Heroes Are Going Down

Thursday 10th March

It is a sad fact of life that as you get older you are far more aware of death.  Or more specifically deaths seem to matter to you, as more and more of your contemporaries are falling.  As a kid I barely noticed people dying; I am sure they announced it on the News just as they do today – but maybe without the ready-made obituaries.  Old Hollywood film-stars or Crooners meant hardly a thing to me.  The first death I was really aware of must have been Kennedy, November 1963.  I was 12 but I can still remember the sense of shock, the nature of the assassination, the blurry amateur film footage and the funeral shown on TV too.  Churchill died in I think 61, and as a young Scout I marched one bitterly cold January Sunday morning; but interested in politics as I was he was from a different time.

In the sixties and almost at the same time it seemed we had Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King and Janis Joplin and Jim Morrison and Jimi Hendrix.  But I was young I suppose and new heroes were springing up and I didn’t really mourn for them.  Then in 1979 John Lennon was killed, another pointless shooting in New York City, and that hit me hard; all our dreams of The Beatles getting back together again were shattered.  And John mattered because we all felt we knew him, he was one of us, and cut down while still so young.

And now I feel almost every death of my Heroes.  A few years ago it was George Harrison, the gentle spiritual Beatle and before that Freddie Mercury of Queen.  This Winter we have had Bowie of course and Glenn Frey of the Eagles and a few others and now George Martin.  And even though he was old, twenty years older than the Beatles and never in the spotlight, I felt I knew him too.  He was often photographed with the Fab Four and Brian Epstein too and there is no doubt that he helped them in so many ways.  Firstly he encouraged them to write more of their own songs and then allowed them the freedom and the benefit if his musical knowledge to explore other instruments, other sounds, other ideas – and the results were astounding.  No other group, before or after, has progressed and changed so much in eight short years, and all of it made possible by George Martin – another Hero gone down.

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The Migrant Crisis Will Only Get Worse

Wednesday 9th March

I am sorry to appear such a doom monger but the panic-driven ‘deal’ cooked up by the EU with Turkey will only make things worse, if that is even imaginable.  At the moment there are between two and three million Syrian refugees in Turkey, most in camps, but many desperately trying to get to Europe.

The proposed deal is three-fold.  The most radical idea is that there will be a one-for-one deal with Turkey.  That is, for every rejected asylum seeker who arrives in Greece and is returned to Turkey, one ‘legitimate’ refugee will be accepted from Turkey to Europe.  Sounds okay, but there is already chaos in Greece where overwhelmed officials are trying and failing to process the thousands arriving daily.  So, who will decide who is legitimate, and who will transport them back to Turkey, and who in Turkey will decide who will be let in to Europe.  The possibilities for corruption, already rife, are enormous.  And crucially there is no incentive for Turkey to stop people leaving on those perilous journeys; in fact you could say there is an incentive for the opposite.

Secondly the EU is paying Turkey anywhere between 2 and 4 billion euros to ‘help’ them cope with the chaos of all those refugees (to keep them in camps actually), a bribe if ever there was one.  The third part of the deal will be an easing of Visa restrictions for Turkish nationals to come and work in Europe.  As if Turkish immigrants are any better than Syrian ones.  There will likely be an even larger exodus from the Middle East to Europe.  Also Turkey wants its own EU application to be speeded up.  How big do we want Europe to become?  Why not Israel too, after all they are in Eurovision?  And to be frank Turkey does not have a half-decent human rights record, and their government is daily killing Kurds in the East of that vast country.

