Eclectic Blue

Using your brain

No Comments 18 July 2018

Notes from a broken record.

Working in the world of head injury, I notice more what’s going on around me. I learn about the human brain and how it controls everything. Yet, if you were able to hold a human brain in your hands, it would seep through your fingers. Without the brain life ceases to exist and it is oh so vulnerable.

It’s why I have recently become more uneasy about boxing, a sport of which the whole point is to render the opponent unconscious, through deliberately hitting someone on the head. It does not require a neurosurgeon to work out that landing blows that affect the brain is not a good thing. So that spectacular knockout makes me think of the brain swishing about inside the skull, bouncing from side to side. But it’s when I ordinary people doing reckless things that I really get mad.

Today, for example, I stopped at a crossing near my home to allow a woman pushing a pram in which her baby was sleeping. All well and good, you might think, except that she did not even cast a glance in either direction at any stage in the act of crossing. She made the massive assumption I would stop, if she thought about it at all. Given the number of drivers I saw shooting red lights across South Gloucestershire, she dodged a bullet today.

This woman was not alone in her ignorance and stupidity. I spent much of my journeys today observing cyclists weaving wildly across the road, ignoring traffic signals and generally acting in contempt at the rules of the road. I could not begin to even estimate the number of cyclists I saw without helmets and the number I saw listening to music on their earphones. Are these people completely mad?

Stupid mothers, idiotic cyclists and huge numbers of people who have turned jaywalking into a dark form of art, I saw them all today and then I thought about those people who were not so lucky. I cannot go into even vague detail for professional reasons but I know how lives have been wrecked by idiot pedestrians and arrogant cyclists, groups of people who are convinced “It won’t happen to me”.

And it is the “It won’t happen to me” bit I understand most. When I smoked, I was convinced that lung cancer or heart disease would simply pass me by. I would be the lucky one. I suspect most of us feel like that at some time. It’s rubbish.

I wish the cyclist who undertakes at speed on a main road when there is a proper cycle path nearby (see Gipsy Patch Lane, for example) thinks at what might happen if the car driver stops to let someone out, is forced to move left. And then think about a life of severe, irreparable brain damage ending the chance to do everything you want to do in life. Or inflicting misery or even death upon a vulnerable baby who might never have a life at all.

Life can end, or might as well, in an instant. On another day, God knows what I might have seen.

Eclectic Blue

The local bank

No Comments 17 July 2018

“Have you ever been to a food bank?”
I nodded that I had.
“What did you think?”
Now that was a question. I thought for a moment and came up with something seriously lacking in profundity. “Lots of things, really.”

This was back in 2015 when I had started work for the British Red Cross in Bath and North East Somerset (BANES). I was visiting isolated and lonely people, trying to increase their independence, putting them in touch with other services that might make their lives better and sometimes taking them to nice places they might not otherwise visit. This man was young, barely in his thirties. He couldn’t walk very well because of the ravages that excessive heroin usage had done to his body. He lived in a small flat in BANES and spent winters choosing between eating and heating.

I arrived one day and he had absolutely nothing in the cupboard or the fridge. He was literally starving when I got there at his freezing abode. We had already arranged to visit the local food bank, one of the food banks I had visited before.

“I hate using the food bank, ” he said, as I parked the car. “It’s humiliating and embarrassing, especially if I bump into someone I know.” Inevitably, the second we walked through the door we bumped into someone he knew. Both of them smiled awkwardly. “I could have done without that. But I expect he could have, too.”

What were the “lots of things” I’d thought about before. First, the likes. I greatly admired the Trussell Trust volunteers who were being assisted by people from the Salvation Army and by people who just wanted to help. And of course people who have generously donated food to stop people going hungry. The dislikes? Just about everything else. If I was uncomfortable, imagine how everyone in need was feeling? Ordinary people who had fallen on hard times who had nothing to eat. Nothing to eat in the 21st century.

My friend did not have a great deal of choice in what he was given and made no complaint about that. He got a box of packets and tins which, if he was careful, would last a week or maybe longer. He would use every single last thing. Friends of his would not always do the same. “They’ll flog theirs if they can get a fix or some weed.” Jesus: they will? And then what will they do? “They’ll feel better for a short time, then go hungry again.”

I got to know BANES quite well in a very short space of time. Much of the area was wealthy and affluent but large parts of it, far from it. Until 2010, it had been a Labour seat but since then the MP was Jacob Rees-Mogg, the former Old Etonian and Oxford university student who happens to be worth some £100 million, with much of his income coming from tax havens in the Cayman Islands and Singapore. Parts of Radstock and Midsomer Norton were not exactly the rambling shires. I frequently encountered people in poverty and/or dependent upon heavy drug use. And the food bank was very busy when I was there.

