B is for Bowie – Berlin and Beyond

Wednesday 20th June

In 1976, Bowie decamped to Berlin where, with the assistance of Brian Eno, he recorded three totally different albums; so different in fact that on first hearing them you wouldn’t know they were even Bowie albums.  I first heard ‘Low’ on a friend’s new stereo, he had one of the first really good stereo cassette players and this was one of the first albums released in good stereo on cassette.  It was incredible, the instrumentals especially were so different, slightly reminiscent of Tangerine Dream, but with such a menacing edge.  ‘Heroes’ followed and was slightly more conventional, and then ‘Lodger’ which was less accessible but I really like.  After that Bowie seemed to be a bit hit and miss; great occasional songs like ‘Ashes to Ashes’, ‘China Girl’and ‘Blue Jean’, but the albums seemed to have too many fillers in, and Bowie not sure what direction to go in.  The 1980’s were difficult for a lot of sixties and seventies artists; it was as if they wanted to keep trying something different, looking for a new sound where the old one seemed stale.  Bowie kept plugging on, and made a couple of interesting records and a few dire ones when he decided to become a band; ‘Tin Machine’ was as poor as the name suggested.  And David has now gone quiet altogether; there have been rumours that he is ill, but these are unconfirmed – he has simply disappeared from the scene.   Maybe he just feels that he has nothing new to say, or is just having a long break, who knows.  But his old albums still sell well, from ‘Ziggy’ to ‘Let’s Dance’, and maybe he is right; why should artists continue to just pump out records when they maybe do not want to anymore.  No-one criticizes sportsmen for retiring at the top of their game, yet we expect musicians to just keep going.  So, hat’s off to Bowie, the true karma karma chameleon of pop.

Low: Remastered

The Greeks go Marching On

Tuesday 19th June

So, despite all the dire warnings and predictions of disaster from those siren voices of the far right Greece has survived to fight another day.  Admittedly Spain is close to the brink too, but somehow the sword of Damacles, though appearing to hang from an ever thinning thread, never quite falls.  Or hasn’t so far.  The Euro crisis simply rumbles on and on, each new disaster appears to be worse than the one before, and then a solution of sorts is found.  They may be sticking plasters, but each one buys a little more time, and I sense that slowly things are going to get better, there may well be further bail-outs; there will undoubtedly be moves towards closer integration; M. Hollande may succeed in steering the mighty ship away from the whirlpools of austerity and towards a bit of growth.  I simply cannot believe that the Germans would rather the chaos of disintegration and the collapse of the whole European project than the road of pragmatism.    And anyway it is actually still a financial problem, with the main worry being the collapse of the banking system, rather than a real collapse of the European economy itself.  Maybe the pendulum is beginning to swing the other way and Germany and Britain will start to be on the losing side of the argument.  America has avoided the worst of this crisis by going a lot slower and trying to create jobs, and now France is lining up to do the same.  And in historical terms, even though the numbers are higher these days, the actual proportions of debt are not that high.  I feel that if the markets really wanted to destroy the Euro they would have done it by now, a lot of traders are making a lot of money out of this crisis as it stands, they don’t really want to kill the golden goose.  At least not just yet.

Pride doesn’t always come before a fall

Monday 18th June

I wasn’t feeling particularly pleased with myself in any way, I wasn’t self-satisfied or feeling proud at all.  It was a beautiful morning, the sky a bright blue with a few scudding clouds overhead.  The wind of yesterday had almost completely died down and it looked set to be a nice day.  I took the dogs for a walk along the beach, all the time aware that the tide was coming in quickly.  I made it easily to the first set of stairs, and mounting them saw that the next short stretch of beach was disappearing fast.  I foolishly decided to go back down for about a hundred yards of thinning beach.  But half way along the sea was covering the sand and lapping at the low concrete steps.  I took one step onto the concrete and then slipped, there must have been some seaweed there or something.  I came down with a wallop on my side, my feet in the sea up to my knees.  My elbow was grazed and I felt absolutely winded.  I was in shock and just made it back to the steps, not that it would have mattered as my feet were soaking wet.  I just sat there in shock.  You are never expecting to fall, and it always shocks you, but as you get older it seems to affect you worse and worse.  You cannot believe your stupidity, you are stunned and cannot think straight at all.  My side was in agony and my elbow bleeding.  No real damage done, I hope.  My whole side hurts but I can walk and move my arm and shoulder quite freely, just painful getting from a sitting to a standing position or lifting anything.   I expect I will have a massive bruise come tomorrow morning and I will probably be stiff getting moving again.  As you get older the injuries you would have shrugged off a few years ago seem to drag you down.  Never mind.

What do you think of it so far?

Sunday 17th June

The football of course – what else?     It feels so strange; England are at a major tournament and yet there are no flags out anywhere, well, hardly any.  Why is that?  Is it because of the Jubilee, and we are all flagged out?  Is it that we really do not care?  Or is it because our expectations are so low that not even the most fervent fans give us a hope in hell of winning the thing?  I suspect the latter, though why this should be I am really not sure.  True we no longer have Beckham, but then the Beckham we all remember of ten or twelve years ago was never actually that wonderful when we got to the tournament stage anyway.  And the supposedly golden generation of Michael Owen, Rio Ferdinand etc:  was largely puffed up by the press to make us all for a moment or two believe we were the equals of Germany or France or Italy, to say nothing of Argentina and Brazil, and now we have Spain to contend with too.

