C – is for Leonard Cohen, the first few albums

Thursday 20th November

I first heard the first record when Carol and I were living with three crazy Canadian guys in Stockwell.  It was party night every night and about one in the morning they would put on Leonard.  I was losing Carol as she flirted with the Canadians and as I sat there listening over and over to Leonard I fell deeply in love with the album and two years later having lost Carol and gained my son I finally bought myself a copy.  I know every word by heart, Suzanne, So Long Marianne, The Master Song, Sisters of Mercy and all.  This first album of Leonard’s had about fifteen years of his best poems set to music and is an absolute classic.  He followed it with “Songs from a room” – still very good but slightly lightweight.  His third record “Songs of Love and Hate” is much better, an almost vicious album, showing a harder edge to this poet.  It has two of his very best songs on it “Joan of Arc” and “Famous Blue Raincoat” – (and one of his best lines – ‘the skylight is like skin for a drum I’ll never mend’) a record I never tire of; an album for grown-ups.

A fairly bland Live album followed with a couple of new unrecorded songs then another change of direction with “New Skin For The Old Ceremony”.  This was a return to more lyrical love songs and I am never really sure about this album; when I am listening to it I love it, but later I try to recall any songs and only “Chelsea Hotel” and “Who by Fire” stand out.  Leonard was branching out though, still relying on gently picked guitar and his strong deep voice and of course the wonderful words, but adding a touch of violin and cello and woodwind here and there and a softening of the backing female vocals, more sultry and sexy.  Maybe he was beginning to believe his own myths of the legendary lover.

Then came his one moment of madness; he agreed for Phil Spector to produce his next record “Death of a Ladies Man”.  Well, there are various versions embellished by the passing of time, of guns being held to Leonard’s head while he sang and of stolen tapes and bullets on the studio floor.  Who knows – but it still a wonderful record, raucous and overblown but actually I quite love it, even if Leonard rarely sings any of those songs these days and disowns it in interviews.  That was in 1977, then we heard nothing for two years.  Was Leonard sleeping, had he stopped writing, had the muse deserted him?  Oh no, he was just taking a breather before his next period….

Into A Blue Haze

I’m A Celebrity – No You Are Not

Wednesday 19th November

We live in such a ridiculous world that the public love nothing better than seeing complete non-entities, who are suddenly hoisted to the pedestal of being a “celebrity”, made to undergo the most physically demeaning of tasks just for the chance of some exposure or a tiny boost to a flagging career.   I must admit that I stopped watching this crap a few years ago, but my interest was renewed last year when our neighbour in Eymet’s sister was on the show.  Well she got booted out quickly which saved us the pain of watching the rest of the “show”.  I am not sure who first stumbled on the formula for this particular “reality” TV show but they followed the old ITV formula of the Lowest Common Denominator perfectly, it is both childish and inane, can be repeated night after night, has plenty of ad breaks, has the two most stupid presenters ever, and has not progressed at all ever since it was conceived.  The only difference is that the “celebrities” are even more Z list than ever.

Actually if you look at TV it is very very formulaic, most of the programmes have been going for years, Corrie, East-enders, Casualty, Holby, Big Brother, Strictly and X-Factor stick rigidly to their own formulas.  This is a sure indicator that either the audience is soporific and will accept familiarity every time over originality (quite probable actually) or that any vestige of creative talent is stifled at birth by the corporations running the “Meedja”.  Just as in mainstream music anyone genuinely pushing the boundaries is killed off and replaced at once by another bland karaoke singer, the girls resorting to removing even more articles of clothing and the guys having to sing in boy-bands of increasing prettiness every few years.

Thank god I was born when I was – we had Rock’n’Roll, Beat Music, Soul, Surf, Prog Rock, Heavy Metal, Glam, Punk and New Romantics leapfrogging each other and producing original vibrant and different styles every few years.  Now we have a diet of never-ending blandness and second rate celebrities.  It’s an “I’m A Celebrity” world – get me Outta Here……


Tuesday 18th November

I really hate this time of year.  When I was a child I couldn’t understand adults who said they dreaded the onset of Winter, there was all that snow to look forward to, and ice slides and frost and even in the Autumn there were conkers and running through a huge drift of fallen wet leaves to look forward to.  None of that excites me now, Autumn is a drudge that must be gotten through somehow, and the worst of it is how wet everything is.  Our garden is a quagmire, almost a mudbath and we cannot even begin to tidy it up.  Wet leaves almost cover the lawn, and we just cannot face it.  The roads have barely been dry on a couple of weeks, and I hate that, dodging puddles even when it stops raining.  The dogs don’t seem to mind it though, as I studiously avoid puddles that just wade through them oblivious it seems to the cold and wet.

