Who really runs things ?

Monday 10th June

We are under the illusion that National Governments are actually running things, that they are the drivers of the world.   But I am not sure anymore.  It is almost impossible now for any Government, at least in the West, to really change anything.  Big Business uses a sort of blackmail to make sure that nobody really rocks the boat.  The threat of moving head offices and jobs is almost enough in itself.   But an absurd amount of lobbying goes on too.

The Prime Minister and several of the Cabinet, as well as Ed Balls and Clegg are attending a conference run by the Bilderbergs.   Which is an organisation whose sole purpose is to protect Big Business, and to basically keep the Status Quo. And everyone wants to be on-side.  Because if you actually stood up and said that you as a party stood for ordinary people and that you were going to change the way companies operated so that they were for the benefit of the many and not the few, you would be destroyed.  By the press, and by business itself.

Labour had been out of office for eighteen years and the only way New Labour got elected at all was to persuade Big business that Labour were at last ‘business-friendly’, and now Ed Milliband is doing the same thing.  Reassuring the City that Labour will continue with the same sort of policies, despite supposedly being financed by the Trades Unions.

So, nothing will essentially change even if Labour do win the next election.  Because the only way they will stand a chance of winning it will be if they offer more or less the same policies.

So you tell me who really runs things.

Is the whole world just one big talent show?

Sunday 9th June

I try not to watch those programmes, you know, ‘X factor’, ‘The Voice’ and ‘Britain’s Got Talent’. But sometimes you are tired and it seems that whatever channel you switch on they are on.  And if not them then ‘The Apprentice’ or ‘Masterchef’ or some other so-called ‘Reality TV show,.

I don’t hate them, in fact I don’t really dislike the idea of ordinary people trying to do something extraordinary, especially as life for so many of us is incredibly mundane.  I don’t like the fact that they use backing singers and (apparently) a programme to make the singers sing in tune even when they aren’t, and I don’t like the sycophantic or in some cases nasty comments from the judges.  Why would anyone put themselves up for that; making a pratt of yourself on primetime TV.  But then again the ones that do well obviously think it was worth it, and for them maybe it was.   But the thing that gets me is that almost every contestant has to have a  backstory, some tearjerker in the wings, a mother with cancer or a lifetime of rejection.  And they all say the same thing how winning the show, or the semi-final, or just a round is the most important thing in their lives, how much they desperately want to win is a must say mantra.  I would love someone to just say, ‘Yeah I wouldn’t mind winning, but really it’s no big deal.’

Of course that is never going to happen.  Life isn’t like that at all.  Well, not on ‘Reality TV’, where everyone is just so happy to be given the chance for their not-even-fifteen minutes of fame.  And I was the same, when I was young.  I wanted to run away and be in a rock band. Fuck it, I still do. Because deep down we all think we are special, or maybe we think we just might be good enough.  And so we watch and admire and deride and know that we too could do that if we wanted to.  We just don’t bother, it’s easier to watch other people doing it, and after all, as the hosts keep on telling us, there can only be one winner.  In all these talent shows there can only ever be one winner.  The people who make the programmes.

M is for the Tragic John Martyn

Saturday 8th June

John Martyn emerged in the late sixties, alongside Nick Drake and Danny Thompson who were both great friends.  He was a brilliant guitarist who played in a bluesy folk style and pushed his guitar sound into almost a drone at times using a fuzzbox and echoplex to create a meandering weaving sound that matched his increasingly blurred vocals.  He had a long and quite tragic career, spiraling into drink and drug abuse and failed relationships.  But the albums kept coming, including ‘Grace and Danger’, an almost painfully autobiographical muse on his life so far.

John went to Jamaica and was greatly influenced by black music, especially reggae and hip hop and the late nineties sounds of Portishead.  He is considered by some to be the true inspiration for much of today’s trip-hop and ambient music.

He kept drinking heavily and became quite ill, having a leg amputated and eventually dying in 2009 of double pneumonia.  But though his music was often incredibly sad and moving, he was apparently great company and seemed to enjoy life, maybe with props.

My favourite albums are the early seventies ‘Bless the Weather’ and ‘Solid Air’ whose title song was a tribute to his friend Nick who had just killed himself.

Lost in the Words of a Song

Friday 7th June

More and more I find myself lost in the words of a song.  Words have always been important to me; maybe I have put too much trust in the written and spoken word, taking them too literally, when others saw them as just devices, artifacts or weapons.  I have sporadically written poetry since I can remember, often just  a few words that seemed to hang together, to express perfectly a moment, a glance, an aspiration of beauty.  And the poetry I was attracted to was the words of songs.  And in a funny way they become mine, the listener by repetition becomes the owner of the words; they become mine, in fact I may have written them.