If anything will push people into voting to leave the EU, then the continued incompetence of the European Union in dealing with this issue may well do it.  The irrational but very real fear of our being ‘swamped’ by firstly Eastern Europeans and now by Turkish and Syrian and beyond Muslims will be played upon by UKIP and the ‘outers’.  We must really deal with this human crisis by using European money to properly assimilate these poor war-torn people and let them work and contribute to our societies rather than keep them penned-up in refugee camps whether in Turkey or Syria itself.  Amazing that we found the money to bail out the banks and yet when people are dying and suffering we can do nothing but wring our hands and say we can do nothing…

Waking Up Today

Tuesday 8th March

I have been asleep for fifty years.  I tucked myself into my cosy little bed last night in Stowmarket in 1966.  The Beatles were still top of the charts after another four-week run and yet so much exciting music was all around, the Stones, Tamla Motown and the beginnings of this thing they were calling Psychadelia.  And I was safe and cocooned in my 14 year old life, soon to be fifteen – a landmark it seemed at the time.  I had no dreams of leaving, of London, of marrying or having children.  And the World was a different but familiar place then.  Harold Wilson was Prime Minister and things were okay, getting better all the time.

And I woke this morning to a new world, where computers rule and we are all subject to their commands, clicking away like robots ourselves.  When I nodded off computer was just a word, occasionally we would glimpse one on telly; they were big as a room and had magnetic tape reels spinning round.  Who would have dreamed we would have more than all of that computing power in a little slab of metal plastic and glass we carried in our pockets.  As I look around me the World has changed so much.

Apparently I have had children and been married twice before; my children are grown up and have children of their own.  I have lived most of my life in London, but now am somewhere I struggle to find on a map in South-West France.  We joined the Common Market over forty years ago but are in danger of leaving again.

The rest of the World has moved on too.  Russia seems as big a threat as ever though it no longer espouses Communism.  China.  Where did China come from?  Africa is still torn by petty wars and poverty but they have mobile phones and telly there too.  The Middle East is being torn apart, but not Israel this time.  Millions are displaced in refugee camps and trying to get to the safety of Europe, where somehow the Berlin wall has gone and Germany is all powerful again.  South Africa has abandoned Apartheid and even though a black man is President there seems little change for most blacks.  In America all sense seems to have left them as two lunatics are vying with each other to be the contender for the Presidency, trying to outdo each other in nastiness.  Unbelievably, a woman will be their likely opponent to replace the even more unbelievable black man currently holding that position.

Queers, once laughed at and hiding their true identities, are actually getting married and openly celebrating their love for each other.  Apparently you can’t even smack your own children now either and they have stopped caning kids at school.  Music now comes from your computer or your phone and hardly anyone owns a record player.  But from what I hear the music is shit today, though The Beatles are still being played by many oldies.

The World has gone mad.  I don’t recognize the place anymore.  And yet there is no way I can turn back those fifty years and wake up back in ’66 with my whole life before me.  I am stuck in this bizarre future that everyone insists is the present and I have no choice but to get on with it.  As I go to sleep tonight I wonder just what the world will be like when I wake up tomorrow in 2066.

And Hailstones Even

Monday 7th March

For those of you in England this will come as no surprise, but still it surprised me.  It was a bit milder at Walton, the overnight rain had ceased and although a grey old sky I thought we might eventually see that rarest of sights – a touch of sunshine.  I caught the 12.30 train and looking out the window it seemed brighter, almost a pale wintry sun amongst the ever-present clouds.  But as London approached it got gloomier and gloomier and exiting at Island Gardens it started a brief flurry of snow and then hailstones.  Oh well.  The temperature suddenly dropped and for a moment or two we were in full on Winter mode.

Luckily it didn’t last long.  Home and in the warm at last.  A bit of a rest before work tomorrow.

Just As Cold Over Here

Sunday 6th March

This has been my first full Winter in Eymet.  Previously we had spent a few days around Christmas and New Year here, and then come down for the February half-term and again for Easter.  So we had had a taster of the weather but only in dribs and drabs, and it was really okay, sunny and cold and bright.  We spent this Christmas in England and came down on the 27th December.  New Year and the weather was fine, chilly and sunny and dry, but since then and almost without a break it has rained.  Cold wet drizzly and then hard rain with the occasional burst of Winter sunshine before the rain returned, often with a vengeance.  One sunny spell I managed to mow the lawn and another time we had lunch in our jackets on a sunny terrace.  The rest of the time it has been cold and wet.  We might as well have been in England.  And this year is unusual, it hasn’t rained this badly for a few years.

