The Wigan Nightingale

by John Holbo on September 2, 2007

I’m enjoying Bryan Talbot’s new – not exactly a graphic novel, is it? Alice in Sunderland [amazon]. Subtitled: ‘an entertainment’. Visit the official site of this ‘dream documentary’, call it what you will.

Anyway, it is set in the Sunderland Empire – that is, a theater – and the rabbit onstage explains to the lout in the audience, who is, oddly, a George Formby fan:

George Formby played here, and his father before him, from whom Chaplin steals his stick-twirling routine. All great northern comedy is drawn from tragedy. One of the biggest ever Music Hall stars, George Formby Senior – the Wigan Nightingale – is born into dire poverty and learns his trade as a singing beggar. His songs and jokes are punctuated by a hacking cough – a symptom of the tuberculosis that kills him in his forties – which he cleverly works into his act.

That’s fairly black. To be a tubercular Music Hall performer, hacking away on stage. The book says Formby, Sr., invented ‘Wigan Pier’ – see also, George Orwell – as part of a running gag to the effect that Wigan was a classy seaside resort, as opposed to a landlocked mining town. I never knew that. (Is it true? Talbott warns us that everything in the book is true except for one, which will be revealed at the end. I haven’t got to the end yet.)

Anyway, YouTube has some fine George Formby (Jr.) material: “When I’m Cleaning Windows”; “Fanlight Fanny”. So that’s where the Beatles learned to sound like that.

Foreclosure and bankruptcy

by John Quiggin on September 2, 2007

A few weeks ago, I noticed this piece saying that the mortgage problem in the UK might be worse than that in the US. The reason given (also applicable to Australia) is that the UK boom or bubble in house prices has been much more dramatic than in the US. One statistic quoted in the piece was that there were 14 000 foreclosures in the first half of 2007 a statistic that, as the author notes, makes grim reading. It’s striking then, to read this piece in the NYTimes, predicting 2 million foreclosures in the US this year (since most mortgages are taken out by couples, many with children, the number of people affected is probably more like 4 million). Even allowing for the larger population in the US, this is a huge difference. It now appears that foreclosure has taken over from bankruptcy as the primary mode of financial catastrophe. (Bankruptcy rates plummeted after the “reform” of 2005, but seem certain to rebound in coming months).