All posts by adrian

What Are Universities Actually For?

Wednesday 21st February

Theresa May has announced a year-long review (nicely into the long grass) of University Funding, because she says that the present system, which she and her Cabinet Colleagues helped to create (and certainly exacerbated by the tripling of fees) is not working.  Well, we all know that.  But I suspect that her announcement has far more to do with a feeble attempt to divert attention away from Brexit, and her fear of the popularity of Labour’s Policy of scrapping fees entirely, than any real concern.

The question of funding certainly needs to be addressed. How could we have allowed such a crazy system to have emerged.  In England, the Student Loan Company (an arms-length branch of Government) borrows money from the Bank of England and lends it to students at 6% a year; they don’t begin to repay this until they achieve a certain salary (around 30k).  But the debt keeps on growing.  On average students will be leaving Uni with a £57,000 debt – which will either be repaid at about 9p in the pound or written off after 30 years.  At present about 45% of this money is lost and the taxpayer picks up the tab.  Mrs. May says that almost everyone agrees that those who benefit from a University Education should have to pay for it.  Oh yes, just like she, and the vast majority of M.P.s, have paid for theirs.

But all of that is almost a side issue.  The real question should be “What are Universities Really For?”

In my day, the late Sixties, a University Education was far more about broadening one’s horizon, expanding one’s life experience, following an intellectual pursuit.  We assumed that on the whole this might give us a better career, although hovering in the background was the advice of my Careers Officer at the sole 15 minute interview I had with her. “Well, if you go to University – you can always become a teacher.”  And actually. many of my classmates did just that.  Not that being a teacher is anything poor or second-rate, but I am not sure that simply passing exams and going to Uni, or Teacher training college is necessarily the best way of choosing good teachers.  In my school all the teachers were graduates, and half of them had the communication skills of a gnat.

Now unfortunately, Universities seem to exist mostly to inflate the salaries of the Senior staff and administrators.  Employers are now, because of the hugely increased numbers of graduates, asking for degrees for many quite low-skilled jobs.  Graduates are being forced to work as waitresses or shop assistants because of the high level of degrees among candidates for the jobs they really would like to be doing.  In my mind, far too many people are going to University, and consequently the value of a degree has fallen.  There are too many Universities and Colleges which simply churn out degrees of little value in the real world.

I do accept that many Universities do valuable research work, but can we afford under any system to send so many kids to University?

There is also quite a stigma, in certain circles, attached to those who did not go to University.   I have received this several times.  I was destined for Uni, but flunked it and had a different further education.  I had to teach myself about computers, and Accounts (never been on a course in my life).  And I have met quite a few graduates with shiny degrees who know nothing about how business really works, or the slightest understanding of Accounts.  But that is another story.

I just wonder why we spend, one way or another, ten times as much on sending kids to University, as we do on Apprenticeships or vocational training.  Maybe it comes down to the simple fact that most M.P.s are University educated (mostly at no cost to themselves) and they assume that this is essential for the continued success of the country; a sort of elitism that still pervades our Establishment.  Intelligence has little to do with passing exams, and we are maybe placing far too much importance on a University education.

Let The Whole Nation Rejoice !!!!

Tuesday 20th February

Football is a funny game; which is probably why it is the most popular in the World. A game can be boring, often very boring – especially if it is anticipated, with two very good well-matched sides; it often dribbles out into a goalless draw.  And then, the unexpected happens and you get a see-saw of a high-scoring game with goals-a-plenty.  It is also a funny game, in that predictions are not easy.  Now, in rugby, it is rare for a weaker side to beat a stronger one.  In cricket we see the same thing.  (American football – don’t even go there).  But in football there is a big element of luck. Accidental hand-balls and penalties; back-passes that the goalkeeper doesn’t see coming; weird headers; miss-kicked crosses that somehow float into the net.  There are games where a poor side gets a lucky deflection and wins.  There are games where a side plays brilliantly but just cannot get the ball in the net…and so it goes.  I think that this unpredictability is one of the reasons for the games success.

