S – is for a Man Called Yusuf

Saturday 18th February

Cat Stevens was always seeking something spiritual, some understanding of the World, something to hang onto that made sense of the chaos – maybe we all are.  Born a Christian, he dabbled with Buddhism and other far eastern religions; there was something in the air, George found his Maharishi a few years earlier.  Cat’s brother who had recently converted to Judaism (something in the family?) bought him a copy of the Qu’ran and Cat was hooked.  To him it all made sense.  His music had begun to pall a couple of years earlier and I suspect that for a while now his heart had not been in it, the constant demands for new albums and the tours.

Cat became Yusuf (Arabic for Joseph – though not the father of Jesus) Islam.  He gave up his music career, finding too many contradictions with earlier songs of sexual love and the strict form of Islam he adopted.   At least he didn’t try to preach through his music like Dylan in the early eighties, or Cliff with his sanctimonious songs.  Although Yusuf gave up music, music refused to give him up and he was still earning enormous royalties from his time as Cat.  He set up several Islamic schools and charities, and he rose up in the London Muslim community. This was not without controversy; he supported the fatwa against Salman Rushdie, but he did condemn the 9/11 attacks.

Gradually though he re-assessed his decision to abandon his music and in 2006 he released a lovely gentle album (under the name of Yusuf). ‘An Other Cup’ is really quite good, the voice older and softer, the songs all about Peace and Love.  He followed this in 2009 with ‘Roadsinger’ and in 2014 with ‘Tell ‘Em I’m Gone’.  He has also started touring occasionally, but this time maybe on his own terms.  He seems to have mellowed at last and found a middle way between his Religious beliefs and his music.  Of course, I still prefer the music from when he was Cat.

Yusuf Islam and Cat Stevens

Almost Feels like Summer

Friday 17th February

We seem to have had a long cold Winter, but actually it has neither been particularly long or cold; a couple of weeks of sub-zero frosty mornings in January and we are barely half way through February, which can be the cruelest month. In fact, back in England February is often harsher than December or January.  But yesterday (Wednesday, confusing I know as I tend to write this a day or two before it goes out) was an incredible day; warm and sunny.  They say that after the storm comes the lull.  We had two days of high winds on Sunday and Monday, there was a tree down in the park and many houses were without power.  Unusual for this part of France where the weather can be wet but rarely blowing a gale.  Tuesday was calmer, the wind had dropped and it was much milder.  But today was brilliant, the temperature, if thermometers can really be believed, was in the low twenties and it suddenly felt like Spring, if not early Summer.  No flowers poking their little heads up yet but so sunny and warm.  It reminded us straightaway of the wonderful Summers we enjoy so much here.  The night markets, eating outside, the special festivals, the moules et frites, the Oyster and White Wine festivals, the Medeaval Festival and barbeques with all our friends.  This sunny spell cannot possibly last more than a day or two but for now it almost feels like Summer.


Thursday 16th February

Music was the key to unlocking the world for Jane, and even here it was Harriet who discovered it first.  Well, heard it first, we should say.  There had always been music, but it was never anything more than a dalliance, a distraction, something going on in the background, of no real importance, just a pretty noise really.  Jane had never really heard what music was saying – until Harriet showed her, that is.

*  * *

‘Listen, Jane.  Just wake up and listen for once in your life.’

*  * *

Harriet and Jane’s family were the proud owner of a car, well two cars actually.  Mummy had a Morris Oxford, dark green and squat with its’ beautifully curved bonnet, this was her run-around, the car the girls would be ferried in to cousins or friends who lived a few miles away.  It was the car used in the week.   Daddy walked to his office a few streets away, or drove the Morris if he had to go out in the evening, but at the weekends the Bentley was wheeled out.

This was the car that said everything about the Wilkinsons, or everything about their father, which was more to the point.  It was and still is a sign of success, a token, a given; a notice to the rest of the world that here goes someone important.  It was their weekend car, and in it they would drive somewhere most weekends, either to visit or stay with friends of their mother or cronies of their father’s, or else relatives, distant cousins, faded and jaded aunts who could barely remember Harriet and Janes name’s from one visit to another.

