P is for Dory previn

Monday 10th September

And of all the broken-hearted women here comes Dory Previn.  She is older than most of my musical heroes.  She died a few years ago aged 86. So she must have been forty when she was at her musical peak.   She started in the early fifties, writing music and lyrics for films.  It was there she met and married Andre Previn and together they wrote several film scores.  Andre of course went on to greater things, and he also had an affair with and left Dory for Mia Farrow.    Dory had a complete breakdown and after therapy she started writing and recording incredibly personal and honest emotionally raw songs.   From  ‘On my way to where’ to ‘Children of Co-incidence and Harp Marx’  she made six beautiful albums and then drifted off into obscurity, where her mental demons seemed to overtake her once more.

She never really got over the betrayal of her husband, and wrote several songs about it.  She also wrote at length about her father, and her strange disjointed relationship with him.   She left behind these six wonderful and one live album, where together we can share her lovely voice and delicate words as she sings of ‘Mythical Kings and Iguanas’ and ‘Lemon Haired Ladies’, ‘Mister Whisper’ and ‘Mary Cecilia Brown Jumping off the Hollywood Sign.’

Nobody sings, or even dares to write songs like this anymore.  Maybe Laura Marling comes closest, though her words are always veiled whereas Dory hides nothing.  Maybe it was her therapy, her way of working out the demons in her mind, maybe it was revenge, maybe an attempt to touch another human being, and she certainly touched me.  I understand her pain, her loneliness, her reveling in her sadness, and the desperate wish for communion of some sort.  She will always remain one of my all-time favourites.


Who do you believe?

Monday 9th September

I used to believe the BBC, almost implicitly.  And by and large I am still inclined to think they tell the truth, or as near to the truth as they can.  I used to believe the Observer, but then switched to the Independent and Independent on Sunday.

I never believe the Sun, the Mail or the Express.  I don’t even consider the Star a newspaper.  I would like to believe the Mirror, but as it is the mirror of the Sun, I find it impossible to.

I rarely believe but will sometimes consider the Telegraph and the Times.  I do sometimes watch ITV news, but find it hard to believe them.  I sort of believe Channel 4 news, but don’t turn to it naturally.  I flick over to Sky News but rarely believe it.  I would like to believe Al Jazeera, but find it too  boring to watch.

More and more I don’t know who to believe.

On Syria I instinctively distrust Putin so find the Russians hard to believe.  But after Iraq, American and British Intelligence is hardly reliable either.

It seems to me that most of believe what we are told with little questioning.   And those of us who do question find it hard to believe anyone anymore.

Another Lovely day by the Seaside

Sunday 8th September

Sometimes, especially while in France, one can tend to forget how lovely England can be.  Of course the weather makes a big difference and, despite a bit of rain yesterday, it has been a glorious September day.  Sunny but not too hot and a nice breeze.  We are here at Walton, and the day started as usual with a walk on the beach.  The tide was out and there was a beautiful sea-washed expanse of golden sand, with not a soul in sight.  The dogs really love the beach, the openness, the gulls, the pools of warm seawater, the seaweed covered low sea breaks, the under-pier darkness, with its rusting iron girders and the stumps of the old wooden pillars, dark barnacle-encrusted pools, and out again into the sunshine.  The serried rows of beach-huts and the terraces being prepared for more.  Amazingly these tiny beach huts without running water or electricity go for as much as £30,000.

Then out shopping in Clacton and Frinton, and an afternoon of gardening here in Walton.  Hard work, weeding, pruning, sweeping and bagging up, and watering, and now the garden looks fresh and tidy again.  Hard work, but worth it.  Then a quick drive to the Naze itself and another walk with the dogs.   Back and now we are showered and ready for an evening meal at the Marina.  So, another perfect day.

The Sun is Still Shining in Walton

Saturday 7th September

Well, just about.  This is actually Friday morning for me, and though the temperature has dropped and the barometer has fallen back to overcast the sun is till peeking through.   Rain is on the way, or so we are told, and actually the forecasts are becoming far more accurate these days.  And what a summer it has been.  There was a time when we took warm sun-filled summers for granted,  but just lately we have had a run of dull and dismal rainy old summers, so this last one has been glorious and unexpected and has lifted everyone’s mood.

Strange what an effect the weather still has on us.  When I was active in the Labour party we would always fret as election day drew closer.  Rain all day was a disaster for Labour, we needed a clear sunny day to get our voters out.  And economically, despite the rise of food banks and pay-day loans, and the very real drop in living standards of most of us still in work, the warmer weather makes us loosen the wallet.  Or to be more specific run up those credit card bills a bit.  And it does look as if the economy is starting to really recover, at last.  Although I suspect that this will not be reflected in jobs for a while longer.

And what will now be Labour’s strategy?  It will be no use harping on about the cuts and austerity if all the news is of an economic recovery.    The two Eds really need to do some hard thinking to come up with a plan to win the hearts and minds of people.   Especially if the sun is still shining come may 2015.