Also, we have especially recently seen the money.  Ridiculous amounts of money being pumped into the game.  Teams like Chelsea, who a few years ago rarely troubled the top spots, get a new rich owner, and year after year buy, buy, buy; both players and managers and begin to win…well, nearly everything.  But money cannot guarantee success. Chelsea are struggling this year, with much the same side and coach that won the league easily last year….three cheers please.

And, most wonderful of all – Manchester City, who have similarly been boosted recently by a millionaire owner, and are a zillion points clear at the top of the Premier league, were facing lowly Wigan ( a team fallen on hard times of late) in the FA Cup last night.  It was on BBC 1.  I didn’t watch it; who wants to see lambs ritually slaughtered?  I awoke this morning and as usual checked the soccer results.  Oh, my goodness.  Wigan had won.  They beat the mighty Man. City, just as they did almost 5 years ago in the Wembley final.

So let us raise a glass….the mighty have been beaten by the humble….

My Record Collection 2

Monday 19th February

A – Adele   She burst onto the scene in 2008 with her debut album 19 (her age when the songs were recorded).   The record sold in the millions; it seemed to strike a chord with young people, and many older ones too, especially women.  Her songs are almost all about love, lost or unrequited or desired.  Most of her songs she has written,, but the best song on 19 was undoubtedly her superb interpretation of Dylan’s ‘Make You Feel My Love’ – but maybe I am biased.  She has a wonderful voice, but maybe it is just me – I find it slightly grating at record’s end.  I quite like her, and yet, she doesn’t really do it for me.  Ah well, maybe I am just getting old.

Her second album 21 was an even bigger hit, and is surprisingly, the fourth biggest selling record ever in the UK.  Some achievement, or maybe it is just that the competition (whatever else was available for the listening public) was not that fantastic.  Also the vast majority of these sales would have been digital.  I almost never download music, and maybe people nowadays download on other’s recommendations and then don’t really play the record that much. In some ways this is a better record, a few very good songs – but again, to my ears her voice tends to grate a bit.

Her third record 25 was just as massive – I haven’t felt inspired to buy it yet.

A – Air   French duo from France consisting of Nicolas Godin and Jean-Benoit Duckel.  I know, French artists barely get a look-in over here, but in the field of electronica they are at the forefront.  And I have always been interested in this genre, ever since seeing Tangerine Dream back in the late Sixties.  Talking about the Sixties, most of you will, I am sure, think that I only love that old stuff.  Actually most of my music is from the Seventies and the Eighties.  Note, the first few entries in this record are all from well after the Sixties.

Anyway, the band Air.  They make dreamy floaty music, almost filmic and mostly quite moody and instrumental – and when voices do come in they are mooted and subtle.  Their first release was an EP, but at 33 minutes long it is almost an album.  Gentle and smooth, almost late night dance music the tracks blend into one another beautifully.  At this point I have to thank my daughter Laura who has introduced me to lots of ‘Modern Music’, especially trip hop and electronica, which would have passed me by otherwise.

The duo’s first album proper was 1998’s ‘Moon Safari’, which became quite a minor hit for them.  Single ‘Sexy Boy’ was played a lot on the radio; my favourite song is ‘All I Need’ with the vocals sung by Beth Hirsch.  Talking of which, I can remember when The Beatles first started using ‘guest artists’ like Eric Clapton, there was quite some controversy.  But then it became quite okay to use other musicians.  I am not sure who the first were to use completely different vocalists on their records, but I remember buying Steve Hackett’s second record ‘Please Don’t Touch’ (see H) and discovering at least three different singers on the record (because Steve, a wonderful guitarist, thought his own voice was too weak).  But then in the Nineties there were lots of records “featuring” some other artist.  And now it is quite common to have ‘guest vocalists’ on your records.  Anyway, ‘Moon Safari’ is a lovely record; again smooth and melodic and almost segueing from one track to another.  Next up is ‘50,000 Hertz Legend’, a strange title but a great record, maybe their best.  More varied, better songs and great vocals – they really got into their stride with this one. Best songs are ‘How does it make you feel’ and ‘Don’t be light’.  But not a poor tune on the record.

