Sunday, 22 April 2007

Tour-ettes Syndrome

I'm doing some work with a film company who are making a pilot for a new TV travel show and as part of the research I've been to a couple of "tourist attractions" like the Royal Pavilion in Brighton and the Imperial War Museum in London. It's caused me to reflect on the nature of tourism, having seen so many visitors to Britain stumbling blindly from one set piece to the next.

I begin to wonder, is tourism what we do to fill the gaps between lunch and tea? Are all those carefully preserved and restored National Trust houses merely tea-shops with a little predigested history attached? For every earnest cardiganed mature lady studying the guide book and peering at the artefacts, there's a whole swathe of disinterested folk gazing into the middle distance wondering when it's next time for a chocolate muffin and a cappuccino.

Am I guilty of this myself? I know that I sustain myself through all "country walks" with thought of what cake to have at the end of it, but do I also do this in visiting galleries, or museums or palaces abroad?

Did I shuffle round the Louvre or the Uffizi or the Hermitage just ticking off the highlights but all the while thinking of the choices for dinner?

I think the answer is "sometimes". Maybe not the Hermitage, since dinner in pre-privatised Leningrad hostelries was universally dire.

I remember being vastly annoyed with the talkative Australians who had to be shushed all the time by the guardians in the Sistine Chapel last September, but the guardians were noisy by Italianate standards also. I would have loved to sit and study the ceiling in silence, and also without a couple of thousand people in dripping outerwear (it was the wettest September Rome had seen in a hundred years). I'm not a highbrow, but I'm not a philistine either, and I wonder just what is the "appropriate" way to enjoy and assimilate museum culture.

I seem to be going through a Nazi phase, too. Well, not in my personal life although there was a strangulation moment in a recent bout of passion when piano wire could have been handy - but because I've seen a couple of Second World War exhibits which resonated strongly.

The first was the War Tunnels and Underground Hospital in Jersey (Channel Islands, not across the Hudson) where the reconstruction of the occupation is strikingly presented, and the shame of Churchill's abandonment of the Islanders brought sharply into focus.

And then the Holocaust exhibition at the Imperial War Museum which is damning in its dispassionate and factual accounting of the numbers and the processes of the concentration camp system.

I met some people recently who had been to Krakow in Poland for a pleasant weekend, and visited Auschwitz on an excursion. I think this may be a thought drawn from a recent BBC documentary on the subject, but you have to wonder ... is there a gift shop? Do they sell souvenir chocolate, or tea towels? Or soap? And where do you eat your sandwiches?

Monday, 9 April 2007

Murky Waters

I know you think this blog just twitters about musical theatre and my Manchester childhood, but I do think about other things too, and one topic which is currently filling my horizon is the Iran sailor/hostage situation which has blown up like a Channel squall, and seemingly subsided as quickly.

Although I love a good conspiracy theory, my declared record on them so far doesn't extend much past guessing accurately who's really the father of Jason's baby in Corrie, but this one is so blindingly obvious (to me) that I want to set it down in a dated record so perhaps I can be proved right, or hopefully wrong, when war breaks out.

It stinks to me of a propaganda exercise.

I believe the "fifteen sailors" are from a specially-trained unit, who perhaps volunteered for what they knew to be a dangerous mission. Their excursion into Iranian-patrolled waters looks to me like a provocative act on the part of the British Navy and whomever controls or advises it, designed to get the group apprehended and in the hope of needling Iran into parading them for public humiliation.

I'm sure if they had actually been tortured or abused, there would have been an SAS/Raid on Entebbe style of rescue mission which would have gained the West even more television coverage, and painted Iran in a dreadful light.

But perhaps the Iranian military managers, ironically largely trained by the British, are smarter than the Pentagon gives them credit for and have outmanoeuvred the Western propaganda machine by treating the sailors well with new clothes and tacky gifts, and releasing them unharmed.

I suspect this is why the Navy has taken the unprecedented (and ludicrous) step of allowing them to sell their "stories" to the media, in the hope that further exaggerated accounts of how uneasy they felt in Iranian hands will fan the flames of anti-Islamic sentiment without actually appearing to be scripted by the Admiralty.

It's laughable to watch the UK tabloids trying to make a hero out of the frankly unpreposessing fag-toting Faye Turney - or "Leading Seaman Turney" as she's constantly referred to, which reminds me of a character in the farcial radio comedy "The Navy Lark" from the 60's.

And farcical seems about the right note for this charade behind which I see the clumsy but heavy hand of the Bush administration. Is Blair again conspiring with America in a desperate attempt to look like a statesman so the country will beg him to delay his departure from office?

At least he learned something from Thatcher's Falklands experience.