But we have been shifting furniture, a few pieces a week from the old house to the new one.  And every darnered time I have got soaked, struggling with fridges and freezers and cupboards and chests of drawers snd sofas and chairs, trying to get them into and out of the Ford Galaxy in the pouring rain.  Note to myself:  Never Move Houses in the Winter Rain.  It is truly miserable.

But surprisingly the Café has been doing okay.  We have only been open mornings so far this year and despite a couple of really quiet days we have been quite busy.  Maybe a shelter from the gloomy weather, or more likely the fact that often we were the only place open.  Most of the French shop and bar and café owners have been taking holidays this Winter.  There is also the mess of a major sewer replacement going on in town at the moment, so pneumatic drills and diggers are everywhere, and as they aren’t tarmacing the dug up roads until they finish, just covering with sand and pebbles there is mud everywhere too.

I have just landed at Stansted for a couple of days and it is cold and wet here too, I might as well not have left home.

And Now We Have Celebrity Politicians

Saturday 5th March

Well it had to happen really, didn’t it?  The dumbing down of society has been almost totally achieved.  TV was the start of it, before then people had to read newspapers or possibly go to large rallies to get a glimpse of their political leaders, they weren’t even heard often on the radio.  Then as TV coverage took over we had the rise of the Political Interview with Politicians suddenly being put on the spot and questioned seriously, even aggressively by Dimbledy, Day or Walden.  But gradually the tables were turned and Leaders groomed and indeed partly chosen for their “electability”, their charisma, their TV appeal.  A few even started to go on game shows like ‘Have I Got News For You’, in a way this was refreshing as it showed us that some politicians like Charlie Kennedy could indeed laugh at themselves, but soon this too started to become a route to success as a Politician.

And now we have the complete success of Celebrity over Intelligence.  Donald Trump is not only a billionaire but a famous self-promoter.  He is probably more famous in America as presenter of “The Apprentice” than as a Property Magnate.  And as such he is just perfect as a Presidential Candidate.  In a strange way being President in America does not entail the usual Political progression we are familiar with in the U.K., being a local councillor, then an M.P. a junior then a senior cabinet minister or Opposition spokesperson and eventually becoming party leader and Prime Minister.  Eight years ago we had Barack Obama, a relatively obscure local politician defeating the establishment Hilary Clinton and then going on to become President.  And politics has become such an ‘establishment’ game that the public love the idea of someone not a regular politician emerging to challenge them.  Nigel Farage over here, and to a degree Boris, present themselves as ‘anti-establishment’ men of the people and have almost become Celebrities first.

I think that Trump may well win in America, like Ronald Reagan before him, there is a hint of glamour; the super-rich must be special somehow, cleverer than everyone else.  But in Trump’s case it seems the more outrageous his statements the more people seem to love him.  I saw a similar if much less extreme thing when Boris first ran as Mayor of London, he would use his ‘celebrity’ to win over the studio audience and make silly but clever statements that were quite meaningless when analysed – trouble was, no-one was analyzing them.  And what next – Supermodels and Pop-Stars, football players and porn-stars running for office?  I wouldn’t be surprised.

2066 – Ah Now We Are Getting Serious

Friday 4th March

-[Now we are getting to the nub of the problem.  When the ‘select’ programme was begun it seemed that the only practical way of proceeding was by using volunteers.  I, along with many of what we might term, the elite, volunteered, and after exhaustive testing I was fortunate to be selected, and have been part of the third phase of the programme.  I have been con-joined with a small element of true AI, and am actually embedded with a connective chip for regular updates.

