Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Fairford Air Show vs Bristol M-Shed

Couple of weeks ago I was lucky enough to contrast and compare two new forms of British museum. A flying one and a museum of comminuty cohesion and progress

Before I go any further let me draw your attention to James Cook's pics from Fairford. It was such a damp day the water vapour made a ghostly cloak for the Fast Jets

When planned, six months ago, the trip to Fairford was to be a bit of a one day anti-Glastonbury. James talked me into doubling my ticket price to get in The Pimms enclosure, which sounded incredibly up market and I suggested in bored emails from Gibraltar that we go suited and role play the day as sleezy arms dealers


I think I'll be offering a near minthttp://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lun-class_ekranoplan

"Spirit of Westward Ho!"

which has been kept in a climate controlled hanger somewhere between Bideford and Appledoor shipbuilders (where they are bulding parts of the new Astute class and the new carriers) Appledore shipbuilders have been helping main it since that unfortunate collision with the Lundy ferry.
(It probably only made the North Devon papers)

Only serious use has been as a high speed ferry from Ilfracombe. Andy and Su were on one run in 2008 but said it was 'noisy'

When the Airshow finally came round in July I was not long back from the Road Trip and I had dragged Rob Sanders into the equation just so we could exploit his cheap accommodation (and food and Bristol, and cat<see below>).

Weather report was terrible so the suit and arms dealer concept was booted. It was as bad as Glastonbury ever gets when we got there, the only comfort was the runway which wasn’t muddy. I was soaked to the skin when I found James in the Pimms enclosure who was his usual ebullient self though age has obviously softened his obsession with B52s and A-10 tankbusters.

Though I was worried about getting Rob into the Pimms enclosure without a ticket I needn’t have, as after years of training at getting into Glastonbury Rob should run a course on infiltration techniques.

We had Eckles cake and coffee for lunch, and were bored by aeobatics displays. It was a good day, though we were frustrated by easy availablity of delicious Pymms and then fried by an unexpected sun. Our final sight was a sad reminder of the twilight of the UK aero industry, the last remaining Vulcan V-bomber , a cold war machine designed to kill millions of Russians, treated here with the all the solemnity of an apocalyptic Princess Diana.

The real highlight was the french Rafael presented as it should, as gorgeous supersonic pole dancer in a  burlesque club of the clouds. The  Eurofighter, in contrast, laboured with fake weapons and obviously knowing it had important business elsewhere, was in comparison a great but busy waitress in a pub

Later in evening I alarmed the staff of a Vietnamese restaurant with my Red Skull and a disappointing meal was improved Mahsa's bubbly chat. She was talked us into watching Get Him To The Greek when we got back. I've seen it 3-4 times before but it gets better, this time I was taken by Aldous Snow's relationship with 'Naples' ("I wasnt going to tell you about his real father.. but then he started to look more and more Italian ...") which is mostly played straight as just sweet and tragic.

Next day, in cruel counterpoint to Fairford, we went to the talk of Bristol at the moment, the newly opened museum, the M-Shed. A cruel man would call it civic masturbation. Since they tore down an engineering museum for it I'm prepared to be cruel.

Like a community action group given access to a museum or a shedfull of old crap, M-Shed is the sort of place we'd find ourselves in growing up in Cheshire during day trips across the border in Yorkshire, and we'd mercilessly take the piss. Full of almost Texas self aggrandisement and not very Bristol at all.

M-Shed should be subtitled “for fans and competists only’ and even mad local obsessives might find the content ridiculously ephemeral. Concert tickets from punk bands that played Bristol in the 1970s? Did you not have any pictures? M-Shed seems less a museum and more an excuse to ‘engage’ the tax payers of Bristol to make them feel nice. I'm sure the original appeal for vital gems of history like bus tickets to fill the great new museum of YOU must have been great for someone politically.

Highlights? A suspended example of the Flying Flea, the cheap private aircraft sold between the wars that sought to replace the car. In typical M-Shed fashion it has all of the promotional material for this miracle new private flying car without any of the explanation why it wasn’t a success (Answer: It was lethal) Presumably it was built in the area but I saw no detail on the factory.

