Eclectic Blue

On the move

0 Comments 17 March 2019

The March to Leave, which left Sunderland yesterday led by Nigel Farage, has not exactly gained a great deal of publicity. Why should it? The Daily Express announced that 100,000 people would be marching from Sunderland to London, whereas only circa 350 actually turned up. That number has today dwindled to 77, including several photographers. Farage himself is not, of course, one of them. That’s because he is a shameless huckster, a conman and a liar.

I am reading that those who are still marching are overwhelmingly good and decent people, doing something they genuinely believe in. On that basis alone, I am not attempting to ridicule them. Good and decent people doing something they genuinely believe in is what democracy is supposed to be about. Good luck to them (and I mean it, man).

This march should not be confused with the Jarrow March of 1936 where people marched to oppose poverty and unemployment. This march potentially sets out to do the precise opposite. But do not be fooled. I doubt that it will dwindle away to nothing and that once the march reaches London, numbers will once again swell, including the nicotine stained man frog Nigel Farage.

What Farage is is not what he pretends it is. He is not the man standing up to the establishment. He is the establishment, a political insider who knows all the tricks, has all the connections. And he is very good at providing sound bites like this march to leave. Less good, however, at getting his hands dirty. He loads the gun and then runs away. Then again, that’s what Brexit is all about.

The main leavers argue their case away from the front line where real decisions have to be made. Farage, Rees-Mogg, as well as the resigned Tory ministers like Johnson, shout from the sidelines. Anything that requires hard work is anathema to the cheats and shysters of Leave.

The March to Leave is a joke at the moment. It is a joke not because of the decent women and men who are walking the walk but because of the likes of Farage who just talk the talk.

The sunlit uplands of Brexit don’t exist. In fact, the future resembles more the grim, stormy darkness where the march started yesterday. The country will suffer because of Farage and co. Increasingly the country is beginning to realise that, probably too late. But once decay to Britain really sets in, they will know who to blame.

Eclectic Blue

My first, my last, my everything

0 Comments 17 March 2019

The excellent Mark Radcliffe and Stuart Maconie, despite being shunted to the weekend breakfast slots on BBC 6 Music, still host the best show on the radio. You may call this my opinion. I call it a fact! (Wink emoji, please.) Anyway, whilst they have brought most of the best bits of their weekday shows to their new time slot, they have also introduced some new ones, like My First, My Last, My Everything.

My First, My Last, My Everything is where a guest – today it’s Nish Kumar – tells us the first record he ever bought, the last great record he bought and the record that means everything to him. My lack of fame means that I am unlikely to be asked to appear in this section of the show so instead I am doing my own DIY version. As Noddy Holder used to say, ‘So here it is’.

My First The first record I remember my mother buying for me is Not Fade Away by the Rolling Stones. The song has not gone on to be one of my favourite Stones songs, never mind one of my favourite songs ever. The first song I ever bought myself, with my own (pocket) money was Ride A White Swan by T Rex. 2:15 minutes and seconds of musical heaven, the song changed my musical tastes forever and opened my eyes to the joys of new music. As with everything T Rex, Marc Bolan’s lyrics were nonsensical but it didn’t matter. It was all about the music, especially Bolan’s distinctive guitar sound.

My Last The last great record I bought was Time by Louis Cole on Flying Lotus’ Brainfeeder label. It’s hard funk and gorgeous tunes and guest spots from the magnificent Thundercat and Brad Mehldau. Thundercat appears on the joyous Tunnels in the Air, which was one of the best songs of 2018. However, my true love on this record is the final song Night, described by the website Pitchfork as a “mortality-obsessed song in which he imagines remembering, in his last moments alive, a nighttime drive with his lover.” It’s my funeral song.

My Everything My everything is Aja by Steely Dan. Released in 1977, Aja is the Dan’s sixth album and sees them at their creative peak. Seven great tunes, all killer, no filler, and the band, essentially just Donald Fagen and Walter Becker by this point, is augmented by arguably the greatest collection of session musicians and singers ever assembled for any album ever. I deeply love Aja. No album has ever come close in my very humble opinion. My everything in terms of actual songs, and my other funeral song, is Since I Left You by the Avalanches. It’s essentially a work of genius, featuring God knows how many samples, all stitched together to make music that simply washes all over you. They say nothing is truly perfect, but this is.

