Vernissage a la Francais

Tuesday 9th February

The complexion of the Café is changing.  At first we had only English, the French seemed slightly wary of us; maybe they thought we couldn’t possibly make decent coffee, but gradually they have started to come in and now on some days at least half of our customers are French.  At least my French language skills are being improved (slowly), but it is really nice to feel accepted by our French neighbours.  Actually we have experienced almost no anti-English feeling amongst the French, in fact they seem to welcome us in as we buy their houses and spend money in their shops and restaurants; I just wish the English in England had a better attitude to immigrants.

Last night was another Vernissage, this time of a lovely French lady, Dominique Bocher.  It was a dark rainy night and we had asked quite a few of our friends but very few turned up.  Thank goodness for Dominique and her family and friends, as they filled the café.  French was being spoken by everyone, and it was fantastique; a really lovely evening.  I was forced to speak French and was surprised to find that our next door French neighbour was there and she is a good friend of Dominique’s, her mother also lives a few doors away, so now we know a few more French people.  There were a few children and I was struck by how well-behaved they were, especially compared to our few English children who often want to run around and touch everything; they each had a glass of coke or orange juice and politely handed the glasses back when they were finished, and didn’t whine for any more.  We sold three paintings too, which makes it the most successful of all our Vernissages so far.

My Musical Education – part 6 – Memory Almost Full

Monday 8th February

I borrowed the title from McCartney but it is true all the same.  So many records, so much music – and yet I still crave more.  At one time my ambition was to own every record made; then it reduced to everything by Dylan, Leonard, The Beatles, Bowie. Elton, Rod, Neil Young, Joni – and of course hundreds of others – because I have become somewhat of a complete-ist.  I read record reviews all the time and make mental notes about new singers, though I am rarely moved to buy them.  And of course I already own all the Beatles records and Dylan’s and Leonard’s and almost everything by many many others, but then they bring out box-sets with out-takes or totally unreleased songs and I am tempted.  I still buy a few records on a whim, sometimes out of boredom I will look at the bargain bin on Amazon or just boot up ebay and see what is selling, and occasionally a gem pops up and I buy and cannot wait for the postman to deliver it.

And my daughter buys me dance records for Christmas and Birthday and I have grown to love Massive Attack, Groove Armade and Faithless and a few others I would never have bothered with otherwise.

And now we have Facebook and You-tube and so much new music to dip into.  I have been tempted to sign up to Spotify but know I would probably listen to stuff I already own.  And here is the thing – I have been tempted to download the occasional album, when the CD is unavailable or punitively expensive.  I diligently burn it onto a blank CD, seek out and print the cover but somehow it feels as if I don’t really own the thing.  I am stuck in that 20th Century mentality of ownership and all the files on my Computer don’t have any value at all.  But although at times it seems my memory is almost full I can slip on a CD and hear a song I haven’t heard for maybe 40 years and I still know the words and the melody by heart.

And I expect there is still room for a few more surprises along the way, though I do feel sometimes that there is really nothing new anymore.  Having lived through the Sixties, Seventies and Eighties, when NEW music was emerging every month, changing and evolving with every new release it seems we have hit a plateau, where nothing really different is being recorded; most artists simply settling into a style where their audience is content to buy the same stuff just rehashed slightly with each new album.  But hey, I still have all that wonderful music from the last fifty years to listen to…….I won’t get bored.

2066 – The Interrogator tries to explain a few things to Janek

Sunday 7th February

-[You are far too simplistic, Janek.   As usual.  The world we have created, this new stage of man’s long evolution, is simply a stage.  It is not the finished article.  For millennia, man struggled to satisfy the minimum of needs; food, shelter, a place to rear children, the passing on of whatever meagre knowledge they had gleaned to their descendents.  Now we are on the threshold of a brave new world indeed.  Our first objective was stability, economically at first, and environmentally second.  As you know we are in what is termed the Ambivalence, but behind the scenes we are getting quite close to a long-term solution, a way of turning the planet back towards Equilibrium.  Then we will slowly reclaim the deserts and the ice-sheets, we should, if our predictions are correct, be able to create the old World environment we all took for granted for so long some time early in the next century.  Do you not think that is an achievement worth striving for?]-

Of course I do, who wouldn’t, though I doubt if it can be done; in the timescale you have stated, or in fact at all.  I also acknowledge that in many ways the economic stability you talk about is by far preferable than the craziness of the free market.  But life isn’t just about economics and consumerism.  I don’t see any great Art, or Music being created now.  All we do is rehash the masterpieces of the Twentieth Century, with all its madness and turmoil.  It is as if we have forgotten how to create anything ourselves.  It’s all too easy with computers to just prettify – to mess around with the old stuff.  I mean if I hear another so-called ‘rerite’ of ‘Sergeant Pepper’ I will puke.  I want to hear new tunes, I want to see great new paintings, not 3D inversions of Picasso.   It’s as if the soul has been sucked out of us.  Where are the kids?  Why aren’t they knocking at the doors, demanding to take over?  No, they are too busy working out how they can get good scores at crammer, how their parents can help them get into a good strata level.

