I don’t suppose there is likely to be a statue commemorating the exploits of some hero of GCHQ on the Prom – so there’s even more reason to celebrate the latest work by graffiti guerilla Banksy that manifested itself this week around the phone kiosk at the corner of Hewlitt and All Saints roads.
The street art, showing three agents equipped with bugging devices, appeared simultaneously with an announcement that The Guardian had won the Pulitzer Prize for its revelations of extensive electronic surveillance by the American National Security Agency and our own Men in Black at GCHQ.
So it’s hardly in keeping with what Banksy had in mind, but thanks to that wonderful British sense of irony – remember the Olympic Games – I see the piece as a rather splendid and enjoyable celebration of Cheltenham’s biggest enterprise.
I am reminded of two other pieces of street art, very different in style but which also gave local councillors a dilemma about what to do.
In Cornwall, the owner of Trago Mills, after a series of run-ins with local planning officers, stuck gargoyles of his adversaries by the entrance to his discount stores.
And in Plymouth, local artist Patrick Lenkiewicz painted a large mural in the tourist area depicting recognisable but unclothed local dignitaries in compromising situations.
Both were designed to ridicule, yet I can’t help thinking its subjects loved nothing better than to be pictured with their immortal selves.
So now Cheltenham councillors have to decide how best to preserve this latest tourist sight.
I love it, and I’m sure they will succeed, which would of course have the great longer-term benefit of preserving a precious and now endangered piece of street sculpture too – the public telephone kiosk.
Meanwhile, asked to comment, a cheery GCHQ spokesman suggested that anyone wanting a glimpse of what real spooks look like should go to their website gchq.gov.uk, although some, he added, “may be disappointed by the lack of trench coats and dark glasses.”
So anxious never to leave readers disappointed, the arts diary has cunningly concealed an exclusive photograph of GCHQ’s new director Robert Hannigan on this page. Click an arrow beside the picture above to reveal all.
You may not see him, but I'm sure he can see you.
The programme arrived this week for that varied and amazingly successful festival at Guiting Power from 25 July to 3 August. What a gem.
Highlights include a concert by the fantastic Imogen Cooper, for whom I’ve always had the highest regard as a person apart from her tremendous musicality. I remember her playing a sparsely attended lunchtime concert to help her local theatre in Barnstaple. How many international stars would be allowed to do that by their agents?
I’m particularly looking forward to the open-air events, three jazz sets on Sunday 27 July by the Herbie Hancock-inspired Jason Rebello and others, and the closing gig by Steeleye Span’s legendary fiddle player Peter Knight with his band Gigspanner on Sunday 3 August.
There’s more on the website guitingfestival.org, but among the hidden delights you’ll find only in the printed programme is the Cornish seafood barbeque provided by Owens restaurant from Tewkesbury at the former gig, and Lovatt’s pies and mash at the latter.
Classics, folk, jazz and mushy peas. Mouth-watering.
Technology gone mad
To return to the topic of technology, is it just me, or do you really need a Ph. D. in sound engineering to turn on the telly these days?
It seems not so long ago that you just plugged in the TV or the record player, and that was it.
So I thought of those simple days this week as I tried to catch up with a couple of decades of technology that had somehow rushed past without a by-your-leave.
Those shelves of video tapes just had to go, their precious contents being transferred to something digital. Then I looked at the infernal tower of devices in the corner – eleven of them.
The headphones are connected to the stereo,
The stereo’s connected to the video,
The video’s connected to the …
Well, you get the picture. Which is more than I do, unless by luck the right buttons are pressed on the right ones of six remote controllers.
I guess there’s always the radio. I could go listen to it in the car.