Air were also quite prolific, writing a few soundtracks for movies and different mixes.  Their next record was ‘Everybody hertz’ – a mash-up of 50,000 Hertz.  I am not sure I really like these mix-albums.  They can be more than a bit repetitive, and anyway – isn’t it a bit cheap to keep remixing old stuff?  Anyway, one or two of the versions maybe add something to the original, but it doesn’t really hang together as an album.  (Although on a second listen, it is actually quite good – so what do I know).  Next up is 2004’s ‘Talkie Walkie’; again quite a pleasant record, but I was beginning to think they really had nothing new to offer.  I suppose I am still hankering after the progression in music we had in the Sixties and Seventies, when each new record was different and exciting.  But then again, if you have found a niche, a style which is successful, and people keep buying your music – what incentive is there to explore new ideas?   The last Air album I have is 2007’s ‘Pocket Symphony’ – this is a bit more upbeat, a bit more varied and a few more vocals.  Quite a nice little record.  And that is almost it from this surprisingly good French duo.  I have ordered their next record ‘Love 2’ but I haven’t heard it yet – it was cheap on ebay – on the strength of this re-listen.

Our Party’s Policy On Brexit

Sunday 18th February

The Conservatives – Our policy on Brexit is crystal clear.  The people have spoken, and even though it was crass stupidity of Cameron to have allowed the referendum in the first place, those wretched Ukippers were stealing our votes – and it seemed a good idea at the time.  Even though we were devastated by the result – or some of us were at least, we immediately embraced the idea.  Our problem is that we do have some Brexit nutters in our party and they could, at any moment topple Saint Theresa.  So, we must continue to obfuscate and confuse and refuse to commit to anything definite.  In this way we not only keep our own party in check, but the dastardly Europeans have no idea what we want either.  In the end, no matter what compromises we are forced to make, in order to get any sort of a trade deal at all, we, and our friends in the Press will laud it as a great triumph.  Winning the next election is our only priority.  So, you see, our policy is crystal clear.

Labour – Our policy on Brexit is crystal clear.  Even though our Leader was always highly sceptical about the EU he campaigned ‘vigorously’ for Remain.  Despite his best efforts the electorate chose to Leave.  And we respect that decision, more in fear of them voting Tory than anything else.  We know that leaving the EU will be a disaster economically, but it will have been the Tories who negotiated it, so we will blame them for everything.  As soon as we know just what Mrs. May has negotiated we will, of course, oppose it.  There are many, even some within our own party, who want us to declare now that we want to remain in the Single Market, or at least the Customs Union – but even though this is eminently sensible, that would be a mistake.  Just think what the Sun and the Mail would make of that.  No, our policy on Brexit is crystal clear.

The LibDems   Our policy on Brexit is crystal clear.  We wish it had never happened.  In fact – we don’t really believe that the public actually voted to leave – they may have ticked that box, but they had no idea what they were doing, there was a collective lapse of common-sense, and It is obvious that in that case we must re-run the referendum (and continue to re-run it until the right decision is achieved).  However, as we will never gain power on our own, who cares.  We can say whatever we like and be complacent in the knowledge that we are always right.  If there should be a hung parliament we will not go into Coalition (not after last time) but will simply sit on the fence – that is, if Mr. Corbyn can share the fence with us.  So, you see, our p0licy on Brexit is crystal clear.

