Eclectic Blue

If you tolerate this

Comments Off on If you tolerate this 09 November 2018

If you are in any way interested in our education system, you will need a heart of stone not to feel great sympathy for the South Gloucestershire schools who have become so desperate about the funding crisis that they felt the need to go very public about it. To hear the teachers and administrators at the Castle School in Thornbury explain to the BBC that their ageing school is in real trouble is awful. Puddles in the classrooms when it rains, an elderly heating system that sometimes requires children to where coats in the classroom, gas taps in the science block that don’t work, insufficient resources to take pupils on school trips, windows that won’t open. And that’s not even mentioning the chronic lack of resources that is causing a recruitment crisis and forcing some teachers to take major pay cuts.

Castle School in Thornbury and Marlwood in nearby Alveston were once the go to schools for parents who believed, not always correctly, that their children would get a better education if they took a lengthy bus ride from Bristol and other parts of South Gloucestershire. Those who still put their children on the bus every day must be wondering now if they are doing the right thing, but that’s beside the point.

It must have taken great courage for the trust that controls the schools concerned to tell what is a very difficult truth, which is that schools are being underfunded. The current government spins that more money is being spent on education than ever before. The truth is far more complicated than that. Here is a much more relevant statistic. From 2000 to 2010, school funding rose in real terms by 65%. From 2010 to now, school  funding was cut in real terms by 8%. South Gloucestershire suffers from inadequate funding more than anywhere else in the country. And with a statistic comes a cold reality: it is our children who are suffering.

My children were very lucky. They attended the former Filton High School which was flattened and then rose like a phoenix to become Abbeywood School. a dynamic new head teacher who is now the CEO of the Olympus Trust, turned the school around. My sons both subsequently attended the prestigious Russell Group University of Bristol. They were educated at a wonderful new build school built at a time when governments still invested in education. They walked and cycled down the road to get there. No lengthy bus journeys wasting a large part of their days. Where is the money to rebuild Castle and other schools which were built several generations ago?

Castle School has shown immense courage in coming out publicly about the crisis in education funding. In his budget, the chancellor, the utterly complacent Philip Hammond, casually handed out a few hundred million quid with which schools could purchase those “little extras”. You know, “little extras’ like teachers, teaching assistants, pastoral care, whiteboards, school trips, classrooms that are warm and dry. One of the most senior politicians in the cabinet full of multimillionaires calls these things “little extras” when they are absolute requirements.

Educationalists are not crying wolf. They are desperate, they are being honest, they need better resourcing. Nothing much is at stake, apart from the future of our country and those who will shape it. If we tolerate this, the destruction of our children’s lives will be next.

Eclectic Blue

The world is my lobster

Comments Off on The world is my lobster 08 November 2018

Well, that was an unexpected collapse into yesterday. It was as if all the months of therapy had been worthless. Of course, they were far from worthless but I managed to forget about the one truth I know about my black dog. I need to learn to manage him because he’s never going to leave me.  And there’s another thing I forgot: prepare myself better.

The preparedness matters to me. I found that out for the first time, believe it or not, in 2011 when I flew to Canada for my dad’s funeral. I just assumed I would pack my bag, get a bus to Heathrow, fly to Ottawa, attend the funeral and then fly back again. It was more complicated than that. I had not thought about checking in at the airport and being asked the purpose of my journey. Cue meltdown, unstoppable tears, out and out blubbing. The same thing in the departure lounge. And then sitting down in my seat. I vowed there and then to think things through. I did for the subsequent days and for the funeral itself. I never cried again, at least not about my dad’s death.

I knew I wasn’t ‘cured’ after my recent therapy. My mood had lightened considerably by the end. It had been cathartic as well as therapeutic. I learned and relearned techniques. If I went downhill again, I would know how to deal with it. Yet, when I went down very quickly, I was flailing around in panic. My sleep was ravaged to the extent that I was wide awake in bed and exhausted in the afternoon. I just lost it. There were times, I will be honest, when it got to a point where I seriously considered the Samaritans. Not for long, though.

And here’s a thing. Despite everything, I still managed to function in my professional life to the extent that I switched on when it mattered. There was no deterioration in the quality of my work. If I was so “emotionally weak” as the occupational health officer of a certain former employer concluded, then how come I found inner strength for others when I had virtually none for myself?