And there seems no let-up in sight, the weather forecasters try to cheer us up by saying that it may be a bit warmer or occasional sunny spells which never seem to materialize.  And I feel wet through, the tube is ever more crowded and now wet umbrellas drip on one as well as soaking macs pushed in your face.  The pavements are soaking everywhere and you have to be careful of all the water on the shiny tile surfaces in the tube stations.  I must admit that on Thursday I only ventured out of the house once, to get some bread and milk.  It was lovely to be ensconced in the warm watching the raindrops on the window.  But today it is work again and here I am trying to dry out in a Pret and thinking about the walk to my work through the cold and the wet.


Monday 17th November

I feel quite exhausted.  Our problem is we try and do too much.  We were at Walton for the weekend and left at 9.30.  That meant quite a lot of rushing around and packing and tidying and loading the car, because we have a Galaxy and it seems we cannot ever go from A to B without half filling the thing.  To London at 11.30 and emptying the car and putting everything away.  Then at twelve I started painting, or rather finishing off the woodwork in the kitchen.  The paint was rather runny for gloss and I had to keep wiping up the inevitable drips and even though the kitchen is rather small there was a remarkable lot of skirting board, door frame and doors to paint.  Finished that at three and then it was peeling vegetables and cooking a lovely roast, well vegetarian sausages with roast potatoes, parsnips and veg.  That was lovely, we sat down to eat at four thirty.  As soon as we had finished and just clearing away the dishes my partners step son, wife and little girl arrived.

Teas all round and then it was getting her toy box down and an hour and a half of playing with her.  They have just left and we are grabbing five minutes before more friends come round for the evening.  I am almost looking forward to tomorrow and work so I can have a bleeding rest….


Sunday 16th November

Whatever I may end up writing about Charity will not in the slightest denigrate from the hard work and honest intentions of ordinary people all over the world.  I would just like to state that in a decent society there should be no need for Charity at all.  In fact, the very existence of Charities has the unfortunate result of both local and central Governments taking their feet off the pedal and not providing adequate provision for many vulnerable people.  There is also the philosophical ambiguity that many wealthy people will avoid paying their taxes (or minimizing the amount they do pay) and then quite happily donate sums (after deducting the tax) to Charity.  In fact we have the very rich even setting up foundations to help many poor people.  All very commendable of course, but they are taking the Conservative principle of individual responsibility to a higher level, in that they are deciding how their taxes will be spent rather than an elected Government.  And wouldn’t we all like to be able to do this.  If I could I would stop any of my taxes going towards Nuclear or any other Weapons and have it all spent on Hospitals and Schools.

There is also the industry that Charity has become, employing many people.  The most successful Charities using expensive Advertising to increase revenue, even if many actually donate less than half of this revenue after administrative expenses are paid.  Then there is the haphazard nature of Charity, where certain Charities, for example RSPCA get more donations than some that may actually be saving people’s lives.  You could say that that is Democracy (by accident) I suppose, but it does seem a chaotic and quite inefficient way of dealing with need.  You could of course argue that Government spending is even more haphazard and inefficient.  I would in no way suggest that Charities should be stopped, but they could do with some better form of regulation.  I, like almost everyone else am just as scatter-brained in my Charitable giving, reacting to emotion rather than sense.  You only have to watch daytime TV to see how many charities are preying on our emotions especially at this time of year.  One last thing to say and that is that giving one’s time would be far more effective than simply money.

A Depression Has Settled On The Country

Saturday 15th November

The weather is dismal, rain wind and cold, real Autumn weather you could say.  The reason is that there is a whopping great depression sitting over the British Isles.  Sometimes it shifts slightly to the left, just west of Ireland, and sometimes drifts back and out to the North Sea.  There it has sat for a week or so, and shows no sign of going anywhere fast.  There have been a series of cold and wet fronts and tightly bunched isobars swirling in an anti-clockwise direction.  And here we sit, being buffeted about and cold and wet wherever we go.  And with the weather we all know there isn’t much you can do about it, we just have to put up with it.