So, two games down and what do we think; that we are lucky to have four points, or that actually we may not be quite as bad as we at first thought.  After the Fabio fiasco, and the John Terry racism stuff and then the appointment of boring old Roy Hodgson most of us must have thought what small chance we had must have gone, but the players are still there, well – those that aren’t injured are anyway, and next match Wonderboy Wayne Rooney will be back, so it can’t be all that bad, can it?  Well no, except when you watch them play, and all of us know that when the opposition, even Sweden, get the ball and start to attack, we fear another stupid defensive error and another goal.   This was exemplified by the last game against Sweden.  We went one goal up, and you just knew it wouldn’t last.  It didn’t, two free-kicks and Sweden were in the lead, and every Englishman knew it was over.  But then, by some miracle it wasn’t.  So, lucky or not, we are exactly where we should be going into the last game.  Only Ukraine to beat, or at least draw against, surely we won’t lose against them.  Well with England anything is possible; except, of course, winning the damned thing.  That would be plain ridiculous…but you never know.

England flag

B is for Bowie – The Early years

Saturday 16th June

After many struggling attempts at fame, young David Jones finally came up with a formula for not only success and worldwide acclamation but some wonderful music too.  After shedding the neo-Anthony-Newley vocal affectations of his ‘Laughing Gnome’ era he came up with the magnum-opus of ‘Space Oddity’ with its plaintive vocals and wonderful rising orchestration.  This seemed to come completely out of the blue, and David didn’t really appear to have a clue where to go with it.  There were a few fey songs like ‘Cygnet Committee’ and ‘The Man Who Sold The World’, but it didn’t really gel until he met Mick Ronson and recorded ‘Hunky Dory’.  This album is possibly his best, though most people, myself included, only bought it after they heard ‘Ziggy Stardust’.

David created a separate persona, a super alien rock star, an androgynous red haired and sequin covered being who either took David over or had a life of his own.  Fame and fortune and drug abuse soon followed, along with three brilliant albums ; ‘Ziggy’ itself, ‘Alladin Sane’ and ‘Pin-Ups’.   The sense of excitement was constant – you were never sure if David would implode or where the next album would take him and Ziggy.  And even though Ziggy was officially killed off at Hammermith Odeon in 1973, he still lingered on in the next album ‘Diamond Dogs’ – a darker and harder sound, but still some great songs.  Then all of a sudden and out of the blue Ziggy disappeared and David emerged with a new sound and another great album, ‘Young Americans’.  This was David’s take on Soul and American Black Music and was incredible.  It was followed by ‘Station to Station’, another twist of the kaleidoscope, still recognizably Bowie, but a bit sombre and brooding.  We will leave David now, as his fans wait ever expectant of what on earth he will come up with next.


The Jeremy Hunt saga – what really matters

Friday 15th June

So, Mr. Hunt survives another day, or maybe a bit longer, who knows.  He certainly has a self-satisfied smirk on his face of late, in contrast to the man who has saved him; Mr. Cameron’s face is taking on more and more the appearance of a boiled lobster as he has to again and again defend the indefensible.  Who know whether Mr. Hunt was actually able to keep his obvious enthusiasm for the Murdochs under wraps and be totally objective; one would doubt that it was easy if at all achievable.  But the fact that his special advisor Adam Smith was in almost constant contact with them, slipping them snippets of information before Hunt had even addressed parliament, along with his own many texts do seem to indicate that he was looking after their interests as best he could given the constraints his quasi-legal position put him in.  To turn round now and say that Mr. Smith was acting on his own, as some sort of rogue agent, who never discussed what he was doing with his boss stretches incredulity to breaking point.

And why does any of this matter?  Are we not all tired of this sorry saga?  Because integrity is at the heart of public life, if we brush it aside and say that it really doesn’t matter then the public will lose any remaining scraps of respect they might have once had for politicians.  And the biggest loser is not the smirking Mr. Hunt, who is really quite a small fish and obviously way out of his depth, but the smiling duo of ex-Bullingdon boys Cameron and Osborne.  And in a strange way the longer that Hunt survives, the worse it all looks for Cameron.  They haven’t got away with it, nobody has been fooled, the Tories voted through gritted teeth, and the Liberals would have voted against if Clegg hadn’t begged them not to.    The longer Mr. Hunt remains the shakier does Mr. Cameron’s own position become.  Read on.

