Friday 8th February
Never heard of him? Never mind, you aren’t alone. He was never a big star, although one time they tried to make him one. He had one minor hit “You Are” in 1973, and that was it.
But his early albums are wonderful. He started like so many in the mid-sixties in a rock’n’roll band ‘The Stormville Shakers’. No, they never shook me either.
But in the early seventies he had a string of solo albums which were gentle, lyrical and honest. The best was Songfall, where his quiet and soft voice was yearning and warm at the same time. He was one of that tiny band of English singer songwriters making small waves amidst all the great music of the early seventies. My very favourite song of his is ‘Warm Summer Rain’, which I always sing to myself, and sometimes out loud, when you get those refreshing summer showers falling out of a warm summer sky.
Phillip played piano and until Elton came along this instrument was not that popular in the ‘pop’ business. Maybe because playing it sitting down you cannot strut the stage at the same time, although this has never exactly stopped Elton. But PGT was always a quieter man, even when they dressed him in yellow satin shirts and tried to make him a ‘pop star.’ He made a couple more albums after that and then sort-of disappeared.
But like many old pop-stars they don’t die they just discover the internet, and although his records are harder to find than hen’s teeth you can download them all from his website. He has even released a couple of new ones recently, and the voice is still there, instantly recognizable, and the songs aren’t bad either.
I was on his mailing list and I exchanged a few e-mails with him recently. He sent me a Japanese limited edition import of ‘Songfall’ on CD, and I sent him a signed copy of ‘Catherine’s Story’. He was kind enough to reply that he had really enjoyed it. I keep looking but those early albums, all released in limited edition in Japan are still selling for about £50 a copy. So, he must have been worth something all along.
Thursday 7th February
Well apart from some gay couples who really want to get married I suppose. It seems to me that the only ones who really care are that hard core of right wing Conservatives who feel they are fighting a rear-guard action against an ever-encroaching modern world. A world that will have no place for right-thinking people like them who are simply trying to maintain standards, to keep up the moral backbone of the country – the very same people who voted down the ordination of women in the recent Church of England fiasco.
But who are these people? They mostly live in the country; most city dwellers are so used to seeing openly gay people that they have accepted them as completely normal. I came from the country too and had I stayed rather than run away to London at 17 I too would probably have the same attitude. They are daily drip-fed their dose of venom by the Daily Mail and rarely see black or gay people or indeed anyone other than themselves.
And the great thing is that they are becoming less and less relevant as the decades go by. In America the failure of the Republicans to win the Presidency was accompanied by many articles exposing their diminishing appeal to the majority of people. And I believe the same thing is happening here. Opinion polls put acceptance of Gay Marriage at about 56%, roughly the same proportion as MPs who voted for it, but only 18% opposed. The public are actually far more tolerant than their politicians. Tony Blair was terrified about bringing in a smoking in public ban because he feared the public’s reaction; in fact it was overwhelmingly in favour, even smokers got it.
One interesting fact, which may of course have no long-term relevance, is that during the 13 years of Labour being in power the Tories could rarely muster opinion poll figures above the mid-thirties, which was all they got in the end in 2010. Three years after a most humiliating defeat and with a leader who blatantly lacks charisma Labour have been on over 40% for about eighteen months. Even Cameron’s sabre-rattling over Europe hasn’t dented this lead.
Could it be that as time goes on the Tories are more and more out of tune with the mood of the country; which may well be why Cameron tried to modernize them again with gay marriage. Unfortunately for him more Tory MPs voted against than for, so the perception is again that they are out of touch.
Wednesday 6th February
I would like to ask a few questions about the Universe, there may not be any answers or the answers may be out there and no-one has yet discovered them, or more likely, articulated them. Maybe they just haven’t been publicized, kept as some sort of secret for the cognoscenti of astro-phycisists; who knows, but they are questions I ponder.
Firstly, if for the sake of argument we accept the current model of the origins of the Universe; you know Big bang and all that, then what I want to know is this. If there was some huge explosion or expansion of the Universe from almost nothing to what it is today, and as far as I understand the Universe is still expanding, we must be able to trace that expansion. We must be able to follow the trajectory of all these Constellations and with the aid of computers trace back to the starting point. Well, where exactly is it? And if there was an expansion from one point then logically there should be a fairly big bit of nothing where everything hurtled away from. Is anyone examining that bit of space? Why there? What was special about that place that caused the Big Bang? Maybe we should start looking there?