-[Well, there you go again Janek.  You have all the answers, and yet you are patently short on solutions.  Do you not think that we are only too painfully aware ourselves of the short-comings of our ‘society’.   All of that diversity you crave so much will come.  We are working in the creative fields as well.  And what of you, Janek, why, if you felt so strongly did you not try to change things from within?  You used to belong to a political party in your twenties, the old New-Lab party I believe it was.  Why did you let your membership lapse?  Why, actually, holding such strong and interesting views did you not argue your case?  Why have you not participated in any of the on-line discussion groups?   We know you logged on and read the comments, but you almost never contributed.  Why was that?

You may have found that you were not quite so alone in your thinking.  What you fail to realise is that we are still a Democracy, and even though the nature of our new republic may seem fixed, we are open to new ideas.  In fact we welcome them.  We are more than aware that we cannot stand still.  We also know that we do not have all the answers; we want people to join in, to contribute.  Had you never thought of participating in any way?]-

And how would that be accomplished exactly?  By becoming a politico?  Do you really think I don’t know that they have no real power.  They just tinker at the edges, and besides, they are all the same.  No, I have no faith in politicos at all.  You, and your like are the real powers, the faceless ones, the ones behind the politicos, and whatever any of us little people say, nothing will change that.

-[But given the chance, would you like to be one of the ‘powers’ as you call us?  If things had turned out differently, do you think you could have contributed in some way, rather than just carping from the side-lines?  Do you think that given the chance you might actually have made a contribution rather than just denigrated the achievement of others?]-


Well, that’s never going to happen is it?  But if you are asking a purely hypothetical question, “Would I like to make the World a better place?”  Then, yes; who wouldn’t.  But of course the devil is always in the detail, isn’t it.  If you are asking me to be a good boy from now on, and obey all the rules, then I don’t think I would actually be able to.  I might promise that I would keep quiet, slip back into the harness.  But it wouldn’t be long before the saddle would start to rub and the bit in my mouth taste too much of rusty metal.  You must know how I have always loved History, all those old romantic horse-drawn stories, and even the sepia tinted versions you let us see on holo-tv.  No, Mr. William I don’t think that is going to happen, do you?  I am far too dangerous for you to just let me slip back into the world I came from.  I have seen too much, I have travelled too far, I have crossed the Rubicon.  I am probably unredeemable, don’t even waste your time speculating.  And anyway, I don’t think I could make the effort, even if you could.

Memories of Childhood – Casual Violence in the Classroom

Saturday 6th February

It was endemic; casual violence in the classroom.  At Junior school, Mrs. Drinkwater would wield her ruler and whack your fingers, hopefully not edge on, at the least provocation, but it was at Secondary School that we learnt what teacher’s were really capable of.  If you were lucky it was a piece of chalk thrown at you, if not it was the blackboard rubber, or a piece of wood or a metal rod in the handicraft room.  And we must not forget the occasional clip round the ears in passing.  “What’s that for, Sir?” and the reply would come “For next time, Cattermole – I’ve got my eye on you.”  And that wasn’t all, his hands weren’t far behind.

There was also the cane, administered only by the Headmaster (well, some pleasures must be reserved for those in charge, after all).  The first time I had the cane it hurt like hell, and I would look in the bathroom mirror for days to see if the welts had disappeared, but after a while even this ultimate punishment meant little; it was actually easier to take a beating than to have detention.  And all of this casual violence, metered out either in temper or sadistically, did little to control our behaviour; we were at school to have fun, to muck about, to poke fun at the teachers when their backs were turned and the occasional ruler across the knuckles or slap on the back of the legs were incidental nuisances – best avoided but endured if not.  Of course, casual violence was endemic anyway – the younger forms were bullied physically by the third and fourth year boys; crucified on the pegs and your stomach pummelled or your head shoved down the toilet and the chain pulled were fairly rare but I suffered both, but thumps in passing and slapped faces were de rigeur; fights in the playground were common occurrences.  And this was the Grammar School, not the Secondary Modern down the road where the rough kids went to.