Jane sometimes thought they only went places so that Daddy could show-off the Bentley.  It really was sleek and modern, and yet timeless and grand at the same time, slightly old fashioned with its’ high long and straight bonnet and only slightly curved windscreen.  Jane particularly liked the high wheel arches and the sweep of the running board which seemed to scream speed and movement even when it was stationary in the drive.  She would sometimes dreamily drift her hand lazily along the sleek wheel arch until Harriet distracted her from her daydreams.

It was always highly polished and washed; even the wheels were washed every week.  Daddy employed someone to do this for him of course, a little retired man who turned up every week come rain or shine to wash and polish the Bentley.  They never asked him his name, (he was just the car man) but the girls would watch him from their bedroom window as he methodically went about his business each week, washing and polishing until it looked brand new, and then he would call at the back door, cap in hand for his money.

The thing about the Bentley was that it had a fitted radio, or rather Daddy had one fitted in the late fifties, and he would have it blaring out whenever he drove anywhere.  On Sunday afternoons on the Light Programme was a fore-runner of the various chart shows that have followed ever since.  It was a constant stream of Frank Ifield, or Doris Day, which made little or no impression on Jane’s mind, just pretty little songs.  And then it changed, it all changed in an instant, one minute she was half asleep, and then being shaken awake by Harriet.

‘This is it.  This is the song I was telling you about, listen.’

*  * *

June had begun to despise Phil, and even the girls, for the trap they had put her in, though heaven knows it wasn’t their fault, she had to admit, this one was entirely of her own making.  Of course, she had fantasied about leaving, leaving Phil and the girls and running way with Ted that is.  Leaving to be on her own would be pointless; at least staying here she still had Ted, even if it was only once a month sometimes.  But the problem, huge and seemingly hopeless of course, was her sister; she could just about envisage getting divorced from Phil, maybe; though as a Solicitor that might actually be quite difficult, with his knowledge and her ignorance of the law – but how could she possibly wreck the whole family?

Her mother was quite frail now, and had recently moved into a home, she had gradually spent all the profit she had made from selling the big house her husband left her, and then she ended up selling the small one too when she had to go into the home.  June and her sister managed to get over to see her once a week or so, and June realized she would just have to wait until the girls were grown up before Ted and she might decide to be together for good.  But she could never quite talk to Ted about the future, he just used to smile and half-sing “Que Sera, Sera.  What-ever will be, will be.  The future’s not ours to see” in that so-soft voice of his.  June never knew, despite his protestations of love, if he really did love her, love her enough to live with her anyway.  She was actually half scared to ask him.  What if he just wanted her like this, an occasional fuck to relieve the boredom of his life.  The awful thought kept recurring to June, was it just sex for Ted?  But she never asked herself that question either, too scared maybe of the answer.  Perhaps he was really happy with Julie and the boys, and she was just a bit of fun on the side.  She couldn’t bear it if he was just using her, but maybe she would have even settled for that as long as she could still have him occasionally.

*  * *

‘This is it.  This is the song I was telling you about, listen.’ Harriet had to practically shake her awake. Even when she had her eyes open, Jane seemed to be half asleep.  Harriet had known instantly that they were different, it was so obvious, but Jane might have missed it, if she hadn’t been there to tell her about it.

Apocalypse Soon

Wednesday 15th February

In a strange way, it is not Donald Trump we should worry about so much as the people around him.  Michael Flynn, proven liar, has just departed – but there are others far more dangerous.  Trump is also lazy and not much bothered with details “just get on with it” is more his style.  Whereas Obama maybe was too considered, too careful and consulted widely; Trump makes decisions based on gut feelings, instinct, the belief that he is cleverer than everyone else, and why bother talking to advisors when you can Tweet in seconds.

And chief amongst those around him is Steve Bannon.  Not heard of him? That’s probably a bad thing.  He is Trump’s Chief Strategist, the man who whispers in the President’s ear, the fawner in chief and the director of Policy.  Until recently he ran a private ‘news’ service called Breitbart News; it was an unashamedly right-wing, homophobic and racist and sexist propaganda machine, not so much telling lies but completely inventing the news to suit his outlandish agenda.  And many Americans lapped it up; it was telling them exactly what they wanted to hear; Muslims were trying to take over the country, Hilary was a crook…etc, etc.

