But Some News Is Even Worse

Tuesday 15th May

Yesterday I lamented the lack of any “real” news.  I commented that there may be trouble caused by the opening of America’s new embassy in Jerusalem.   It used to be in Tel Aviv, the capital of Israel.   And boy, was there trouble.  At the last count (but this may be superceded by now) 52 people were killed by bullets fired by Israeli soldiers near the border with Gaza.  Gaza is basically an occupied strip of land where 2 million Palestinians live.  They are ‘peacefully’ protesting their right (denied of course by Israel) to return to the land they were kicked off 70 years ago at the creation of the state of Israel.  Of course there are two sides to every story and the Palestinians (and the Arabs in general) have behaved atrociously to Israel in the past; Hamas refuses to recognise Israel and is de facto at war with it.  Some of the protesters were reportedly throwing firebombs and stones at the border guards.

But none of this warrants the disproportionate use of bloody and fatal force by Israel.  It seems that the current leadership of Israel simply wants to provoke and kill as many Palestinians as possible.  There have been strong condemnations from the British and the French and many other nations and the UN itself, which declared that treating Jerusalem as the de facto capital of Israel (as Donald Trump has now acknowledged) is illegal.  But condemnations will not work.  America will always defend Israel, however wrong their actions may be seen by the rest of the world.  The only weapon is to shame Israel, to make ordinary Israelis ashamed of the actions of their own Government.   I do understand how many Israelis feel, that the world doesn’t understand them, that their Peace is being constantly threatened.  But the only solution to this fear and misunderstanding, and the only long-term solution is for meaningful peace talks to begin and for the Palestinians to be given their own state.  This will never be easy, but with good will it is achievable.  But before that happens the killing must stop; the disproportionate use of bloody force must stop.

I know that by even talking about this means I will be branded an anti-semite, but just read the words I have used, the fact that I also blame the actions of many on the Arab side.  This is the twenty-first Century, surely we must be capable of moving on and stop hurling abuse and stones and bullets at each other.  Many in Israel are also appalled at this use of force and are speaking out as well.  Good on them.  I wonder if they are being accused of anti-semitism too?

No News Is Bad News

Monday 14th May

There appears to be a dearth of news.  Of course there is always news – they have to fill the schedules up with something.  But there seems no news of any real consequence.  It is as if the powers that be have whispered….”Hush, speak no more, let the children slumber, do not disturb them.”  So, we have to make do with reports of a volcano slowly bubbling away in Hawaii, and attacks on churches in Indonesia, a Malaysian election, and a strange creature washed up on a Philippino shore (which turned out to be a decomposed whale).  Where is Brexit?  Has the Donald gone into hiding?  Oh, there was a slight flurry on Andrew Marr yesterday about Brexit, with both Labour and Michael Gove looking as washed out and washed up as the decomposing whale; their policies designed neither to offend nor please anyone while the ship of state drifts onto the rocks.  There could be more violence in the Middle East as Ivanka (daughter and advisor {hahaha} to the Trumpster) opens the ‘new’ US embassy in Jerusalem.  A move destined to delight the Israelis and infuriate the Arabs – so much for diplomacy).

So, what am I looking for?  Anything.  Anything really that excites me.  And all we have is the impending Royal Wedding…..so I switch off.  No News Is Bad News Indeed.


My Record Collection 18

Saturday 12th May

Barclay James Harvest (continued) – The following year (1975) saw the release of Time Honoured Ghosts, with the most lovely cover, very arable.  Another classic album really; the band were really on a roll, and had settled down to a more settled but still recognisable sound.  Woolly still had a couple of songs, still with an orchestral feel, while John and Les were writing more conventional soft rock songs.  My favourite songs are ‘Jonathon’ and ‘Titles’, which was a tribute to The Beatles, using several of their melodies, with slight twists and Beatles song titles as the lyrics.  Very clever, and a mild hit when it was released as a single. I was seeing the band every few months during the mid-seventies, though they ended up touring far more in France, Germany and Switzerland, where they were evn more popular than in the UK.  They still had a loyal fanbase, but they were largely ignored by the music press, who were becoming enthralled by the new sound – Punk.  BJH were soon considered a dinosaur band and even ridiculed by the likes of NME and Melody Maker.  Such is fashion.  And as we know fashions change.  Whereas most of the punk bands were one hit wonders or faded pretty fast, BJH and many progressive bands flourished.  1975 was the year too of Pink Floyd’s ‘Dark side of the Moon’.  And Genesis were making great records too.  Luckily bands like BJH had no choice but to soldier on and keep making the music they and their fans loved.