And so too a Political depression has also settled over the country.  As expected the polls have narrowed, as they always do before an election.  The Tories in some polls are ahead of Labour but actually both are polling disastrously.  Ukip is taken around 15% of the votes.  There has been a history of slowly declining support for both major parties over the last twenty years or so.  The Tories have never recovered the votes they got under Thatcher or John Major, and likewise Labour is floundering well below figures that Tony Blair took for granted.  There is a major disillusion with Politics in general.  The expenses scandal and uninspiring leadership has meant that many people do not even bother to vote at all.  And UKIP, with it’s populist message has scooped up this vote.  But even die-hard Tories and Socialists are struggling to bring themselves to vote for Cameron or Milliband.   In some ways we should maybe welcome new parties, the SNP, the Greens and all, but in another way it means that very few of the public will get a Government that looks anything like what they voted for.  Almost all predictions are now pointless, as no-one quite knows how UKIP will fare at the General Election, or indeed how Tory, Labour and Lib-Dem voters will eventually place their crosses.  In the meantime we just have to put up with it.  Come May there will be a new Government and at least two party leaders now may well be relieved of their duties, whether the skies will appear any clearer though is anyone’s bet.

Another Day – Another Load of Bankers

Friday 14th November

Does it now come as any surprise that the bankers have been at it again?  This time they have been caught out fiddling key exchange rates, and this after all the mis-selling and Libor rate scandals.  Can they ever be trusted?  Absolutely not.  The whole system is corrupt, the whole concept of the “free market” is flawed.  There is no free market.  I find it quite incredible that in this age of computers where every transaction is recorded that we still rely on word of mouth between bankers to set these rates.  And exactly who are these traders?  Millionaires who are paid ridiculous salaries and huge bonuses to fleece everyone, the authorities included.  And it is all down to Greed.  And that is largely down to Thatcher and the rotten complicity she introduced and that has prevailed through the Blair years too and right up to today, where nods and winks from Government give the green light that making easy money is good, oh and by the way, we must pay these guys a fortune or they might go to New York or Frankfurt and ply their corrupt trade elsewhere and the country will lose out.

Of course whenever someone is caught they are singled out as rogue traders and we are assured that the system is more robust than it has ever been and that these are historic allegations and will not happen in the future.  Well, I don’t believe them.  The whole Capitalist system is corrupt.  And it goes deeper than you might think.  I have sat a lunch where bottles of wine are being consumed that cost more than an average week’s wages while rich men bemoan the minimum wage as wrecking their industries.  How many individuals who have bought a second property for rent are declaring the profit on their tax returns?  Don’t be stupid, why would you do that?  And so we are all, or almost all of us to some degree, complicit in a corrupt system that rewards those with money at the eventual expense of the poor.  Over thirty years ago there were those calling for the wholesale nationalisation of the banks with no compensation.  Now no-one is even suggesting such a drastic measure, all we can hope for is a bit tighter regulation.  In other words, legalising Greed.

C – is for Cockney Rebel

Thursday 13th November

They burst onto the scene in 1973, in itself an incredible year for music with prog rock expanding to new horizons and Bowie cementing his fame with Ziggy Stardust.  The first single Sebastian was a huge hit in Europe but failed to chart over here.  For some reason I heard about them, or maybe heard them on the radio and was hooked.  I saw them a couple of times in London where they seemed to have a fanatical following playing their entire first album ‘The Human Menagerie” with electric violin, piano and drums and Steve Harley in make-up, bowler hat and wide collared suit singing in a somewhat dramatic style.  It was like something out of ‘A Clockwork Orange’ – very futuristic and absolutely mesmerizing.  The songs were strange and full of great imagery and Steve sung with an intensity that made them special. They then had hits with the song ‘Judy Teen’ and ‘Mr. Soft’ and had released a second album with a rockier sound ‘The Psychomodo’.  Then the band folded, or maybe Steve kicked them out, who knows, he has always been “difficult”.