UKIP – Of all the parties, no-one can deny that our policy is crystal clear.  We have always and will always hate Europe.  We will fight them on the beaches.  However we will be furious if when we actually leave Europe, our MEP salaries will cease.  What a cheek, and a very EU thing to do.  When we finally elect a leader with the slightest shred of credibility and win the next election we will build a wall along the Channel and repel all boarders.  Long Live the Empire. Our policy on Brexit is the only policy we have, and it is crystal clear.

Author’s note – I hope that this has cleared up any misunderstandings which you the general public may have had.

SIPS, SLIPS AND SNIPPETS OF LOVE – The ending

Friday 16th February

“What will we do now?” thought June, “What on earth will become of us?  Phil will never be able to hold his head up after this, even if he doesn’t end up in prison he won’t be a solicitor again.  We will lose the house I suppose.  Well, I never liked it that much anyway.  In a way he took the easy way out, didn’t he?  Left me to pick up the pieces, but I am afraid I cannot do that, Phil.  I want to run away too, only I have nowhere to run to.”

And where has that lovely little girl Harriet gone, the one she used to cuddle as a baby, where had she gone to?   She had grown up and away from her mother and June doesn’t recognize her any more, but then she doesn’t recognize herself anymore either.  She looks in the mirror and she appears so old and worn out, and she has nothing left inside her to give Harriet, or Jane of course, and heaven knows she was the real innocent in all of this.  “What a bloody mess, and it’s all been my fault.” She kept thinking,  “How could I have been so stupid?  Why did I have to tell her that; one of my deepest recurring fears.  I could have lied, I could have told her what she wanted to hear, that Phil was really her father.  It would have been so easy to have lied, I really don’t know why I told her the truth.  It must have hurt her, but maybe I just wanted to hurt someone else.” She reasoned with herself,  “It seems okay for everyone to hurt me, that’s okay because I am June and June has done the unthinkable, she has slept with her sister’s man, so anything she gets she deserves, but I am some sort of terrible person if I hurt someone else.” As she prepared for bed she told herself “Tomorrow I will make it alright. Tomorrow I will say sorry to them and start to try to mend things, I am just too tired now.  Plenty of time tomorrow.  For now I just want to drift away. I want sleep to come and take me away.”

* * *

“And suddenly Harriet was gone.  Of course I was so stupid, I didn’t think for a moment that she was going out to score, that didn’t cross my mind.  And even if I had gone with her, would I have known what she was up to.  She would probably have just laughed it off, even while she was getting the stuff, and naïve little idiot me, I would probably have laughed too.

“But I hadn’t realised that was what she would do.  I hadn’t realised that now that was the answer to all her problems.  Just shows how far we had fallen apart, even now I had no real idea of what was driving my sister.  The only way she could function was to get so out of it that she didn’t have to think about her mother or her father or even who her father was, or indeed who I was, or even any more about who Harriet was.  So she went out and scored.  She didn’t get any heroin, we discovered that later, but she got some amphetamines and took far too many and that only made her worse.  Her body was craving heroin and all she could offer it were these mild substitutes.  And I hadn’t realised, even when she came in looking all bleary-eyed and exhausted and insisting on going straight up to her bed.  I just thought she had been drinking, it was quite late, and I had stayed up waiting for her till well past eleven, so was quite happy to get back to my own bed and the temporary relief of sleep.”

*  * *

“Can’t sleep, I feel so tired and I can’t even sleep.” As Harriet tossed and turned.  “What’s the use; every time I try to get free I get dragged back down again.  I should never have come back here.  When I got kicked out of Leeds I should have just stayed in London.  I don’t know why I came back, I couldn’t even help my Dad; they wouldn’t even let me see him.” She railed at herself, “My Dad, the man I have always loved and looked up to as my Dad.  How could she have said that about him?  Why didn’t she just lie?  I would have been happy with a lie. A lie would have hurt no-one.  And all I want to do is sleep, sleep without ever waking to this nightmare, because that is what it is. My life seems to have drifted into some horrible recurring dream that I can’t shake off.  I just want it all to stop, so I can get to sleep.”

