So, I was wrong about the snow

Monday 21st January

A few days ago I commented that the snow probably wouldn’t last.  So, my career in weather forecasting is over before it has really begun.

I find that I am wrong about more and more as the years go by.

In 1972 I turned down a job as part of a team of bright young men who would be planning how to introduce computers into Scottish and Newcastle Hotels.  Mind you computers were the size of a room in those days and could just about add 2 + 2.  How was I to know they would catch on?

I can remember in the early 90’s when we got e-mail that again I thought it might be ‘quite’ useful for communicating with the restaurants in our group, but had no idea how it would take over all our lives.

Even Facebook I couldn’t believe that I would ever use until I started to.  I resisted having a mobile phone, and still only really use mine as a phone.  I laughed at the very idea of 3D films – that will never catch on.  I still fail to see really what advantages a tablet has over a laptop.  I would never have bought a kindle, but as I was given one by my daughter two Christmases ago I downloaded a couple of books and have hardly bought an actual book since.

So, if you want to know anything for certain about the future just ask me – then you can be certain that the opposite will be the case.

Only in Politics have I been a bit ahead of the game, though even I did not predict the Tory Lib-Dem Coalition.  I think that Labour will just about win the next election, but it will be far closer than the polls predict now.  Or rather, I think that the coalition will contrive to somehow lose the next election between them.  It will as usual be about the economy, and not exactly how bad or good the prospects for recovery may be, but who may be considered the best party to deal with it.

Mind you – it may still be snowing by then too; I was wrong about it before.

A Writing Day

Sunday 20th January

There haven’t been any writing classes since early December and Rosie, our leader, organized a writing day.  So yesterday (today for me) we spent the whole day writing at Rosie’s house.  It actually ended up as a social event cum discussion, but there was a space for writing.  We all settled down on different sofa’s or tables in different rooms and just got on with it.  I concentrated on trying to tighten up the ending, put a bit more bite into it, maybe make it more real.

When you have written a crucial piece that you feel was just about as perfect as you could get it, it is quite hard to improve it.  You read and then re-read and give it one more read, and apart from a word here or there; shortening a sentence, putting in a semi-colon rather than a comma, it is pretty hard.

I re-worked the last few pages, but am not at all sure it is a real improvement.  At least I have saved it under a different name.  To tell the truth I am too tired, maybe too close to the thing – and actually it is quite emotional because it is the climax of the book too – to make a reasoned judgement.

I need to step back a bit, maybe leave it for a few days, and then re-read both versions and maybe decide.

That is one of the problems of writing.  I used to paint quite a lot, in oils, and one of the problems was that if you kept re-working things, retouching, trying to squeeze a bit more feeling out of the paint, you messed it up, you lost what you had so painstakingly created.  And so too with writing.  I need to step back and wait until the ink settles a bit, and see if I have gone far enough.

Knowing when the thing is complete is almost as hard as writing it in the first place.


F is for Julia Fordham

Saturday 19th January

Alongside the giants of Music being lauded, maybe a small cheer should be raised for those who make slightly smaller ripples.   One such is the silver-throated Julia Fordham.  Girl singers come and go; and sad to say are generally even more manipulated by the Music industry than boys, though some may argue otherwise.  Occasionally though a singer emerges who is totally individual and appears uninfluenced by the demand for hits or ‘looks’ and just sings.  One such is Julia Fordham.  I first discovered her by buying a CD single of hers in the late 80’s.  I had a magpie habit of picking up whatever glittered in second hand record shops and found ‘Happy Ever After’ in a remaindered bin for about 50p.  It turns out that this was a minor hit, not that Julia has really bothered the chart compilers too often.  Her voice is incredible and goes from a deep sultry murmur right up through the octaves; in fact she re-recorded Millie Ripperton’s ‘Loving You’ and hit all the notes like some trilling exotic songbird.

She writes almost all her own songs too, and they are mostly sad, but with one or two happier ones in there to lighten the mood.  Songs of lovers leaving, of betrayal and trust misplaced, but also just plain love songs, full of yearning and desire.

I have followed her down the years since her eponymous title in 1988 and though she is currently not releasing music (no record contract, unbelievably) she still performs occasionally.  Unfortunately though English as tuppence she is based in California these days, but as she is my friend on Facebook I hear quite a bit about her still.  Her best album for my money if you are interested is ‘Concrete Love’ where she manages to mix in a few more modern beats and every song seems a small masterpiece of its own.