Rees-Mogg said that the voluntary support give to food banks was “rather uplifting” and “shows what a compassionate country we are” which, I fear, showed him to hopelessly out of touch with the reality of the often grim lives of poor people. I disagreed with him in principle, too. It was certainly hugely admirable that people donated items to the food bank but I saw things in a different light. I am guessing that Rees-Mogg, being a hard right Tory, believes Margaret Thatcher’s adage that “there is no such thing as society” whereas I very firmly think there is such a thing. Rees-Mogg says food banks show show our compassion but I measure compassion by our societal response and, as things stand, our society has decided that the state has no responsibility in ensuring people, including children, can eat. I would use the same argument for former armed services personnel having to rely on charity instead of being cared for by those they have defended.

Doubtless, as local MP Rees-Mogg has spent time away from counting his millions and visited his local food banks, but I somehow doubt it. If he had, and moreover if he had the slightest conscience, he would have used his power and influence to fight inequality and poverty. He can’t have, though. Can he? You’d need a heart of stone to just leave people to rot.

Seeing people apply for food from a food bank was among the most upsetting things I ever saw. Everyone I saw was not, somehow, part of the deserving poor, whoever they are. They came from a wide variety of places that had been bypassed by the state. I was shocked, remain shocked, that when the likes of Rees-Mogg have hundreds of millions there are many people in his local area who have nothing.

Eclectic Blue

Putin trumps Trump

No Comments 16 July 2018

To quote Matthew Hardy, “Brexit was never meant to threaten Britain’s security. By last week, it was clear that Trump’s America, on which the Tory right has gambled our futures, is a clear and present danger to Nato”. And today, in Helsinki the clear and present danger of Donald Trump has been completely exposed. Today, we heard the White House and the Kremlin speaking in unison.

Trump and Putin, but mainly the former, trashed America in general and its security services in particular. Trump stood there and nodded along as Putin lied by saying that Russia had not interfered in western elections, despite the unanimous conclusion of the security community that they had.

How should we in the UK feel about, a week after a British citizen was murdered by Russian manufactured nerve agents, not long after two Russian exiles were almost murdered by what may well be the same batch of Novichok? Absolutely appalled and disgusted, should be the answer. The UK government should hang its collective head in shame at its miserable inaction but instead our embarrassing prime minister held the hand of the unstable lunatic AKA the leader of the free world.

The war crimes, the state assassinations, the annexations, the murders – none of these matter to Donald Trump. How long before senior Americans call this for what it is: treason.

Sooner or later, whether as a result of Robert Mueller’s investigations, the truth will be out and even the sceptics will realise what Trump is about and what he has been up to. There will be no need for a “told you so” reaction from those who abhor fascism because soon the only people who will support Trump will be fascists.

Above all, Trump loves those who regards as strong men. They love him, not for who he is but because they know why he loves them and gives them all they want. We need to stop appeasement of the unhinged narcissist in the White House because if we don’t the world will be in even greater danger.

Trump’s a fascist, Trump’s a nationalist and if you look the other way, history shows what happens next.

Eclectic Blue


No Comments 15 July 2018

Far be it for me to condone those who threw explosive devices onto former Sinn Fein president Gerry Adam’s driveway shortly after his grandchildren were playing on it. Terrorists really are the lowest of the low. Terrorists just like the one he used to be, perhaps?

We are talking pots and kettles here. I had friends who lived in Northern Ireland during the “troubles” and recall only too vividly what they had to go through on a daily basis. Before almost every journey, including the school runs, they would have to check under their cars with mirror-lights to ensure a bomb had not been planted underneath. This was the big stuff. Small stuff, like random threats and attacks, were part of the normal day.

We were hardly immune in England. The Birmingham pub bombings, the attempted murder of the Tory cabinet in Brighton, the bomb planted outside of Dixons on Park Street Bristol in 1974 which, if I had been 10 minutes later on my way to Tiffany’s ‘heavy night’ could have taken me out, too. But now this stuff is happening to Adams.

“I would appeal for calm,” says Adams. “These attacks are the desperate acts of increasingly desperate and irrelevant groups.” Oh right. Thanks for that. Presumably, then, the IRA attacks were nothing of the kind and all the people murdered by the provos did not, somehow, encourage him to appeal for calm when it was ‘only’ non IRA supporters getting killed.