And to those who say, “It did me no harm” I would reply that it did you no good either, except in my case a resolution never bully those younger and smaller than me, to run away rather than retaliate, to be cheeky, to use words rather than my fists.  I did on a very few occasions slap my own son, and each time I realized that it was this institutionalized casual violence both at home and school that was coming out in a much diluted form in me.  So, the good old days weren’t all good at all, and thankfully the amount of casual violence in schools had almost been eradicated now.

M – is for Maestoso

Friday 5th February One of the founder members of Barclay James Harvest was Stuart Wolstenholme, known as Woolly.  He was very prolific on the first two albums writing or co-writing many of the songs but gradually the songwriting of John Lees and Les Holroyd took over and Woolly became the George Harrison of the band allocated one song per album, but great songs nonetheless.  Eventually as the band started cruising on the annual writing, recording and live tour treadmill Woolly became frustrated and left.  I think he felt that the band had moved from their original ideas of a mix of orchestral and rock music and into a safe style with little real originality.  In 1980 he released Maestoso, his masterpiece.  This was as good as any of the recent BJH albums and was full of songs he had written originally for the band but had failed to make the cut.  It remains one of my favourite records, it is moody and uplifting and quite unlike anything else around at the time. Woolly did plan a follow up album, but this was shelved and only released a few years later.  He became disillusioned with the music business and took to farming.  But a few years later he rejoined with John Less and began writing and recording his own music again.  It never quite reached the heights of Maestoso, which became the name he recorded under and he seemed to hate performing live.  He struggled with mental illness for years and took his own life in 2010.  In many ways he was the heart of Barclay James Harvest and his songs will live on, as will the brilliant album Maestoso. See original image

Pancake Day – a la Francaise

Thursday 4th February

The first thing to realise is that Pancake Day is a whole week earlier in France.  Easter is still the same as all over the world but pancake day, jour des crepes is not the beginning of Lent over here (Actually they do still have Mardi Gras (Shrove Tuesday) festival next week but never mind.  So, we had our French Pancake Day two days ago.  Our very good friend Christine was having a special crepe night at her Chouette (Owl) Restaurant, and just for good measure our friend Rob (Elvis) Russell was playing too.  Christine had advertised that it was just crepes so we had eaten earlier and turned up around eight for our crepes.  But Christine had later decided to have a full menu and most people were eating one of four courses.  Never mind, we just had crepes and they were delicious.

But….of course, delicious as crepes are, they are not English pancakes.  They are smaller and very thin and tend to be cooked earlier and then folded and warmed up later.  As a boy we always had pancakes on Shrove Tuesday and we would eat them hot and straight out of the pan as Mum cooked them.  English pancakes tend to be thicker and fluffier.  We used to soak ours in lemon juice (plastic Jif as I remember) and loads of sugar.  The French like crème and Chantilly and all sorts of jam and Nutella with their crepes.  You also get a plate of 8 crepes at a time, far too many really – but needs must.

Rob sang beautifully all evening, and the highlight was an English, French rendition of “Wooden Heart” with Christine singing, and then a French ladies chorus of “Champs Elysee” and “If I Had A Hammer”.   In fact our table was the only English one, all the other were French guests, but we were made to feel really at home on this French Pancake Day.  Another brilliant night in Eymet.

My Musical Education – part 5 – Secondhand Record Shops

Wednesday 3rd February

I discovered my first second hand record shop in Carnaby Street of all places, or actually a side road just off it.  This was in the early Seventies, I was working the other side of Regent Street in Hanover Street and was exploring the West End in my lunch breaks.  I was also listening to all sorts of new music and reading Time Out and City Limits and hearing about all sorts of new Bands and Artists.  But I was quite poor at the time and couldn’t afford to buy a fraction of the records I heard about.  And this shop became a Mecca for me.  I would spend a pound buying a couple of second hand records of Artists I had just read about, take them home and tape them on my new cassette recorder, diligently writing out all the titles and reading the words as the record played.  Then I would rewind and make sure I had a good copy; it was actually quite tricky as you had to lower the stylus at exactly the right spot and then release the pause button and make sure you didn’t miss the first few seconds of track one, all too often I would miss the end of side one too and have to rewind the cassette ready to record side two.

A few days later I would return with the records I had taped and would get about half what I had paid as a credit against my next purchase.  So, in a few years I was building up a large tape collection at a fraction of the cost of buying brand new Albums from HMV, not that I didn’t buy any new records, I was still buying my very favourite Artists as new L.P.s.   Then in the mid-eighties I started buying CDs, and despite reports of indestructibility these were easily scratched, so I used to tape these too and play the cassettes.  I kept visiting second hand record shops but was now buying CD singles of new bands and also quite a few of my favourites; in those days with four tracks on a CD single bands would often release rarities or live tracks or strange remixes on their CD singles.  Many second hand shops would sell these for less than a pound, and I would build up cassette tapes of CD singles by the same artist.

