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Friday 9 November 2018

The Christmas market goes up on Adolf-Hitler-Platz

A pane of window glass is an odd thing. Just 4mm thick, and so fragile that a child's ball may shatter it, in our minds it is as much of a bulwark against the elements, against the chaos of the street, against the bad outside as nine inches of brick and mortar. Anyone who has had a broken front window pane will know the sudden vulnerability, the sense of unprotectedness, the anxiety and the naked exposure of that void. Until mended, we can't sleep. We imagine dark forms, of burglars, deviants and suchlike attracted like moths to the boarded gape - blind to the reason that the piece of plywood covering the hole is many times stronger than the thin, weak pane it replaces. 

Eighty years ago today tens of thousands of our German cousins had their windows deliberately smashed, windows of not only their homes but their businesses. Synagogues were smashed and burned. Kristallnacht marked the change from social, economic and political discrimination to physical attack. Kristallnacht marked the start of the Holocaust. 

The boundary, the constraint, the separation between discriminatory treatment, between scowls and insults flung in the street and on the trams to physical battery, to rape and murder, to violence and robbery and to organised genocide was just as thin and fragile as a sheet of glass. Eighty years ago it was smashed and the first thirty thousand of Germany's Jews were rounded up for the concentration camps, to be killed in an ad-hoc, haphazard fashion, from starvation, lack of care, overwork and shooting. It was to be another thirty-eight months before the Germans agreed the designer death factories at Wannsee - Vorsprung durch Technik - but already the fate of Europe's Jews was effectively decided. 


I was in Villach yesterday, enjoying a beer on the broad, elongated space that stretches up the hill from the Drau to the church, paved in the same red catshead cobbles as a century ago, and called Adolf-Hitler-Platz until the British occupation force changed its name in 1946. The Christmas tree was already up, the size of the tree in Trafalgar Square, and carpenters were building the Christmas village, sturdy huts and braziers soon to be filled with the scent of burning pine, Glühwein and hot Leberkäse. As I write I can't actually remember what the space is called today - after having seen all the photos from March 1938, such as that below, it is forever Adolf-Hitler-Platz in my mind. Among this crowd, I wonder, were the Jews of Villach watching the procession? Still at that time with faith in the strength of their windows to protect them from rape, brutality and death?

Thursday 8 November 2018

The house that screams 'Arsehole'

If ever I saw a house that tells me it was built by an Arsehole, this is it. Predictably its FTW approach has put it on the shortlist for the 2018 RIBA prize. This piece of crap is exactly why appointing Roger Scruton to chair the new building quality commission is exactly the right decision.  

Where to start. A terrace of Edwardian houses is an architectural whole; typically the two corner houses, the bookends, are slightly quirky, possibly slightly larger than the rest, often with dual facades. Somewhere along the terrace will be one or more passages to the rear gardens, narrow and inconspicuous, sometimes only 2'9" wide, often gated. Door and window openings in the facade are enhanced by composite stone or terracotta detailing, robust enough to allow even plastic replacement doors and windows to be less visible. The design is in fact strong enough to allow considerable variation in roof covering, fenestration, door and window paint colours all to be accommodated without compromising the essential integrity of the terrace.   

The traditional terrace reflects quite well both British culture and society, with plenty of room for individuality but within constraints of a unifying commonality. They afford privacy while allowing communal security, bay windows in particular allowing mutual monitoring of the entire street outside. London terraced housing is far less susceptible to burglary than wonky, cranky little modern developments pushed like crooked teeth into small building parcels. 

The terrace also affords the illusion of a sort of egalitarianism that serves to bond residents to a locality as limited as a particular road, despite disparities in income, education, culture and class that would rarely bring them together outside of the street. 

All of which of course is well known to Dr Scruton;
In Chapter Seven of The Classical Vernacular, Dr. Scruton dares to enumerate a number of propositions, which lovers of beauty may adopt, as “Architectural Principles in an Age of Nihilism.” For example, there is the fifth proposition: “Architecture must respect the constraints imposed on it by human nature.”

This means that vertical windows and doors, mirroring the human form, are more appropriate than horizontal shapes that run in the opposite orientation for no other reason than a desire to deliberately transgress the quaint notion of mirroring nature. Dr. Scruton observes, “As animals, we orient ourselves visually, move and live in an upright position, and are vulnerable to injury.”

The importance of the visual analogy cannot be underestimated. If we do not take our bearings by anatomical nature in architectural design, our constructed habitat will hardly condition us to seek harmony with nature in other spheres. “As persons we live and fulfil ourselves through morality, law, religion, learning, commerce and politics,” writes Dr. Scruton. And yet how can we build a world worth inhabiting in those larger domains, if we cannot build homes for our bodies that are no more beautiful than sheds?