Secondly I have never seen a model of the known Universe anywhere. I understand it must be vast; I once saw a model in a TV studio of our own Solar System with the Sun the size of a small ball and poor old Pluto way out in the car park. But with the aid of computer graphics we should be able to see a model of the Universe. All the pictures we see are of swirls of white dots which the scientists tell us are stars and solar systems, but are so far away they appear as blurs of white light. I want to see them as spheres, even better if they are on wires representing their orbits, and even if it is miles between one star and another a physical 3D representation would help us all to begin to understand what it is all about.
And as to THAT question, WHAT IS IT ALL ABOUT? Why are we here? Why does the Universe exist? Well, the answer was here all along.
You put your left leg in, you take your left leg out. You put your left leg in and shake it all about. You do the Hokey-Cokey and you turn around. THAT’S WHAT IT’S ALL ABOUT.
Tuesday 5th February
That was the headline in the editor’s opinion column of City AM today. I always try to read this very biased city-boy’s paper, as it good to know just what the opposition is thinking. This paper, or propaganda sheet, is so right wing that it constantly criticizes the Tories for not cutting hard or deep or fast enough. They worship the market, and metaphorically rub their hands with glee as weak companies go to the wall and thousands lose their jobs.
The headline ‘The Rich are getting Poorer’ was based on the spurious evidence that the top one per cent of income tax payers will account for a slightly smaller percentage of the total tax paid in this financial year than in last, and down 2% from the last year that Labour were in power. I have no way of checking the numbers but I do question the extrapolation.
Almost all of these individuals will be in some control of their actual income, or at least in a position to negotiate how and when they are paid. Most will have their own companies and can choose to pay themselves a certain amount in pay, and a balancing amount in dividends which are treated differently for tax and NI purposes. So when George Osborne proudly announced almost a year ago that he was cutting the top rate of income tax by 5p in the pound, he did it a year early. The cut comes into effect on 6th April of this year, until then any income over the taxable amount of £150,000 will still be taxed at 50p.
Anyone with any sense and the ability to set or defer some of their pay will have decided it makes much more sense to pay oneself after 6th April than before it. So, of course the tax taken from these individuals has fallen during this last year of the 50p rate. A nice little present to top Tory supporters, at the same time that the major cuts in housing benefit for the poorest will be kicking in.
And guess what will be the real icing on the cake. George Osborne will use the fact that less money was raised during this last year from the top rate of tax as further justification of his decision to reduce it. A nod and a wink is as good as a carrot to a blind Tory.
Monday 4th February
Many people have bewailed the death of the High Street, the awful unanimity of chains like Boots and Tesco Metro or mobile phone shops or estate agents squeezing out local bakers butchers and greengrocers. Or out of town behemoths, the stultifying boredom of sheds like B. & Q, Carpetright and Halfords, and the massive messy Sainsbury’s and Asda, where you have to wade through aisle after aisle of homewares and bargain books to get to buy a pint of milk and a loaf of bread and then queue up for half an hour to pay, or face the nightmare of the self-service tills where ‘unexpected item in bagging area’ starts to drive you mad – ‘no there isn’t an unexpected item, it was the one I just scanned and which you have added to my bill already.’
So how do we rescue the old high street we all remember and love. I think that local councils have to play their part, free parking, low business rates for independents, even putting pressure on landlords who would rather see empty boarded up shops than lower their sky-high rents. Also a local community prepared to actually shop is essential, and if that means encouraging some high street winners like M. & S. or Wilkinson’s to modernize their shops then that is also part of solution too.
We have been to both Clacton and Frinton this weekend and both high streets are thriving; Clacton is admittedly a bit more downmarket, but it does have a Boots, a Wilkinson and a WH Smith and a small M. & S. where surprisingly with less choice you actually find something to buy. There are a few charity shops but no empty boarded up shops at all. Frinton even has a real butcher and a fishmonger and two bakers, and a few independent quirky shops too. So, there is demand out there, and despite their being a plethora of large supermarkets just out of town, it seems that people, at least in this corner of Essex like the ritual of walking down the high street and visiting all the shops and buying a loaf here, some sausages there and a second hand book all from different shops.
The High Street has to adapt and change to peoples needs, but it doesn’t have to die….at least not for a few years yet.
Sunday 3rd February
This morning (yesterday for you) I was at Walton. It had rained in the night and as I looked out of the window in the morning it seemed to be brightening up a bit. About eight I got the dogs leads on and out we ventured to the beach. The sky was quite bright really and there wasn’t a touch of breeze in the air. It is only a short walk to the beach, and yet by the time we had descended the twenty or so sea-washed concrete steps the mood had changed. There was a dark cloud approaching rapidly from the North. The sun comes out directly over the sea here and for a while it was startlingly beautiful. The contrast between the bright shining sun out to the East and this dark menacing brooding mass of almost black cloud was amazing. The pier was silhouetted black against the bright light and all the time this cloud of darkness was growing and spreading over us.
