Famous Five Fall Out

Wednesday 20th September

Once upon a time there were five friends.  How they became friends no-one really knows.  They used to all attend the same school, which took in lots of children from the surrounding villages.  There was Nigel who considered himself the cleverest boy in the whole school.  He used to call in at the sweet shop on his way to school and buy lots of boiled sweets which he then sold to the other children making lots of pennies for himself.  There was little Liam; the Headmaster had stopped him from having his friend stay for sleep-overs as people were starting to talk about it.  There was clever-clogs Michael, who wore glasses and thought he knew how to run the school better than the teachers. There was shy little Theresa, who never agreed with anyone until she knew which side was winning.  And the last member of the little gang was Boris, a shaggy old dog who had seen better days.  Now, Boris used to belong to Headmaster Dave, but they had a falling out, and Boris deserted his old mate and joined the new gang.  He was always running after stray pussies, and he had a habit of barking rather too loud.

One day Nigel had a wheeze, “I say gang, I really don’t like that the school has all these kids from other villages, why – some of them speak a bit funny and they like to eat smelly food.  Why don’t we break away and have our own school, just for nice white kids from our town, just like us.”

Without any real discussion the gang went along with Nigel. Michael suggested asking everyone in the town to vote on it.  Theresa wasn’t sure and kept quiet, but Liam liked the idea – without Dave in charge anymore he might still be able to play with his little friend and take him on lots of trips too.  Boris ran around in circles yelping, but somehow endeared himself to the adults with promises of cheap biscuits.

Well the gang won their little battle.  The old Headmaster Dave left in a huff, taking some of the teachers with him.  Little Theresa stepped forward and said “I will be your new Head.  We are going to make a success of our one little class, even if there are only five of us in it.”  Michael had a fight with Boris but Theresa took pity on him and took her to her home.  Nigel said his job was now done and he could leave school for a long awaited trip to America to see his friend, little Donald.  Michael was eventually forgiven and even little Liam was happy visiting lots of other towns.

But even though they had their own class they had no books or desks and had to ask their old school for some. Well, the old pupils and teachers were none too happy “What if every little village wanted their own class?  Where would that leave the big school?” So they asked rather a lot of pennies for the books and desks.

Soon enough the little gang were arguing among themselves over what sort of desks they should sit at, hard ones or soft, and couldn’t agree how much they should cost. Just as things seemed to be settling down Boris the naughty doggie, cocked his leg and pee-weed over the few books they had left.  Nobody could read the writing anymore.  Theresa was in tears, Liam was off with his old friend, Michael was blinking over his thick spectacles and Nigel was threatening to come back and sort everyone out.

Lots of the grown-ups who had so enthusiastically voted for their own class suddenly realised that there would be no teachers and without books and desks what chance did our little gang have of ever getting an education.  So, quietly they decided to lock little Theresa up in her bedroom, send Liam away with his friend on another trip and buy Michael some new glasses so he could see the blackboard properly.  The only one they couldn’t train was Boris, he continued running round in circles, barking madly and spraying his wee-wee over everything.  And that children, is the story of how the Famous Five fell out.

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W – is for White Mansion/The legend of Jesse James

Tuesday 19th September

Paul Kennerley, working in an office in England apparently, heard a record by Waylon Jennings and fell in love with Country Music. He had once been in an unsuccessful band but started to compose what we would now call Americana; country music tinged with rock.  He wrote a whole album ‘White Mansions’ which was about the American Civil War, mostly told from the Confederate side.  Somehow he got Glynn Johns to produce it, Eric Clapton to play on it and a host of great singers, including Waylon, John Dillon, Jessi Colter and Steve Cash.  And what a fantastic album it turned out to be.  The songs are simply brilliant and full of the sadness of defeat and the hopelessness of the Southern cause.  It was released in 1978…..and, basically it flopped.  I have no idea why, as it should have been the biggest hit – The Eagles were flying high at the time and it has a touch of ‘Desperados’ about it.