P is for Prefab Sprout

Friday 6th September

Forget the stupid name, which may have been a deliberate ploy – a sort of anti-fame, don’t take us seriously, name.  The band started out with four members but to all intents and purposes it is really all down to one man, Paddy MacAloon, the singer, songwriter and guitarist.  From the start they produced immaculate pop records, with a cool sophistication beyond their years.  They were part of a new wave of talent in the early eighties which included Deacon Blue and Aztec Camera and Everything But The Girl.  These bands were in themselves a rebound from the years of Glam and then the awful descent into Punk itself.

But Prefab Sprout always stood above even this crowded field.  From their first album ‘Swoon’ up to their masterpiece ‘Jordan- the Comeback’ with its almost impenetrable lyrics, talking of King David and Atlantis and Harlem they created a microcosm, a world you could descend into when the real world got too much.

Paddy has had real health problems, first with his eyesight and then his hearing, and has amassed whole unreleased albums that he either is disinclined to finish, or simply doesn’t want to let us have just yet.  Occasionally he lets slip a record, often years after they were first recorded, and a new one is waiting for release in October of this year.

A true genius, who wrote the immaculate lines “Desire is a sylph-figured creature who changes her own mind”; so full of wistfulness and understanding of the delicate relations between men and women.

Their Greatest Hits Album ‘A Life Of Surprises’ is just that – no fillers, no big hits, but great songs, beautifully sung, one after the other – all gems; it is an album I never tire of.

Robert Fisk’s Analysis

Thursday 5th September

Robert Fisk has been reporting on and commentating for the Independent and Independent on Sunday for as long as I can remember.  He is their Middle-East specialist, and now in his late sixties or so has spent a lifetime in this troubled part of the world.  I am amazed that he still has the strength to get up each morning and attempt to enjoy life – he has seen so much misery.

He reported brilliantly on the recent ‘Arab Spring’ and warned at the time that the Muslim Brotherhood would not be tolerated if they won an election.  He is usually right in his analysis.  He takes no sides, admitting mistakes and failings on all sides, and he certainly has no love for Bashar Assad or his regime.  But he tells us that the opposition are no angels either.  In many ways the whole battleground of the Middle East is one of petty despots seeking to settle scores with each other.  There is also the great divide between Sunni and Shia Muslims.

Then there is the proxy war between Isreal, Suadi Arabia and America on one side and Iran and Russia and a mostly passive China on the other.  Caught in between are the Syrian people who have suffered two years of awful civil war, with over two million fleeing the country and now living in filthy refugee camps.  The civil war has fluctuated with the rebels, armed by us, the Saudi’s and the USA, winning at first but lately being driven back town by town.

And as the Assad regime is supported heavily by Iran, we in the west simply cannot allow him to win.  So an intervention was inevitable, all that was needed was a pretext.  And now we come to the interesting part.  If Syria knew that the use of chemical weapons was a red line that could bring America into the war and with that theri ultimate downfall, why on earth would they use them, especially as they appears to be winning anyway.   Assad is an intelligent man, sheer barbarity doesn’t explain things.  Who knows what the truth is?  Or if we will ever find out.  But it now looks almost certain that America will strike, hopefully with the backing of the UN, and Assad will be crippled and probably lose the war.

But who and what will replace him; many of the rebels are Jihadists and supporters of Al Quaeda.  Iraq continues to limp along, despite democracy and the billions spent there.  Let us just hope that this phase of the war is short and decisive and actually just.

Opinion Polls

Wednesday 4th September

I have always loved Opinion Polls; in fact any sort of survey, along with associated pie charts, intrigues me.  But it is essentially Political Opinion Polls that interest me.  Almost daily I check in to a website called UK Opinion Polling, which not only lists each new poll, but does a fair bit of analysis, and gives a running average.  Amazingly, despite what are termed ‘rogue polls’ the average has remained consistent for two years now.  This doesn’t stop my interest, if anything it heightens it.

What intrigues me is the research that goes into polling.  Also I am amazed that neither myself, nor anyone I have ever asked, has been questioned ever for a poll.  It is mostly done by telephone these days, which in my mind must give a slightly different result than face to face interviews.  Maybe the anonymity of speaking on the phone produces a more honest answer than actually talking to someone.

On any given day, but especially on Sundays the results of several polls may be published.  I love comparing them.  Is it just the magic of numbers or the possible politics that excites me?  One thing I have noticed over the years is that despite hiccups and gaffes and temporary unpopularity the actual campaign has little effect on the eventual result.  Except for the amazing surge in popularity for Clegg after the first TV debate which settled down anyway before the actual vote, the state of the parties two to three months away from the election is generally the result achieved on the day.

Which gives me hope; Labour has been consistently six or seven points ahead for at least two years.  The Tories will hope that this is simply mid-term unpopularity, but I think that most people have made their minds up.  People generally like the Labour party, but disliked Brown and are unsure of Milliband.  The Tories have the reverse problem that people quite warm to Cameron, but dislike the party he leads.  And then there is Nigel Farage, who is unlikely to ever win, or even be part of a coalition, but exudes such goodwill that his party may end up polling well enough to even win a few seats or at least to deny the Tories success in certain marginal seats.

