Ian Clayton column: A cultural year

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I don’t enjoy television as much as I used to do.

I’ve even gone off Coronation Street. Is it just me or are the characters and plotlines boring these days? I do catch the occasional episode, because it’s on just before University Challenge, which is about the only thing I tune into regularly. Heather likes the detective programmes, especially the Scandanavian ones and mysteries but, again, I get bored easily.

One programme I did watch recently was the two part drama The Lost Honour of Christopher Jefferies which I thought was brilliantly put together and the performance by the actor Jason Watkins was stunning.

It concerned the real-life story of the former school teacher Jefferies who the police arrested on suspicion of murder and his subsequent trial by tabloid newspapers. The only justification for the horrifying treatment he received seemed to be that he was mildly eccentric, a bit strange looking and he liked to read books, look after lilies and play the harpsichord.

This production really got me thinking about how intolerant we have become of eccentricity. Whatever happened to celebrating strangeness and people who are different to us?

I still like to read and I’ve had a good year with books. In the last couple of months I have worked my way through the one thousand pages of Mark Lewisohn’s paean to The Beatles, a fine, if train spotterish, volume that even manages to tell you which snickets Paul and John walked down on their way into town. I also enjoyed Owen Jones’ book The Establishment, about the shenanigans of the super rich, tax-avoiding scoundrels who have a big say in the way this country is run.

I have listened, as I always do, to loads of music this year, most of it obscure folk, blues and jazz. I even bought a double CD of former Yugoslavian gipsy music, I can’t understand a word of what’s being sung about, but the music is fantastic and doesn’t half make you want to dance.

The CD I have played most this year is one called The Hum by two women from Golcar near Huddersfield by the names of O’Hooley and Tidow.

It’s a lovely record and has on it a song about enjoying real ale and another spectacularly beautiful one called Two Mothers, a lullaby-like piece that sends shivers up your spine.

I have also seen them perform live twice this year, once at Cambridge Folk festival and once at Whitby. The Hum is my record of the year by a long chalk. My other musical highlights of the year were seeing Juliette Greco perform in the Olympia Theatre in Paris, Van Morrison singing at Cambridge and a young Swedish act called Varlden’s Band who blew every body away at the world music festival at Whitby pavilion. If you go on Youtube and type in Varlden’s Band, you will see what I mean.

Everybody who has seen the film Pride, about how a group of gay people helped strikers in a Welsh mining village tells me that it is the best film they have seen all year. To my shame I haven’t seen it yet: I shall have to wait for the DVD.

I am a massive fan of DVD and more recently blu-ray. I buy far more than I can watch and I have a pile of them gathering dust at the side of my telly, but one of my new year’s resolutions is to get round to them.

Ones I have enjoyed this year have been mostly old movies. When Lauren Bacall died, I started to work my way through her films. So far I have watched To Have and Have Not, The Dark Passage and The Big Sleep. Over Christmas I plan to watch Key Largo. I have also watched a lot of Jeanne Moreau films on DVD, I love Jules et Jim and one called Lift to the Scaffold.

Our Eddie wants to know why I think the world is still in black and white flickering images, when for most people it’s in glorious technicolour. I’m sure he thinks I’m related to Buster Keaton, but I do love my old films.

I do try to learn something new every day. I have been trying to think about my learning highlight of the year. I can’t put a finger on it, but one that will stay with me for a while is this.

A woman called Baroness Jenkin of Kennington announced recently that the poor don’t know how to cook properly and if they wanted to, they could make a bowl of wholesome porridge for as little as 4p.This from a woman who can claim £300 per day for turning up at the house she sits in and one which recently turned down a proposal to cut the budget on the champagne it spends £65,000 a year on.

Now there’s a woman who knows her oats. Please may I have some more?