And he is a Christian.  Or, more exactly calls himself a Christian.  Americans are far more religious than most other nations, and in a strange unquestioning way; they tend to believe what they are told.  And one of their chief beliefs is ‘the Apocalypse’.  Selectively interpreting that most confusing of texts, the Book of Revelations, they are almost gleefully looking forward to the End of Time, when God in his infinite wisdom will destroy (or allow us to) the World.  And, here is the best bit, only true believers will be saved, taken up to Heaven and live happily ever after (just without all those Muslims and Jews and other Infidels).  And Bannon wants a war, not only to herald in the Apocalypse (and maybe not a complete one) but to re-establish America as the only Global Superpower.  In other words ‘Heaven here in the good old U.S. of A.’

Completely off the Richter scale of madness maybe….but he is in a position of great power, and he is the one pushing the agenda.

But don’t worry – all you have to do is become an Evangelical True Believer yourself and then, when the Apocalypse happens, you will be Saved….hahaha

Valentines Day

Tuesday 14th February

I am not sure of the origins of this Celebration.  There certainly was a Saint Valentine but whether he was associated in any way with young lovers I doubt.  There was the memorable scene in ‘Far From The Madding Crowd’ where Bathsheeba sends a ‘Valentine’ card to her neighbour, with possibly disastrous results.  And the idea that if a woman asked a man to marry her on this one day of the year he couldn’t refuse seems to be older than that.

Of course nowadays it is pure commercialism, a handy stopgap for the card manufacturers between Christmas and Easter.  And for a few weeks the shops are full of red hearts and flowers and chocolates at exorbitant prices.  Time was when I used to buy the love of my life (whoever that was, current or possible future) not only a card but a present and sometimes roses too….

I am not sure if any of that on its own was successful, though most probably an omission on my part may have damaged my prospects.  Nowadays I still send a card to my wife, and we are going to Chouette Café tonight for a Valentines Dinner and Dance, our favourite Rob Russell will be singing early Rock and Roll and a few Romantic ditties as well.  We are really looking forward to it, it is the first real event since New Year.

And you never know what the Romantic mood may lead to…

S – is for a Cat called Cat

Monday 13th February

There can be little doubt that in the late Sixties and early Seventies one of the coolest cats around was Cat Stevens.  He had it all, great looks, wonderful voice and the ability to write brilliant pop-songs.  Born Steven Georgiou in 1948 to Greek Cypriot parents he entered the pop-charts in 1967 with the brilliant ‘I Love My Dog’ and Matthew and Son’ followed by ‘I’m Gonna Get me  A Gun.’  I loved them all and can remember putting shillings in the Juke Box in the Mikado coffee bar in Stowmarket and selecting one of his B sides ‘Granny’ and playing it over and over.  What we didn’t realise at that time was that Cat wrote all his own songs; apart from The Beatles most artists were just singers of other’s words.  His best known early songs, sung by many others were ‘The First Cut Is The Deepest’ and ‘Wild World’.  In 1969 Cat nearly died of TB.   He emerged with a batch of new songs and determined to sound different, more honest, less poppy and formed his own band of musicians and signed for Island Records.

His first four Albums are by far his best; ‘Mona Bona Jakon’ (1970) featured ‘Lady D’Arbanville’ and ‘Time’ and ‘ and ‘Lilywhite’ – full of dreamy whimsical laid back songs.  He followed this later the same year with ‘Tea for the Tillerman’ which featured ‘Where Do the Children Play’, ‘Wild World’ and the brilliant ‘Father and Son’. (Incidentally Cat’s version has never been bettered, he sings in two completely different voices, the hot-headed Son and the world-weary father.  Ronan completely mullah-ed it, and even Rod years later did a wet version).  In 1971 he released ‘Teaser and The Firecat’ moving into new territory with the Greek inspired ‘RubyLove’ the rather insipid ‘Morning Has Broken’ and the rallying call ‘Peace Train’.  In 1972 he came out with my favourite record of his ‘Catch Bull At Four’ – this is much heavier with songs ‘Can’t Keep it In’ and ‘Freezing Steel’ and the gorgeous ‘Boy with a Moon and Star on his head’ (we should have seen the sign – the sign of Islam).