There isn’t much room for ‘Poetry’ in today’s busy lifestyles, but the need is still there.  So the popular song has taken over.  Time was when I would sit with every new album reading the words printed on the back cover, learning all the words to all the songs off by heart.  CDs stopped that pursuit; the silly little books are a poor substitute so I don’t bother nowadays, but the words still find their way into my brain somehow, worming their way in.

And when the music stops I find I am still lost in the words of a song; sometimes little more than a phrase, which keeps repeating over and over in what is left of my mind.  Maybe I have listened to too much music over the years, I still keep buying stuff though – often new CD copies of albums I only now have on tape, but new stuff too.  Still searching for that Holy Grail; the perfect phrase, which still eludes me, and so I spend much of my time remembering lines of songs that I thought I might have forgotten.

I can see my future, and compared to many it isn’t so bad, even if much of the time though my body is here and I still smile and chat quite sensibly I am actually lost in the words of a song.

Cuts, cuts and more cuts

Thursday 6th June

The chancellor is determined to reduce the deficit.  At any cost.  He feels that if he fails in this basic objective the whole raison d’etre of the Coalition collapses.  And he may be right.  So far, after a good start in reducing the deficit, last year there was no real discernible progress, in fact, depending on how you count the numbers he could have slipped backwards a tad.  The most generous assessment is that the deficit reduction has stalled.  He is therefore demanding even greater cuts from all departments, except (on paper at least) Health and Overseas Development.  The original promise was that no front-line services would suffer, but police numbers are tumbling; accident and emergency departments in hospitals are being swamped and Social Services are at breaking point.  And yet we need more cuts.  Which will just run the country down faster.

The chancellor is fond of comparing the country to running a business or a household.  I have run both of those, and yes, in one’s own budget it is disastrous to get into debt, the truth is that the country is making a huge loss month on month and year on year.  The only way to improve this in either a business or your own life is to increase revenue.  I have taken on an extra job and taken in lodgers to make sure I never went into debt.  Companies actually increase their borrowing in order to invest, because if the product or service they are offering ‘aint selling well you have to diversify and try something different.

The country is crying out for investment, and housing is the quickest and best way to provide it.  If you build lots of affordable housing you will help many poorer people, also the housing benefit bill will fall.  More disposable income, more spending, more jobs.  It will cost money now but will pay dividends.  It ‘aint rocket science.  But it does mean swallowing a little bit of humble pie, instead of the same old formula – cuts, cuts and more cuts.

M is for Laura Marling

Wednesday 5th June

She is so new that I only discovered her last year.  Still in her early twenties she has released four albums already, though I still haven’t bought the latest one.  She reminds me so much of Joni, not in the sound of her voice or her playing, but in the confessional nature of her songs which while never explicit or totally obvious show a frailty and understanding of the complicated nature of love itself, which is far beyond her tender years.

There is a hypnotic element to both her guitar playing and her voice that seduces the listener and weaves them into the pattern of the song itself.  Sometimes mystical, sometimes magical, her words wind around your mind so that when the record stops you want to hear it all again and again.

In many ways she is also the heir to Leonard Cohen himself, that intense poet of the heart, though Laura’s words are not so finely honed, they touch the heart just the same.

One song, on her third album ‘Night After Night’ could indeed have been a Leonard Cohen song, it is so evocative and touching.

I have ordered the new album and cannot wait to hear it, and she is so young there will surely be many many more.

It is wonderful to know that the torch has indeed been handed on and shines just as brightly in these pretty younger hands.

Laura Marling

The Lobbying Scandal

Tuesday 4th June

Most people seem relatively unconcerned about the scandal of MPs and Lords taking payments from private companies and organizations simply to ask a few questions in the house.  But in a way it is far more important than the expenses scandal, that still rumbles on.  The proposed register of lobbyists will do nothing at all; it is just wallpapering over the cracks. The answer is blatantly obvious.

If one is an MP, then one should be solely an MP, and it should be illegal to receive payments from any other source.  MPs (mostly Tory) will argue that we need more businessmen in Parliament, but the reality is that it is almost impossible to be objective if one is receiving payments from an interested body.  Of course MPs should still be able to write books or publish diaries, but I am not sure if being a paid journalist is really a good thing unless the MP in question has complete freedom of opinion, including criticizing the very paper they are writing for.