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A View From The other Side

Friday 18th January

For a while it seemed that the ‘war’ against Al Queda had been successful; Bin Laden was dead; the war in Afghanistan had settled into a sort of stalemate; no more planes being flown into buildings.  But what the West has never really understood is that Al Queda was simply a manifestation of an idea not a real movement, very little organisation, a loose collection of individuals rather than say the IRA in the seventies and eighties with its internal ranks and discipline.  And though we may kill a few leaders, bomb so-called training camps, and infiltrate the ‘organisation’, we cannot actually kill the idea.

And please understand I do not agree with the idea myself, but I do think we should try to understand it. The so-called Arab spring, which may or may not be happening now in Pakistan is as much about this idea as it is about democracy.  The leaders who were so hated were hated not only for oppressing and murdering their own people but also for their collusion and corruption by the West.  These people, fundamentalists, Jihadists, terrorists, call them what you will – are fighting for a way of life that they see as threatened by us – the decadent and irreligious West, with our technology and our greed.  Infidels was the word used in the Middle Ages, and it is as good now as it was then.

And so we shouldn’t be surprised when ‘Islamists’ (the latest buzz-word for terrorist) try to take over or hold on to territory in Mali, when a simple glance at the straight lines drawn through the Sahara which mark its boundaries tells us so much about its recent colonial past.  Or, terrible as it is, oil installations in nearby Algeria are attacked and hostages taken.  Deep down these people may well suspect that at best what they are fighting is a rear-guard action and that in the long sweep of History they may in truth be swept away.  But you never know…and the idea of pure Muslim states unsullied by pollution from the West may become a reality.  The one thing they have on their side is time, because we in the West are less determined and will maybe give up at some point or other.

But the one thing I do know is that we will not beat them with bombs, or execution squads, or water-boarding or any number of Gunatanamo Bays.  No matter how much you despise it you cannot kill an idea.

The Law needs Changing

Thursday 17th January

How can it be possible for a company like HMV to be selling Gift Cards on Monday, to go into administration on Monday evening and refuse to honour the Cards on Tuesday?  Because unfortunately the Law says it can.  Those unfortunate recipients of Gift Cards and Vouchers are automatically considered as Creditors of the company and as such will not be paid (or have their cards redeemed) until the Administrator has either found a buyer for all or part of the company or closed it down, and in that case they will be bottom of the pile.

But Commonsense tells us that this is simply theft by another name.  As is most of what happens when a company goes into Administration.  People who are owed money, including staff and suppliers and landlords and banks and lastly you and me, in the form of the taxman (because the first bill companies in trouble hold back on is their PAYE even though they were quite happy to deduct this amount from workers pay packets but not so keen on paying it to the Government and in turn to us) get screwed.

Worse than this the Directors of the stricken company often remain in situ, still being paid (especially if the company goes into CVA – Company Voluntary Administration) while the company struggles on and in some cases once debts are ‘parked’ or ‘frozen’ do eventually recover and make a profit once more.  Or they ‘buy themselves’ out of Administration by coming to an agreement with their Creditors who reluctantly might accept a smaller percentage of their original debt in return for allowing the company to continue trading.

And the Company Directors who got the company into such a fine mess sail on with no punishment at all, despite many workers losing their jobs and small suppliers being screwed over and all of us not receiving the taxes the company should have paid, oh, and not forgetting the Gift Card holders.

The law should be changed so that Company Directors are either personally responsible for the debts of the company or are criminally responsible for mismanaging a company.  Maybe the thought of a spell in jail or being declared bankrupt would stop their reckless borrowing and paying themselves higher and higher salaries while the company hurtles into trouble.

Ah but you can’t do that – that would harm the very basis that Capitalism is built on – screwing people.

His Master’s Voice falls Silent

Wednesday 16th January

Looking back – yes I did spend many hours happily browsing and buying in HMV.  And I am old enough too to remember the old logo of the dog and the gramophone horn which actually made sense of the letters.  But then I can remember the old F W Woolworths and more importantly all those independent little shops which used to populate the high street.  So rather than give you another sad tale of how wonderful the old days were maybe we should look forward to a brave new world.  Some things it is much better to buy on the internet; I buy all my CDs now on-line; true you have to wait a few days to play them but they are far cheaper and there is generally far more choice than in a physical shop too.  Mind you I listen mostly either on my Creative Zen player or direct from my laptop, sacrificing sound quality for convenience.  Books I buy electronically for my Kindle; even though I do love the physical artifact the practicality of a Kindle wins out I am afraid.

