human and pixellated extravaganza.

If the Olympics gave up being apolitical with the Spartans, this also put Danny Boyle’s politics at its absolute heart, blazing the NHS at its centre, with a lovely presence of kids and rocking docs and nurses. But if everything is really political, (psst, don’t tell anyone), then god bless Danny Boyle, snogs and all, because all you do need is love. Perhaps every nation on earth will now race to offer a global vision, and solution. Not only was it inclusive, and so spectacular that it was astonishing, it was warm, witty and in the end as moving as the cross-country torch procession.

Private Eye may have a field day with snatched glimpses of Charles and Camilla having a snigger, as Seb looked embarrassed (God damn those cameras everywhere) or David Beckham looking like a new Gillette ad down the Thames, and in times of austerity the bread and circuses element may have bankrupted us all, (is there such a thing as a triple jerk recession?), but you can forgive it all for the fun, talent, the human world vision and the magnificent Olympic crucible of flame. Lord Coe’s and that French bloke’s speeches was not half bad either.

So enter the glowing beauty of human faces, bodies too, and rainbows of colour, in what it’s about now, the sportsmen and women of the world, inclusively, if they are not shot when they get home. As a roar went up for the US, our heart-strings broke, but two hundred Nations made and were soaking in the warmth of a Games that is already palpable, and if this is London’s third Olympics, it is the first where every country has included a woman athlete. Maybe London and Britain have come home. It’s all those competitors though who will really tell us how well we do it over these two weeks.

Britain may have sunk the good ship Britannia, stupidly, handed London last summer to a gang of nasty yobs, aspiring to ugly gold lame hoodies, and mired itself in awful Press and City scandals, but mad dogs and Englishmen are still alive and well, (actually the most ancient Britains were Welsh – the Braethon). But above all it proved this weird island race is not only one of vision, but a race of genius and lunatic artists, as brilliant as Phoenix Ark Press. It’s after this that we’ll see if anyone can wake up to real inclusivity, get Banks lending, not robbing or fixing, and solve the growing reality gaps. Is the digital revolution truly connecting us though, or turning us into weird fantasists? “And I believe, that something so simple as rock and roll will save us all.” Well, you never know, Danny boy! So over to you, Olympians. Burn athletes, live the dream, for yourselves, for your countries, for the world!

PS just to enjoy a bit of the home advantage and going for Gold too, Phoenix Ark Press have now appointed the sporting thriller The Godhead Game by David Clement-Davies unofficial read of the London Olympics!

It does not quite kidnap David Beckham, but it does send kidnapped sportsmen to play a murderous game in the rainforests, and there will not be any left if we don’t wake up, while it employs the theme of this year’s Mayan ‘end of the world’, to look at the state of Capitalism and the human spirit. The London countdown is over, but the world countdown to December has begun. Available in exclusive if reluctant digitality from Amazon.comClick here

Leave a comment

Filed under America and the UK, Fantasy, London, The Arts


Foreman Saul is one of Phoenix Ark’s more elusive and mercurial authors; a little like the great Leonardo himself. A journalist and historian , with a name you might think stems from across the Atlantic, rather than the Europe of his upbringing, he has specialised in both the Civilisation of the Italian Renaissance and travel throughout Europe and Italy.‘Who or why, or where or what?’ is Foreman Saul, we sometimes joke at the office, as he pops in and out, but he usually shrugs and certainly raises an eyebrow about some of the more exotic theories on one of his great heroes, Leonardo Da Vinci!

Phoenix are delighted to give you a taste of his Introduction to this little book of huge insights, far beyond their time:

Many have earned themselves little books of wisdom in collections of their sayings, but it is not something you might immediately expect from such a scientific figure as Leonardo da Vinci, who was born 1492 and died in 1519. The epitome of a ‘Renaissance Man’, Leonardo is best known for his paintings, drawings, and numerous practical and mechanical inventions. He also left 13,000 pages of notes and reflections, in jottings, observations and thoughts, mostly to aid his work, often disordered, so never intended for publication. That jumble is what most justifies a new approach to re-ordering some of his words, into categories of useful life reflections… We are flooded with ‘self help’ books and life guides purporting to supply ‘The Secret’, but what better way to walk through life than in the company of a truly towering genius?”

Leave a comment

Filed under Books, Culture, Phoenix Catalogue, Science, The Arts


THE CHILD’S EYE by Donald Sturrock

Tom Stoppard once wrote that the person who carries their childhood with them throughout life never becomes old. In this he spoke for many artists and thinkers, past and present, who have been inclined to cast a suspicious eye over the notion of adulthood, and celebrate instead the child’s perception of the world.
Roald Dahl was one of these. In old age, he often jokingly described himself as an ‘infantile geriatric’, or a ‘geriatric child.’ He was utterly confident that he still saw the world with a young boy’s eyes and once told me – with a proud twinkle in his eye – that he thought most adults were quite incapable of doing so. Dahl was an inventor of stories, and something of a fantasist, but he retained a razor sharp memory of his childhood. He could recall with ease the thrill of cycling down a hillside with no hands on the handlebars, the tedium of interminable Maths lessons, and the sensation of having a world of giants always looking down on you. More remarkable however was the fact that he also retained a child’s natural ability to invent and imagine, to live in the moment, to stop and stare and wonder at the marvels and mysteries of life – to recapture what Dahl’s friend and admirer John Betjeman described as the period “measured out by sounds and smells and sights, before the dark hour of reason grows.”