In 1973, although immensely popular he decided to produce a new sounding album – ‘Foreigner’ with a side-long mostly instrumental piece and four other songs.  He had relocated to Brazil and by his standards the record flopped.  He released a handful of records ‘Budha and the Chocolate Box’, ‘Numbers’ (an album for children), ‘Izitso’ – a brief return to form with single ‘Remember the Days of the Old Schoolyard’ and finally ‘Back To Earth’.

But Cat had changed, in fact Cat was Cat no more.  In 1977 he converted to Islam and in 1979 he finally gave up music, auctioned his guitars and dedicated his life to Islamic charities and the study of Islam. He was now known as Yusuf Islam, no longer a cat called Cat.

Image result for images of cat Stevens

The New World Order

Sunday 12th February

Very few people saw it coming, but we should have looked to History as our guide.  In 1924 there was a huge Financial Crash; there were reports of ruined stockbrokers jumping out of skyscraper windows on Wall Street.  A few years later and we had Mussolini in charge of Italy and Hitler in a resurgent Germany (let’s make Germany great again), and Stalin firmly installed in Russia.  In America we actually had FDR and The New Deal, a Keynesian response to the crisis which saved America.

We had a Financial Crash in 2008; not of shares but an old-fashioned Banking Crisis.  (Banks work on the principal of lending money they do not actually have, in effect depositor’s money, in the hope that not everyone will want to withdraw all of their money at once – because it simply doesn’t exist, it is just numbers on paper).

And roughly eight years later it is all change on the political map.  Governments around the world propped up the banks and cut taxes for the wealthy (scared they would take their businesses and wealth elsewhere) at the expense of ordinary working people.  For the first time in seventy years, people were facing the prospect of slowly diminishing (in real terms) incomes and poorer services and the probability that their children would inherit a far bleaker future than they looked forward to in their youth.  The result has been a rise in Populism, or those who present themselves as anti-politicians, different, new, not the establishment, and invariably right-wing.  The dumbed down population, shunning the news channels and turning to Celebrity instead are flocking to these new Messiahs; Farage, Johnson, Vlad the Impaler, Trump and possibly Marine Le Pen.  They probably know deep down that these charismatic figure may indeed be charlatans, but they are fed up with politics as usual; promises which can never be fulfilled, increasing Globalisation, the rich getting richer at an exponential rate…..and they want change.

What will happen when they realise that this New Order is just like the Who sang “New boss, same as the old boss) is anyone’s guess.  We can only hope that as has happened throughout History, ‘cometh the hour, cometh the man’ (or woman); and new serious competent leaders emerge to rescue us….

Meanwhile in offices and design studios all over the World they are beavering away, designing Artificial Intelligence and smarter and smarter robots which will do all the work for us, a veritable Brave New World.  It is just the transition which may be slightly uncomfortable. Welcome to the New World Order….hahaha.

Phil Collins – Not Dead Yet

Friday 10th February

Every so often I see an autobiography, almost always of a musician I like, and decide to read it.  This was the latest one, written by Phil Collins.  Now, I must admit I have rarely if ever read what I would consider a totally honest autobiography; they are full of self-congratulation about their achievements and tend to gloss over the bad bits.  Possibly Bob Dylan’s Chronicles comes nearest to honesty, and this isn’t even a real autobiography at all, just a few snapshots with his reflections of how he felt at the time.  But I am also fascinated by the early pre-fame days of my musical heroes, how success first came on them and how they handled it, how they made the breakthrough, the songwriting and fellow musicians along the way.

I have been fascinated by all things to do with Genesis for years.  I loved the band when Peter was the singer and the first few albums when Phil took over singing duties.  I have also bought most of their solo efforts.  Except Phil Collins.  I loved the first two or three records, especially ‘In The Air’ with its emotional honesty and great drumming.  Uniquely too, Genesis appears to have been a band with no real discord ever; personnel changes were accepted without rancor and they all appear to remain good friends.

So, to the book.  I liked the first half, childhood, teenage years, Phil desperately looking for work as a jobbing drummer, auditioning for and joining Genesis.  And the first few albums, collaborating in songwriting.  Even when Phil first took over the singing are okay.