But I would never dream of buying shoes or clothes on-line, having got to the stage where comfort and fit are far more important than style and fashion.  We have tried ordering groceries on-line, but their habit of not delivering at the time specified and the stupid substitution of out of stock items, or simply not delivering the one thing you desperately needed means we still prefer to actually go to a shop. I do read the Independent now on-line too rather than buy the paper though if I am going on a journey I will pick up the ‘i’ and do enjoy it.

We are entering a brave new world, but maybe not such a terrible one.  Maybe soon these greedy landlords who have so many empty shop units (up to a third in some towns) laying vacant or on short lets to charity shops will come up with a different model.  Maybe a share with younger people who want to sell or make things that are different and unique, sharing the costs and taking a cut of the profits might be a better way forward.  After all the homogenizing of all our high streets, each with a Boots and a Body Shop and a Tesco Metro has been a really depressing feature of Modern Life making everywhere look and feel the same.  We should not therefore bewail the demise of these old high street giants too much. There are still some places, Frinton springs to mind, where they have a thriving and interesting high street, with a real butchers and bakers and greengrocers and lots of small independent retailers, so the model can work if rents are reasonable.

And even though his master voice is silent, music is still alive.

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In the Deep Midwinter

Tuesday 15th January

So, the snow is here again, though it may only last a few days, or so we are told.  And actually the weather forecasts do seem far more accurate lately, so let us hope they are correct.  So far it has been a really mild winter, I have even seen a few bushes in blossom in gardens, hopefully those delicate little pink flowers can survive the coming cold.

Nostalgia isn’t what it used to be, hahaha.  Actually nothing is what it used to be, we are surrounded by uncertainty and all the old rules seem of little use to us now in this ever changing landscape.  They call this winter, but I can remember some really cold winters.  Minus 10 in early December one year in the eighties, and of course the great freeze of 1963.  I was only twelve and in my first year at Grammar School and still wearing short trousers, short grey trousers that were lined but which chapped my legs awfully that winter.  It all started off well, lots of deep deep snow to play in; we built snowmen and threw the light fluffy snow at each other, it was too fine to form snowballs even and we scooped up huge armfuls and tried to douse each other with it.  But day followed day and each day it would snow a bit more and melt a fraction in the weak winter sun and then freeze over to form a hard icy crust that you crunched your way through each day.  It got so deep that the snow was up to the bottoms of my short trousers and my socks and shoes were permanently sopping wet.  I can remember taking my long grey socks off and ringing them out and hanging them on the big radiators in the cloakroom, slipping my frozen feet back into my soaking wet shoes and hoping my socks would dry out before assembly.

There was a huge slide in the playground which became a rite of passage.  Dare you actually try it, and would you be able to stay on your feet for more than a few feet before sliding the last few yards on your bottom.  And yes, I did dare and once or twice stayed on my feet.  We still had to play sports in this weather too, football in two foot of snow where we kept losing the ball and no-one wanted to be in the Siberian wasteland of being goalie, shivering on that isolated touchline just praying for someone to shoot at you so you would be allowed to run and get the ball and start to warm up.

But strangely nobody died, no-one contracted frostbite, we hardly had colds during that six week snowbound time either.  We just took it in our stride because we never imagined we might have a choice in the matter.  I wonder how people today would put up with minus zero and deep deep snow for six weeks.  Not so well, I imagine.

The Sunday Papers

Monday 14th January

For as long as I can remember my weekends have largely been dominated by the Sunday Papers but not anymore.  Even as a child my parents would get the Sunday Papers, ‘The News of the World’ and ‘The People’ if I remember.  For working people Sunday was basically the only time they could really catch up on the news, or more likely what passed for Celebrity Gossip in those days.  And in many ways they were an equalizing aspect of society, Dukes and dustmen alike would read the Sunday papers, and you might be surprised to find how many were reading the same ones.  As a small child I would pick up the papers and read them when Mum and Dad had finished with them, gleaning my first scraps of the big wide world.  When I was about seven we got a television and ‘The News’ and programmes like ‘Tonight’ with Cliff Michelmore and roving reporter Fife Robertson supplemented our knowledge, but papers and especially the Sunday Papers went from strength to strength.

