The Wettest Concerts

Friday 16th May

And I mean wet in a rainy wet sense not pathetic wet-wet-wet style music.  There was a time when I would scour the back pages of Uncut and Q magazines for obscure names and book concerts almost every month.  I just had to see everyone, at least once.  And in the summer the temptation is to do outdoor concerts, though for whatever I have never been to Glastonbury, maybe I was just too busy.  But the trouble with outdoor concerts is invariably the weather.  I can remember seeing Neil Young at the Hop Farm and the wind was so bad that the sound kept going in and out, just like Radio Luxembourg of old.  And a flash storm one year at The Fleadh saw a very drenched seller of Water melons being literally washed away himself, a brilliant idea if it had been sunny I must admit.

But the two wettest concerts were as follows.  My partner at the time loved Bryan Ferry, I was not so impressed, but admitted that I like some of Roxy Music’s stuff so tickets were booked.  It was part of a series of concerts held at the Tower of London, on the grassy bit between the outer wall and the inner one, which appropriately enough though now grassed may well have once been a moat.  It had rained all day, but mostly a fine drizzle.  Intrepidly we still went even though there were large puddles everywhere.  At least we had an umbrella, but as we queued to get in the rain came down heavily and we resorted to buying those plastic ponchos.  Bryan sung quite well I suppose, but though only a few rows back we could hardly see a thing through the sea of umbrellas and the rain; not a great concert.  Then there was Leonard Cohen playing at an aerodrome in Sussex a few years back and again it poured almost all day.  All I can say is that he was still brilliant, sublimely lifting our dampened spirits with his beautiful songs.  Soaked to the skin despite the obligatory ponchos we left exalted and excited.  And wet.  Nowadays I hardly see anyone live, wet or dry.


The Pfizer – Astra Zeneca takeover

Thursday 15th May

The news is full of this at the moment, as if at the end of the day anyone other than the shareholders opinions will matter.  And all that will matter to them is profit.  Will the potential new owners give a better return than sticking with Astra-Zeneca.  All the arguments about research and development, jobs, taxes and appearances in front of Commons Select Committees will mean ‘nout.  And the ‘resistance’ of Astra-Zeneca is just so much posturing; if they can push the offer price up a bit higher it will be a done deal.   This I am afraid is the nature of Capitalism in the Twenty-First Century.  The stakes are high and winner takes all.

And Labour will be able to make no difference either.  Unless there is international agreement then these large Corporations will rule the roost.  Much as I realise that Europe has big problems, not least of all the sense of disconnect most of its citizens feel, it is our only hope.  If Europe can actually get stronger and more united (very unlikely with our secessionist government) then they may be able to stand up to the Corporate Giants, who will not happily lose such a big market by upping sticks and moving to a ‘more friendly’ continent.   And I think that America, or at least a Democrat-led America, understands this.  There as well as here there is a widening gulf between the haves and have-nots which only the reigning in of the multinationals will slow down.  Reversing the trend is I am afraid a much harder task.

People talk of revolutions, but as Lenin and Trotsky understood only too clearly – unless you have a world revolution then any revolution in one country will always fail.  But back to Pfizer, I have no idea of they would be better or worse than Astra-Zeneca, but like Cadbury’s before it, it seems such a shame if another ‘old’ British company bites the dust…..

Ducks in the Road

Wednesday 14th May

We have a rather pretty lake at the bottom of our garden here on the Isle of Dogs.  Well it is called a lake but it is really two connected ponds.  It was constructed out of a dry dock when the houses around the lake were built, about thirty years ago.  It has fish (introduced) and water lilies and is also inhabited by dragon flies and ducks and moorhens.  Each year we look forward to the baby ducklings, but for the last three years we have only had moorhen chicks.  It seems these smaller water fowl are squeezing the ducks out of the lake.  But they still hang around, duckling-less and looking a bit lost.

They do the strangest of things.  They are often to be seen on the rooves of the three storey houses and this morning there were three of them, two males and a female sitting in the middle of the road.  I walked right up to them and they didn’t budge.  They looked as though they were having a sleep, heads tucked in to the feathers on their shoulders.  I just hope the few car-drivers in our road avoided or managed to wake and scare them.

They were here long before us.  The Island used to be marshland and has been I suspect a habitat for ducks, geese and other wading birds for millennia.  We have managed to squeeze them out almost everywhere, but at least our little lake offers some refuge in the city for them.