Anyway, I bought it – and it was rarely off my turntable.  Two years later and he released ‘The Legend of Jesse James’.  Another stellar cast including Johnny Cash, Levon Helm and Emmy Lou Harris.  If anything, the songs are even better and the sound a touch rockier.  It tells how after the Civil War many young men turned to outlawing, including Jesse and his brother Frank.  They stole from the banks, but were no Robin Hoods, killing pretty casually too.  The sequence where the gang fail and are hounded down, and Jesse’s eventual betrayal and death are poignant and brilliantly sung.  Sadly, this record did even less well than ‘White Mansions’.  They have subsequently been released as a double CD and are now actually selling quite steadily.  They are far closer to the sound of Steve Earle and other Country/Americana artists of today.  Maybe they were just far too early.

Kennerley went on to write for many country artists, but never seems to achieve the perfection of these two records, which remain in my very favourite list.

They are both on youtube now if you fancy hearing them…

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Conference Season

Monday 18th September

Real Politics is on hold, Parliament is not sitting – because of the Conference Season.  There was a time when Conferences were exciting, when unplanned rebellions, walk-outs and full scale rows happened.  But now they are stage managed to the point of boredom, where the party faithful clap on cue, and each leader has a standing ovation despite, or possibly because of, poor public ratings.

I went as a delegate to two party conferences when Callaghan (now, there was a Prime Minister) was in charge.  The left were again, as now, pretty resurgent and there were plenty of arguments about policy. It was all pretty chaotic as I recall – and I must say boring, especially when the card votes were being counted.  But still you felt that somehow all of this mattered – it was Democracy in action.

There have been some memorable Conferences.  Gaitskell vowing to fight for the party he loved after Wilson beat him to the Leadership.  Kinnock denouncing Liverpool ‘s Labour council.  The Brighton Bombing which disrupted but also cemented Thatcher’s popularity.

And one or two surprises.  Ed Milliband beating his brother by a handful of votes, the coronation of Corbyn, and Cecil Parkinson’s fall as his fathering a child with his lover was revealed.

But ever since Blair really the Conferences are simply extended Party Political Broadcasts, and I suspect of as little interest to the general public too.  And since Thatcher they have become so Presidential, all centred on ‘The Leader’, when they are supposed to be about the members and the direction of the party.

So, expect no surprises, no real rocking of the boat – though you never know what Boris will get up to – just lots of soundbites for the Six O’Clock News.

W – is for Andy White

Sunday 17th September

Continuing in the series of artists no-one has ever heard of, step forward Mr. Andy White.  This was another great find from my days of scouring the CD single racks in second-hand record stores in Soho during lunch-breaks in the late Eighties and Nineties.  Andy hailed from Northern Ireland, Belfast in fact – and when he hailed I heard him loud and clear.  He was on the famous Stiff label, which seemed to take rather outlandish punts on all sorts of artists back in the day.  He was what I would call a troubadour, an artist, a poet and a singer-songwriter.  Idiosyncratic and totally self-taught and original – no wonder all the major labels ignored him and no-one has ever heard of him.

He has a distinctive almost talking voice and his Belfast accent rings clear.  I have always liked British singers who eschew singing in American for regional accents – so much better. Andy has a naivety and charm all his own.  He makes no compromises to please the record company.

I bought a handful of CD singles and four full albums in the early Nineties (and he made a record with Tim Finn too which immediately bombed as well), and then I sort of lost touch with him.  He was never reviewed in the music mags and looking for him in record shops would be pointless.  But I have just looked him up on Wikipedia and he has continued releasing albums, so I have some catching up to do.  I can hardly recommend him, as he certainly won’t be most people’s tas du the, but look him up on you-tube.  He is quite harmless really and you might even like him too..