Consider his twentieth proposition, which attends to an apparently small point: “it is necessary to use mouldings.” And yet do not great errors result from a careless attention to something that seemed negligible in the beginning? Sir Roger argues, “Without mouldings, no space is articulate. Edges become blades; buildings lose their crowns; and walls their direction”.

The example illustrates a more general principle, which Dr. Scruton usually expresses as an aesthetic paradox: It is the useless that makes something truly useful. Mouldings may be considered “useless” from a utilitarian design point of view, and yet, as Dr. Scruton observes, without mouldings, “Windows and doors cease to be aedicules and become mere holes in the wall.”
The red excrescence at the end of this charming little terrace does itself no favours. The arsehole who built it will only ever be able to sell it to another arsehole; it will be liable to burglary, those sheer windows that can't open will fry the inhabitants in Summer, the flat roof will leak and rot, the hidden internal gutters and downpipes will block with leaves and soak masonry, that fashionable Farringdon brown-grey (almost indistinguishable from the grey-brown which is the only other powder coating colour in these people's palette) will chalk-up and fade and that blank flank wall of pretty London stocks will be defaced with graffiti in no time. In short, in fifty years when the rest of the terrace is still thriving, this decrepit wreck will be ripe for demolition.  

But the utter pretentious arseholeness of its creator is in terming it 'Red House' - as if this ugly hubristic stain on our urban fabric could offer even a simulacrum of comparison to the genuine house of that name, by Webb and Morris, whose genius produced a dwelling entirely antithetical to the jejune delusions of this nasty carbuncle.  

Tuesday 6 November 2018

Journalists murdered working on EU / mafia corruption investigations

June 1996, when Veronica Guerin was murdered by Ireland's drug barons, seems an age ago, but it shows just how long-lived have been the links between official corruption, EU money, organised crime and drugs.  

More recently, in February this year, Slovak investigative journalist Ján Kuciak, 27, together with his innocent partner, were gunned down in his home. At the time he was working on a story on the links between EU money, bent Slovak businessmen, and the Prime Minister's assistant's links to corruption and a mafia crime figure. 

And last month in Bulgaria Victoria Marinova ws found murdered in Ruse. She had been working on a story about corruption involving EU funds. The second Bulgarian journalist murdered in a decade, the gunning down in Sofia of radio presenter Bobi Tsankov in 2010 being a grisly precursor.

In 2010 Investigative journalist Sokratis Giolias was gunned down in Athens. And just over a year ago, in October 2017, Daphne Caruana Galizia was blown apart by a mafia car bomb in Malta. A 53 year old mother of three, her investigations into political and EU corruption on the island and the links between EU funding and crime figures offended scores of bent Maltese politicians. In Poland in 2015 Investigative journalist Łukasz Masiak was beaten to death in Mlawa.

Dead journalists make the news. But it's reasonable to suppose that for every stubborn and tenacious reporter who refused to be intimidated, a score or more will have been cowed into silence by a bullet in the post, a beating, their family or children approached, their windows broken, their cars dripping in bloody paint.

The EU uses money taken from Europe's taxpayers to buy political loyalty and to corrupt politicians across Europe, under the pretence of aid and development. But building up a cabal of loyal bent politicians comes at a price - they frequently come attached to organised crime gangs. And although the EU would rather play down the links between EU favour and funding and the mafias, at times the links are so blatant, the passage of cash from EU taxpayer purses to mafia pockets so conspicuous, that even the EU are forced to act;
In an unprecedented move, the EU has withheld funds from new member Bulgaria because the ineffective measures it’s taken against organized crime. Killings, frauds and corruption all seem to go unprosecuted and unpunished. The European Union’s (EU) dramatic action in suspending aid to Bulgaria came after ample warnings that mere commitment to judicial reform was not enough.
But of course the EU can't act too harshly; the foul and noisome compact between the EU, Europe's criminal mobs and her bent politicians is vital to Berlaymont's interests. And a carpet of journalists' corpses is the cost.

Sunday 4 November 2018

A Week of Remembrance

The centenary of the ending of the Great War will make this year's Remembrance Day celebrations some of the most poignant of our Cenotaph ceremonies. The Western Front holds a place on our collective national conscience like no other war; there was no such occasion in 1956 to mark the centenary of the Crimean War, nor in 2002 to mark the end of the Boer War. 

The wars of the last century were fought by British and Empire, later Commonwealth, troops from every corner of the globe. Our brothers in arms were Christian, Sikh, Muslim, Daoist or one of a score of other beliefs, with skins both white as milk and black as ebony and every shade between. When you're together in the line, no real soldier is a biological racist. 

Today, in British units stationed around the world on this special anniversary, the newness is not the racial diversity of our armed forces - this is long established - but the women who share the dangers and privations of the men. May God watch over them all and keep them safe in their duty.

Sikh troops on the Western Front in WWI