Cowards, the lot of them. The terrorist successors to Adams back to Adams himself. They didn’t give a toss when it was innocent English folk who were being blown to bits but it’s oh so different now, right?

Eclectic Blue

Kevin McFadden – the soundtrack of my life

No Comments 15 July 2018

In 1980, the first biography of Jim Morrison, the lead singer of the Doors, was published. It was entitled ‘No one gets out of here alive’. I was attracted by that title because it rather sums up my philosophy of life. I am reminded of its truth every time someone dies. Yesterday, I learned of the death of someone I greatly admired, a wonderfully talented man who, for a giddy period back in the 1980s, gave me the musically soundtrack of my life.

Kevin McFadden, who died on 1 July 2018, was that man. Not, I know, a name that many people have heard of. He was the leader of a Bristol based band called Misdemeanor. McFadden wrote the songs, sang the songs and played lead guitar. Granted there were a few covers in the Misdemeanor set list, including Bruce Springsteen’s Cadillac Ranch, U2’s I Will Follow and and Star Jets’ War Stories, but the bulk of the songs, and the ones we all liked best, were from McFadden’s personal song book.

Misdemeanor had a unique sound, albeit with the influences of those mentioned above. And they really rocked. Once I saw them play, I wanted to watch them play over and over again. Every club and venue in Bristol and surrounding areas, I went along. I not only knew the songs, I knew the words. Incredibly, for a local band, they became my favourite band. The charismatic spiky haired singer, pounding away on his electric guitar, leading this tight, powerful rocking band, playing some of the best music I had ever heard.

I was desperate to get a record of this band in action. I once had a cassette of Misdemeanor performing Indian Times, one of their classics, but I wanted an album. Then, they disappeared and I thought those days were gone. In the intervening years, the earworms would remain. I’d be driving somewhere and singing Shadows of Love or Radio Radio or Stereo Heartbreak and, my absolute favourite, Walking Through The Turnstiles. I would never forget Kevin McFadden.

Then, many years later, I got an email from Mike Darby from Sugar Shack records who told me that he had managed to – what’s the word? – remaster the original tapes of some Misdemeanor songs and was putting them on iTunes. He did and suddenly, wonderfully, the songs of my twenties were alive and well, as was, I was thrilled to discover, Kevin McFadden.

I corresponded with him from time to time. He lived in California and was still making music. Hope springs eternal, as they say, and the thought that, after all this time, I might be able to listen to new material from the man who game me Misdemeanor. Then, that email.

It turned out that McFadden had returned to the UK earlier this year. I knew nothing about the circumstances, like where he lived and what he was now doing. I now wish I had. I had emailed him to tell him what his music meant to me and I would love to have told him in person. Now, I will never be able to.

The funeral will be at Canford Lane on 24th July. I don’t know the time yet but I aim to be there, even though I haven’t seen him since the 1980s, never really knew him ‘properly’, know nothing of his life. His family want everyone who knew him, who loved his music, to come along.

What I do know is that Kevin McFadden and his band Misdemeanor made my life better through the great music he wrote and performed. It will always be a musical crime to me that he never really made it when so many with little or no talent did make it. Sadly, that is life, how it was, how it is, how it will always be.

I will be there at Canford Lane to say goodbye, to show my respects and say my thanks. My thoughts are with his family and friends at this sad time. If I am sad about his loss, I can only imagine the devastation they are feeling.

Eclectic Blue

What have you done today to make you feel proud?

No Comments 14 July 2018

I am not at my best in large crowds, which is probably why I have always supported etc etc, but today I was, in general, happy to be part of a large crowd. It was Bristol’s annual PRIDE celebration.

I grew up at a time when no one was gay. Everyone was straight until the bloody liberal society turned half the country gay. Or possibly not. The reality is that being gay is not a new thing, it’s just that those of us who aren’t gay – well, most of us, anyway – aren’t bothered about it. But hang on: that’s not true either. I am bothered about it. I want everyone, regardless of colour, sex, sexuality and all the other stuff to be treated and regarded as equal. Which is why I got a bit involved in a police arrest today.

This may still be sub judice so I have to be careful what I say but suffice to say that a serious homophobic incident took place on Bristol City Centre and I stayed with the arresting (off duty) police officer and alleged miscreants until uniformed officers turned up. I know that I am not the world’s strongest man, and I am certainly not brave, but I didn’t have any fear as things kicked off. If he wanted to attack me, then he could have done. Christ – he was probably young enough to be my grandson. But you have to do what’s right, don’t you, otherwise, what’s the point in having principles in the first place?