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Saturday 16th September

 15) The Arrangement

They were sitting in the kitchen, the morning after the discovery; the awful truth that their mother had been carrying on with Uncle Ted, and right under all of their noses too, that was almost the worst part.   June was trying to be all cool and modern and to explain rationally how these adults, these clearly inadequate parents of theirs, were going to sort everything out.  Harriet was fidgety and restless (missing her drug no doubt) and Jane was having the day off school, possibly in case she indulged in playground gossip – no danger of that, she would be far too ashamed.  Their father had somehow gathered enough composure, or whatever it took, to take himself off to his office, trying no doubt, to act as if nothing had happened to shatter his happy little home.  Their mother, the sainted heroine of this sad little tale, though on reflection it was poor Aunt Julie who was the real heroine, had asked the girls to come down when they were ready, as she wanted to talk to them both.

*  * *

Phil was still in a daze really, the morning after June told him.  In a funny way it hadn’t really stuck in his brain until then.  The whole of yesterday had been so unreal, so impossibly unbelievable that he had simply refused to accept it.  It was like a game, some sort of a test he was being set.  “Now Phil, try and sort this little conundrum out; what would your reaction be if you found out that your wife was sleeping with her sister’s husband?  I know it sounds a bit far-fetched, but how would you deal with the situation?”  But heaven knows this was no conundrum, no imagined scenario, this was real life, this was happening to Phil.  Right now.  He just couldn’t quite get it into his head – that was all.  And all of last night, despite the shouting and the crying and his anger and despair, he had been so shell-shocked, so stunned, that it hadn’t really sunk in that his life had changed irrevocably.  It was never going to be the same again.

For far too long he had been wrapped up in his own problems and he hadn’t dreamed that June was in any sort of trouble; she had always seemed so reliable, so dependable, that he had never dreamed she might be unhappy.  Or unhappy enough anyway to do something daft like this.  And what sort of craziness could possibly have driven her to it.  He knew he had been a poor husband in some ways but how could he possibly be responsible for her doing this.  No-one could really expect that the romance and passion in a marriage should last forever, we all had to learn to deal with the mundanity of life overtaking us sooner or later.  So, why had June been so unhappy with him?  She had a lovely home and her own car, so what had driven her to be unfaithful.  And with her sister Julie’s husband of all people, Phil simply couldn’t understand how she had been so foolish.

He had so many other problems this was just too much to bear.  He was sinking fast both into debt and, he supposed, criminality, though he hadn’t really hurt anyone at all.  The sums he had misappropriated were fairly small in the scheme of things.  Not that the Law Society would see it that way of course.  If any of his wheeling and dealing had come to light he was sure to be struck off.  He had somehow gotten away with it because nobody had ever suspected him.  He was respected, and so, above suspicion.  But he knew what he had done.  And even though no fingers were pointed, no accusations or even questions had been raised that almost made it worse.

This wasn’t the way it was supposed to have turned out, not the way they had planned it, Dad and him.   His poor old Dad would be turning in his grave if he knew how Phil had let him down.  Actually – he had let everyone down, his Mum and Dad, June and the girls, of course – but mostly himself; it was him Phil, that he had really let down.

Every time he caught himself in a mirror he saw what a disappointment he was.  He had had every chance in the world, a good education, devoted parents, a kindly employer and he had thrown it all away.  And why, why had he done it?  It was no use now blaming June, he had been the one who wanted the big house and the Bentley.  It was him, completely on his own, who got myself so overstretched with money.  It was him who decided to do bits of business outside the firm.  It was him who got involved with those crooked little business deals, who put his name as guarantor to schemes that were nothing short of dishonest.  It was like a house built of sand on the beach, as the tide came in and kept eroding a wall here, a turret there, Phil had to keep heaping bigger and bigger buckets of sand on top just to keep the whole thing, and of course him with it, from being swept away.

*  * *

How on earth was June going to tell the girls.  Jane deserved better than this from them, and as for Harriet, she would probably just laugh in her face.  June felt she had been laughing at her for a few years now anyway.  Any parental authority she might once have relied on had been eroded by Harriet’s constant disregard for any feelings she might have at all. She had truly got the upper hand, and worse still, June had let her.  It had just seemed too pointless to fight her; she never felt she had really won any argument with her anyway.  She always had the last word, and it was often half-mumbled, half-sniggered behind her back.  No point in answering her, June would simply walk away knowing both that she had lost and that if she dare look back Harriet would be sitting there with the sickliest of smirks on her face. June felt she had been a hopeless mother and now she had to admit as much.