As a young adult I started reading ‘The Observer’ until ‘The Independent’ came along.  These papers presented a distinctly different viewpoint of the news, allowing less mainstream views to come to the fore, even if a degree of quiet English commonsense prevailed.  My Sunday was always about reading the Sunday papers, and read them I would, almost from cover to cover.  And it would take almost all day.  Sundays then were far more a day of rest than they are today, and I seemed to have hours spare and so I absorbed everything.  In many ways I was far more knowledgeable then than I am now where I snatch snippets from BBC24 hour news or the BBC website, or if I am lucky I read The Independent on line, at least the editorial and certain writers I like such as Andrew Grice and John Rentoul, but often it is just the twitterfeed and a quick glance at News at Ten.

And now I never buy the Sunday papers; l have gotten out of the habit somehow.  I do like watching Andrew Marr on a Sunday which is a sort of substitute for a Sunday paper but I no longer buy one.  And how will they ever survive without their readers as I am sure I am not the only person who has stopped buying them.  Well I hope they do, and then when I retire they will be there for me, but whether I will be there for them is another question.

Writing, writing, writing

Sunday 13th January

I spent almost all of Friday writing, well actually reviewing, re-reading and correcting the first few chapters of the book.  It was the first time I had looked at it at all since early December.  As Catherine commented herself, Christmas has a nasty habit of disturbing one’s life.  The thing about writing is that having written it yourself you can never be sure if it is any good.  Or even if you think it is passable whether it is readable, if it flows, if it will captivate another reader – one who obviously does not know every twist and turn, every nuance, every phrase almost by heart.

So, I settled to my task, not entirely sure if I would be pleased or reduced to tearing the whole thing up and starting over.  I revised and rewrote the prologue, but actually changed little else.  I extended a couple of bits of dialogue where I felt there could be more said.  And added a few lines here and there, but actually I was rather pleased with what I read.  More pleased than I had expected I must admit.

I worked solidly for about five hours, and then stopped correcting and just re-read the next few chapters just feeling my way back into the story.  I feel pretty happy with the first part, but will re-visit the next few chapters again next week.  They are okay, but need a bit more of an intensive look.  I like to take each paragraph and read it, then slowly re-read each sentence, almost out loud, seeing if it hangs together.  You may have notice in my writing a tendency for long sentences, so I see where I can shorten them without make it too choppy.  I am also aware that I need a bit more dialogue and action.  This is difficult as a lot of the book is looking back and not at particular individual episodes but as a general sweep of mood and how things were developing.

Anyway, back into writing again – and it feels good.  I am determined this year to spend more time on it, at least a day or a half-day a week.

F is for Pink Floyd – the Classic years

Saturday 12th January

Despite my early input the band trundled on, recording obscure and interesting if pretty un-commercial music which is still worth a listen to.  Poor Syd Barrett was squeezed out of his own band as he became more and more erratic, deranged and was too stoned to play most of the time.  His place was taken by Dave Gilmour who used to be their roadie but was also a brilliant guitarist.  Albums came and went without disturbing the charts or the general public greatly.  However all that was about to change when in late 1972 they started recording a series of songs which seemed to hang together and became ‘Dark Side of the Moon’.  This album was truly magical and still sells incredibly well, it has a haunting and timeless quality and feels as fresh today as the day they recorded it.  It is not only a concept album about madness, but hangs together as if all the songs are really one piece of music, an ethereal beautifully paced almost elegiac work.  It was also the first time they used their trademark sound-scapes between the tracks.

This was followed by the equally brilliant ‘Wish You Were Here’ (a debt to the departed Syd himself), the not so wonderful ‘Animals’ and in 1979 the overwhelming masterpiece ‘The Wall’ (everyone’s favourite nightmare and some incredible music).   They could hardly top the brilliance of that one and their swansong really was ‘The Final Cut’ – a bitter wad of venom spat out almost single-handedly by Roger Waters.  By then Rick Wright had left the band or been forced out by the over-demanding personality of Roger, who eventually left the band himself leaving the other two and the rejoined Rick Wright to soldier on through two more albums and ever more lucrative tours.  Nothing recorded since 1994’s ‘The Division Bell’ though Roger still tours with his ever more brilliant live versions of Dark Side and The Wall.

It is as if the band themselves hit a creative wall with ‘The Wall’ and couldn’t really go on after that.  Still, if that is it, it is still a remarkable legacy, and maybe better to go out on a high than keep trundling out new stuff that everyone knows will never compete with those Classic Albums.

Original album artwork featuring an almost black cover with a triangular prism in the midddle. A ray of white light enters the prism from the left and is refracted into colours as it comes out the right side.