The police were magnificent, as to my mind they usually are. They dealt with an unpleasant incident swiftly, compassionately and above all professionally.

I shouldn’t have mentioned this one minor incident really because I saw little else that offended me. A couple of idiots behaving like, well, idiots, compared with thousands of people celebrating being themselves, including me. And I am SO straight, oh yes. Don’t worry about that.

At least I am consistent. Yesterday, I was in the same area with my son and launched into a volley of abuse towards a newspaper seller from the rape-apologists of the SWP. Again, they were young, oh-so-middle class and could have punched my lights out in an instant but again I wasn’t scared of them, even though perhaps I should have been. I suspect I am getting more intolerant to intolerance as I get older.

Above all, I hate extremists. Far left, far right, homophobic, racist – I can’t stand any of you. Donald Trump, Jeremy Corbyn, Nigel Farage, Ken Loach, Paul Golding and Mark Serwotka – two sides of the same coin.

I’m proud tonight because I stood up for what I believe to be right. I don’t deserve extra respect and I am not angling for compliments because I didn’t do anything that required pre-thought. For all I know, you might hate me for opposing homophobia or revolutionary socialism. You’re probably younger, fitter and stronger than I am and I’d surely lose in a fist fight. But I’ll keep arguing, retaining that few principles I have left and that’s not enough, then do your worst. I’m not compromising.

Eclectic Blue

Third and fourth is nowhere

No Comments 14 July 2018

Call me unpatriotic – I’m not, by the way – but I shall not be watching today’s third/fourth place World Cup play off between England and Belgium. There is one simple reason: I couldn’t care less.

The point, for me, is that we are actually out of the tournament, having lost to Croatia on Wednesday night. Despite my disappointment, I had no issues with the result. The best team won. As the team that lost, what on earth is the point of us playing another game? Third place, fourth place: so what? If we win, it still means we won’t have won anything. No one here or abroad will be talking about this game in the years, or even days, to come.

If I watch it, I will only be thinking the usual ‘what if?’ questions. Or, perhaps, we’ll get a thumping and it will reinforce the reasons why we lost in the semi finals. The players will be as ‘up for it’ as they can be, but come on: a part of them will still be devastated and upset about losing out on the chance of making The Big One this Sunday.

I’m afraid for me, football remains about winning and nothing else. Competing to finish third or fourth doesn’t do it for me and it shouldn’t for you, either.

Eclectic Blue

It’s all the same

No Comments 13 July 2018

Possibly the best tweet I have ever seen came today from the food writer Jay Rayner: “For decades I have, as a Jew, wondered how totalitarian, bigoted regimes rise to power. How does a population of ordinary, decent people allow it? Then I watch someone like @piersmorgan once a great liberal campaigning journalist, suck up to Trump and I think ‘oh. That’s how.” I agree with almost all of this, with the exception that Morgan was ever, somehow, a “great liberal campaigning journalist”; which is a bit like saying Vinnie Jones was a great footballer. But that’s a matter of pedantry. The point is that Rayner has hit the nail firmly on the head.

In many ways, Rayner’s comment is not much different from that of the anti-Nazi Pastor Martin Niemoller who said this:

“First they came for the Jews
and I did not speak out
because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for the Communists
and I did not speak out
because I was not a Communist.

Then they came for the trade unionists
and I did not speak out
because I was not a trade unionist.

Then they came for me
and there was no one left
to speak out for me.”

This is, indeed, “how totalitarian, bigoted regimes rise to power”. Good people doing nothing.

Rayner tweeted about the terrifying rise to power of Donald Trump but there are familiar echoes from the past. History shows that when people are confronted by fascism, they must stand up to it and resist. Appeasement does not work.

Much more will eventually be revealed about Trump and it will not make pleasant reading. It is becoming ever clearer that Trump has serious connections with Russia in general and Vladimir Putin in particular, another hard man of the right. Trump is supported by the so called Alt Right throughout the world, from the hard line conservatives in the US to the useful idiots in our own country, like Nigel Farage and Boris Johnson.

At first, I saw Trump’s election as a source of what I expected to be temporary amusement. What an error of judgement that turned out to be. I then heard warnings from wise counsel, including old friends and acquaintances, that Trump’s presidency was far more dangerous than that. An unstable egocentric, narcissist, populist, racist, misogyist, power-mad lunatic is the man with his finger on the button.

The vote for Brexit in the UK is the other side of the same coin, a hard right campaign, supported by all the people who supported Trump, plus added British Labour Party, of course, feeding off ugly nationalism. That is not to say that every Brexit supporter is a card-carrying fascist, of course it isn’t, because the 52% had different motives in wanting to leave Europe. However, it everyone who voted leave wasn’t a racist, every racist voted leave.