So much for the great Mum she had once dreamed of being, and so much for the great meeting of last night.  They had resolved nothing, the four of us.  Nothing at all.  Phil had been by turns dumbstruck, then angry, then apologetic; as if it had somehow all been his fault.  He was far too rational to begin to understand what had happened.  He was looking for reasons why, when the reality was it had happened and no amount of talking it over could make sense of it now. June had never begun to make any sense of her feelings, so why should anyone else understand them.

Ted had said little, staying in the background, keeping his head down, trying not to look June in the eye, and letting Phil and her do all the talking. And her sister Julie had said even less. , But her looks had spoken volumes; a mixture of resigned bitter determination and controlled anger, she had sat, mostly silent, but quietly glaring at June, through it all.  Her sister Julie had always been a mystery to June; she had never shared anything with her when they were children, not even her thoughts; that three year age difference might as well have been twenty.  She may have been her sister but June had no idea who she really was.

They just kept going round in circles. Circles, which to June seemed more and more pointless. Her offer to leave the house, to run away she supposed, had been met with horror by Phil, he insisted that she should stay.  In fact it was Phil who said we should do nothing rash, do nothing at all until we had all had time to digest things, to see if we could somehow get over it.  He was most insistent that no-one outside the four of us should know what had happened. June realized that he was concerned about his reputation, his position in the town, what people might say.  He said that we should just carry on, and try to get over it, give ourselves a bit of time to think things over, to come to terms with the situation.  And because no-one had any better ideas, because this seemed the easiest solution, because they were all so tired and miserable and desperate for the evening to be over – it became the accepted answer.  June was not sure any of them, deep down though, really believed in it, but she, like everyone else, went along with it, because putting things off is always far easier than dealing with them.

Ted and Julie seemed relieved and she got the feeling that Julie had had some sort of inkling all along, maybe not that June was the one Ted was seeing, but that he was certainly seeing someone. Ted had never looked so cowed before and she saw something in their eyes, some knowing looks that passed between them, some unspoken communication, something almost intangible but unmistakably there, where between Phil and June there was nothing, even their words seemed to miss each other.  June realised that in a strange way they understood their relationship and each other far better than Phil and she ever had or would.  Of course all she really saw were daggers of pure hatred from her sister towards her, and who could blame her.




What Was It About The Sixties?

Friday 15th September

It isn’t just Nostalgia.  There really was something about the Sixties.  It was a wonderful co-incidence of Music, Fashion, Art and Politics which coalesced in a decade (or rather from 63 to about 73) which changed everything and in many ways created the Modern World.

The seeds were probably sown by Atlee’s Government of 1945 to 1951, with the creation of the Welfare State and the NHS.  Because though my generation lived through and were influenced by and loved the ‘Sixties’ it was created mostly by a generation a decade or so older than us.  Those who were maybe young children in the war or born just after it and had grown up without the horrors of that conflagration and were determined that the future was going to be different.  Well, it certainly was.

Musically, Rock and Roll was old hat by the Sixties.  It was Fifties music, beloved of Teddy Boys with their crepe soles and Edwardian jackets and slicked back hair.  The charts were dominated by American Idols singing soppy pop and ballads by the likes of Frank Ifield and Doris Day.  Then like a breath of fresh air came the Beatles, who through their apprenticeship in Hamburg managed to mix Rock and Roll with the new Blues and Soul music coming out of Black America and presenting it as something completely new – Beat Music.  But it didn’t stop there.  The Sixties just kept turning out more and more new music and genres.  Almost each new release added to the cornucopia of styles and sounds.  Just listen to the Beatles White Album, recorded just 6 years after Please Please Me – to see the progression.