But, when it comes to his personal life (which to be honest I was never that interested in) I found the book almost sickening.  This multi-millionaire tries to justify his sleeping with a woman while he is still married to the woman he slept with while he was still married to wife number two, who was also the recipient of his sexual favours when married to wife number one.  And his whining about how unhappy all of this made him and how unfair it all was for the press to have a go at him…

I love his singing, and some of his songwriting was brilliant too; his drumming and contributions to Geneses amazing – but, what a self-important and pompous person.  Maybe you have to be to get to the top of the tree, and for a few years in the Eighties and Nineties he certainly was Rock Royalty.  And along with Elton and Sting he did his fair share of fawning before real Royalty too.

Oh well….one day I might find a really good and honest musicians autobiography.

Honesty in Politics

Friday 10th February

This is not the oxymoron it may at first appear.  We have just witnessed something quite incredible; the Labour party has actually been honest.  Of course, the Media will portray it as yet another failure, of leadership, of competence and another nail in their coffin.  The Conservative party with the sole exception of Ken Clarke has marched behind the new triumphalist banner of Brexit, when only a few months ago they were campaigning for, and presumably believed in, remaining in the EU.  We can almost forgive Theresa May; she is the Prime Minister, and even though she was technically a Remainer (hahaha) she has to show leadership or what the media tells us is leadership – that is being strong and forthright and never changing your mind (er….didn’t she just do that after the Brexit vote?).  But it is quite amazing how the Tory party has managed to not only accept the result of the referendum but are now all ardent supporters of a completely opposite policy than the one they until very recently professed that they were solidly behind.  I call this dishonesty.

Many of these too represented constituencies which voted to remain, so they not only ignored their previously stated beliefs but also the views of their constituents.  But they are praised by the media as loyalists; but loyal to what?  Their parties shifting position – not their own consciences, surely.

Meanwhile, over on the Labour benches….

Jeremy, possibly foolishly, in an attempt to look strong and ‘popular’ insisted on a three-line whip in favour of accepting the Government’s triggering of Article 50.  The situation is quite complex, as many Labour M.P.s who campaigned to Remain represent constituencies which voted Leave, and many also were in constituencies which voted Remain.  Now; what is an M.P. elected to do?  Is it to blindly follow their Leader and the Party despite believing in something else entirely?  Maybe we should ask Jeremy himself, a serial defector and conscientious objector if ever there was one.  Should the M.P. consult his constituents?  And what better measure than looking at the results of the referendum, conveniently available and reported by constituency.  So; if an M.P. personally strongly believed in Remain and their constituents also voted that way, is it not that M.P.s responsibility to be honest and vote the way both their conscience and their voters believed in?

Of course, this display of honesty will not help the Labour party which will be portrayed as even more hopelessly divided and undisciplined.  But personally I completely respect the position of those M.P.s who ‘rebelled’ and voted for once honestly.  And remember, they knew the arithmetic; they knew that their votes would not affect the result at all; this was simply the only thing they felt they could honestly do.


Thursday 9th February

Discovering what really matters…

Once the girls were safely back at school it was only a matter of time before Ted and June would get together again.  She knew that this would be the pattern of their lives from then on; it was as if it was always meant to be this way.  From the moment she had first set eyes on Ted she knew he was the one she would end up loving, and with such a passion too.  She could not even remember now the row they had, or even why they had stopped seeing each other when they had been so much younger, way before she had ever met Phil.  Sometimes that whole Phil thing, her marriage and the girls, had just seemed a hiatus, a brief spell away from Ted.  She had been barely sixteen at the time and impatient to get on with her life, and probably thought that all boys would be like Ted, or that making love would be the same with everyone.  What a fool she had been to have ever let him go she was thinking now, but what good was thinking; she had to learn to settle for these few precious times together not regret what might have been.

And Ted was so good looking that he could have had any girl he fancied; he was always a great flirt she knew that.  She would get quite jealous when he would be chatting with some of her friends if Julie and he were at theirs for a Sunday get-together.  He would lean in quite close, too close – June would be thinking, and cock his head a bit and look right into their eyes. It used to get her quite agitated, and she felt that he knew it; that he was doing it just to make her jealous, and in front of Julie, his wife, too.  June was so careful barely to look at Ted when they all came round; the last thing she needed was her sister getting suspicious.  They had been getting away with it for a few years by now, but she was always terrified of Julie finding out; what would she think of her, her own sister and all.