This depression malarkey is bonkers. Imagine being aware of when it’s coming and feeling it drag you down? Only a true nut job like me would know that feeling. And how could I go out for a few beers, or laugh and joke with friends and family? My partner is the key player in all this because without her I am sure I would be dead. I think I have a certain survivor’s instinct, too.

I’m showing off a bit, here. I have tried never to let anyone down when I was feeling terrible, at work and in leisure. The last couple of years have been terrible at times and my social life and my sporting life, well golf, has disintegrated. I’ve become a hermit, I’ve not looked after myself. That has to change but first I have to want it to.

Change is coming in a number of areas of my life. It has to. Some I want to, some I don’t want to, some I need to. This has been a horrible few days and I just want to go to bed and stay there until things aren’t horrible. That’s no good, though. Because if I go to bed, I’ll just lie there fretting. Change is coming and in some instances it’s major, hopefully life-changing stuff. And change is massive for me because in the last year I have stood still.

I don’t know if the world is my lobster, as Arthur Daley put it. Next year, I hope to find out.


Eclectic Blue

It’s all over by the time you get to 24

Comments Off on It’s all over by the time you get to 24 08 November 2018

Apparently, the vast majority of people stop listening to new music when they hit the age of 24. They find all the music they will ever like and stop experimenting. Where did I go wrong/right?

In reality, I was once proof that this was true. By age 24, all I needed was Steely Dan, the Doobie Brothers, Montrose, Little Feat and various other types of American rock music. By the time, I was 44, things had barely changed. Now, as I hurtle towards old age and the inevitable oblivion, I am listening to more new music than ever. For this, I am indebted to BBC 6 Music.

Having grown too old for Radio One – and quite right too – I had been put out to pasture on Radio Two. And it was good. The music was generally okay, although it was very safe. I could sing along with virtually everything. Whilst I could not tolerate listening to Steve Wright, I liked Ken Bruce and I liked Simon Mayo. Still do, if the truth be known. However, I needed more.

6 Music is the greatest music station ever. Better than the original Radio One, better than Radio Two and because ALL commercial radio is shit (it is: don’t argue), yes, the best station ever. There is enough old music to ply me with some familiarity if I need it (who doesn’t, sometimes?) and there is lots of new music from a wide variety of genres.

In the last few years, I have discovered Courtney Barnett, Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever, North Atlantic Explorers, Louis Cole, Thundercat, MGMT, Lump, Baloji and so much more.It has cost a small fortune, I admit, because I buy rather than steal (legally stream, but it’s still theft IMHO) music. If I have been in a mess in the mental health department, I can listen to new music and new music equals new life. I am not sure there is any better feeling than hearing a record for the first time.

I recall sitting in the living room back in 1972 waiting for Radio One to play the new T Rex single Telegram Sam and being blown away by that clangy, chunky Marc Bolan riff and when I hear the song today, I still feel the same feeling. Going back even further, I was in the same room back in…gulp…1967 when the Beatles’ Hello Goodbye appeared on the wireless and also in 1967 when, for the first time, I saw the same band performing All You Need is Love, which starts with the first part of La Marseillaise, on Top of the Pops, featuring a long-haired gum-chewing John Lennon. I had the same happy feeling when I first heard Baloji’s ‘Hiver Indien just a few months ago.

Not that there is anything wrong with listening to all the songs you heard when you were growing up, as long as those songs weren’t by Queen, in which case have a good look at yourself. I mean, I went to see Toto last year who are touring as part of their 40th anniversary. However, they still make new music so that convinced me. However, my all time favourite band, Steely Dan, which is basically just Donald Fagen, tour the old songs and don’t make new music. They’re touring the UK next year and I won’t be bothering. I can still hear the records instead.

If you’re over 24, just try new music. There is lots of it and music today is, in my opinion, better than ever and anyway, what do you have to lose by trying?



Eclectic Blue

The death of rock and roll

Comments Off on The death of rock and roll 07 November 2018

If you were feeling a little cynical when the Spice Girls announced their ‘We’re skint, we’ve got no talent but if we announce a big stadium tour we’ll be set for life’ tour, then surely that will be dwarfed by today’s announcements on the next wave of Big Tours for 2019. At least the Spice Girls can boast four original members of their manufactured line up. The two bands touring together in big arenas have two original members between them.