The End–game of Empire

Monday 13th May

Most of the wars in the last twenty years or so have been the end-game of Empire.  The European powers recklessly captured vast areas, continents in some cases and dutifully labelled them, especially in Africa, where no countries had ever existed.  There had been large empires in Africa, but by and large it is a tribal society, though time and the modern world have done much to mix this up.  Then along with the Empires came religious colonization, especially again in Africa, and there is now a more general war being pursued by the mostly Muslim North and the largely Christian South.  Hence the capture of the “Christian schoolgirls” by a Muslim “terror” group in Nigeria which is so exercising the media at present.

Similarly Russia which was originally centred mostly around Moscow expanded all over Asia and although with the fall of Communism many “new” countries came into existence.  One of these Ukraine was a mix of Russian and Ukranian and Tartar ethnic groups.  But they had been administered as one region called Ukraine and therefore gained their ‘independence’ from Russia as one very large but mixed population country.  We are quick, here in the West to condemn Russia for interfering, but we have also interfered, trying to woo the Ukraine into a European grouping (which some might consider Empire by a different name), and away from it’s old Russian ties.  Like many large ‘new’ countries Ukraine is probably going to break itself up, but whether large areas will be swallowed up whole by Russia or allowed to exist as semi-autonomous regions is still anyone’s guess.  But one thing is for certain, Ukraine won’t be the last war of the end-game of Empire.

My view is that self-determination should be our guiding principle, which in a way makes Europe the right way to progress.  It doesn’t matter if Scotland goes it alone or the Catalans or any other region with a distinct idea of their own culture, as long as they remain part of a strong Europe.

72 Billionaires

Monday 12th May

That is the latest statistic about London; it seems the streets really are paved with gold.   But what does it mean for ordinary people.  House prices are rising inexorably.  I thought I had done well in selling my house in Leyton for £325 thousand about 7 years ago, but it must be far higher than that by now.   It is all relative in a way, and selling when I did enabled me to start to sort my life out.  I really felt I could no longer live in that house any longer; two failed relationships and the very walls seemed to hang heavy with sorrow.   It was a cathartic change, after nineteen years I needed to move.   But of course the other side of the coin is that my own children cannot afford to live in London, even if they wanted to.  I see all over Docklands the rise of super-tall blocks of flats.  When I was young they were all council-owned and no-one wanted to live in them; the lifts broke or were used as toilets, piles of rubbish grew in courtyards and gangs of youths ruled the place.  Some are still like that.  And even if the shiny new blocks are clean and well-maintained I am sure the ground rent will be high, and when the time comes for re-furbishment it will cost the leaseholders a fortune.  And yet young couples are so desperate to get on the housing ladder that they are fighting for the chance to buy for two or three hundred thousand these tiny flats in the sky.

Where will it all end?  I don’t want to be a doom-merchant but every bubble eventually bursts, and this one is being inflated rather quickly.   Maybe the worst aspect is that the gap between London and the rest of the country is widening ever further.  All the investment seems to be happening here in the Capital.  I am sure if you live in the North you will have a different perspective on it all.  And of course the fact that these billionaires are living here makes not a jot of difference to the lives of ordinary Londoners who are paying above inflation tube fares and many have had no real increase in pay for years.  So it goes.

Busy busy weekend

Sunday 11th May

Again a very busy weekend, we never seem to have a quiet one.  Yesterday I woke and disaster had struck.  I had returned from Walton late on Friday and plugged my laptop in as usual.  At 7.30 on Saturday the laptop was switched off; sometimes this happens, it just closes down on its own.  I tried to restart and it simply gave me a message “Critical low battery level” and a flasing orange light and then it shut down again.  And again when I tried again.  I was sure I had plugged the cable in correctly and tried it in a different socket.  Not a glimmer.

Later I took it back to the shop in Tottenham Court Road, and it was the wretched cable, which was faulty, had run down the battery and therefore the machine had closed down.  With a new cable it started to work, and they charged the battery up in the shop.  So not too much of a problem after all and no data was lost.

This did not stop us doing a few chores including re-turfing part of the lawn.  A 60th birthday party in the evening, and on Sunday we had a bit of a spring clean and are out to dinner tonight.  I may go in to work on Monday for a rest.

Z – is for Frank Zappa

Saturday 10th May

A most unusual man, a brilliant musician, a composer of both rock and avante-garde music, one of the weirdest looking geeks around and a sense of humour that he just couldn’t keep out of his music, a true rebel and a strange sort of democrat too.  And all of that was just for starters.  He died a few years ago of cancer but though he was barely fifty he produced a huge catalogue of recorded music.  To say he was prolific is an understatement, he churned out albums, many of them live versions of songs he never put on studio records, often four or five in a single year.  On top of this he also played many many live concerts.

How he managed it all I have no idea, but then he was most certainly a genius.  During the eighties he released a trio of albums which managed to be both commercial and beautiful and funny and clever at the same time; “Sheik Yerbouti, Joe’s Garage (a triple) and You are what you is (a double).  Full of great songs and great tunes they are the best starting point for any potential Zappa-ite.