When she was with Ted all those guilty thoughts disappeared though; she entered a different world altogether.  Or actually was in her world, her real world; it seemed as though her real life, her life with Ted was constantly being interrupted by this other world, the world where she was Phil’s wife, and a mother to the girls.  This wasn’t her real life, her real life only started when Ted and she were together.  she used to kick herself for ever letting him go, for giving him away so easily.  If only they had got married, Ted and June, rather than her sister Julie, how happy she would be then, in only a council house maybe instead of this great big place Phil had insisted on buying.  She would have happily lived in a tiny two-up two-down if she could have been with Ted.  But maybe she was deceiving herself even here, who is to say if she had kept seeing Ted and married him that they too would have been bored with each other by now, perhaps it was the secrecy, the subterfuge, the danger of what they were doing that was the glue that kept it all so exciting.

*  * *

Phil was beginning to despise himself, especially at work where he was so looked up to, so respectable, so boringly re-assuring.  What had started out as exciting, a little bit of breaking the rules and getting away with it, was now sickening him.  He really wished his life had turned out differently; he could have been in London now, working for a big company, or something in the City, that’s what he really aspired to.  He had been stupid to have listened to his father at all, but he was always so desperate to do the right thing, or what he considered the right thing that he never even asked himself what he, Phil, wanted.

And even when he graduated, his father hardly seemed pleased at all.  ‘All that effort Dad, five years of my life studying to make you happy, to make you proud of me, and you barely acknowledged it when I actually became a Solicitor.’ thought Phil.  ‘And now we hardly see each other, a visit at Christmas, or the girl’s birthdays.  It’s sometimes hard for me to even remember my life before June.  Strange the way life just takes over isn’t it?  You slip into your life like an old pair of slippers, never questioning who puts them out for you every morning, or whether they fit, or even if they are yours.  You just slip into them and get on with it.’

June and he were slipping into a different way of life too and Phil couldn’t seem to stop that either.  They used to make love almost every day when they first got married, than it slipped to two or three times a week, now it is once a month if they are lucky.  It wasn’t that Phil didn’t still fancy her – he had never really fancied anyone else, it just seemed to be a pattern they had slipped into without either of them consciously deciding.  Maybe it happened to all couples, but just thinking about it made Phil sad.

She often went to bed before him, and was usually fast asleep when he crawled up to join her.  Sometimes he would just look at her by the light of the bedside lamp, she always looked so beautiful asleep, so calm, so perfect.  He just gazes at her sometimes, and even though he knows he is incredibly fortunate, a beautiful wife and two perfect little girls, he can’t help feeling that all of this should belong to someone else, it is as if he isn’t not really worthy somehow, as if he hasn’t earned it, and certainly doesn’t deserve it.

And then he starts thinking about all the dirty deals and stupid under the counter business he is up to his neck in, and he knows he is just a sham.  He suspects that he has always been somehow never quite the genuine article, despite his name on the brass plate and the certificates, it all seems false, as if it should be someone else and not him behind the big oak desk with the green shaded brass lamp and the leather bound blotter and the line of Parker pens all in a row.  Sometimes as he sleeps, in his dreams his father comes into his office and just sits in the chair opposite to Phil and looks that old-fashioned look at him.  He shrinks and crumbles inside and cannot look at him, and it goes on and on, the same recurring dream, and then he wakes in a sweat and is all hot and red and lays there with the covers off and he is too scared to fall back asleep because he knows his father will still be sitting there waiting for him.  He never speaks, he just sits there looking at Phil.

*  * *

Harriet heard them first on the radio and she knew straight away that this was different; that this was going to take us all over.  No-one else seemed to notice, her father still read his paper, her mother was glancing at a magazine, aimlessly turning the pages, scanning them impatiently as if she was looking for something, anything, to break the tedium of her life.  Jane was probably playing in the garden, Harriet doesn’t remember her being there, not the first time she heard them.  She was always listening out for them after that, and it wasn’t long before she heard them again.