*  * *

Jane can’t remember drifting off at all, but she remembers waking up.  That terrible noise, that awful bang; so loud and quite unlike any noise she had ever heard before.  She sat bolt upright and suddenly knew.  Oh my God, how she knew.  She ran out of her room and along the passage to Harriet’s room but she knew, oh how she knew, she wouldn’t be there.  She was tearing downstairs when the smell hit her, that sickening stench of cordite, the oily smoky smell of a gun recently fired.  It sticks to the back of your tongue, like iron or blood, and you can’t get the taste out of your mouth.  Harriet and she had sometimes gone out shooting with Daddy and his friends, always kept safely away from the guns as they blasted pheasants out of the sky, but she had never forgotten the stench of those guns, that sickening smell of death hanging in the air, as the dogs lolloped off to retrieve their kill.

Her mother was only feet behind Jane and tried to grab her to pull her back, she reached out to claw her daughter back but Jane was faster than her, her long hair slipping through her fingers as she outran her mother.  Her father’s study door was wide open and Jane could see the blue smoke drifting lazily out into the hall, she knew what she would find, but couldn’t stop herself.

Harriet had propped herself up in a corner with the butt of the gun wedged between her thighs and the barrel under her chin.  The top of her head was missing, but most of her face was still intact.  Her beautiful sister Harriet was a bloody mess, but Jane held her in her arms and cradled her poor broken head in her hands as she tried to comfort her, just as she had comforted her younger sister so often in the past.

“There there, it’s alright Harriet, I am here now my darling, it’s alright, Jane is here now, Jane is here now.”    She was cuddling her poor broken sister, as she used to cuddle her when they were little children.  They hadn’t cuddled for years and years.  But now her sweet Harriet was in her arms, safe in her arms again. All those years ago Harriet had really been her mother, wiping the dirt from her face with a licked hanky (Jane had no hanky now to wipe the blood from Harriet’s shattered face).  Harriet helping Jane get dressed in the morning, holding her hand on the way to school, listening to her complaints, kissing her tears away, protecting and holding her.  And now their roles were reversed, Jane was the Mummy she had never known, she was there for her this time, she would comfort her, Jane would protect her, she would let no harm come to her, she would kiss away all her fears. They sat huddled together in the dark, the only light coming from the hallway.  Harriet was so quiet she could have been asleep, and Jane caressed her as she slept quietly in her arms.  ‘Safe from harm now, my baby, safe from harm.’

Their peace was suddenly broken by their mother, who was calling to Jane from the doorway, “Jane, Jane, come away from her now. Come over here, please Jane.” She kept saying, holding her nightdress tight and half bending over, her hair straggling and snaking away from her silhouetted head.

Jane looked up and saw her coming slowly towards them, the light from the passage behind her, with her hands outstretched and her hair all a mess, flying around her head.  “Keep away from her.” Jane screamed, “She’s asleep now.  Stay away mother.”  But she kept coming towards her. “I said, keep away, you bloody witch,” but she kept coming towards her, and all Jane could see was her hair floating all over the place.  She doesn’t remember picking up the gun, but she remembers warning her to stay away.  Why didn’t she listen?  And then Jane heard the bang, and the terrific kick in her shoulder as it knocked her halfway across the carpet.  ‘Why didn’t she listen to me?  She had never listened to me.’  And she crawled back to Harriet and they sat there – the two of them, Jane cradling her sister in her arms, in the dawning light of her father’s study, watching as the sun came up, and the police arrived and the ambulance people took her wounded mother away, and the policewoman gently peeled Jane’s hands from Harriet’s bloody head and led her away.