The world is in a terrible mess now, with a far right nationalist in the White House, a former KGB thug in the Kremlin and at the most unstable moment in our post war history we decide to become even more unstable. If nothing else, all of us need to wake up and smell the coffee.

Our leaders in the UK are weak and incompetent. May must surely know what a dangerous man Trump is but her desperation for a trade deal so we can import chlorinated chicken, hormone injected beef and genetically modified goods has blurred what’s left of her vision. So she holds his hand, blows smoke up his arse and prays he will be nice to her. So much for “taking back control”.

It is right that people are demonstrating in London tonight. If our leaders are hell-bent in appeasing a dangerous demagogue, then the people must say that we aren’t. Trump, Putin, Brexit – it’s all the same.

Eclectic Blue

Appeasement won’t impress Trump

No Comments 13 July 2018

The sight of our prime minister – our prime minister! – being led up the red carpet, holding hands with Donald Trump, looking like a three year old being accompanied to the toilet brings not just shame but deep embarrassment to our country. You know our country: the one that is in the process of raising the drawbridge to our friends in Europe in order to be subservient to the leader of the Alt Right movement, assisted by useful idiots like Farage and Johnson, all at the beck and call of Mr Novichok himself, Bad Vlad Putin.

Remember a few years ago when a decent US president, one Barack Obama, made it clear it was in Britain’s best interests to remain in Europe? Well, he was right about that, as we are all surely beginning to realise now. Obama was told to shut up and mind his own business by the hard right, the establishment and much of the media. Yet when Trump arrives, shouting his mouth off that unless we have a hard Brexit there will be no trade deal with the US, we are merely supposed to doff our caps and swallow our pride? That’s what May is doing.

May’s fawning will not impress America’s blowhard president. Trump likes “strong” leaders, which is to say anti-democratic murderers and ruthless crooks. May’s handholding will not impress him. He was see her as weak and subservient, which of course she is, with knobs on.

Surely you can see what is going on here? It is not a coincidence that Trump loves Putin and it is clear that there has been some high level activities between the two leaders. Both have vested interests in a weak and divided Europe, geographical, political and economic and that is precisely what they are working towards.

Later today, you can imagine Trump changing his tune about deals with Britain. Today’s threats will turn into tomorrow’s “great trade deals” which will of course mean absolutely nothing to a protectionist president who, pathetically, wants more than anything to be loved. Instead of kowtowing, Mrs May should show some strength. Stand up to the orange-faced wank puffin, make it clear that we can’t push us around, that if are really the proud, independent state we are told, he should show us a little respect.

And while she’s at it, cut a deal with the EU that retains our access to the single market and customs union, free movement (that means for us too, as well as those awful foreigners) and ensure that we do not go off a cliff next March when, if we must, leave the EU.

Grovelling in front of right wing dictators never works and it won’t work with Trump. Theresa May needs to learn this and fast. It’s only the future of the country that depends on it.

Eclectic Blue

That Friday Music Shuffle (13/7)

No Comments 13 July 2018

A little earlier than usual, here is my weekly music shuffle; that time of the week when I attach my elderly, obsolete iPod to a bank of Marshall speakers here in my Man Cave and allow it to choose a bunch of songs at random from a list of over 14,000.

I know you can wait for this but I am not going to let you.

Welcome back my friends to the show that never ends!

1. ‘Cause I’m a Man by Tame Impala. I happen to regard Tame Impala’s Kevin Parker as near to genius when it comes to music. This from the wonderful Currents record.

2. Perfect Situation by Weezer. Classic stuff from Rivers et all, from the Make Believe album.

3. Fanny (Be tender with my love) by the Bee Gees. As Eric Morecambe used to say, there’s no answer to that!

4. The World Turns All Around Her by the Byrds. More jingle-jangle from McGuinn’s Rickenbacker.

5. The Price You Pay by Bruce Springsteen. Magnificent from the Boss’s The River.

6. My Generation by Chickenfoot. Live cover of the Who classic. Absolutely love it.

7. A Month of Sundays by Don Henley. From Building the Perfect Beast, top stuff from the Eagle.

8. Supposed to be by Jack Johnson. Some lovely doubt-tracking from Mr J.

9. South Australia by Fisherman’s Friends. Glorious sea shanty from the Port Isaac boys.

10. Nice, Nice, Very Nice by Ambrosia. Of course, I like this All American rock band. Shades of Yes, mind!

That’s all, folks!

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