Etiquette On The Tube

Tuesday 21st October

Firstly – there is none.  But there should be.  Just as at London bus-stops it is a mad scramble, the fit and young shoving the old, pregnant and infirm out of the way in their desperation to get on first, so on the tube there is no civility, no politeness, no common decency.  In a way of course and compared to greater evils this is a minor irritation, but in some ways everything matters and this selfishness is a symptom of the selfishness in society.  It doesn’t happen in Walton or smaller country places and the reason is that you probably know the other passengers; in London and other large towns you not only don’t know others but will probably never see them again either.

There are signs asking people to give up seats to the elderly or pregnant, but despite women beimg heavily pregnant with the little “Baby on Board” badge, they are often ignored and made to stand.  I rarely am offered a seat, not that I consider myself elderly or infirm – but it is a bit frustrating when a large family all take a seat, often even small children taking up a whole seat when it would be quite easy for the smaller ones to double up and let some weary adult have a seat.

This morning on the DLR was a classic.  The seats are arranged like bus seats and are so a bit closer together affording little room for standers.  I got on a crowded train at Island Gardens and had to stand in this in-between seats space and wait for a possible seat.  The fourth stop is Canary Wharf, a popular destination and sure enough one woman vacated her seat.  But she was quite large and I had to back-up into the central standing area to give her room to get off.  She had several bags and took a while to exit, I waited, arm outstretched and having to move further from her now vacant seat to give her room to pass me.  Just as I was moving back down the carriage I was pushed aside and a youngish girl ducked under my arm and slumped into the seat.  She was about 14 or 15 and looked up defiantly at me.  She had actually only got on the train at Canary Wharf itself.  I was a bit pissed off and said “That was nice of you, I’ve been standing here for ten minutes and then you grab the seat,”  “You don’t own the seat” she said arms folded, and as I had to agree I just shrugged my shoulders and continued to stand.  The really annoying thing – she was getting off at the next stop anyway, but it was obviously important for her to insist on her right to a seat.  I took her seat at the next stop , so it wasn’t at all important, but it is indicative of the attitude of a lot of people today  and maybe even that is our fault – we have created a dog eat dog world, where the strongest take all, so we shouldn’t be surprised if we are sometimes treated like dogs too.

A Word Or Two About Immigration

Monday 20th October

Immigration is the new buzz-word, all politicians say they “get it”.  But what they will not say, even nice Mr. Farage, is that when the public talk about “immigration” being a concern, what they really mean is “We don’t want foreigners here” – a maybe slightly more restrained version of “Blacks Go Home”.   In fact of course, immigration has been brilliant for this country.  Ask any farmer who cannot get English people to pick fruit, ask any Restaurant owner who despite all the glossy foodie programmes on telly cannot get English people to work in a hot kitchen or wait at tables, ask any NHS manager who needs nurses or junior doctors or ward cleaners – and they will all tell you that without immigrants the system would collapse and businesses be forced to close.

The current “lie” is that Labour allowed too many Eastern Europeans into the country in the ‘noughties’.  Of course they didn’t, the rules of the EU allow free movement of people and capital.  The fact that some other countries slowed this inward migration by transitional arrangements meant that we boomed, businesses grew faster and everyone benefited precisely because of this influx of immigrants.  The truth is that most immigrants from Europe are young (it is only us Brits in our retirement who want to live in France or Spain where we will inevitably cost their health services money as we age); the vast majority work and pay taxes but do not use the NHS much or have children to be educated or retire here and least of all claim benefits.  They are in short net contributors to the nation’s wealth.   There may well be problems with tax avoidance or benefit fraud but this is just as endemic in the ‘born-here-population’ as in any visitors and should be addressed without scape-goating immigrants.

So, counter to the current view, let’s raise a glass to all people who choose to come and work and live in Britain.  The waves of Jews, Indians, Pakistanis, Bangla-Deshis and West Indians and now Eastern Europeans have all added to the wealth and diversity of this truly cosmopolitan country and have made Britain one of best countries to live in.      