*  * *

“Thank God I had only wounded my mother, though I would happily have killed her, as I told everyone for years, but I never told them the reasons why.  I told everyone I had wanted to kill her and for years I believed it too.  She had been the reason for my Harriet dying and I had wanted her to pay.  I had wanted to kill her so badly, for the harm she had done to us all; my father – who only wanted to be loved, my Aunt Julie who surely never deserved her own sister to betray her like that, Harriet who despite her words was only looking for love too, and me, for taking my Harriet from me.  I didn’t kill her, though I had wanted to, I only wounded her. I had smashed her left hip and she spent months in hospital and walked with a pronounced limp for the rest of her life.”

Jane, fifty years later, explained to the psychologist.

“For years whenever I saw her that limp reminded me that at last she had paid for some of her sins.  You see, I always blamed her for Harriet’s death, but I later came to realise it was all of us who killed Harriet. My mother and Uncle Ted with their selfish lust, my cowardly father who couldn’t even see the line between integrity and dishonesty, and even me in my uncritical worship of her.  And Harriet too, of course, she was on some sort of trajectory, she could have flown so high and shone so brightly if the spark hadn’t burned itself out so soon.  And actually I don’t believe my mother at all now.  Harriet and I were true sisters, we had the same father all along.  Of that I am certain.”

She paused for breath, as the ghosts of those days swept silently past her.

“You must know all the rest, the psychiatric reports, the attempts to hurt myself, the long periods in care, the depression, the pills, the failed relationships and all.  It’s all there in black and white, you must have read the official reports.  It’s mostly true, but as you can see, it only tells half the story.  But I am empty now, I have told you all I can remember, and possibly more. There really is nothing else I can tell you, I’ve said it all.”

And so how do you feel now Jane? Isn’t it better to have got that off your chest?  Of course I knew the bare bones of your story, it is quite well documented but you have always refused to talk in any meaningful way about it before. 

“Why?  Are you surprised?  I shot my own mother.  I wanted to kill her because she had killed Harriet.  Nobody really cared what I thought anyway?  I don’t remember anyone asking me why I shot her, and I didn’t want anyone to know either.  In fact I can’t really remember anything so clearly that happened after that day.”

No, I think we have talked enough today, don’t you.  But please tell me Jane, do you think that this has helped, to have relived these memories, has it helped you at all? 

“Helped me?  To be honest I think I am beyond help, don’t you.  And now I have even betrayed Harriet, my darling sister, haven’t I?”

No Jane, you have at last reconciled yourself to her death.  That’s what we have achieved today.

Funny, it doesn’t seem that way to me.

Boris The Spider

Thursday 15th February

John Entwistle was the bass player in the Who.  He was also their musical arranger and could play a range of brass and woodwind instruments – he also wrote a few songs.  But, just as George was in The Beatles, he was sidelined by the brilliance of Pete Townshend’s songwriting.  But a few of his compositions became fan and live favourite’s, none more so than Boris the Spider.

Some people have an irrational (or maybe it isn’t) fear of spiders; some people love them.  I have often marveled at the intricacy of their webs, especially in the Winter when they are sparkling with a frosty rime.   And their patience, they wait, seemingly asleep and when there is a vibration rippling through the struts as an innocent smaller insect lands and gets stuck in the sticky web – out he scuttles to gobble it up.

Ruthlessness and patience; two very clever tactics.

But now we have another Boris, larger than life – and just as deadly.  He too has been busy spinning his web for years, waiting (maybe not so patiently) for the moment to pounce.  The trouble with this Boris is that he pounces too early, and repeatedly, shaking the very web he has so diligently spun.  Unlike the real spider, this Boris doesn’t like lurking in dark corners.  He loves the spotlight; he was a regular on ‘Have I Got News For You’; witty and erudite and not above being the butt of the joke.  He ran for, and won twice, the Mayoralty of London, despite the city being predominantly Labour.  He was quick to whip up Audiences with silly gestures and announcements, but he actually achieved little as Mayor.  He got rid of the Bendy buses and introduced his own (far more expensive) buses.  He appropriated a scheme already planned and renamed it ‘the Boris Bike’.  Incidentally, this is failing already with fewer people using them year on year.