Jeremy Hunt Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt Gives Evidence To The Leveson Inquiry

Those who serve and those who serve themselves

Thursday 14th June

There are many ways we can divide people up; by sex, by the colour of one’s eyes, by sexuality – but there are many more subtle ways too.  One of these is that there are those who serve, and those who serve themselves.  And if you find yourself in one camp it is very difficult to change one’s nature in order to become one of those on the other side.  Is it nature or nurture that dictates whether one ends up become self-serving or self-sacrificing, and before you think me pious, I am not condoning either behaviour.  Those who think first and foremost of themselves are maybe not so much greedy and selfish as simply more focused, more certain of their needs and how to satisfy them; in fact they may not even notice that others are scurrying around after them, so intent are they on pursuing their own goals.  Those who serve others, seemingly without a thought for their own interests, may not be quite as altruistic as they appear; they are often begrudging servers of others anyway, complaining about those they serve while smiling as they pursue their duty, all the time hoping to garner some unearned crumbs from the go-getters.  Many are happy to serve, almost relishing their second-class status, and maybe even here they are inadvertently serving their own purposes, finding comfort in their own discomfort, constantly reminding themselves how selfless they are.  I am sure that even Mother Teresa enjoyed the accolades bestowed upon her.   And maybe it is a harder furrow to plough going out in front and grabbing everything before one, maybe this self-serving becomes a burden in itself.

Or maybe as suspected those that serve themselves are just more greedy, and those who hold back and assist others just nicer people.  You decide.

The rain in England falls mainly on one’s head

Wednesday 13th June

Unlike the elocution lesson of old the rain here falls everywhere, on plain and hill alike.  And an awful lot of it has fallen of late.  I described in my book ‘Catherines Story’ how the young Catherine felt as she was unceremoniously decamped form the sunshine of Cyprus and deposited in rain-bound England.  In some way she felt she were being punished, that all this rain was penance for her sins; maybe she had been the cause of Grandma, Mummy and Catherine herself having to leave the sunshine (where her Daddy stayed) and being shunted into the perpetual gloom and rain of England.  And the thought strikes me again, am I, or us rather – the English, somehow being punished for some ancient sin – The Industrial Revolution, Slavery, the Empire?  Is all this rain just an accident caused by a slight shift in the gulf stream, (possibly a result of Global Warming) or is there some deeper psychological reason behind our (self-inflicted?) suffering.   At least this morning it has stopped raining, although, being English, we know that this is but a brief respite.  I am wearing the same thick outdoor shoes since October, every day the same shoes are laced up, because you know it will either rain or the pavements will be wet.  Except for that brief holiday last week I have been wearing sensible shoes every day for nine months.  And to tell the truth I am getting a bit fed up with it.   So, come on summer, hurry up and blow away all this rain.  We are quite prepared for Wimbledon to be a wash-out, that is normal for us, but we are holding the Olympics in August, surely it must clear up by then.

Ducks at the bottom of our garden

Tuesday 12th June

Where we are situated, just on the river behind Canary Wharf it is incredibly quiet.  The Isle of Dogs is in a big loop of the river, and despite the presence of all that commerce just a few hundred yards away the fact is that nobody drives through the Isle of Dogs; we are literally on the road to nowhere.  No-one in their right mind would think of driving through us as a short cut, and so there is remarkably little traffic.

Our house is almost unique too in having a fairly decent sized garden and glory of glories, there at the bottom of the garden is a lake, well a large pond really.  It was once a dock basin and has been preserved now as an artificial lake.  And at this time of the year the wildlife are thriving.  We even have ducks and some moorhen chicks, little black balls of fluff, stumbling over the large water-lily pads and paddling furiously to keep up with mum and dad on the water.  There are large goldfish lurking in the depths and iridescent blue dragon flies hovering near the surface, and of late we also have a heron who has also made this lake his home, as he stand on one leg and tries to catch one of the elusive goldfish.

Here, as in the distance loom the towers of Canary Wharf, and just across the river the O2 dome sits like a big fat cat, we can watch as the little moorhen chicks, totally oblivious of us humans and the busy city nearby, learn to walk, swim and eventually fly.

4 day old moorhen chick illustrating little bald patch on the head.  Now the blue over the eyes is becoming flatter and the beak is less bright red.

Ah, it’s all coming back to me now

Monday 11th June

Driving off the shuttle was like waking from a dream, or maybe going into one.  The Chunnel is so relaxing, I was dozing off, listening to my mp3 player, casually swapping over random tracks as I got bored with a song, something I rarely do, as I have always been a strictly-album person.  The train glided out of the darkness and we saw green hills and blue skies, not so different at all – one could almost still be in France.  Driving straight off the train and onto the M20 and remembering to drive on the left again we were soon on our way home, past the now familiar motorway signs.  And instead of the delightful roadside picnic aires and the larger French services with their lovely Arche restaurants we saw McDonalds and Costa beckoning us in to their second rate fare.  Then under the Thames and emerging at Barking we headed for the Hydra, the many headed monster that is London.  And as we crossed Rainham marshes, there in the distance, just as Stonehenge must have looked to weary travelers thousands of years ago were the grey silhouettes of Canary Wharf, The Gherkin and the Shard of Glass, our very own beacons of hope and despair.  And just as waking from a dream the thought ran through my mind….Ah, it’s all coming back to me now.   And I do feel as if I have woken from a dream, or rather had my dream disturbed somewhat.  And even though this other reality impinges, I am now determined that it will not take me over.  I may have to live here for a while longer, but it will not be long before I return and start really living again.