Heartening to know that someone went around recording the memories of Bristol old folk but most of that belongs in an archive for actual historians to use, rather than something will actually divert kids from screaming their heads off. First hand historical sources can be devastingly effective when used correctly (Exhibit 1 : Secret Police Museum in Budapest) but when the content rarely gets more dramatic than “the Irish immigrants ate all the potatoes, we had to have cabbage soup instead” it will drive kids right away from museums and right back to the X-Box.

Proof of how outstandingly out of touch the M-Shed is is the single picture and caption devoted to Trip Hop. And there I’ve said that term, most hated, to describe the Bristol music scene, to emphasie that Trip Hop is exactly what Bristol is world famous known for. When you sit in a mojito bar in Tarrifa and hear Massive Attack or a club in San Francisco and hear Portishead - that is the Bristol that is world famous. Slavery? Brunel? Forget it. And the M-Shed gives the Bristol music scene one photo and a caption. I imagine U.S. visitors in particular will wonder if they are somehow in the wrong Bristol.

And worst of all it annoyed me about the Bristol engineering museum was aparently destroyed to make way for the M-Shed. In direct contrast to Fairford the only evidence of Bristol aircraft company was an airfix model and the only input from nearby rolls Royce was a slightly bigger model. Britain in 2011 still in thrall to the Business Sector, entrepreneurs, The Apprentice, Dragons Den. The media idolises Del Trotters and Arthur Daly’s and not the Brunels and Whittles.

Days later I saw a debate on Intelligence Squared,

in which the creator of MUMSNET chose to argue that bullying Western kids into any kind of academic achievement was pointless as none of 'The Dragons' (lol) on Dragons Den had bothered with anything too taxing at school.

The number of Alan Sugars types listed historically as Great Britains is very slim, perhaps because the record of British managerial incompetence since 1945 is world famous (though not in this country). Maybe I just haven't seen the statues of Freddy Butlin and Marks And Spensers in Whitehall. I'm not so sure these business daredevils really are that much of a draw for the average boy. When I was at school I dreamt about being an astronaut, not being the chairman of C&A. If I was a teenager now, rioting would probably sound a lot more fun than selling porcelain cats that sing 'How much is that doggy in the window ?' out of the back of a Robin Reliant.

The real ironic highlight of the M-Shed is a large painting called “Gran Tourismo” showing two kids supposedly visiting their Gran, but actually playing a console game while she sits ignored on the other side of the sofa.
M-Shed is the kind of expensive, claustrophobic social inclusion that the far right think they are rebelling against when they rant away at spineless liberals wasting money. A hall full of trade union banners does not help in this regard, and they are just hung there with a few photos and descriptions of local riots without any attempt at context at all. It seemed the M-shed was massively self-defeating in this regard. A big hearty thanks from the establishment socialists in charge to the warriors of Bristol’s real people, who have seen their living standards and share of Britains wealth plummet since the 1970s. Would a hall dedicated to welfare dependency, unemployment, and the rise of the Service sector and the Business Sector have been too depressing?

Perhaps a mention of the financial crash of 2008 would have been appropriate, considering very little of the M-Shed’s kind of tax-payer funded group hug will be seen henceforth. Maybe that’s the final irony. The M-Shed serves it’s historical purpose best as a monument to the kind of worthless vanity project the world was investing in prior 2008. Future generations will walk around and marvel not at actual exhibits but on the total waste of the building as a whole

I did tease the locals, Rob and Mahsa, that (as a Mancunian) the M-Shed seemed to be missing a Hall of Great Bristol sporting achievement, and that (as a part time London resident) I had seen some great art sprayed on the side of buildings in Bristol; but there is no sense teasing them about the sporting stuff; the Northern creed of soccer obsession looks to the south west eyes like social masochism, kind of interesting only in an incomprehensible sick way.

And on the art you’d have to be a idiot to be snobby about Bristol right now. This (below) is perhaps the best time I have ever spent in a museum…

And this is the most ingenious and subversive film I have seen for years

I’ll hopefully cover the coolness of Bristol with the a blog posting on I’LL BE YOUR MIRROR, when the South Wests Portshead and PH Harvey took over London for a weekend, Suffice to say I’ve seen enough of buzzing cities (Berlin) and non buzzing cities (Manhattan) to know that the best of Bristol right now isn’t bus tickets and ration cards from 1952.

Oh .. and the cat... (see next post)

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