Eclectic Blue

Romance is dead

Comments Off on Romance is dead 16 March 2019

During his presidential campaign, Donald Trump promised rustbelt America that he would restore and rebuild the great industries such as coal mining and steel making. Many people voted on the basis of Trump’s promises, which were based more on a throwback to the past than modern day reality. There was a sepia-tinged, almost romantic image of the working man. The cold reality of back-breaking work in often awful conditions is usually lost on those who actually carry it out. Nonetheless, politicians, not just of the right, hold exactly this view of life among the working classes.

It was certainly part of the psyche of my very first MP, Tony Benn. He was born into privilege, one Anthony Neil Wedgwood Benn, and became the 2nd Viscount Stansgate. Despite his elite education at Westminster School and New College Oxford, Benn’s politics were very much of the left. The older he got, the more left wing he became.

The aristocratic Benn developed a fond fascination for the working classes, indeed learning about the jobs they did, the conditions in which they lived and how they got by. Theirs was the struggle he never had to endure. Benn too had a romantic view of the working classes which many found touching and others, like me, found slightly cringeworthy.

In truth, there was little that was romantic about the lives of working people. It was, for most people, a constant struggle. Rewards were few, hours were long, conditions were often grim, especially in the coal mines where those men who were not killed below ground often suffered later in life with ghastly debilitating diseases. To the affluent chattering classes in the labour movement, the sight of a coal miner, blinking in the sunshine as he emerged from the pit, caked from head to toe in soot and dirt, this was the symbol of the working classes. It was wonderful to behold. Except it wasn’t.

The former miners I have come across in my life, along the sons and daughters of miners from the Somerset coalfields, taught me that the last thing the men wanted was for their children to follow them down the pit. They often scrimped and saved to ensure their offspring could earn a living in a safer, healthier environment.

Today, little has changed in the eyes of those who don’t have to get their hands dirty for a living. The far right represented by Trump promise the return of the coal mines, the far left, in Britain for sure, get all dewy eyed when they talk about it.

Today’s Labour Party is in the hands of the sons of Tony Benn. Not the actual son of Tony Benn, Hilary Benn who holds a very different, less romantic and more realistic view on just about everything, but those who believe they carry forward his torch. Millionaires on Jeremy Corbyn’s top table like ‘former’ hardline communists Seumas Milne and the aristocratic Andrew Drummond Murray and their fellow millionaire Jon Lansman who owns the Corbyn fan club organisation Momentum view the world through the same looking glass as Tony Benn. From their upmarket restaurants and wine bars, they observe the working classes as if they were in a painting by LS Lowry. They also know what’s best for the working classes. Or at least they think they do.

Whilst the chattering classes romanticise the lumpen proletariat, they also patronise them. The worker wants to live a better life, to ensure his children have better life chances than he did. The colour of a government matters, though not in the same way as it does to the Champagne socialists. For example, under Tony Blair’s New Labour government, working people did very well, whether that was through the introduction of the minimum wage, Sure Start, improvements to the NHS and so on. Working people needed a Labour government to achieve these things and by and large that’s what happened. The affluent, privately educated, Oxbridge generation that now owns Labour cares only about purity and if they cannot secure socialism in one country, as in say Venezuela or Cuba, then anything else is somehow red Tory, neoliberalism and all the nonsense you hear from the left wing bourgeoisie. And if pure Labour loses, it barely affects then at all.

It almost feels like the wealthy comrades treat the working classes they purport to venerate as poorly as the hated ruling class. The Trumpian romanticism of the working man is little different from the leftist version.

The working class existence in which I grew up was outside toilets, a tin bath in front of the coal fire and ice on the inside of windows.

When we were freezing to death in our house in his Bristol South East constituency, Tony Benn’s overnight stays when visiting the city were at the Unicorn Hotel, an aptly named establishment for a man whose simplistic slogans and empty rhetoric would only have been relevant in a world inhabited by unicorns, which of course is nowhere.

Reality for many working class people is one of survival, not of some quaint romanticism. And the chattering classes who pretend otherwise are either deluded or simply ignorant.

