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Endarkenment and yurts

Pauline McLean | 14:40 UK time, Monday, 24 August 2009

Jonathan Mills' prediction that a theme of Enlightenment in this year's Edinburgh International Festival programme meant a parallel theme of endarkenment, proved uncannilly accurate at the weekend as a power cut at the Usher Hall plunged performers and audience into darkness.

The book festival was having similar problems on Friday night when the generator caused a blackout just as Ian Rankin took to the stage to announce the James Tait Black Memorial Prize.

Mr Rankin - no stranger to dark places, at least as far as his books go - gamely carried on with the announcement.

Torchlight presentations weren't required as by the time Sebastian Barry stepped forward to receive his prize for the wonderful Secret Scriptures, the power had been restored and the lights were back on in the main tent.

Acting book festival director Richard Holloway was reasonably relaxed and speculating wildly about where any additional power source could be placed in the tight-packed site.

Beneath Prince Albert's plinth? he asks with a wink.

Amidst the expected handful of cancellations and changes on Saturday is the news that former Sex Pistols manager Malcolm McLaren has pulled out of an event.

Not the shyest of flowers, it can hardly be because of the pressure - it appears he's had a fallout with the New York-based storytelling society The Moth, with whom he planned to appear.

Apparently, they wanted to cut back his story about how as a teenage wine taster he used sexual phrases to describe wine.

The book festival is playing down any fall-out.

They say he simply didn't have enough time to prepare his story.

Despite the intense content of his books, author David Peace turns out to be, in person, a softly spoken affable Yorkshireman who charms the surprisingly sparse audience in the main tent on Saturday night.

Having completed the acclaimed Yorkshire set Red Riding Quartet, while living in Japan, he admits he's now moving back to Yorkshire, meaning the third part of his new Tokyo trilogy will be written there.

Asked about how he moved between such eclectic subjects - the Yorkshire ripper, a Japanese serial killer, Brian Clough - he admitted it was a strange jump.

The Damned United, he said, had meant to be entirely focused on Leeds United but Clough's story dominated.

"In some ways," he admits,"it felt like a waste of a good book."

And fans can look forward to another Peace sporting life. He confirmed at the weekend that he intends to get under way shortly on a book about Geoffrey Boycott.

Meanwhile, book festival regulars have been paying tribute to departing festival director Catherine Lockerbie, who announced her decision to quit after nine years, just a few weeks before this year's festival began.

Among them poet laureate Carol Ann Duffy who penned an ode for the occasion.

(for Catherine Lockerbie)

Inside the yurt was a pond where goldfish swam
and the poets fished for haiku, undisturbed
by the piper playing an old lament outside.
Inside the yurt was a parliament, the politicians
took off their masks at the door and lay down
with the truth, a dram, from where they watched
London Town floating away like a dream.
Inside the yurt was an elephant, a hump-backed whale,
a swarm of bees, a Vice-President of the USA
who had come to say enough was enough. Inside
the yurt was a mosque at dusk, the sound of a wholly
human voice. A novelist whizzed round and round
in the yurt in her red Ferrari. A scientist checked
his notes on the next tsunami. A polemicist helped himself
to a large red wine and salami. Inside the yurt
was a loch where the National Monster swam
and another dram... and another dram... and another dram...
Inside the yurt was a magic pen which signed the name
of someone who wasn't there. Inside the yurt was the key
to a prison cell; a candle burned. Inside the yurt
was a wishing-well, a gaelic spell, the Hogmanay bells,
a nine-year queue of children, women, men,
two million, then, all in the yurt in a singing ring
for Catherine, for Catherine, for Catherine,
who brought to the yurt the living, giving word
and the bells and the books and the candles. Thank her.

Carol Ann Duffy


  • Comment number 1.

    Did anyone enjoying the Edinburgh Festival happen to notice that Edinburh this week was the site choosen by for a statement by James Murdoch, President of BSkyB, about the power of the BBC and its funding mechanism and its practice of not charging for information.

    What indeed does everyone else think of the statement by James Murdoch, President of BSkyB at Edinburgh this week regarding the 'chilling' power of the BBC? Do any of you agree with his pitch aimed it would appear, at getting the BBC to charge for its information online.

    I view his statement as the chilling threat. The BBC is a life line to residents of countries all over the world. Many people cannot afford to pay for online information. We are not all billionaires thanks to the generosity of a parent, as Mr. Murdoch is.

    I spend a lot of time in Australia where the commercial media is dominated by the Murdochs, so I would never know what is happening in the world without the BBC World News on television. Without it, I would have to rely on the rugby league focused rubbish that passes for news and opinion in the Murdoch owned media outlets in Australia.

    As for foreign news, the area at which the BBC is the best in the world - the international benchmark and best practice, the News Corporation seems to have abandoned having foreign corresondants entirely in preference for parochial outbursts in local rags, such as one reads in the New York Post.

    Without Agence France Press, Reuters, American Associated Press and the BBC, you can be sure that democracy world wide would suffer. For it is a political process that relies on a well informed and educated voter. Who informs the voter? The press.

    The duty of the Fourth Estate or journalism is then, without question, to keep the electors informed and the politicians reigned in by the knowledge that they are there by the consent of the People, who are informed by the press.

    The real reason that News Corporation has lost billions last financial reporting year, as reported in their Annual Report presented by the CFO David Devoe, is that advertisers have deserted traditional media outlets like newspapers and television in favour of internet or web based advertising. In desperation, the CEO of News Corporation Mr Rupert Murdoch has decided to charge for online news and so now his executives like James Murdoch, are seeking to force other sources of free on line news, to charge. That is why James Murdoch has attacked the funding mechanisms of the BBC and decried the BBC practice of not charging for online access to news.

    But even though that issue is the real source of Mr. Murdoch's chagrin, it is nothing to do with the BBC. James Murdoch is barking up the wrong tree! Although advertising on the web not on paper does save trees in our environmentally challenged planet.

    No, the basic reason that traditional media is floundering is that the advertising fees charged by internet providers from Google onward, are MUCH cheaper than those charged by traditional media outlets such as newspapers like The Times, owned by News Corporation as all the published statistics on the advertising industry comparison show.

    Let us not be confused, this is an advertising issue dressed up as a free press issue. It is advertising that has been the source of the wealth and power of News Corporation over the years. It is as simple as that.

    So, now profits are down and continung to fall at News Corporation because they have lost advertising revenue to the web. Someone has 'moved the cheese' and technology or more specifically the inventor of the World Wide Web at CERN has presented News Corporation with a 'killer application.' I do not think that charging for News Corporation outlets online will really solve the cash flow problem from the dearth of advertising. It is a bigger issue than that involving the information retrieval habits of a whole new generation born after 1970.

    But just speaking to the issues Mr. James Murdoch has raised, he is dealing with a hydra headed monster here. There are simply too many other sites where information can be gathered without charge - for instance those of the International Herald Tribune, the Christian Science Monitor, the New York Times, the Guardian, the BBC, the Irish Times, many Canadian newspapers and many international sites from India to Brazil. The user will simply move on to a site that is free if one site charges.



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