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Sunday, 28 December 2014

The Rose Report on the NHS - not an arty subject, but then, there are other things in life.


    Publish it now.
    The NHS - and I'm intimately familiar with only a relatively small corner of it, while having a longstanding wider involvement - is crippled by its management structures, imposed by the last two governments.
    The separation of commissioning and provision - introduced, apparently, to satisfy the EU's competition legislation - is a flagrant absurdity, leading to two levels of bureaucracy within every NHS region where one would be far more efficient. There is little or no cooperation between the training and provision element - so that we have severe shortages of qualified staff in whole areas of expertise (particularly haematology) and no means of directing medical students into the needed disciplines - we don't have enough nurses, so are forced to recruit from the Phillipines, and insist on degree-level training for basic carers. And we have a dog's breakfast of scrutiny systems - one at local authority level; another, allegedly independent, in Healthwatch; another, with the Care Quality Commission; yet another, with Monitor, whose function seems to be to enhance the march towards privatization.
    We have Foundation Trusts, with a membership system which is expensive to maintain and offers absolutely no measure of public involvement in running the NHS, although that's its ostensible purpose. Each of these Trusts is responsible for establishing its own governance arrangements and - subject to the scrutiny of these outside bodies - clinical standards. We have a proliferation of such Trusts, some responsible for specific hospitals, some for mental health within a region, some with no very obvious purpose at all, and a gap between all of them, demonstrated by a lack of common standards: except that occasionally they realize they don't have a policy on which they're likely to be examined, so speedily rush to establish one under the heading of 'sharing the learning'.
    You wouldn't run a sweet-shop, a springs factory, a Glee Club like this - you wouldn't scrutinize such a complex system as this - in this way.
    The NHS management structure is a shambles - one disaster built upon another largely as a result of cack-handed government reforms, the worst of which were kicked off by that utter, dangerous, incompetent fool Alan Milburn, and built on by a succession of lamentably stupid Secretaries of State and a dysfunctional and generally lick-spittle Department of Health ever since.
    Not only that, but they LIE about it! They pretend that the intention all along has been to strengthen the voice of the patient, the GP, those who work in the NHS - all of whom have been the passive victims of this incompetence because none of us were ever consulted!
    We're told that Andy Burnham is going to scrap the Health and Social Care Act. Good. But then what? Are we to revert to the Milburn/Reid shambles? Are we still to be lumbered with the Foundation Trust model, the separation of commissioning from provision, the ever-open invitation to the private sector to suck whatever meat remains on the bones? Is there going to be investment in the service and a serious, severe rationalization of management? I don't know, and I wish to God I could believe that Andy Burnham does, but nothing he has said, or been allowed to say, so far gives me even a hint of confidence that the Labour Party will take on this crisis of unwieldy, unmanageable management.
    The NHS still manages to be efficient, whatever its numerous critics claim; it still manages to keep its head above water in international comparisons. How it does this, I don't begin to understand, given the hobbles around its ankles placed there by this government and the last one. It can't be expected to meet the challenges of the future for so long as its entire management structure, from the Department of Health downwards and including its fantastically incompetent 'watchdogs' and regulators. remains in place. It doesn't work. The service functions despite the systems within which it's required to operate. It is crippled, in so many areas, by PFI debt, and dependent upon the fairweather 'support' of the private sector, whose interests have nothing in common with maintaining a national health service free at the point of provision.
    Publish the bloody report, and while there's still time to save the NHS, let's start a real conversation to determine how the blunders of the last 20 years can be reversed.

    Saturday, 20 December 2014

    Lord Fisher of Lambeth, Archbishop of Canterbury - flogger or not?

    Mentioning Geoffrey Fisher, the Archbishop of Canterbury when I were a lad, as I did below, reminds me of a conversation I had with Edward Upward about Repton School, where Fisher was Headmaster and Upward, and Christopher Isherwood, pupils.

    Fisher gained a reputation, largely through the memoirs of Roald Dahl, as a sadistic flogger of small boys.  Edward, however - no great friend of public (i.e. private) schools, nor yet of the clergy -  felt that Fisher had been "badly traduced"; he was not the Headmaster of Repton when the beating to which Dahl referred took place, nor any great wielder of the cane.