Of course, anything can happen in politics, and usually does.  And every poll ends up being wrong, even those taken on the eve of the actual election.  But none of that stops me from reading them anyway.

An Addicts Story

Tuesday 3rd September

I have a confession to make.  I am seriously ill.  I have a desperate compulsion.  It is called buying records.  I have suffered for many many years, mostly in silence but I feel that now is the time I should come forward and speak, if only to save others from a similar fate.

As far as I can remember this disease first struck in my early twenties; I did have some early symptoms which I stupidly ignored – as a child I would assiduously record on a second-hand reel to reel tape recorder each weeks Top of the Pops, as I only had two reels I re-recorded over and over, and would listen in wonder in my bedroom till long past my bedtime.  Sadly at the time nobody warned me of the seriousness of my condition (if only health warnings were printed on records as they are on cigarettes) and I joyfully overindulged.  Each week I would manage despite a degree of financial hardship to purchase a new LP, I followed the advice of Noel Edmunds, then a radio1 dj on Sunday mornings and bought all of the new singer-songwriters as well as the back catalogues of Beatles and Dylan.

By my thirties and with the advent of cassette tapes I became seriously ill.  I tried to hide my addiction by buying secondhand records and recording them onto tape, then sneaking back and reselling them, only to spend any returns on even more records.

I was not however fatally diagnosed until the advent of CDs.  I spent far too many lunchbreaks and Saturday afternoons in second-hand record basements sorting through box after box of CDs and CD singles, mumbling..Got it, Rubbish, Interesting, Nice Cover, or Must Have.    I built CD shelf after shelf, and filled empty wine boxes with CD singles.

At one time I was delusional enough to hope I might one day own every record ever made.  But as the disease progressed and I became weaker I have resorted to an even stupider phase.  I now devote at least half my purchases to buying CD copies of records I once owned on vinyl, and taped.  Please don’t even mention the words ‘Boxsets’ to me, it brings on palpitations.  Even in my financially reduced state I still cannot resist buying, mostly from Amazon or ebay, more and more CDs.  I have a tall rack full of stuff I haven’t even listened to yet.  But of course as those familiar with my condition will know this doesn’t stop or even slow me down, neither does buying duplicates.  Well, you never know…

I know that I will die miserable and alone, huddled in a corner, crying out for my records.  And worse still when I am gone my family will break open the hoard and ignore all the gems, the rarities, the now deleted and unavailable and take them all to the Cat Rescue Shop where hopefully some fellow addict may find some consolation.    I am 62 years old and am a record addict.  Please help me.

Such a Busy Weekend

Monday 2nd September

This was our first weekend back from France.   Although of course it won’t go away.  We are on permanent holiday interspersed with just a few occasional weeks of work.   Well that is positive thinking for you.

But no matter how much rationalizing you do it is hard to disguise a sense of disappointment looming over one.  However we have hardly had time to think about it, let alone draw breath.  We have had such a busy time.  From Friday night when we had people round for drinks to a Sunday when the garden was overflowing with people, we saw most of our old friends again.  In some ways it was chaos, but we sort of rode it.  On top of that one of the dogs had to have her teeth fixed so there were visits backwards and forwards to the vet.

And I hardly seemed to sleep.  We went to bed late and woke early, and at last I got a train to Walton on Sunday and could relax.  Today, Monday is the first time I am really aware of now only working three days a week.  Apart from holidays this is the first Monday I haven’t had that Monday morning feeling for years.  It is quite strange, maybe we have a seven day body clock that automatically cranks us up for the working week.  Anyway I am hoping to get a bit of writing done today; I have done hardly any for weeks.

Syria – at last some sense

Sunday 1st September

The news sometimes does surprise one.  Last night out of the blue, and completely unexpected there has been a hiatus in the mad head-long rush into war.  And I think, and hope, that it is genuine.  Obama, that most thoughtful of Presidents has decided that Syria, and any attack by the U.S. needs to be discussed by both houses of Congress.  But unlike here where Cameron in a PR style and un-thought through move re-called Parliament early, quite a few MPs couldn’t get back, and those that did were surprisingly alarmed at the speed of the call to Arms, and in the end despite even watering down his motion Cameron still lost; Obama has set a timetable of weeks rather than days.  As he says the possible retaliation will be just as effective in a few weeks time as tomorrow.  So, a pause for thought.

And also an amazing precedent.  At last one positive result from the Iraq war is that now it is unthinkable that either a U.S. President, or a British P. M. will be able to go to any war, except a truly defensive one, again without their respective Parliaments having their say.

And also this gives Obama a chance to talk face to face with Putin, the main sponsor of Syria at next week’s G8.  Also hopefully now more evidence might emerge, and even if some sort of punishment is to be handed out it will be very measured and proportionate.

And now that the impetus has been taken out of the whole issue maybe cooler heads will come to the fore and some sense will prevail.  Who knows, maybe even Peace.