He formed a new band and wrote one of the greatest hits ever “Come Up And See Me (Make Me Smile)” which was actually about the band break-up but which has touched a chord with people ever since.  Three more albums followed, all written by Steve but eventually this incarnation of the band failed too.  Steve made a couple of solo records and has toured fairly solidly ever since, relying mostly on material from these five Cockney Rebel albums.  He still releases records, many of them live and some under his own name and some by “Cockney Rebel”.

For us aficionados Cockney Rebel was just those first five records, though like the true fan I am I still buy everything Steve puts out, including the truly majestic “Birmingham”, a reincarnation of the first two albums but with full orchestra and choir.

Perception, Perception, Perception

In politics it is almost all perception – the truth often lies somewhere else.  So, what is the perception; what is the generally conceived idea of where we are, what the parties stand for, how the respective leaders come across – and what is the truth behind the perception?

Let us start with Ed, and the trouble with Ed is that he is simply Ed.  He looks awkward, his physiognomy is strange, hardly good looking, and the papers have painted the caricature of Wallace which seems to stick.  Of course the press always have it in for Labour and their leaders; they crucified Kinnock and ridiculed Brown – only Blair, with the blessing of Rupert escaped relatively kindly.  But generally the public like their ideas if not the actual policies – okay they spend a bit too much but do care about ordinary people.  The truth is that Ed is a very thoughtful intelligent man who understands the difficulties he is in, possibly only too well and the party ideally needs a bit more time to rediscover its identity, to bring forward the next generation of talent…

Cameron is perceived as a bit more modern and with it than his party, a bit Blair-lite.  His party is still thought of as nasty and a bit loony.  The truth is that he is a very shrewd operator, but one who maybe takes unnecessary risks and who has let his ministers proceed with some stupid ideas such as the re-organisation of the NHS and the wholesale Welfare changes.  The party is still pretty nasty, believing that only tough medicine will cure the work-shy poor and that the rich should be rewarded for  -well for being rich I suppose.

Clegg is seen as hopeless, a disaster and a liar.  All of which are true, but he has somehow held his party together and faces no serious challenger.  The party is seen as weak and having no real ideas, whereas it has simply lost its way, the Coalition was against its deepest instincts and should have been an emergency measure at best.

Farage is still seen as the outsider, the man down the pub who talks sense, who cuts through the political weasel words and says it like it is.  His party is perceived as still full of fruit cakes, but hey we might as well vote for him; we’ve tried all the others.  The truth is that he is a clever political animal who will be attempting to win enough votes or seats to be able to forge a new Coalition with the Tories.

Where that leaves us I am not sure – oh yes, the Greens.  Well, if only they were getting over 10% in the polls one might be tempted to vote for them, they cannot possibly win – or is just that perception.

Nicola Sticks The Knife In

Tuesday 11th November

Europe has come thundering back as one of, if not the, most important of election issues.  UKIP of course have been pushing this one policy up the Agenda relentlessly, and the Tories are just as split as they always have been.  Cameron thought that he had stolen both a march on and in fact most of UKIP’s clothes by declaring that he would allow the public an in/out vote on Europe, which at the time he kicked suitably into the long grass of 2017.  That is of course just around the corner and even if he is re-elected gives precious little time for either a renegotiation or more importantly for trying to win the argument.  As things stand I am fairly certain that a NO vote would win and for that if for no other reason people would be foolish to vote Tory.  Nick Clegg, weak though he, is has resolutely remained pro-Europe.  Ed Milliband has at last come out fighting and wants us to stay in.

And now Nicola Sturgeon has stuck the knife in too.  Her argument is that every part of the UK must vote No in order for us to leave.  This is very clever politics, much like the amendment to the first devolution vote in 1979 (stating that over 50% of the electorate, not just those voting must vote yes to instigate a change) that brought down Callaghan.  She says she will table an amendment to any referendum vote to state that over 50% of the voters in any of the four constituent parts of the UK must all vote NO in order for us leave.  Whether she will be successful is of course impossible to say, but as the house stands at the moment the Tories alone (and one UKIP) stand for quitting Europe, all the other parties are against us leaving.  And actually even if she fails, she will have made her point, and should there be an eventual vote to exit which Scotland does not support she will call again for Scottish Independence.  Clever girl.