Lynyrd Skynyrd have announced their farewell tour which many of us thought they done many decades ago. The current version of Skynyrd includes just one original member, Gary Rossington. Many of the rest of the band are dead, including the lead singer Ronnie Van Zandt, who popped his mortal coil in 1977, later to be replaced by his brother. To me, this would have been similar to Paul McCartney being replaced in the Beatles by Mike McGear from the Scaffold. Doubtless, they will perform all the old songs that were  performed by a different band, but it won’t really be Lynyrd Skynyrd, will it? And given they have not made a decent album since 1976, the point of this tour is? Money!

They are being supported by Status Quo, who also boast one original member Francis Rossi. Their last decent album was, in my humble opinion, Hello from 1973 and they’ve been trading off it ever since. I can’t bring myself to dislike dear old Francis, nor do I blame anyone of a certain age who wants to hear the old hits again. Although, having seen the great original line up of Rossi, Coghlan, Lancaster and Parfitt, why settle for anything less? Indeed, I saw the original Skynyrd line up and however good the current tribute band are they won’t come near what I saw.

The shows will sell out. There will be a sea of denim, bald patches and the noise of the elderly fans’ limbs creaking may even drown out the bands. With any luck. But this kind of tour threatens to bring about the death of rock and roll. It can be justified by feeding more nostalgia to the masses and millions of quid to the respective bands, but in terms of music, it means nothing.



Eclectic Blue

The fourth quarter

Comments Off on The fourth quarter 06 November 2018

I’m feeling my age at the moment and for someone who was born in the 1950s, that’s not surprising. I played golf for the third time in a year on Sunday (109 at Thornbury, if you must know) and I’ve had two utterly exhausting days at work, both of which saw me fall asleep as soon as I got home and, if last night is anything to go by, will give me another ravaged, angst-filled night of bad sleep. I’m well into the final quarter of my life. I need help.

Does anyone out there require someone who can write regularly and badly and pay them for it? Or rather, pay me for it? In the last three years or so, I’ve written over 3000 blogs, a book, a year writing for the admirable B24/7 magazine and Christ knows how many programme articles for the Bristol Rovers programme. And I am no nearer making a living at it than I was when I started. Addicted though I am to writing, my head is beginning to question whether it’s actually worth the effort.

My heart isn’t – yet – telling me to call it a day. Writing is the only thing I was any good at in school so it was always going to be writing or something I didn’t want to do. The latter always won out in the end. I took what little money I was offered and somehow made it to now.

Getting home this afternoon, it was all I could do to climb the stairs and flop on the bed, where I remained for an hour or so until a hungry cat clambered all over me demanding food. Having fed him and his two pesky friends, I found myself too tired to do anything else, including reading. What kind of life is that?

With most things in life, I tend to give my all. If I am working, I try to do the best I can, no cutting corners, no doing things by half. If someone has the good grace to pay me for my services, I won’t sell them short, even if I do end up taking home considerably less than the national minimum wage. It was the same when I played sports, it is the same with all my hobbies, it is definitely the same when I write. What you see is my best.

I know only too well the limitations with my writing. My stuff is always written by ‘feel’, I have no real understanding of the intricacies of grammar. Put simply, it’s not flawless. I do hope though that it’s interesting, even if the reader has to work hard to understand what the hell I am on about.

I know really that I will never achieve my ambition of writing for a living. I am finding it almost impossible to fit in time to write that difficult second book, not least because I am so mentally and physically tired for so much of the time, in a way I wasn’t when I was much younger. And being mental, by way of clinical depression, means the mood has to be just right.

How I wish I had more guidance as a child, adolescent and young adult. I might not be writing pitiful whinging blogs like this, wallowing in self-pity, wishing life’s rich pageant had taken me elsewhere. But there was no guidance. Just survival. Just getting by, still being here as I advance at top speed into old age.

I’m not sure if I carry the dream anymore, just the desire to write. There were times I thought it was going to happen for me, but when the dream arrived, it soon disappeared or was stolen.

Tonight’s blog isn’t very good because I am weary. Physically and mentally, knackered. Ideally, I would spend the rest of the week, if not the rest of the year, in a writer’s cottage somewhere in North Cornwall or North Devon, away from the madding and maddening crowds. I might even write something good.

Tonight, though, I just feel old and tired. And I am quite sad about that.


Eclectic Blue

Change is coming (cryptic mix)

Comments Off on Change is coming (cryptic mix) 06 November 2018

This week I went back to the well and the well wasn’t dry. The British Red Cross, whose occupational health officer, told me I was “emotionally weak” was wrong. I have found reserves I forgotten I had. And I am proud I am still able to commit to giving everything of myself when the need arises.