Then came Octoberon, technically their eight release, and maybe their best so far.  Quite a radical album in many ways.  Woolly had the song Ra, which was an orchestral magnificence harking back to their early days.  Les wrote among others ‘’Rock and Roll Star’ which became a live favourite.  But John Lees was writing wonderful songs now.  He went ‘political’ again with ‘Mayday’ – sort of updated 1984 along with a coda of a choir singing ‘Land of Hope and Glory’.  He also wrote a song about a porn star ‘Polk Street Rag’  – and another masterpiece with ‘Suicide?’, which even had sound effects of a man wlaking to the edge of a tall building and jumping, or being pushed off (and hitting the groundtoo).  But despite the subject matter it is still a beautiful song.  The album is simply brilliant; it sold quite well too, despite coming out at the height of punk.  The band sounded imperious by now, their live shows were getting bigger too.  They seemed to have found their style and their distinctive sound was instantly recognisable.

Gone to Earth came next, shorter songs generally and their best seller.  Woolly gave us Spirit on the Water, and Les had a few decent songs, but again John Lees was brilliant.  The opener ‘Hymn’ -, another anthemic melody, even if the lyrics are too religious for my liking.  He also gave us ‘Poor Man’s Moody Blues’, which was how BJH were described by an NME journalist.  This song gave the lie to that.  This is another level than the Moodys’ who I also liked.  Like ‘Titles’, it plays with both the melody and the words of Nights in White Satin, but improves on them immeasurably.  This soon became a staple of their live show.  But apparently the constant annual round of tour and new album was wearing the band down.  John and les were barely talking, just meeting for live shows or recording, where each would bring in almost complete demo’s for the others to learn an play on.  Amazingly, this was exactly what happened a decade earlier to their heroes The Beatles, even to George (Woolly) being relegated to one or maybe two songs per album. Another double live album followed Live Tapes, which while excellent seems to really add very little to their collection.  Slightly longer versions but no new songs at all

Octoberon (Deluxe, Remastered & Excpanded Edition)

The Real Danger

Sunday 6th May

Forget North Korea, forget Russia, Forget Syria and forget Ukraine.  None of these will bring us to a third World War.  Or even another serious conflict.  Kim Il Jung, who is emerging out of the cartoon figure the West painted him as, into an intelligent man full of diplomatic skills.  He has long realised that his country needs to come in from the cold.  It is the only remaining ‘Communist’ country in the World and needs to change.  It is down to him and the South Korean leadership that the ice has been broken.  Donald Trump is merely a by-stander, frantically waving his arms on the side-lines while the real action has managed to exclude him completely.  Russia under Putin is cautious and a supreme chess player, he won’t risk War either; he will continue to push and probe, trying to increase Russia’s influence slowly but he will not risk War.  Syria will continue and will be in a sorry state for many years, but Assad will prevail in the end.

But the real danger is two-fold and it all relies on Iran.  There is an internal battle going on there, between the hard-liners who want a war against the West and the moderates who have managed to negotiate the deal.  Iran has stopped its nuclear programme (or put it on ice) at least, according to the international observers.  But Trump is threatening to break the deal and re-impose sanctions.  That could and may well end in tears.  The hard-liners may start to win and not only re-start the nuclear programme but get even more involved in Syria and Yemen.  Their absolute hatred of the Sunni Saudis (they are Shia) is already causing huge suffering in the never-ending battles in Iraq, Syria and Yemen.  But….

The real danger is Israel, or rather the policies of Benjamin Netanyahu.  His hatred if Iran knows no bounds.  He is quite capable of starting a war with them.  And that would bring in America and possibly Russia.  Also, the hypocrisy of Netanyahu, who undoubtedly has nuclear weapons and refuses to let the international inspectors into Israel, (and of course America and the UK sit on their hands whenever the UN criticises this nonsense), and yet is outraged by the very idea that Iran might be inching towards their own nuclear weapons.

And Trump seems to be completely in agreement with Netanyahu.  The only long-term solution to the Middle East is for everyone to stop hating and start talking.  Fat chance of that happening.  Quite the reverse, in fact the dangers of a new war are getting closer as each day passes