Eclectic Blue

Where charity ends

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I dipped in and out of Comic Relief last night. It’s what I always do during marathon length TV charity events. I don’t have the necessary powers of concentration to take in hour upon hour of anything on TV. What I did see, though, made me very sad. This very worthy charity event is not just helping starving people abroad: it’s helping to feed starving children at home. How on earth did our society come to this point? Isn’t it because we chose to?

In cold political terms, in 2010 the country elected a Conservative government in which some Liberal Democrats had jobs. The economy which was recovering well from the world-wide financial crash of 2008 took a very different course under the coalition government which imposed austerity on the country in general but the poorest people in particular. To the affluent middle classes, there was on the face of it little to worry about. If they were healthy, the savage real terms cuts to the NHS did not affect them. If their children had left school, they will not have noticed the schools funding crisis. If they were not old and infirm, the near collapse of social care was something that happened to someone else. And if they were not struggling to make ends meet, it was hard to believe that others were. But they were.

I do not write about my current employment but in my jobs before that, I saw the direct effects of austerity. I saw just how badly people were struggling, I accompanied some to food banks. The first time I attended a food bank where people, most of whom were working for a living, was an upsetting, unsettling experience. I had heard about people who were unable to afford to eat. Here, in the Salvation Army hall in Midsomer Norton, were these very people.

I was lucky. Even though my mum and I were very poor, she always, without exception, ensured I had something to eat. She would hang around the butcher’s shop after a long day at work, waiting for the minutes before the shop closed for the day to see what off cuts she might pick up. On the occasions she couldn’t get anything, she would call in Templar’s fish and chip shop in Brislington and ‘cadge’ a bag of ‘scrumps’, the crispy remains of the batter in which the fish would be cooked. I looked upon it as a treat because they were delicious, albeit not exactly the healthiest meal on the planet. It wasn’t a treat because Templar’s gave them away. Things are much worse today.

I have visited the houses of people who have empty cupboards and exist, as opposed to live, hand to mouth. It is so easy for the rest of us, who live in Happy Valley, to imagine everyone is like us, a place where we are trying to lose weight as opposed to a place down the road where people couldn’t put on weight if they tried.

Food banks are a modern day necessity. If we did not have them, people, including children, could become very ill, might even die. The reason is very simple: inequality.

We choose to live in a society that knows some people are in dire straits but we believe helping them – giving them money for nothing, as Dire Straits might have put it – isn’t the answer. Work, say the right wing politicians like Iain Duncan Smith and Theresa May, gives the best path out of poverty, which sounds nice until you realise it simply isn’t true in every case.

Yes, the road to equality is a long and winding road. However, it should not be beyond the wit and imagination of politicians to come up with a better way of ensuring that children in our country go without food. By no definition could we possibly call Britain great in these circumstances.

As for Comic Relief, it reminds us that charity exists in order to provide the things we deem not important enough to pay for through our taxes. We’re well and truly lost, aren’t we, if ensuring children can eat a decent meal isn’t thought to be important.

Eclectic Blue

That Friday Music Shuffle (15.3.19)

Comments Off on That Friday Music Shuffle (15.3.19) 15 March 2019

In case you were wondering, we’re a couple of weeks into spring, the meteorological version thereof. I noticed it when my car was almost blown off course on the Avonmouth bridge this morning. Anyway, I need some musical cheer.

So what better than to retire to my Man Cave, to set my iTunes thingee to shuffle and let the music play at random? Nothing.

Welcome back my friends to the show that never ends.