I’m not weak. I’m the world’s strongest man, at least for today. I may not have been yesterday when I was down and you kicked me, but once more I had my day in the sun. Although it may have only been a been a day, there was a glimpse of the man I always wanted to be all of the time. I thought maybe he had gone. I know he’s alive and kicking.

Today, in the darkest hour before the dawn, I lay awake doubting myself, convinced I had nothing left to give, my future as bleak as much of the past. I peered through the gloom, forced myself out of the house and found reserves of energy and self-belief I was told I never had.

The woman who called me “emotionally weak” left me shattered, made me believe I was worthless, that perhaps I deserved the bullying and abuse after all. Yet I am strong. I might have failed in just about everything in life but I’m still standing.

Change is coming. It has to come.


Eclectic Blue

Poppies everywhere

Comments Off on Poppies everywhere 06 November 2018

As I drive around admittedly small parts of our green and pleasant land, it seems to me that more people have remembered Remembrance this year than ever before. In my own village, giant poppies are displayed around the green, as they are in many other places. Only yesterday, I drove through Charfield and was genuinely moved by what I saw. Poppies were everywhere, placed with love and thought. It was quite beautiful.

It could be that it is 100 years since Armistice Day in World War One. Or it could be that the importance of remembering those who died in armed conflict are finally getting the national recognition and acknowledgment they so richly deserve.

I have done to death my own personal reasons for remembering at this time of year and my firm belief that Remembrance, and everything goes with it, including wearing the poppy, is a personal matter. No one should have to explain why they are not wearing a poppy because if you think they should, what was the sacrifice for? Essentially, it is all about the freedoms we enjoy today.

People are free to attendance Remembrance services, too. I choose not to attend organised services because I spend that time privately, in my own thoughts, thinking of those who went before and those in my family who almost didn’t make it through the wars.

Remembrance should not be a time of hate and division, as we saw at a particular football match last weekend. The heroism of our armed forces should always be remembered respectfully, as a unifying force. It is not a time for faux anger about who is and who isn’t a poppy wearer and who cares more about the fallen than anyone else.


Eclectic Blue

The great escape

Comments Off on The great escape 05 November 2018

It would be quote wrong for me to comment on the so called Freddie Mercury biopic Bohemian Rhapsody since I have not seen it and have no desire to ever see it. The only good thing Mercury and Queen did was to help bring about punk and, more importantly, the new wave of music which gave to us real music like the Clash, the Jam, Elvis Costello, Ian  Dury and the like. Whatever Queen’s music was, it wasn’t rock and roll and I didn’t like it.

Meanwhile, Queen fans have loved the movie, many referring to it as a Freddie Mercury ‘tribute’, which tends to suggest the critics who suggested this was a warts-free, sanitised tale of his life were reasonably accurate.

I did not take an instant dislike to Queen. I even bought their first single Keep Yourself Alive because I like the guitar sound, even if it was buried too far down the mix for my liking. By the time the Seven Seas of Rhye came out, I had rumbled the band for what they were.

To my ears, they just got worse and worse as time when by. Turgid anthems like Radio Gaga and pretentious nonsense like Killer Queen had me reaching for the sick bag. When We Will Rock You came along, I wondered if Rock and Roll was dead. It certainly wasn’t alive in the hands of Mercury, May and co.

Queen did not produce bad music because there is no such thing as bad music, except Queen I would argue. There is a reason why millions of people found Somebody to Love a decent song because I found nobody and nothing to love on that record.

I remember watching their set on Live Aid and thinking, “What a load of shit that was!” only to walk into my local several hours later to hear middle aged men telling me – I was far from middle aged at the time – how great they were. “Oh, that lead singer: brilliant. And a glass of Liebfraumilch for the wife.”

I was never, ever interested in Mercury’s sexuality or his race. I only judged him on his music and I found that terrible. Luckily, rock music survived despite all the attempts to reduce it to show and nonsense. One night, back in the 1970s, I failed to get tickets for a show at the Bristol Colston Hall headlined by the excellent Mott the Hoople. The support act was a virtually unknown band called Queen. What a lucky escape that turned out to be.