My Record Collection 17

Saturday 5th May

Barclay James Harvest (continued) – One last album came out in 1972 on the Harvest label (which without their namesake folded a couple of years later too) – Baby James Harvest.  Although the songs themselves are pretty good, the band sound a bit tired, directionless maybe; it could well be that these were largely left-overs from earlier albums re-recorded for the contractual obligations to Harvest.  I still like the record mind you, but before that a couple of singles emerged credited to Bombadil, but which were actually the band.  The full story for the name deception is not clear, but it must be something to do with trying to escape their record contract.  These and other singles and b sides are included as bonus tracks on this album.   The album itself is quite different from the first three.  There is one long classical piece, where Wolly (who wrote it) sings with just an orchestra.  The song is ‘Moonwater’ and though quite beautiful seems from a different era entirely.  The best song is probably ‘Summer Soldier’, another John Lees composition; this is about as close to ‘Political’ as the band got and echoes Buffy’s song ‘Universal Soldier’.  But the band were already dividing up their albums by different songwriters.  John Lees being in my opinion the best, but Les Holroyd has three songs on an only 6 (but long ones) song album.  These tend to be more ‘poppy’ somehow, less orchestral, less melodic to my ears.  Maybe just the constant touring and recording had taken their toll and this album was rushed out.  Still.

Two years until their next record.  New management, new record label (Polydor) and new sound.  They wisely dropped the orchestra and concentrated on a style they could reproduce live.  They had made four albums, which were selling steadily, and they were constantly playing live – and they were broke – so time for a re-think.  The new sound was a bit more dynamic, a bit heavier, and yet they still managed to retain their gentler moments and the complex structures of the songs which would climax and have quieter sections and build again – all in the same song.  They burst back with a new album Everyone is Everybody Else.  This was a bit more ‘political too, with a great new Woolly song ‘The Great 1974 Mining Disaster, which lamented the poor miners struggle.  Also, the title is taken from the final song ‘For No One’ which has that line in it.  A sort of hang-back to hippy ideals.  But the best song was another John Lees composition ‘Child of the Universe’, celebrating the fact that we are all ‘international and connected and one, a lovely melody too,  And there isn’t a poor song on the whole album, so, a great comeback, and the album sold better too.  They also released the first of several live albums, and this first one (a double) sold well too.

Baby James Harvest

A Laughing Stock

Friday 4th May

Living in France you get a different perspective on the news.  Thursday is market day, I am in the Café at seven and I see the same people week after week, grabbing an early morning coffee while setting up for another day.  And yesterday they were all amazed at our (Britain’s) Government.   They simply cannot believe the Windrush Scandal, how a Government could be so stupid as to try to chase people who have been working and paying taxes in the country for thirty, forty or even more years.  Add that to the general disbelief at our decision to press on with an absurd Brexit which will result in lost trade and influence – and they can only stand back and laugh at our stupidity.

Many in France do not like immigrants either, but even they can see that the policy designed by Theresa May is cruel and taking a sledge-hammer to crack a tiny nut.  But it is Brexit they mostly cannot comprehend.  Okay, they say, people stupidly voted for it, but surely it is up to Politicians to find a way of doing it sensibly with the least damage.  They say, “Have another vote, now it is clear what difficulties it involves”, or “Sit down and really talk to Europe and see what compromises can be reached”.  Our bull-headed approach is simply unbelievable to these Europeans.  And all they can do is sit back and laugh at us.

And even now, less than a year before ‘exit’ day, our be-knighted Government still has no clear policy regarding the Customs Union.  The Cabinet is still split and undecided.  Mrs. May, terrified of Boris or Gove resigning, is prevaricating once more. The votes in parliament are being pushed back and back, delaying the inevitable.  Does she really think that suddenly Peace and Harmony will break out both in Cabinet and in Parliament; that the EU will suddenly say “Oh, we were in the wrong all along…we must give Britain a wonderful deal even though they do not want to be part of us anymore”.

Unfortunately, there is still a long while to go before common-sense arrives.  I still have a sneaking suspicion that she actually wants the talks to collapse.  Then, an Election – Us against the nasty EU…we will see then if we are still a laughing stock.

Feminism Is The Absurd Concept That Women Are People Too

Wednesday 3rd May

This was apparently a bumper sticker seen in the Seventies in America.  It is so apt and to the point that it made me take notice.  On the face of it, of course Women are People.  But the whole point of Feminism is not only to grant Women the same rights and opportunities and pay as Men; which it seems to have descended into, important as that is.  I think the wider point is that the female perspective, which has always been ignored or put down by men is just as valid as the male one.  In fact in most cases it is a better ideal.  Sadly, one of the consequences of the Women’s Lib. Movement has been that some women felt they had to behave as badly as some men did in order to obtain parity.  It really has to be men who change; their laws, their attitudes, their privileges – women do not have to adapt to men’s ways of thinking in order to be ‘as good’ as men.  They have always been as good as men, if not better.  It is men who have not been as good as women.  Almost all Wars have been started by men, almost all Slavery was conducted by men, almost all Religious persecution has been at the hands of men.  Whereas almost all the nurturing of children has been done by women, almost all the caring for the sick has been done by women, and most of the educating is still done by women.