We May All Vote Reluctantly

Sunday 19th October

Politics are in a particularly febrile state at the moment.  Maybe it is partly the threat of UKIP, maybe it is just a real fear of making a blunder, but our politicians are doing anything but attempting to inspire us.  I suspect that most of us will vote for a party with no great enthusiasm but because there is no-one else we can bring ourselves to vote for.  Labour, my party; are I must admit pretty hopeless.  I sort of feel they might have a bit more compassion than the Tories, will be fairer on taxation and the NHS, but I am sorry; Ed just doesn’t inspire me – I will be voting Labour despite Ed not because of him.  I suspect that many Tories feel the same way about Cameron and Osborne and will vote through gritted teeth and just hope that the next Government will be more to their liking (gay marriage was a step too far for many of them).  Many die-hard LibDems sincerely hate Nick Clegg and feel he has betrayed them by his enthusiasm for the Tories but will still vote LibDem because they hate the other two parties even more.

Which leaves us with the unknown and unknowable UKIP.  I suspect they will poll quite well and may get as much as 20% of the vote nationally and in some areas will get a few M.P.s – but I suspect that many of those voting UKIP will be doing so, not because they particularly like their policies but out of a feeling of disillusionment with all the other parties.  Much as the SNP have garnered support by being the anti-Westminster party UKIP presents itself as “none of the above” – a new voice, unsullied by ever actually having been in power.

And in just this way whoever ‘wins’ or I suspect forms the next coalition, there will be an awful lot of disgruntled voters who didn’t vote for them, or who feel betrayed by the policies of their coalition partners being adopted.   And that in its turn will lead to even more disillusionment.  The only possible good may be that whoever loses party leaders will resign and hopefully more credible candidates will become party leaders.

The Political Correctness That is Downright Wrong

Saturday 18th October

We are supposed to live in a world of free-speech, so you can say whatever you like, so long as no-one takes offence that is.  Well I take offence at almost everything the Tories say but I cannot do anything about it.  But it seems that the intention of the sayer of the “evil words” is ignored, it is the actual phrase or the way it came out that is jumped upon.  Mock indignation and anger are seized upon and apologies are demanded and even when they are forthcoming it isn’t enough – there must be resignations.  Well, for once (and actually it happens a lot) I am disagreeing with the Labour Party.

Lord Freud, who used to be employed by Labour and is now helping the Tories (not that he has changed sides, rather he just wants to help) made a blunder at the Tory conference and suggested that disabled people were not ‘worth’ the minimum wage.  He meant that many employers found it hard to justify giving a job to someone with severe disabilities, even on the minimum wage, as they were less productive than many other workers, and the suggestion had been made that maybe the government could financially incentivise employers to take them on, so that in effect the cost to the employer would be less than the minimum wage.  This seems a perfectly acceptable policy provided it is well administered and doesn’t become a gravy train for greedy employers.  Lord Freud expressed himself badly and stated that some disabled people may be willing to work for £2 an hour.

He has apologized and so has Cameron, but Labour clutching at straws insist he must go.  I think the tide is turning and Labour should now drop it.  Angela Eagle on Question time looked stupid and was out-argued by almost everyone else on the panel.  Sometimes political correctness can obscure one from the bleedin’ obvious; the benefits for a disabled person being employed, even at the low minimum wage far outweigh any stigma there may be in some people’s minds about them being treated differently by in some way subsidizing their wages.

The Strange Consistency of Opinion Polls

Friday 17th October

I am an avid watcher of Opinion Polls, and even though I sometimes doubt their accuracy, and the fact that nowadays lots is done by telephone and not face to face, there are so many that combined they do seem to give a good indication of the way people are thinking.  Incidentally for the first time a week or so ago I was phoned by a polling company (about the Clacton by-election actually – but still) and asked my opinion; fame at last.

Every so often one gets a shock, such as when UKIP do spectacularly well or Cameron promises a tax cut and there is a small surge of support for one party or another.  However what I am noticing these days is that the figures are remarkably consistent.  Tories averaging 31- 32%, Labour 34-35%, LibDems 6-8% and Ukip 15-17%.  Of course these figures mean absolutely nothing, they are if anything a snapshot at a given moment in time.  However my (limited) experience is that by the time the actual campaign kicks off there is not that much movement until the real vote.  All the bluster and TV coverage, the debates, the gaffes, the phot-ops and the promises do not actually sway that many people at all.

