London's Royal Festival Hall has been obliged to remove a sculpture and apologised for displaying it after The Times revealed that it was the work of a child sex killer, Colin Pitchfork. The institution acquired the artwork, Bringing Music to Life, for £600 after it had appeared in an exhibition organised by the Koestler Trust, which encourages creativity in prisoners. The model of an orchestra, constructed from folded sheet music, was displayed without a signature, although it was accompanied by a message from the artist, saying: "Without this opportunity to show our art, many of us would have no incentive, we would stay locked in ourselves as much as the walls that hold us."
Many might argue that a man who had raped and killed two 15-year-old girls, Lynda Mann and Dawn Ashworth, fully deserved to stay "locked in himself" for ever, instead of being allowed to experience the joy and absorption of artistic endeavour, let alone the pleasure of having it displayed. But that's a highly impractical attitude, not least because the denial of purposeful activity to prisoners makes the job of managing them even harder.
So that's just one excellent reason why prisoners, whatever their crimes, should be encouraged to discover and develop talents or skills. Is there a good reason why the fruits of those efforts should not then be admired? All I can come up with is the personal distress that might be caused to those who have been devastated by the criminal acts of those being lauded, which is probably why the work was displayed anonymously in the first place. Otherwise, there is no reason at all.
The harsh fact is that humans are capable of the most awful acts of cruelty. Simple as it might be to cling to the belief that such people are monstrous in every way, the difficult truth is that even the darkest minds can and do harbour virtues. In the late 19th century, one of the most prolific providers of entries for the nascent Oxford English Dictionary was a killer called Dr W C Minor, who made his thousands of contributions from his prison cell in Broadmoor. Closer to home, a family friend writes excellent books from his prison cell. It's idiotic, the idea that the Oxford English Dictionary, or Noel Smith's books, should be hidden because they are somehow tainted by the crimes or their creators.
The fear of Kath Eastwood, the mother of Lynda Mann, is that acknowledgement of Pitchfork's "rehabilitation" will assist him as he seeks a reduction in his 30-year tariff. Her concern is understandable. People can be incredibly romantic about the idea of the clever or sophisticated killer, and do tend to be more sympathetic when they see signs of such qualities.
Yet Norman Mailer learned the hard way, in his championship of the imprisoned killer Jack Henry Abbott, that talent can co-exist with barbarity. Abbott stabbed a 22-year-old man to death six weeks after Mailer had supported his successful bid for parole. Evidence of worth does not in itself wipe out the existence of the very worst in people.
Nobody is going to want to murder girls just because they have looked at Pitchfork's intricately folded paper. Innocuous artworks should not be the focus of witch-hunts. On the contrary, the work of the Koestler Trust in nurturing the evidence of human complexity is extremely valuable. The possibility that the organisation is now going to be dogged by investigators bent on finding out whether those who attract its critical attention are "too evil" to take part is repellent and fatuous.
Society must not become imbued with the mentality of certain prisoners, who maintain their denial about their own moral degradation by victimising "the worst of the worst", the nonces. Attacking an artwork because it has been made by a child killer is inhumane behaviour in itself, like mobbing a paediatrician but less understandable.
The anxious gardener strikes again
Ah, gardening and its soothing, meditative qualities. Surveys again and again confirm that a connection with earth and with plants is good for the soul. Except that it doesn't feel like that at this time of year. Oh, no.
I'm so stressed at the amount that needs doing in my garden that it keeps me awake at night. This gunnera needs nitrogen. That rose needs potash. This wisteria ought to have been cut back in the autumn. That penstemon shouldn't have been.
Those hyacinths look great now, but I must start spraying them with phostrogen or they'll be all spindly next year. God, why are all the nurseries selling mixed begonias, when one wants a block of colour? Damn, damn, damn, should have got tubers.
Lifting the tulips before they start spreading their horrid tulip disease. Is it so wicked just to get new bulbs? Is that really "decadent gardening"? And the forecast is for rain. It's only April and I've already had the gardener's thought of last resort: "Next year. I'll get it right next year." If only it were next year right now.
Too many skills, too few jobs
It was going to be great, wasn't it? We were going to live in a skills-based economy, and all the mundane jobs were going to be done in the poor countries. That would help them to develop, until they could have skills-based economies too, and then all the mundane jobs would be done by ... oh, never mind, let's get on with the thrilling jamboree called globalised growth and cross that bridge when we come to it.
We've come to it already. All through the boom, long before the recession arrived, it was clear that not quite everybody in Britain was going to adapt to the skills-based economy. The rich got richer and the Neets – the not-in-education-employment-or-trainings – got more and more untidy.
But that wasn't going to be a problem, because the Neets were going to be legally obliged to stay at school or in training until they were 18. Skirting fastidiously the small difficulty that truancy was already at its highest level since records began, the Government started fining and sometimes even imprisoning those parents who couldn't get their children to school, while at the same time planning for the happy day when they'd be obliged to stay at school even longer.
The latest is that even the skilled are fearful for their futures. The demand for sixth-form places is now so great that schools and colleges are being told to turn up to 50,000 A-level applicants away. The hunger for university places is so huge that about 200,000 school-leavers may be refused university places this year. Graduates too are finding academia suddenly attractive and the interest in further degrees has also steeply increased. Gordon simply wasn't as geared up for the skills-based economy as he thought he was. Now he has his hopes pinned on apprenticeships – that's skills-based work, but for hardly any pay. You know, like you'd have been expecting to get in those poor countries ...Reuse content