And it is only by education that things will change.  I, like all men, have had to learn how to understand the gender imbalance, and how to try to re-dress it.  And yet we still give little boys toy guns and swords, and little girls Princess outfits and dollies to play with.  We have, so far, had two Women Prime Minister’s – and sadly they have done nothing to promote real equality – in fact by many measures they have been worse than the men they beat to the top job.  The world will only improve when Women’s values are taken at least as seriously as Men’s.  (make-up and handbags excepted, please).


The Fear of The East

Wednesday 2nd May

Englishmen have always feared the East.  Even as they robbed and plundered, they feared and lacked comprehension.  They especially hated the Religions of the East (and by the way they almost all came from there).  The very ideas of Judaism and Islam were anathema to the upright Christian God-Fearing Englishman of the Nineteenth, and for much of the Twentieth Century.  Hinduism they sort of tolerated, not seeing it as a threat, and Confucianism was simply some Chinese nonsense. And History was on their side.  We were taught at school about the wonderful ancient Romans and Greeks, and of course Rome adopted Christianity and abandoned their plethora of exotic Gods.  The fall of Rome (now solidly Christian) was seen as a disaster, especially by the waves from the East; the Vandals and the Goths (both now incidentally almost terms of abuse).  Then came the Wilderness Centuries until Christianity was established all over Europe.  Then the threat came from the East again.  The crusades were the moral cause for a couple of hundred years.  The fear of the dark-skinned Moors ingrained in our souls.

And it is still there, it has never gone away.  I am re-reading the Forsyte saga, and book eight is essentially about an Englishman who adopts Islam; Galsworthy describes the feelings of anger and betrayal this stirred up in 1930.  For many, these views are basically the same today. Even though the vast majority of us only pay lip-service to Christianity, there is a deep fear of our country being taken over by another Religious belief.  But talk to any educated Muslim and you soon realise that their God is very similar to our own. Their values are almost exactly the same as our ‘Christian’ values.

Personally I have rejected all Religious belief, while still retaining the ‘Christian’ values – as I suspect that many people have.  For centuries Jews were abused and barely tolerated; this is slowly changing though there is still suspicion in many minds. But Islam is the new (actually very old) threat, stoked by anti-immigrant rhetoric from the papers and the Home Office alike.  I refuse to unfriend people on Facebook, even when they post the most disgraceful anti-Muslim nonsense.  I prefer to take them to task, even if this enrages them, at least they are forced to hear a different view. Tolerance and Understanding must win out in the end.  Though I fear it may take many more years to dispel this completely irrational fear of the East.


Nothing Has Changed

Tuesday 1st May

One – Theresa May addressing the Tory Party Conference some 10 or 12 years ago, when they had just lost three elections. “You know what they are calling us, don’t you – the Nasty Party”

Two – Less than a year ago, at a panicky press briefing after her disastrous manifesto Launch, (hands frantically up in the air) “Nothing has changed, NOTHING has changed.”

And nothing has changed, except they are even nastier than ever.  Oh, and incompetent too.  Nastiness is in their genes.  Austerity is a policy to make the poor pay for the mistakes of the rich (the banking crisis of 2008). Tax cuts are a reward for Companies and those fortunate to be on high salaries.  For what exactly?  For their greed of course.  Immigration Policy is pandering to the prejudices of White people, whose forefathers raped and pillaged and stole and enslaved millions in their Greed. People who have lived here for decades, who have worked and paid taxes but may have arrived as children are being ruthlessly and cruelly hounded by a policy where they are presumed guilty until they can ‘prove’ their innocence.  It is all a part of the double-speak of the Tories. “Of course we appreciate the contribution of immigrants – just don’t stay too long and don’t ever think you will be considered truly British.”

Vince Cable was spot-on when he said the vote for Brexit was largely an attempt to wind back the clock to a time when Britain was predominantly (and it still is) white, when we had an Empire (now a Commonwealth –  which doesn’t love us at all).  When I first arrived in London and was walking around looking for a place to stay.  I saw signs in windows “No Blacks, No Irish, No Dogs”.  And nothing has changed – the signs have been removed but the sentiment remains (except for the little puppies – just don’t let them shit on the carpets).

The whole Windrush scandal was created by Theresa May, who was still pulling the strings when Amber Rudd was called Home Secretary.  She created the “Hostile Environment” for all immigrants. She is the one who should resign.  But of course, Amber Rudd had to take the flak, she was the one forced to resign while May remains locked in her fortress.  Nothing Has Changed.