Two interesting facts – No governing party has ever increased its’ share of the vote (as opposed to number of M.P.s {Maggie had the good luck of a very divided opposition when she won her landslides in ‘83 and ;87} except Harold Wilson in the second ’74 election – and that only marginally) at subsequent elections; Blair won 43%, then 41% and finally 39% although he only lost a few seats each time.  Secondly no party has come back into power after such a defeat as Labour suffered in 2010 in one election.  Labour took four goes in the eighties and the Tories lost three after 1997.

And no-one knows exactly how the demise of the LibDems will play out in seat losses, or how much UKIP will affect everyone, or indeed how well the SNP will do in Scotland.  And even though the percentages may resemble the opinion polls today, the distribution of those votescould be quite surprising.  All to play for, I would say.

B – is for the BYRDS

Thursday 16th October

At one time the Byrds were almost as big as The Beatles, at least in America in the mid-sixties.  They were just another struggling new band in California, but fascinated by Bob Dylan and the new folk revival happening in New York they took one of his latest songs “Mr. Tambourine Man”, speeded it up a bit and added high electric guitar and drums and had a number one hit with it.  They had invented folk-rock, that gentler fusion of pop and rock and roll with the traditional folk sound of America.  They were similar to the Beatles in that they featured high harmony vocals but it was the 12 string ringing guitar sound of Roger McGuinn’s Rickenbacker that came to define their sound.  They had a few more hits and wrote such classics as “So You Want To Be A Rock and Roll Star”, “Eight Miles High” and “Chestnut Mare”.

They had a few personnel changes over the years, lead singer Gene Clark shunning the limelight and David Crosby leaving to form Crosby Stills and Nash.  Gram Parsons joined in 1968 and left again after one album, the only constant member was McGuinn.  But boy were they influential.  Almost single-handedly they created the genre which has coalesced into Americana, and they laid the ground for the waves of seventies singer-songwriters, as well as introducing Sitar and Indian sounds into their music – a full year before George did with the Beatles.

They stopped in 1973, McGuinn drifting into obscurity, but they left behind about a dozen studio albums (artists were far more productive in those days).  I am slowly rebuilding my collection of these records, and I find they have dated far less than their contempories.  I especially love the few live versions of “Eight Miles High” which is not about drugs, but flying to London for the first time.

The Byrds speak about:

The Enduring Fascination of The Electric Guitar

Wednesday 15th October

The first guitar to be “electrified” was in 1931.  Yes, that long ago.  In fact experiments had been going on since 1910 – over a century ago – to amplify traditional musical instruments.  The Electric Guitar was first used in Jazz Orchestras.  All the big names started in the 30’s – Les Paul, Gibson and Rickenbacker.  And actually the instrument hasn’t really changed that much since; a few innovations such as pedals and whamming bars and vibratos and a few that didn’t catch on like the Gizmo invented by two members of 10CC.   But that sound, that sudden blast of noise has shaped the music of the Twentieth Century and despite all sorts of Synthesisers and Computer Generated Sound it is still that unmistakable stab of electric noise that we love.  Whether strummed or picked or whammed the noise of Electric Guitars is unmistakable and is indispensable to all forms of Rock and Roll and whatever derivatives that have sprung from it.

I am currently listening to a CD of a live performance by Neil Young, and it is that screaming squeal of Electric Guitars that dominates; Neil duetting with Poncho Sampredo of Crazy Horse as they play extended guitar filled versions of all his famous songs.  Simply brilliant.  And I simply cannot get enough of it.  I quite like acoustic guitars, piano and even strings and brass, but it is the Electric Guitar that hits the right note, that whams you in the solar plexus, that lifts the soul, that seems to connect with the synapses in the brain and in short – makes you feel good.

I cannot explain it, but the Electric Guitar works like no other instrument and I cannot imagine ever not wanting to listen to it.  From the Beatles gentle notes from George, to Jimi Hendrix distilling sounds we had never heard before, to the power chords of the Who and Queen and the Wah-Wah of Clapton to all the multiple varieties of sound we hear today it is everywhere in Music today.  And long may it endure.