  1. Love’s Such A Mystery by Joe Vitale. One of my great music heroes and a lovely bloke to boot, here’s some great old fashioned rock from his blinding Speaking in Drums long player.
  2. The 59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin’ Groovy) (live) by Simon and Garfunkel. Perfect.
  3. ‘Til I Die by the Beach Boys. I had the Steve Desper mix of this song played at my mum’s funeral. This is the version from the wonderful Surf’s Up album. “I’m a leaf on a windy day, pretty soon I’ll be blown away. How long will the wind blow? Until I die”. That’s you, me and everyone else.
  4. All I Want by the Lightning Seeds. Lovely jangly guitar music from Mr Broudie and his Seeds.
  5. Warning by Green Day. From their very fine International Superhits album, Billie Joe and the chaps on top form here.
  6. Hayling by FC Kahuna. Some lush chill out Ibiza style music for a Friday afternoon.
  7. Make It Easy On Yourself by the Walker Brothers. Although they weren’t brothers and none of them were really called Walker, they made some great music, few better than this one. Scott Engel’s voice was superb.
  8. Good Times Bad Times by Led Zeppelin. Classic Zep. We can but hope they never reform and defile their memory. (Just my opinion, of course.)
  9. Three Women by Stereolab. Quality stuff from their Chemical Chords album.
  10. Why Try To Change Me Now by Bob Dylan. His Royal Bobness with an absolute beaut from his Shadows in the Night album, where he visits the Great American Song Book.

Eclectic Blue

Where nationalism takes us

Comments Off on Where nationalism takes us 15 March 2019

The world wakes to yet another evil terrorist atrocity, this time in sleepy New Zealand where a far right terrorist maniac has carried out a series of shootings at two mosques. The first comment I heard was from a member of the Bangladesh cricket team that was on its way to one of the mosques for morning prayers. “Allah saved us,” he said. What a terrible tragedy that Allah could not save the many dead and injured.

I am not a religious man. I am an atheist, bordering on anti-theism. I do not believe in any of the many available gods, I do not respect any religions or gods but for all that I respect the right of those who practice their religion peacefully in their own homes and religious buildings for as long as their beliefs have no impact on mine. And I condemn, unreservedly, murderous attacks such as these.

We know little about what has happened in Christchurch, other than the fact that a madman has murdered innocent people. We know that the alleged killer was known to have far right connections and influences. More than that, we understand, I hope, that this is where far right fanaticism can take us.

We hear much about, and condemn, crazed islamists carrying out horrendous atrocities in the name of Allah. 9/11, Charlie Hebdo, 7/7, Madrid, the Manchester MEN. There have been many more. We know that islamist terrorists are but a tiny number of the religion of islam. The terrorists are but a small percentage of muslims but small percentage of a huge worldwide religion is still a large number of people. Rightly, we call on so called muslim communities to get their act together. Then, something like Christchurch happens and we are reminded that not all the world’s problems with terrorism are the work of one religion.

Of course, we must caution against making rash conclusions. Nonetheless, we must also caution that this is how nationalism and fascism ends. It starts with propaganda, blaming certain communities for the general problems of society and progresses, if that’s the word, to populist politicians and activists providing so called solutions. We have seen this in Britain with Brexit, led by far right English nationalists like Nigel Farage (remember his ‘breaking point’ poster), progresses with ‘personalities’ like Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, who goes by the alias of Tommy Robinson, feeding the concerns of the people and stoking hatred and fear and it concludes with out there fascists killing people. It has happened here, too. Remember the murder by a fascist of Jo Cox MP? We cannot know whether this is an accurate representation of what happened in New Zealand but we do know what happens when nationalism takes root in society.

We have Brexit, Farage, Banks, Johnson and Laxley-Lennon, Hungary and Italy are under threat from the hard right, KGB thug Vladimir Putin rules Russia and there’s Donald Trump in the USA, echoing the words and actions of Joseph Goebbels.

I repeat once more: this is where nationalism ends. It is an inevitable consequence. History proves it beyond reasonable doubt. In Germany, it ended up with Hitler. And it what happens when good people do nothing. If we can’t learn the lessons of the past, we are doomed to repeat them.

Eclectic Blue

Stop the world. I want to get off.

Comments Off on Stop the world. I want to get off. 13 March 2019

Some people who voted for us to leave Europe will privately admit that if the vote was held again, they might not vote the same way. The chaos and division that the road to Brexit has brought to our country will take decades, maybe many decades, to repair. It is quite conceivable it never will be. Others, I know, cling to the view that Brexit will all be worth it if we stop EU citizens from coming to work here. They’re certainly getting their way because EU migration represents much less than a third of migration to this country. Perhaps, we can leave the rest of the world, too?

I wish this Brexit malarkey had never started. It’s entirely David Cameron’s fault, of course, because he tried to settle the Tory civil war once and for all by holding, and he hoped winning, a referendum on our EU future membership. That went well. The man has no shame, though. Having set fire to the country, he left the stage, leaving it up to others, including inadequates like Theresa May, to sort it out. May has made things far, far worse.