    Public schools could be foul places in those days - before the First World War and in the 50 years or so thereafter, but Fisher was far from being the worst sort of flogging Headmaster, who could lecture you about sin at the same time as thrashing your bare buttocks - a classic case of adding insult to injury.

    There was a Bishop - possibly an Archbishop - who HAD been a flogger, of a particularly repellent type; Edward told me his name, but I've forgotten which of them it was; I had best not repeat Dahl's libellous habits by speculating on the culprit, and they're all interred in the hungry grave now anyway, as are many of their victims.  It always impressed me though that Edward Upward, a Marxist and atheist, should have cared about the reputation of a man with whom he can have had little in common - injustice, however, was something he couldn't tolerate.

    Wednesday, 17 December 2014


    Well, the EU has proved that it can see sense after all.  The proposal to ban cadmium in artists' paint has been rejected, because the evidence in support of it is negligible.

    Good: I'm glad I neither stockpiled vast quantities of Cadmium Yellow, Lemon and Red, which I'd probably never have got round to using, nor now need to consider voting for UKIP.  Not that I ever would have done: I do have some standards.  Low ones, but not that low.

    In celebration, I shall post this year's two Christmas cards!  Happy Christmas to all, and congratulations to the EU for examining actual evidence.  Not everybody does.....

    Foxy, in confident anticipation of Christmas dinner.   Watercolour.

    Bishop O'Booze celebrates the true meaning of Chrishmash ... (Acrylic) - with apologies to those of a religious disposition, but clergy haven't dressed like this for many years now, so he's gone to his reward or punishment by now.  When I were a lad, senior clergymen did dress in frock coats, apron, gaiters, and some still wore the top hat with cords, or with a bit of crepe tied around it.  Times have changed: can anyone imagine the late Archbishop Fisher helping at a foodbank?  Actually, yes, I can - but he'd still have worn his gaiters......

    Saturday, 13 December 2014

    Cadmium Yellow, Red, Orange - . Nearer and nearer draws the time ....

    Very soon now, the European Union's decision on whether or not to ban Cadmium in artists' paints will be known.   I'll save any vituperation until they pronounce - but if they do ban cadmium based paints, they'll be stealing one of the greatest advances in colour in the last 100 years from artists everywhere.

    It's interesting that some of the critics - possibly even all of them - on the national newspapers haven't grasped how important this is, reinforcing my view that 99% of them know absolutely nothing about the process and practice of painting.   Does it matter that they don't - is it necessary to know the boring technical details provided you have a degree in art history - or at least a diploma from an ex-Polytechnic posing as the real thing - and have read Clement Greenberg (you could look him up: I'm not sure I'd necessarily recommend that you do)?

    Yes, it does.  A critic who knows nothing about the way in which paintings are made just doesn't know anything like enough to be worth listening to.   All too many of them know about is auction prices, market value, saleability.  Some of them wouldn't know a Bright from a Filbert, or a tube of Buff Titanium from a tube of Colgate plaque-removing toothpaste.

    If there's one thing I can't stand (honest observation here: there are MILLIONS of things I can't stand) it's critics who trade on the public's ignorance to shield their own.   Any critic or art "expert" who has failed to express concern about the possible banning of cadmium pigments in the EU is either an idiot, whose opinion on art is worth about as much as mine on Crown Bowls (trust me on this, don't trust me on this - I know zilch on toast) or so remarkably complacent about a real danger I wonder what could possibly awaken them to a threat.  Nuclear war, possibly.

    Saturday, 6 December 2014

    Hatchet job posing as Review

    Artists, perhaps particularly those who make a bob or two out of their efforts, must expect - and will certainly get - criticism.  Sometimes that criticism will be fairly extreme - the so-called Young British Artists have discovered that; in general, I don't value their work any more than I'm impressed by the majority of the "Stuckists" who purport to oppose them.  I  also don't feel any compulsion at all to vilify them - whether I like or value  their work is quite irrelevant to its quality and ultimate aesthetic value.