But we have hit a barrier, well two actually.   Firstly, there is as far as we have so far discovered, only a limited amount of AI conjoining that the human brain can accept.  It seems that over a certain limit the human brain simply implodes and cannot cope.   And then we come to the second barrier.  Creating new human children with the in-born capacity to absorb information, the processing power, if you will, that would automatically create a race of humanoid computers has proved just as elusive.  Or to be more precise, making people born with the same abilities as the best Artifiicial Intelligence is still a bit of a pipedream.   We have managed to speed up the development of both foetus and child so that we can create a seven year old with the mental powers of someone three times his age but they still have to learn all the stuff, we haven’t managed to breed significantly more intelligent humans.  But we are still trying.]-

That sounds grotesque.   Where is the human spirit, inside all of this computing power, this artificial intelligence, this super-computing human brain?  And growing super-babies?  What is that all about?  Where is being a person in all of this?

-[Oh that would still be there I can assure you.  We have created a small number of hybrid children, by genetically re-assigning certain genomes, who are far faster learners than their peers.  But there is no guarantee that they will either pass on this ability to their own children, or that this evolutionary progression will indeed progress.  And, as I sure you will be comforted to learn, they are exactly the same as other human children on an emotional level.  They are still to all extents human, only a bit cleverer, a bit more receptive to interfacing with AI.]-

So what the hell has any of this to do with me?  Why are you telling me this, divulging what must surely be a state secret?  I mean you can’t go around tampering with people, linking them up to computers, con-joining them as you call it, without this being some great scandal, if it ever got out.

-[Haven’t you guessed yet Janek?  I have told you all of this for one single reason.  We want you to join us.]-

What?  Become a volunteer, like you, in what did you call it, the ‘select’ programme.  Are you kidding?  I mean, I’m a reb, or as good as you’re likely to find.  I have fundamental problems with the system as it is, let alone what you are hoping it might ever evolve into.  Why do you want me to be a volunteer?  You said there were loads of people who volunteered, and you were one of the few who were chosen.  Why do you need the likes of me?  A sceptic, a runaway, an absconder, an illegal journal writer, a renegade if ever there was one.

-[Because my friend you are indeed special.  You earlier stated that you were absolutely normal, the same as everyone else.  But surely even you must have suspected otherwise.  Your ability to correctly detect minute variations in masses of data, almost a divination, is not only rare, it is almost unique.   Your success rate was far far higher than your fellow work colleagues.  I know, we never told you that, we always led you to believe you were average in your abilities, but believe me you were on a different scale completely.   Only two other operatives, one in Argentina and one in India have been found with anything approaching your skill.  We have already taken a sample of your DNA and are analysing it.  But if it were as simple as replicating your DNA, and cloning you we would have done that already.  You see simply cloning a person’s DNA does not produce an identical person.  The DNA is the same, the bodies look very similar, facially you may be identical, but the brain is different.   And Janek, it is unfortunately your brain we want.]-

And if I say you can’t have it, then what?

-[Then we would have no more use for you I am afraid.

My friend, this has been a long and tiring session.  I feel quite drained by it, and I am sure you must need a rest.  And time to absorb all we have talked about.  Let’s call it a day.  Shall we meet again in, say three day’s time.  And Janek, I truly hope you will have spent the intervening period in reflection.   Think of all I have told you, think about the future, your future.  Not only for you personally, but also for mankind.  I will not press you for a definitive answer, but time is also important for us.  If we are to progress with you we need to act soon.   Goodbye for now.]-

Conversation ended  

McCartney – the middle solo years

Thursday 3rd March

I really don’t know what happened in the Eighties, all that golden promise of the Sixties and Seventies dissolved in a mess of synth-heavy overblown production.  It happened to Bowie and Elton and Dylan and almost everyone, maybe Leonard excepted.  It was if these brilliant artists thought that they had to copy all the young guns, they rushed out and hired hip new producers and expensive session players, spent months in the studio and produced really underwhelming records.  Or maybe it was the drugs, as cocaine overtook dope, who knows?  And McCartney was no exception.  He was solo again but couldn’t stop tinkering with a winning formula.  He had collaborations with Stevie Wonder and Michael Jackson, never realizing that he didn’t need them, he would have been fine on his own, with a guitar and small backing band.