We have to have MPs who are decently paid, and whose sole interest is scrutinizing Government and representing their constituents.  Any MP found breaking these simple rules should be made to resign with loss of any pension and a bi-election would result.  Draconian? Yes, but it needs to be.

As for the Lords.  Please please somebody rid me of this anachronism.  We need an Upper Chamber, with more stability.  It must be elected, but regionally and on PR, and with maybe a third or a quarter standing for re-election every year, so that it is constantly changing with public opinion, but on a rolling basis.  It must not be a job for life, or a home for retired politicians.  As for Bishops and Hereditary Peers…..F…off. This is the Twenty-First Century.

Also, by the way, both MPs and Lords (or whatever you want to call them) must be expected to attend a minimum number of days at Westminster or have their pay docked.  In no other job can you just turn up when you feel like it.  Come on Labour, pick up the baton and run with it.  Make some real changes so that at last Parliament more represents the electorate, and there is some real honesty and accountability.

A Lovely Day (Again)

Monday 3rd June

What a difference a day makes (just twenty-four little hours), as someone once sung.  The sun was shining and it has been a lovely day.  Poached eggs on toast, off to Bluewater, buying even more clothes that neither of us really needs, but at least it will help the economy I suppose.  Not that there were that many people actually buying stuff, a lot of browsers and the coffee shops were full but not much business at the tills. Lunch of Indian street food at ‘Indigo’.

Friends round in the afternoon, glasses of wine on the lawn, and all around the lake people were relaxing, barbeque-ing in this rare early summer sunshine.  An early dinner at our favourite Thai restaurant, where by the river we watched as a huge cruise liner was towed by two barges to the middle of the river, slowly nudging it away from the shore as the high tide approached, a Port of London authority boat keeping any other river traffic away, passengers lining the decks and waving to us on the shore as we waved back.  Slowly, slowly she was brought out, the anchor ropes stowed away and then with a long blast on her horn she was off, guided by the tugs but gently turning her own massive propellers she glided like some giant white swan of the river downstream from Greenwich to Silvertown and beyond.

A real treat to see her go off, it made the day.  And what a lovely day it was too.  Hope your was half as good

Too tired to blog

Sunday 2nd June

So tired.  We were up at 4.00 a.m. and were on the road by 4.30.   Although we rested and I did sleep for a couple of half hours, it was intermittent sleep, and although I easily fall asleep in a car I don’t wake up refreshed.

We made good time, and had lots of pit-stops for the dogs and us.  As usual we ate sporadically too, although a few thermos flasks of tea kept us going.   There was a long wait at the Euro-tunnel terminal and it took us almost an hour getting through both sets of customs.  Strange that leaving England it is at most a cursory glance at your passports, and a wave through,  but returning they were run though computers and scanning machines and lots of scowling looks from angry faced border guards who seem to resent the very fact that you are travelling abroad.

At last on the Chunnel, and out the other end.  The first decent services and we stopped for a latte.  Loving France as I do, I am amAzed that nowhere can you get a decent sized latte.  A grand café au lait arrives in a cup not much larger than an espresso, and a smidgeon of milk.  The French seem to take their coffee, as a powerful hit rather than as a relaxing milky slow comfort.

After the ritual of emptying the car, where I cannot believe just how much stuff we travel back and forth with, a nice take-away curry and off to bed.  Just time to write this and gOod night.

Driving Back

Saturday 1st June

The worst bit of the holiday, for me, by far.  The drive.  It is long, tedious, boring and I hate it.  I much prefer to fly, which is strange because just a few years ago I decided not to fly anymore.  Ever, I think the decision was.  A mixture of environmentalism and a dread of airports, where the cold hand of modern consumerism appears to have firmly laid its palm, combined to make me decide that now that I was on my own again there would  be an end to flying.

The drive down to France, which according to my partner must be accomplished in a single day has re-converted me back to flying.  Agreed it does take considerably longer than the one hour, thirty-five minute flight, but at least you aren’t trapped for sixteen hours in one seat looking at miles and miles of French motorway.  The driver at least has something to do, if only overtaking and changing lanes; the passenger just sits there.  On a plane and waiting to board I can read, and listen to music without appearing to be antisocial.  And on-line booking and only hand luggage means you are out the other end very quickly.

I still think train is even better, but to get to Eymet would involve three or four trains and probably cost an awful lot more.  I agreed that on this holiday I would accompany my partner, but I try to plan it so that I can fly in a day or two after she has slogged it with the car full and the dogs scampering around over everything.  So wish me luck as I go on my way.