And he has been very successful in stealing ideas.  He used to be a Remainer, lauding the EU, but seeing his opportunity he jumped at almost the last moment onto the famous ‘£350 million for the NHS bus’, and took over as the driver, appearing almost nightly with his mix of bonhomie and confidence, persuading people that there was nothing to fear.  He even said we could still leave the EU and stay in the Single Market.  He was apparently surprised when his side won, and despite being betrayed by Gove, had his own web spun already with the winner.  Mrs. May, to everyone’s amazement appointed him as Foreign Secretary.

And he is still at it; spinning his web – and waiting for her to fall.  Then he will pounce. Boris the spider is not asleep at all.

My Record Collection 1

Wednesday 14th February

Author’s Note – this book will never be finished because I keep adding to the damn thing.  So, it will be a series of snapshots in time.  There are 4 elements to my record collection.  The most important and most enduring are the CDs, many bought first on Vinyl, taped to cassette and re-purchased later on CD.  I also have a large and rarely played collection of CD singles, many with rare tracks on them.  Not to be forgotten are the cassettes, recently played but again consigned for now to their lonely existence in the garage – along with a few boxes of Vinyl and 12 inch singles.  One day I will get round to fishing out my record deck and playing these too – though I will probably save them on my computer.  They call this progress – but I am not sure anything can replace the thrill of sitting on a bus home clutching your new unheard Album and reading the sleeve notes and lyrics. But let us start with the CD’s – filed as you might expect in alphabetical order (almost, for some reason Elton John is filed under E, not J, but hey does it really matter).  I tend to only keep CDs I like in my collection but a few duds have strayed in, and I find it hard to simply get rid of these; they hang on like odd socks or ornaments you keep meaning to get rid of.  Maybe once I have bought the thing I find it hard to admit defeat and imagine that one day I will get to appreciate it.  Who knows…

A – Absolute Beginners   I only bought this as most people did, because of the two Bowie songs on it.  It is a soundtrack of a 1986 film which flopped, and apart from the Bowie tracks and one from Ray Davies it is pretty dire.  Actually, only the title song by Bowie is really any good.

A – Ryan Adams    Not to be confused with Bryan Adam, he was once the golden boy wonder, who would take the Singer-Songwriter world by storm.  He used to be in an excellent country-ish band Whiskytown (see W) and went solo in 2000 (see, contrary to popular opinion I do have stuff later than the Sixties in my collection) with the brilliant Heartbreaker (my favourite of his).   This is almost a perfect record; his voice is plaintive, pleading, sad – and yet joyful on some songs.  Sometimes just acoustic guitar, sometimes quite rocking.  And some gorgeous melodies; best songs ‘Be My Winding Wheel’, ‘Come Pick Me Up’ and ‘Oh My Sweet Carolina’.  When this record came out, the critics were talking of Ryan maybe joining the ranks of Neil Young and James Taylor – he was that talented, but actually; quite like Neil he seems to have followed his muse, not caring what the critics say, and losing fans along the way – me included.  His next was a huge hit ‘Gold’, a more mature and assured record with less acoustic songs and better production.  Some great songs too – ‘Nobody girl’ ‘Answering Bell’ and ‘The Rescue Blues’ among them.  It is almost as good as Heartbreaker but loses something, some touch of sadness and regret maybe.  But still, a triumph.

And then what happened?  Well, maybe he just decided to plough his own furrow, or wanted to be awkward.  He has continued to release albums, some good and some not so good.  But somehow the quality of his song-writing seems to have slipped.  I now only buy the occasional CD if I see it in a second-hand shop.  I have two others in my collection; ‘Love is Hell’, which I think was his fourth – it is truly miserable, and this from a fan of Leonard Cohen; one or two decent songs but bleak.  I also have ‘29’ another disappointing record. Still, I continue to read his reviews…and you never know.