Dahl celebrated beyond measure the human capacity for fantasy, subversively exhorting his readers, young and old, to observe the world with “glittering eyes” because “the greatest secrets are always hidden in the most unlikely places.” In a similar vein he attacked the tyranny of contemporary information culture, when he argued that the nicest small children were those who have been “fed upon fantasy” while the “nastiest” were the ones who knew only a diet of facts. He was being deliberately provocative of course. But his celebration of playfulness, even of frivolity and silliness, had an important message – one that is all too easily forgotten in this current age, where observation and plain speaking are so out of fashion. Echoing many free thinkers before him, who tempered the sophistication of adulthood with the wide-eyed imaginative inventiveness of youth, he issued a plea to observe the world with fresh eyes, free of preconceptions and conditioned responses.

Some of the greatest composers possessed this aspect to their personality. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, for example, was composing operas of wit, elegance and refinement aged only thirteen. As an adult he became a revolutionary of refinement, whose compositions reached dizzying pinnacles of poise, finesse and urbanity. Yet alongside this cultivated wisdom, he treasured his child’s sensibility, delighting in pranks, jokes, scatology and invented languages until his untimely end, aged only thirty-five. The earthy wit of his final opera The Magic Flute remains testament to the sixteen-year-old, who on tour to Italy, joked to his father about the sights, sounds and smells of the Merdeiterranean.

Not all child prodigies managed to hang onto that freewheeling joie de vivre. Like Mozart, Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy was at the peak of his powers as a teenager. His magnificent Octet was composed in the autumn of 1825 when the composer was only sixteen and was partly inspired by the vision of an orchestra of flies, frogs, crickets, mosquitoes and a bagpipe blowing soap bubbles. It sent what one listener described as “an electric shock” through its first audience. Mendelssohn however would find that, in adulthood, his child’s eye grew dim. Though he too did not reach the age of forty, many of his later compositions lacked the wit, exuberance and daring originality of those from his chldhood. They became bogged down by a self-conscious desire to be serious.

But a desire for grandeur need not necessarily cloud the eyes of youth. Fifty years after Mendelssohn, Gustav Mahler was writing symphonies of unparalleled scale and ambition: works that he believed would embrace and express the universe. Yet he repeatedly drew on his childhood memories of nature, military bands and folk-songs when he needed inspiration. When analysed by Sigmund Freud. What did he talk about? His childhood. And many of his greatest and grandest symphonies drew on The Youth’s Magic Horn, a collection of poems which had thrilled him as a teenager. The verses are filled with innocence, humour, wit and perhaps, most of all a fantastical sense of wonder at the mysteries and strangeness of the world.

For Benjamin Britten too, childhood was a complex cocktail of emotions, among which was an acute awareness of the unexpected power of innocence and vulnerability. This also remained an ever-present force throughout his adult life. When asked why he wrote so often and so well for children, Britten is said to have replied: “Because I still feel like I am thirteen years old.’ It was something that also cemented his attraction to Christianity, with its regenerative belief that a ‘little babe so few days old’ alone had the possibility to ‘rifle Satan’s fold.’ Clearly all these writers and musicians retained their own distinct sense of childhood. However there was surely something in the child’s sense of magic, of an imaginative world untarnished by the compromises and cynicism of adulthood, that was also universal. This “spirit of youth” enabled each of them to be unselfconsciously original, daring and new. Each was always irrepressibly young at heart. It is a shame that this freshness of response is not more widely celebrated by more of today’s educationalists and politicians, who seem all too eager to see the world through the dull lens of examinations, targets, certificates and qualifications. In downplaying the importance of original thought, they would do well to remember the words of the mathematician and storyteller Lewis Carroll, who complained that he would “give all wealth that years have piled, The slow result of Life’s decay, To be once more a little child, For one bright summer day.”

And it is not just the world of the arts that might benefit from such an approach. Two of Britain’s most brilliant scientists were sustained by their own child’s eye: Charles Darwin and Isaac Newton. As a child, the playful inventiveness of the former infuriated his teachers. As an adult, that same quality would enable him to rewrite the fundamentals of biology. Newton personified his attitude to knowledge as being that of a child, writing that he saw himself “like a boy playing on the sea-shore, and diverting myself now and then finding a smoother pebble or a prettier shell than ordinary, whilst the great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before me.” If only more people could take this metaphor to their hearts, the world would surely be a happier, more imaginative and more exciting place in which to live. Donald Sturrock – Feb 2011 Donald is profiled below. The next Phoenix Ark essay will be by the Historian Saul David. The images are Dahl in adulthood, and in Repton School uniform, Mozart visting Madame Pompadour, Mendelsson, a replica of Newton’s telescope and Collier’s portrait of Charles Darwin.

Leave a comment

Filed under Childrens Books, Culture, Science