Fashion was part of it too.  Mary Quant and Twiggy and Biba were all screaming NEW and MODERN at the world.  Carnaby Street and the Kings Road were the hippest places on the planet.  I can remember having a pair of strawberry crushed velvet flares made for me by one of the Carnaby Street shops – I say made, when all they did was take in the seams so that I had to squeeze into these skin-tight trousers – but I must say they were fabulous and I wish I still had them, and more improtantly could still get into them.  It was the decade of the mini-skirt, of panda eye make-up, of the E-type and the Mini, of short bobbed hair for girls and Beatle cuts that grew longer and shaggier as the years rolled on for men.

Art was booming too, fantastic new films like Doctor Strangelove and James Bond, and Pop Art.  It seems that the floodgates had burst open and suddenly anything was Art.  It was conceptual artist Yoko One who captured John Lennon’s mind.  David Bailey was showing us new ways in Photography too.

There was so much happening that if you blinked you missed something.

And it all continued, fuelled at times by drugs (though I missed most of that, thank goodness), right through to about the mid-Seventies.

I am so glad I was just the right age to have lived through it.

Cars and People

Thursday 14th September

Leonard Cohen wrote a song “there is a War” – between all sorts of people and even those who know there is a war and those who don’t.  But sometimes I feel there is a war between car drivers and pedestrians. Okay, so let me state right here that I do not drive.  I am however thankful that I have a partner who does drive as it saves a lot of time and carries heavy shopping etc, etc, etc.   So, I am not arguing in any way that there should be no cars, simply that cars should not be anywhere near pedestrians – and vice versa.

The current chaos emerged from a gentler time when the only vehicles were horse-drawn, and in towns that would have been pretty slow.  Mind you the smell and problems of horse manure would have been problems we live without – instead we have car fumes polluting the air.  In modern planned towns like Stevenage cars and pedestrians are kept well away from one another, but in most places it is a free for all.  I am sure that many car drivers get annoyed by dithering pedestrians and having to stop for crossings and people walking really slowly in narrow streets – even though they peep their horns the dogged walker seems oblivious.  Car drivers almost all seem in a hurry, impatient to get to wherever they are going.  Having to slow down or even to stop is such a nuisance.

Our town has a lovely square, hundreds of years old, but in my mind it is spoiled by car drivers who seem to be driving round in an almost constant stream.  And there are eight exits at four corners and yet hardly any driver ever thinks to indicate.  After all they know where they are going, why should they even think it might be of interest to wretched pedestrians who just have to wait and dodge the cars as best we can.

I walk the dogs in the morning, part of the way along the boulevard National.  When a lorry passes at probably only 50 miles an hour, you can really feel the speed and the air current rushing past.  Once or twice I have got out of a car in a lay-by on a motorway and it is truly frightening the speed of the traffic. It didn’t need terrorists to make me realise that lorries were in fact dangerous weapons.

Maybe in the future more and more town planners will pedestrianise more areas, it must be for the benefit of both car drivers and people to be kept apart.

Seems Like Summer Is Almost Over

Wednesday 13th September

Hopefully I am as precipitate as the weather, but Summer seems to be almost over.  We so look forward to July and August and the Marches Nocturnes, the Soirees Gourmandes, the Medieval Festival and the White Wine and Oyster Festival, and all the sheer exuberance and madness of Summer out here.  But all too soon, like the five lots of visiting relatives and friends, it is over.

We are now in the middle of September – and il pleut.  It is raining most days.  It has been a mixed summer; some lovely hot days and a few not so hot, but no really sustained spell of languorous lazy days in the sun.  Besides the Cafe has grown in popularity.  Hard to believe how busy we have been with bacon sandwiches and now poached egg on toast, which seems to be winning out most days.