Eclectic Blue

There are people who thought Grenfell was a bit of a laugh

Comments Off on There are people who thought Grenfell was a bit of a laugh 05 November 2018

There’s a seriously unpleasant video doing the rounds at the moment, which shows a group of halfwits setting fire to a pretend Grenfell Tower on the annual Guy Fawkes bonfire. Oh, how they must have laughed as they drew little cartoons of people screaming in the burning tower, before they were consumed by the flames. It takes something really special to think that Grenfell was somehow funny.

Or perhaps it is more sinister than that. Perhaps, there is an element of racism with this video. It’s possible since many of the occupants of Grenfell were of foreign extraction. Who, for example, can forget the positively evil poster from the EU referendum fronted by far right leader Nigel Farage, with lines of people with dark skin above the headline which said ‘Breaking point’. Did Farage create an environment that could have enabled such a video to be made? Whether this is a far right video or not, Farage most definitely created that environment which helped set this country on fire.

It could be the kind of people with whom  I associate and spend my life that I knew of no one who found the Grenfell Tower disaster as amusing. On the contrary, everyone I know found it horrible. I don’t know anyone to whom it even occurred that the victims might be dark-skinned. But then, I wouldn’t want to know anyone to whom that did occur.

Why do it is one thing, but put it in the public domain is quite another. There is enough to identify at least one of the miscreants and our journalists will without doubt identify all of them. So they should. They’ll be ridiculed, they might even lose their jobs. They will make excuses. “We were drunk, it was a joke that went too far. Some of my best friends have dark skin. I am so sorry we’ve been found out…er…I am so sorry for what we’ve done.”

The dregs of society, that’s what they are. Their ‘hilarious’ joke at the expense of those who burned to death in Grenfell Tower has deserved backfired and they will spend the rest of their lives dealing with the consequences.

I am not without sin. I have told a good few sick jokes, said more than a few unpleasant sins. But I’ve grown up now. These idiots with their sick joke about Grenfell haven’t grown up. When their names are made public, they’d best do so PDQ.



Eclectic Blue

Two wrongs make a very wrong

Comments Off on Two wrongs make a very wrong 04 November 2018

Yesterday, I saw a clear example of the old adage which I have just invented, which is two wrongs usually make a very wrong. The Irish footballer James McClean, who plays for Stoke City, refused to wear a poppy on his shirt, something he has always done since he moved to England in 2011. As usual, he was subject to appalling abuse, in this instance by a number of Middlesbrough supporters.

The Royal British Legion  takes a common sense point of view as to whether people should wear the poppy. People fought and died for our freedoms, but our freedoms  include the right not to wear a poppy if we don’t want to. McClean went much further than merely not wearing a poppy.

In explaining his decision, he quoted the IRA terrorist Bobby Sands, who back in 1981 died in a hunger strike. The words were: “They have nothing in their whole imperial arsenal that can break the spirit of one Irishman who doesn’t want to be broken.” McClean added,”To the section of uneducated cavemen in the left-hand corner of the Boothen End stand that want to song their anti-Irish song each game and call me a Fenian this and that… I am a PROUD FENIAN no cunt will ever change that, so sing away.”

I feel very strongly that the Poppy Police should not force anyone to wear a poppy. I bought mine and promptly lost it with 24 hours. Other friends choose not to wear them at all. Certainly no sports club should compel their players to wear a poppy and it is a fact that Stoke City did no such thing.

Those who abused McClean will have had their different reasons. Some will be Poppy Police, some will use it simply as a means by which they wish to unsettle an opponent, some will be far right fascists who stand for the very things our armed forces fought against in World War Two. McClean didn’t help himself.

Eventually, though, I come down on the side of McClean. I support the Royal British Legion, I support Remembrance, I buy a poppy every year. I also believe in freedom of expression. McClean has to be allowed the freedom to quote Bobby Sands if we wants to, just like he should be allowed to not wear a poppy. I supported the freedom of expression that allowed Salman Rushdie to publish The Satanic Verses in the face of Islamic fascists who wanted to have him killed. I supported the Danish cartoonists who took the piss out of Allah. I loved Spitting Image and I love Private Eye. And on and on.

Freedom of expression means having the right to offend people and be offended. McClean can quote an IRA terrorist, I can condemn IRA terrorists, as I have always done. Our democracy at home and abroad is at risk from the dark forces of the far right. Sometimes freedom can be awkward to defend, but defend it we must. Banning McClean from saying and doing stuff we might find offensive diminishes our free country. And we know what happens when you start banning free speech.

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