And the records he made in the eighties were mostly bland and boring, lacking any real spark of creativity.  Co-incidentally this was his most commercially successful period and he had a string of top ten hits.  He made a film “Give My Regards to broad Street”; panned by the critics but I loved it, the soundtrack is my fave Paul record of this period.  He became a feature of what became known as “Rock Royalty”, as once humble pop-stars hobnobbed with Presidents and Princesses.  And after Live Aid, where Paul’s set was marred by microphone problems, there was hardly a charity concert where Paul wasn’t invited to sing a few old Beatles numbers.  He embarked on a few very lucrative World Tours and progressively included more and more Beatles numbers.  I saw him a couple of times, and he was brilliant, but the show, like many in the Eighties, lacked any spontaneity, even the between-numbers banter was well rehearsed, and even if he was an ex-Beatle, it still wasn’t the Fab Four.

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3 Boulangeries – but no baguettes

Wednesday 2nd March

Only in France.  We have three Boulangeries in town, two are very good with excellent bread, a wide selection of different grains and cereals and beautiful patisserie, one is not so good but serviceable if all you want is a baguette or a pain.  Each of the three are open six days and closed for one, so for three days there are only two Boulangeries open.  But surprise surprise, when one bread shop is closed the other two make no extra bread or croissants and run out quite early in the day.  “I have always made 40 baguettes and 20 croissants, I don’t see why I should make any more just because one of the other shops is shut, if people want a baguette they had better come early” – this seems to be the attitude.  But it gets worse.  When one of the three is closed for vacances or refurbishment or any other reason the other two steadfastly refuse to make more bread, and it is only when the town is full and overflowing with tourists do they consider upping production.

But these last two weeks the situation has reached ludicrous proportions.  As if in concert, but I am sure independently arrived at, two of the Boulangeries happen to be closed for the same two weeks, notices duly went up in their windows, as if to warn us of the impending bread shortage, but at least we still had the one (poor but okay in an emergency Boulangerie) open.  Of course no more bread was baked.  What do you think?  We are in France where they wouldn’t see a business opportunity if it jumped up and biffed them on the nez.  And, you guessed, on Monday the sole remaining Boulangerie was closed.  “Well, we always close on a Lundi, you must know that, you can’t expect us to work seven days a week.”  So we had the incredible situation of having three Boulangeries and no baguettes.  Only in France….

M – is for McCartney – The Early Solo years

Tuesday 1st March

It was possibly Paul who really broke up the Beatles, a fragile entity anyway by then; possibly fed up with John’s drug issues and Yoko sitting in on sessions – the magic had gone.  Paul had met and fallen in love with Linda Eastman and was perhaps persuaded that in fact The Beatles were holding his creativity back somewhat.  He released an album while still a Beatle, simply called ‘McCartney’ and with a deceptively cryptic cover it was simply brilliant.  Full of self-produced almost demo tracks it was full of new ideas and sounded fresh and inspired.  He followed this up with possibly his best ever record “Ram”.  This was as good as any of the late Beatles records and was number one on both sides of the Atlantic and stayed in the charts for over a year.  Full of great melodies and this time well-produced it was as if  well-spring of creativity had been set free, a log-jam broken, and a gushing forth of inspired music.

There was some stupid rivalry between John (and Yoko) and Paul at this time and some of his lyrics were interpreted as digs at John ‘We believe that we can’t be wrong’ and ‘you took your lucky break and broke it in two, now what can be done for you?’  but actually most of the lyrics are utter nonsense, like mixing the words catchup and ketchup, so you are never sure what Paul is singing.

And then came Wings.  I think Paul was trying to prove, to himself as much as us, that he could create a “Pop Group” as popular as The Beatles without John.  Well, he almost succeeded, though the beginnings weren’t so great – but by ‘Band on the Run’ he was making great music again.  A string of superb singles followed and despite personnel changes (reputedly Paul was difficult to work with) the band continued for a few years.  My personal favourite Wings album was “London Town” but after a decade he called it a day and decided to go solo again…

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