Nowadays I am slowly re-buying on CD many of those records I bought and taped and resold again as I slowly listen to my old cassette tapes.  I very rarely go to second hand record shops these days though, but even in Charity shops I often flick through the CDs and occasionally and very rarely I find a gem I had been seeking out for ages.

The Lies Surrounding Google

Tuesday 2nd February

Ah, where do we begin?  The first question I have to ask is that even if we accept the ‘deal’ reached with our own tax authorities, based on an assessment of how much profit Google has made on U.K. activities – how do we know that Google, a huge multi-national is reporting the same numbers to both other EU authorities and also the Tax Authorities in America?  They could be misleading us all….heaven forfend we should even entertain the idea.

But the biggest lie, and it was repeated by both the head of PR for Google and Sajid Javid, the Tory Business Secretary, on Andrew Marr.   They both stated that the 130 million in back taxes was not the only tax which Google paid, indeed they paid millions in VAT and PAYE.   And in a strange way this is both a lie and not a lie.  It is true that Google may well have signed cheques (or actually BACSed over) large sums both for VAT and for PAYE.  But it was never their money in the first place.  Every time a customer of Google places an advert (or any other revenue) Google will have given them a rate, say £100.00 and then, as is the legal requirement will have had to add 20% on top for VAT.  The customer will have paid £120.00 (incidentally reclaiming the £20 on their own VAT return), Google will have received £120.00, £100 of which is theirs and will form part of their profit calculations and the £20 belongs to the Government, and always has done – it was never Google’s money.  Eventually this will be paid over to the Government, but it was really paid for by Google customers and was never a part of or ever owned by Google.  Therefore to claim that Google has paid millions in VAT is a lie; their customers have paid this.

PAYE is another issue.  Staff working for Google will have been paid a Gross amount, of let us say £1000 out of that there will have been deductions for PAYE, let us say £200 and National Insurance of let us say £100.  The employee will have received £700 and the Government via Google £300.  Google will deduct the whole £1000 from any profit calculation – but it is their employees who will have, at one step removed, paid this money to the Government.  It is true however that Google will have had to pay Employers National Insurance on any employees working wholly in the U.K.  This is roughly 8.5% of Gross pay.  This amount is also put against any profit calculations.

I am sorry if this sounds pedantic but I come across it all the time; Directors who moan time and again about the size of their VAT or PAYE payments – and I have to explain to them that actually this was never your money in the first place, you were simply collecting it on behalf of the Government and are now handing it over; your customers and your staff are paying these taxes – not you.

My Musical Education – part 4 – Live Music

Monday 1st February

The first live music I heard was at youth club; about once a month there would be a dance and some local band would play hits we all knew – Beatles, Stones etc: – badly.  Extremely badly sometimes, but this was the closest we would likely ever get to our ‘heroes’; the Beatles played Ipswich Gaumont once, but I was far too young and had no money for tickets anyway.

I left home and came to London and here there were bands playing live all the time, but due to my crass stupidity and almost before I had unpacked my suitcase I got my first wife pregnant and it was downhill from there.  One day I will write the book though bits of it have escaped in Catherine’s Story andThe Philanthropist.  Needless to say I barely saw anyone – until, completely on a whim, Carol and I dashed to the Isle of Wight for one of the first festivals.  We were camped miles from the stage and Carol didn’t want to push to the front and this was long before video screens so I heard but did not see a few acts.  It is all a blur to me now but Hendrix was certainly playing that weekend.  After a few years I finally got myself together and started seeing bands.  Weeley pop festival was an eye-opener and I saw Lindisfarne, Genesis and Barclay James Harvest and the Faces and T Rex there.  I started going regularly to gigs, and surprisingly the support acts were usually pretty good and I started to listen to all sorts of different bands.

I saw Bowie, McCartney and Dylan and Paul Simon and Neil Young a few times.  I have also seen the Blessed Leonard many times; the nearest thing to Religion I have ever experienced.  I went to a few festivals but never to Glastonbury, I really used to like the Fleadh in Finsbury Park, but as I have gotten older I do like a nice seat.  Worse gigs were The Stones at Twickenham (couldn’t see a thing), Bowie at the old Wembley (Glass Spider Tour) and Dylan at Sheffield (he looked bored) but then I have seen some amazing live shows especially by Crowded House, Neil Young, Barclay James Harvest and Cockney Rebel  and Dylan in ’78.

I don’t go to big concerts these days, and there is really nothing better than Rob or Geoff playing live at the Gambetta on a Friday night; all the old songs we love and know.