Joe starts a garage band but gets arrested for making music which has become illegal.  He goes to jail and then is released, meets an evangelist, has strange sex and dreams of imaginary guitar notes….you get the picture.

Frank was held in great esteem strangely enough by revolutionaries behind the Iron Curtain who saw in his irreverence for authority a beacon for their own fight against Communism.  His estate still releases live albums every year, as he apparently kept a recording of every note he ever played….  As I said, a very strange kind of genius, but undoubtedly one of the best.


So Tired

Friday 9th May

I seem so tired these days, I can hardly think.  The treadmill is harder and harder to turn round, the days blur into each other, the stream of e-mails is increasing – and yet I get the feeling that nothing is getting done.  There was a song in the early sixties by Anthony Newley, a strange man who funnily enough David Bowie begun by emulating, it was a sort of novelty song “Stop the World I want to Get Off”.  I think it was from a film, but I understood the sentiment alright.  It seems that the world is spinning just that bit too fast and I am in grave danger of losing my footing.

I fall into these moods occasionally when everything palls and nothing satisfies me.  It could even be mild depression, but as most of these mental conditions are subjective one can never be sure.  I have been waiting for weeks now for my friend’s wife to design the book cover for 2066.  Despite promises nothing arrives and I am going to have that uncomfortable discussion when I tell him that I don’t want her to finish whatever she might have possibly (but I doubt it) started.  And it is a pity because she is actually quite good.  Oh well, it may not be so uncomfortable as I imagine.

Often in life those things you dread are sometimes not so bad as you had imagined and the things you thought would be simple are the ones which trip you up.

At least today is the last day of work, and I have a practically clear day tomorrow.  I have the germ of an idea of a new book which I want to develop, so I must concentrate on that.

Buy to Let

Thursday 8th May

It is undisputedly the way to go, hustle together enough for a deposit on a property, especially in London, do the minimum required to smarten it up, maybe central heating a new kitchen and bathroom and then put it up for renting.  The smart thing to do is to let this property out for 6 monthly lets, and increase the rent to the maximum “the market” will allow each time.

The market in this case is the amount of desperation in those unfortunate enough to have to rent in the first place, as they try to find a place they can afford which offers the minimum in comfort and security.

This is yet another way in which “the market” rewards the rich at the expense of the poor.  I have even been tempted myself, though have resisted so far.  More on idealogical grounds than anything else, it is a surefire way of making money.  Someone else in effect pays your mortgage for you, while in the long run the value of your property increases.  But is it morally right that I as the owner should make my profit out of those unable to get onto the property ladder at all.  One of the trends of the post-war boom was for the number of homeowners to increase year on year, which it did until about ten or fifteen years ago, when the price of houses rose so high that more and more people were priced out of this opportunity and with no parents to help them were forced to rent.  This is now an epidemic, with more and more young couples being forced into expensive rented accommodation with the dream of owning their own house drifting ever further into the realms of the impossible.

Unfortunately too, every Government attempt to affect the housing market has been disastrous, as is the current help they are giving by guaranteeing part of the deposit, it is simply pushing the price of houses up.  Only a sustained and massive increase in the number of cheap houses being built will help.

Another factor of buy to let is that I wonder just how many of these “entrepreneurs” who are buying maybe one or two houses to rent out are declaring the income and paying their taxes.  Don’t be so skeptical Adrian, we live in an honest country – of course they all are.

Steady Progress

Wednesday 7th May

It is now two weeks since my eye operation, to relieve the pressure in my right eye as you may remember.  I have been back three times now to the outpatients clinic and each time my eyes have been measured again.  At first there was no discernible improvement,  both eyes in the region of 20 (20 what they never say).  They measure the pressure by the amount of refraction a blue light shows when shone through the eye and then through a prism which splits the reflected beam and it is measured on a scale.  Quite clever, and painless too.

When I was first referred to the Glaucoma clinic my eyes were measuring 30 in each eye.  Over about ten months this had reduced to about 20 in the right and 18 in the left eye.  Improvement but not fast enough.  I have had to put eye-drops in last thing at night and first thing in the morning all this time.  At last the time came for my op.  and it really was okay, no pain or discomfort at all.

Today I had two of three stitches removed from the top of the eye itself, you cannot see them they are underneath the eyelid.  When the pressure was recorded it was 14 in both eyes.  A marked and steady improvement.  Now why being operated on my right eye should also have a beneficial effect on the left I do not know, maybe it was a sympathy blink, but steady progress is just what they were looking for.  Great.