    Criticism from the public is one  thing; of course people aren't going to like or understand certain things, but whether that's their fault, or the fault of the artists who haven't got their point across, or actually nobody's real fault at all, is usually a wide-open question.

    The professional art critic may take a more robust view - John Ruskin certainly did, accusing Whistler of being a 'Cockney coxcomb" who threw a pot of paint in the public's face (Whistler was a great draughtsman, and an awful snob).  Robust it may be, but we're entitled to expect that it won't be hysterical and personally offensive.

    But then we have the Guardian's Jonathan Jones - I'm aware that he's a passionate man, with very strong views about painting (and much else).  He is a former admirer of Damien Hirst - or at least of Hirst's early work - who rarely has a good word for him these days.  He is generally supportive of Tracey Emin, she and Hirst being the enfants terribles of modern art, and the collective epitome of all that many people hate about it.

    I don't have a view about any of that - I really intensely dislike Hirst's sculptural work, and am indifferent to his paintings.  I simply don't understand what Tracey Emin does, so don't express an opinion on her work if I can avoid it.  I do not seek to demonize them, however, and I think they're trotted out far too often by those who ALWAYS come up with the tired old "Emperor's new clothes" cliché, when all they really mean is "I don't get it so it must be crap".

    Generally speaking, the passage of time will sort out whether anyone's any good or not, and I'm happy to leave it to do so.

    But what to make of a critic who calls an artist's work "loathsome"?  Who tells us it isn't even sincere; who refers to her "daft daubs"?  Because this is what Jonathan Jones had to say about Maggi Hambling's latest exhibition - all that, and worse.  Is t his actually criticism at all?  Is it a review?  I think not - I think it's vulgar, splenetic, personal abuse; just about the most disgraceful thing I've seen a critic write.  The Guardian referred to it as "biting criticism", but of course it isn't: it isn't criticism at all; critics examine work and analyse it. offer a view of it, dissect it if they feel it requires it.  What they don't do is use emotionally-laden language approaching hate-speech - language that reminded me of Dr Joseph Goebbels' comments on the Entartete Kunst (decadent art) exhibition which the Nazis staged to demonstrate how modern art was all anti-social, rubbish, Jewish-dominated subversion.

    That exhibition backfired on Goebbels - it attracted huge, and generally appreciative, crowds; whereas his approved art exhibition flopped.  I hope Jonathan's words backfire on him - his standing is not, frankly, high with those who know anything or write about art: after this vicious tirade it's likely to plummet, and it deserves to.   Go to the Guardian's website and read it, if you can stomach it.

    Monday, 1 December 2014

    Robert, what HAVE you been doing lately?

    Well, I'm so glad you asked.

    Drawing, mostly - and as the drawings are by and large Christmas-related, I can't as yet reveal them.

    However, suffice it to say that I am rediscovering my interest in pen and ink - I've been looking at Victorian magazine and newspaper illustrations, and observing the hatching techniques pen and ink artists employed.  Some just stuck to vertical ink lines on basic drawings; others used cross-hatching - lines that might come from any direction but were primarily against each other, to indicate depth and darkness; and some combined those techniques with "bracelet" shading, ink lines which follow the contours of an object in order to show its volume.

    I've always used "real" ink and nibs before - i.e. dip pens and Indian ink; and this is still my preferred approach.  But it does seem just a bit like cutting off your nose to spite your face to avoid all the many lightfast disposable and refillable pens that are now available: so I'm going to get a few.

    Oh, and Christmas is coming, don't forget .... a nice little box of pens would go down very well.... Faber Castell, pigment ink, that sort of thing.   I leave it with you.  No pressure.....

    And, while waffling, I was reminded the other day that I have a page on Free Index - reminded because the site owners told me if I didn't log in and make use of it now and then, which I hadn't done since 2011, they'd take it away.....  So I've updated it, and there are several pieces of work on there, with contact details.

    Take a look at - 

    Also, I've just taken delivery of a marvellous book of bird paintings by the Indian artist Pratim Das.  If you have any interest in birds, and watercolour, Pratim's book should be on your shelves.  It's available directly from him, email him at:, or look him up on Facebook - the page you want for the book is Birds the real buddy.