There were tendrils of cloud reaching to the sea and within minutes they were reaching down to us too. A few drops of rain and then sleet and then big fluffy flakes of snow. Within seconds it was like being inside a blizzard, no sign of the sun anywhere now at all. We plodded on regardless, heads to the now quite blustery breeze, the dogs coats being streamlined in the snow. We almost made it to the pier before I decided enough was enough. I was getting colder and I could feel the snow through my shoes and my coat was getting soaked. Luckily my faithful waterproof hat from the market in Duras was keeping my head dry, but my glasses were steaming up from my own breath.
We headed for home. We had been out for only fifteen minutes and it felt as if night-time had descended. Within minutes we were back in the warm, and as I took off my wet coat and shoes and looked out I saw that the snow had stopped, and was that a hint, a touch of blue sky over to the west. Within five minutes the sun was out again and that monster of a black snow-cloud had moved right out to sea; and no-one waking then would ever have known that it had been snowing really heavily on the beach only a few minutes ago.
Saturday 2nd February Happiness, we all know what it means, don’t we. And we can all recall times when we were happy, maybe a long time ago, possibly far more recently, incredible even now too. But I find that ‘Happiness’ or the state of being ‘Happy’ is the hardest to actually define.
I am mostly in a state of benign contentment, which may be bordering on complacency at times. I certainly wouldn’t want to lose everything which contributes to my contentment and at times ‘Happiness’; my partner, my two (or depends which way you look at it, three) homes, the dogs, a reasonable but not great salary, a dependable job which while no longer exciting keeps the brain cells ticking over, and my faculties and my health.
I can look back and remember many occasions when I was happy, but is this with the rosy glow of hindsight, and was I actually happy at the time? I look forward with ‘happy’ anticipation to events in the near future where I am sure I will be happy, I am just not sure if I will appreciate and enjoy it at the time. Maybe ‘Happiness’ is one of those fleeting emotions which as soon as we realise it and become conscious of it we stop actually being ‘happy’.
Part of my problem is thinking. I think all the time, or at least I think I think all the time, and am an absolute newshound, so I am constantly brought down to earth by what is happening in the world, and it is mostly bad. Maybe ‘Happiness’ is achieved by blanking the rest of reality from one’s mind and just enjoying the moment. Which does happen sometimes. We all seek escape from reality, mine in books and music and to a certain extent in my own writing. And then I am happy, but as soon as I become aware of being ‘happy’ I am also aware that that ‘happiness’ is an elusive beast. And ‘Happiness’, like the words ‘Love’ and ‘Nice’ are really sloppy and used far too often.
But I am happy with this state of benign contentment, with occasional dips into morose moaning, because then when that bad mood fades, you realise that you are ‘happy’ again.
Friday 1st February
How many of your reading this will have any idea where the title for this piece comes from? My pink half of the drainpipe – anyone? Well it was actually a song title from the Bonzo Dog DooDah Band, who specialized in comedy or at least humourous songs. Not at all popular nowadays and scarcely revered by anyone, but actually humour in music has a long tradition from Monty Python to Zappa. But this is not a piece about humour – maybe another day.
This is about the sentiment expressed in the song. My pink half of the drainpipe is about ownership and possession and dividing lines, in this case about a house and a disputed drainpipe. And how parochial we all are about property. Disputes over fences and overhanging trees abound. The neighbours putting out their bins so that they encroach even by a millimeter on our property sends us into stratospheric heights of righteous indignation (the strongest human emotion of all).
And as a nation we are just the same. Parochial to an absurd degree. Maybe because we have the sea as our natural boundary rather than a line on a map has something to do with it; we share no land borders with others unless you count Ireland, (though most of us do not really consider Northern Ireland as a part of us).
Maybe also home ownership and the concept that ‘an Englishman’s home is his castle’ has something to do with it too, in most other countries home ownership is a far lower percentage. This too is rapidly changing here as more and more young couples are forced to rent as house prices and deposits are still out of reach for many.
But what is home ownership really? Very few of us live in the same house forever, so in a way you are only ever a temporary resident. And owning a house is not like owning a CD or a book which can be disposed of easily, you always hand your house over to someone else. In a way you are nothing more than a caretaker of the property, hopefully improving it, until someone else takes ‘ownership’ and becomes the new caretaker. So why do we care so much about who owns the drainpipe and whether they have painted over our half?