But already the leaves are turning a paler green and some are almost brown, a few have fallen even.  And today – evidence that Summer is almost over.  Conkers.  The first conkers of Autumn have arrived.  Still in their green spiky packing cases, I trod on one while walking the dogs and as it split out popped the most perfect shiny round conker.  I looked around and found a few more.  I suppose it must be all those childhood memories of conker fights and pickling them and threading strings through them – but I simply love conkers.  The smoothness, the perfect rounded shapes, the colouration, with that pale bit in the middle.  Such a perfect gift of nature which has been manufactured, perfectly with bio-degradable outer packaging for millions of years before us messy humans arrived.  And more importantly will be dropping them for millions of years after we clumsy monkeys have shuffled off, hopefully taking all our plastic debris with us.  Conkers are the first sign for me that Summer is nearly over and Autumn is on its way..

Blair, Brexit and Labour

Tuesday 12th September

On Sunday I caught Blair being interviewed on Andrew Marr.  It is tempting with Blair to simply dismiss him as both a has-been and a liar over Iraq, but there is something about him; when he starts talking you tend to listen – and a lot of it makes sense.

His main argument was that even though the public had voted for Brexit, it would be such a disaster that it was the responsibility of Government and M.P.s to find a third way.  He admitted that people were concerned about immigration but that very immigration was essential for the economy.  Problems such as depressed wages and schools and hospitals could be dealt with.  He thought there was a far larger problem with non-EU immigration, which has never been addressed by any Government.  He said that we should be having discussions with Europe about ways of limiting the worst effects of free movement of people, such as Benefits and people arriving without jobs.   He thought there might be European leaders who would prefer to amend free movement rather than lose the UK from the EU.

He also bewailed the lack of any Centrist party in Britain; Labour having moved Left – possibly as a consequence of the Tories moving to the Right.  He called on all M.P.s to look to their consciences and stop Brexit.

Well, convincing as he may be, it isn’t going to happen.  The best we can hope for is that the Government fails to get the final Brexit deal passed by Parliament and a General Election is called and Labour wins and begins a re-negotiation…and then who knows.

Blair cannot bring himself to approve of Corbyn or his policies, he thinks that they will also be a disaster if ever implemented.  But we know that neo-liberal policies have brought us to this parlous state – he seems to be calling for a continuation of them.

A Buddhist Funeral

Monday 11th September

A friend of ours, Alison, died a couple of weeks ago.  She was far too young.  She had been ill for some time, but her cancer seemed to be responding to treatment.  But it was not to be.  She had expressed an interest in Buddhism in the last few months.  We have a Buddist Temple and Retreat not far from Eymet – the monks and the sisters come into the Café sometimes.  Her husband Joe arranged for her to be visited by some of the sisters while she was in Hospital, and they agreed that Joe could have a Buddhist ceremony for her today (Sunday).

I had visited the main hall a couple of times and was always impressed by the simplicity of the message – that it was a journey of discovery, and finding peace and contentment within oneself was more important than arriving at a specific destination.

The very simple ceremony was held in one of the women’s halls – the hall of the red candle.  There were about thirty of us, sitting, some cross-legged on purple mats on the floor and a few on chairs. The sister leading us explained how Alison had reached out to them in the last few months and how they had found her and helped prepare her for what was to come.  We sat in silence for a few minutes, there was a small flower arrangement and some photos of Alison and a few small candles burning.  Then a few people were invited to speak of their memories of her.  I said nothing, not because I didn’t have anything to say, but I was content to listen and let others speak their thoughts.

A couple of notes rang out from a large bell and we were allowed to stand and greet each other.  Then a slow meditation walk outside to a shrine and we were then invited to take handfuls of her ashes (she had been cremated a few days after her death) and scatter them among the trees and plants.

I haven’t been to that many funerals.  All of them held in Christian churches or crematoria.  They are invariably depressing but I was very impressed by the simplicity of this ceremony and it’s lack of sadness.  The combining of ancient ceremony and a very modern view of the world too; Alison had been too poorly to attend services but had joined in on the internet.  There seems to be a very peaceful element to all of this, everything is done voluntarily, there seem to be no ruling hierarchy laying down the law.  And the sisters were pleasant and welcoming us even though we were from different and sometimes no faiths.

A lovely way to say Goodbye and to think about life and what it has to offer and what we have to offer too.