Is the EU perfect? I doubt it. Nothing is perfect, apart from Steely Dan’s album Aja. And possibly a well kept pint of Exmoor Gold. The EU has its faults. I tend not to dwell on them.

I look fondly at the years of stability we enjoyed during the EU membership years. We never lost our sovereignty, we maintained our borders, Gordon Brown kept us out of the Euro, we were able to restrict EU migration if we wanted to. Successive Labour and Conservative governments chose not to do so. We gained big things like environmental controls and safer food regulations. We gained little things like not being ripped off my mobile phone companies when we are on holiday in Europe. Above all, the EU has helped keep the peace. Winston Churchill would have been very happy, until 23 June 2016, that is.

Somebody that I used to know, as Gotye memorably put it, always dreamed of living abroad when she retired from work, taking advantage of EU freedom of movement. Having concluded she was too old to emigrate, she naturally cast her vote in the ‘leave’ box on her referendum ballot paper, presumably to ensure that if she wasn’t going to emigrate, then why should anyone else? Or maybe she wanted to stop those wretched Europeans coming to work here? I have no idea and I don’t really care. And since she promptly unfriended me on social networks for making the more general observation that older Brexit voters had effectively stopped the next generation enjoying the right to live, love, travel, study, work and retire abroad, I couldn’t honestly care less.

I’ve not lost any friends because of Brexit. However, I have lost some Facebook ‘friends’ (who are not the same people as friends, unless they are real friends as well) and acquaintances. The idea that all remainers are clever and leavers are stupid is simply nonsense. Many leavers knew exactly what they wanted out of Brexit and that was mainly less migrants coming over here. I disagree with that reason but respect those who are honest enough to say that. It is, in some areas, a point of genuine debate. As the son of migrants, I naturally feel that most migration is a good thing.

I would have preferred it if life had carried on as before. We could have polite debates about the rights and wrongs of the EU and got on with our lives. We would not have had nearly three years of Brexit dominating the political agenda to the detriment of literally everyone in the land, except the very few at the top who are doing very nicely out of Brexit. And we could have concentrated on saving the NHS, ensuring schools were properly funded, ending the obscenity of homelessness and rough sleeping, dealing with the social care crisis and ending poverty, especially among children. Instead, we have spent three years breaking what didn’t need fixing. Or not much.

Was the referendum worth it? Not on the basis on which it was called, which, I repeat, was for narrow political reasons within the Conservative Party. But narrow political reasons have sent this country to the very edge of catastrophe. And for what? Slogans like Brexit means Brexit? Leave means Leave? No deal is better than a bad deal? Christ, even Theresa May who came out with this nonsensical rhetoric now says a very bad deal – hers – is better than no deal.

What started as an internal party political squabble has broken Britain. I find it hard to see how Britain can now be repaired and the politicians, almost entirely from the hard right, the small state English nationalist disaster capitalists, are the people who broke it.

Eclectic Blue

‘And they’re off…to the Knacker’s Yard.’

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(Photo from the Stop Animal Abuse website)

If your idea of fun is watching horses die, then I have some very good news for you. Today sees the start of the notorious Cheltenham Festival where you can be virtually guaranteed plenty of equine fatalities. Given that Storm Gareth threatens to blow across the country today, I doubt that we shall get through a full day of racing without a number of tragedies. As per usual, the media doesn’t appear to give a toss.

Just the ten horses died at Cheltenham in 2018, seven of which happened during the annual festival. A bumper five horses died on 16 March, which certainly kept the men who cart those screens around to ensure we don’t see horses being put down very busy indeed.

You may have gathered that I am not a huge hole racing fan, or any sport in which its main participants have very little idea that they are involved in a sporting event in the first place. I suppose I can see the attraction, for some, of a huge horse racing event where people from all over the British Isles put on their glad rags and get completely wasted, whilst in the background innocent horses risk their lives in the pursuit of someone winning a few bob with a bookmaker.