What Awful Weather

Tuesday 14th October

In the space of two short weeks we have been plunged headlong into a very wet and windy Autumn.  The summer seemed late this year and August was poor, but we were rewarded with a splendid September which seemed to just drift on and on.  Two weeks ago we were sitting outside a beach hut at Frinton, enjoying glorious sunshine and wondering at how lovely this late summer was.  Now we are shivering and drenched every time we venture out. The tube this morning was full of dripping umbrellas and thick coats drawn up to the neck and long miserable faces.  Strange how the weather affects us so much, and yet undeniably it does.  Me too, I am grouchy (even more grouchy than normal) when it rains persistently all day.

They say the English only ever talk about the weather; maybe that is because we have so much of it.  If it isn’t raining, it is pouring.   Well I suppose it makes a change from Politics, or Wars we are being dragged into, or the new threat to us all – Ebola.  Just imagine having to try to avoid any physical contact on our crowded tube trains, if Ebola ever gets here it will spread like wildfire.  Have a cheerful day.

I used to Love Autumn

Monday 13th October

As a child, that is.  And perhaps it was because it heralded in the beginning of Winter, and that meant two great events; Bonfire Night and Christmas.  As kids we never got presents any other times bar Christmas and Birthdays, and even then not that many.  I have just come back from a visit to one of my grandchildren who is just four.  She has hundreds of toys, and a huge play room, with a Wendy House and oh so many toys it is quite bewildering.  Luckily I bought her a Barbie doll with a Fiat 500 car (for Barbie) and though she already had quite a few Barbies, she didn’t have that one.

Sadly she will never know the excitement of Bonfire Night, and the few weeks before it, practically all of October, going from door to door and collecting wood and junk to build the communal bonfire in the green opposite our house, and then making the guy itself, stuffing and painting old pillow cases and filling an old jacket and trousers with straw and tying the cuffs and trouser bottoms up, stuffing the thing into an old pram and hawking it around the streets asking “Penny for the Guy.”  We would then take these meagre few pennies and buy bangers and jumping jacks and maybe even a rocket or best of all a Catherine wheel.

Guy Fawkes night itself was a communal affair, whole families gathered round as the bonfire was lit and we all tossed our guys on to the flames.  And people were letting off fireworks all around you, mothers screaming as jumping jacks exploded around their feet; the few rockets whooshing off into the night sky and the peacocks-tail splendour of Catherine wheels spinning in the cold damp air.  We were allowed to hold sparklers and a few small fireworks (that would never be allowed now of course) and would stay up quite late as the bonfire subsided into embers.  In the morning we would run over and kick the damp black ashes trying to see a glimmer of red still glowing somewhere.

And now what do kids have – the utter commercialism of Halloween with shop-bought costumes and the awful “trick or treat” and ‘safe’ firework displays you have to pay to go and watch.  As Joni sang “Don’t it always seem as though – You don’t know what you got ‘till it’s gone.”

The Sands are Slipping away

Sunday 12th October

Does everyone feel this way I wonder.  Age brings with it a degree of contentment, a certain confidence in yourself I suppose, but also a sense of disappointment, a feeling of time slipping away and with it the sands you have foolishly built your life on.   The world doesn’t stand still, and we spend so much of our lives trying to find where we fit in, that special niche we can wedge our arse into and can confidently turn and face the world.  Or the world as we thought we knew it – before it moved on, with or without us.

And I find myself with the sands shifting beneath my feet, yet again.  I have re-invented myself so many times, and now that retirement beckons I may have to change things yet again.  Maybe that is the nature of our modern lives; nothing is forever – or even for a relatively short time.  Or possibly it has always been that way, where as children ourselves everything seemed safe and secure – in reality our parents were facing massive changes too.  Maybe the sands are always shifting, and the art is not to lament the poor foundations as the cracks appear around you, but to be fleet of foot and able to constantly tack and veer around the new obstacles you feel confronted by.

Anyway, enough of this introspection – a brave new world beckons.  UKIP are on the march – we will leave Europe, splendid isolation, a brave New England…..and DISASTER….hahaha