On 13 March 2007, a website called horsedeathwatch.com was set up, the aim being to record every equine fatality in the horse racing business. In the 4383 days the site has been up and running, 1868 horses have died. Work out the ratios of death per week yourselves. Imagine a ‘sport’ in which actual human beings participated that saw a fatality every two and a half days. I cannot, for one moment, see that sport lasting very long. We would be appalled at the loss of life. So, why aren’t we bothered at the horrendous loss of life of mere horses?

If you are already appalled by the statistics relating to deaths at horse racing meetings, remember that these figures represent only those deaths that are officially recorded. It is believed that the total could actually be some 30% higher and it certainly does not include those who suffer injuries of various types or mention those horses who don’t make the grade, or are regarded as ‘past it’, thousands of whom are killed and dumped every year.

The media coverage will of course focus on happy owners and trainers, underfed jockeys and overfed spectators, all of whom will be celebrating record crowds at the greatest horse racing meeting in the world. Meanwhile, somewhere away from the home straight, men will be erecting tents around stricken horses with broken legs and broken necks, preparing to administer a fatal gunshot to put them out of their misery. I wish someone would administer a fatal metaphorical gunshot to the Cheltenham Festival and every other race meeting where it’s main competitors are expendable and soon forgotten and put them out of their misery.

Eclectic Blue

After Life

Comments Off on After Life 11 March 2019

Roll up, roll up. All human life is here. And so, in After Life, the brilliant new Netflix series written by and starring Ricky Gervais, all human life was there. Or nearly all of it.

Gervais plays Tony, a journalist for a small rural free newspaper. Tony’s wife has recently died from breast cancer. He feels suicidal. The only reason he doesn’t kill himself is because his beloved dog can’t open a tin of dog food and, in the event of Tony’s death, would starve to death. This is his life.

Even with the incredibly high bar he sets, After Life clears it with something to spare. Impossibly, he combines terribly tragedy with high comedy, sometimes within the same scene. You don’t know whether to laugh or cry. Sometimes you end up doing both.

I’ve just binge watched the entire series of six shows, something I have never done. At no point did it sag or begin to flag. As TV goes, it was pretty well perfect. It was, without question, the finest work of his career. No plot spoilers from me: just watch it and if you can watch it all in one go. Unless you have a heart of stone, it will take you to another place and I promise you will come across someone you met, someone you know and someone you knew. After Life is truly great.

Eclectic Blue

Air disaster

Comments Off on Air disaster 11 March 2019

In the 1980s, package holidays were often undertaken by elderly, second, third or even fourth hand aircraft. My friends and I would usually fly from Gatwick Airport and fly to Greece or France with the long defunct airline Dan Air who operated mainly a fleet of Boeing 737s and 727s. The latter was an odd looking plane, with three engines, all of which were located at the back. I would think to myself, “This plane is so old, it can’t be fit to fly. I wish I was getting on a new plane.” I should have thought, “If this plane is so old and unsafe, how come it is still flying?”

I mention this following the tragic crash of the Ethiopian Airlines Boeing 737 Max, hot on the heels of the loss of the Lion Air 737 max in Indonesia late last year. These planes were far from geriatric: they were straight from the production line.

I am not going to pretend I possess in-depth knowledge about how a jet aircraft works. However, until last October I believed that modern planes didn’t simply fall out of the sky. So many fail safe features were built in to their design, especially regarding its technological aspects, they simply couldn’t crash. So, how come two brand new, state-of-the-art have fallen out of the sky. In keeping with my normal writing practice, I have no clue as to why they did.

Most plane crashes have an element of human error in their causes, whether that be due to errors with maintenance or pilot error. But what if countless fail safe devices are put in place and the crew tries, possibly by accident, to overrule the technology or simply don’t understand it? Quite simply, we don’t know.

On a flight from Portugal last year, we found ourselves on an Airbus A320 neo, a plane that was literally two months out of the factory. It was by some distance the quietest plane I had ever flown on, I felt safer than ever. Much better than some old codger of an aircraft that had been around for 30 years or more. But was it?

Air travel remains safer than it has ever been. The crashes of Ethiopian and Lion airlines planes will almost certainly bring about changes that will make it safer still. I won’t feel any less safe from now on but it does remind me that the path to perfection is dotted by unexpected obstacles. I hope they discover the solution to this obstacle as soon as possible.

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