 

A Few Crazy Ideas

Tuesday 13th February

Sometimes ideas, which are totally the opposite of conventional thinking are needed; they might appear right off the Richter Scale, but in these troubled times they actually might be the solution.  And it is strange how some whacky concepts have now become mainstream.  Forty years ago ideas like Gay Marriage, Smoking Bans and Gender Re-Assignment would have been laughed at.  And to be fair Governments have usually been far more cautious than the general public at accepting them.

Okay, so – we seem to be having a problem with an ageing population.  The retirement age is constantly being increased, because Governments see this as a problem – or rather paying these people their State Pensions as a problem.  So, why don’t we think out of the box – and lower the retirement age.  Straightaway down to 65, but over say ten years down to 60.  Madness, you say.  And yes, it will cost a lot of money.  Or will it?  Under my idea, everyone would be entitled to a State Pension far earlier than now.  If they wanted to they could continue to work, but both incomes would be included in any taxes they might pay.  But, if they chose to do voluntary work they would get their State Pension completely tax-free.  There are many things which Local Councils would love to do, but they simply cannot afford the staff.  Helping at Retirement Homes or visiting older people in their homes, looking after parks and open spaces, helping at schools.  So money could be saved, or better spent and people’s lives improved.

Annual Health Checks is another obvious winner.  Spotting diseases early would not only save lives but prevent some pretty expensive and invasive surgery.  You see, it all depends on how you look at things.  If you see public Expenditure as a problem, then it will always be a problem and be pared back.  If you see it as an opportunity to improve people’s lives, then finding the wherewithal to pay for it is the solution. The Tories believe instinctively that if people want a better life, they should work hard and pay for it; Socialists believe (or should) that it is the duty of Government to help those less fortunate by Collective effort.

A Basic Income – this is quite an old idea, which may – in the coming age of Automation – be gaining some traction.  The idea is that everyone should receive a basic income, enough to live on – as a right. Automation is happening, and at present it is seen by Industry as a way of saving money and increasing Profit – but it is also a release from the tedium and hardship of much work presently done by humans.  But for this liberation to work we have to completely change our attitude to how Money works.  At present it works for the benefit of a few at the expense of the many, it is called Capitalism. I would like to see a future where companies are largely owned by those working for them and where profits are limited.  An Excessive Profit Tax isn’t a bad idea, as is a truly progressive income tax.  In other words, the more you earn or own the more your contribution to the welfare of others.

I know, these ideas will never work!!! But….technological change is roaring down the tracks.  We either use it for the benefit of a very few, as at present; or we all benefit.  The choice is ours, and maybe these crazy ideas will in the not too distant future be mainstream.

Recession…What Recession?

Monday 12th February

The government will be in denial.  The Mad Brexiteers will smell conspiracy and say that the numbers are being fiddled.  But there is little doubt that Britain is doing quite badly; if not heading for a recession in the not too distant future.  It may not all be due to Brexit, but much of it is.  Or to be more precise, the uncertainty surrounding the immediate and, far more important, the longer term, future.

Unbelievably, over half way through the negotiations we really are no clearer about just what sort of a Brexit we will end up with.  Or indeed, even what sort of a transitional period – just over a year away, we will get either.

In December it all seemed so easy, after a bumpy couple of days, and actually months we wasted arguing over minutiae which in the end we pretty well caved in over, we had agreement.  No precise numbers on the Divorce bill, but what we all thought was agreement on both the rights of EU citizens and the transition.  We were told, and as far as I could understand, we actually signed up to, a 21 month ‘implementation’ period when practically nothing would change.  Mrs. May even said that both the Government and Business wanted only one change, presumably in 2021.  That would mean that we stay in the Single Market and the Customs Union during that period – but, as we would have technically left the EU we would no longer have any input into any rule changes.  Seems obvious enough.  But now Rees-Mogg and the other right wingers are saying that this is not acceptable, as we will be a ‘vassal’state.  Incidentally I thought that they always considered us as that anyway, that was why they hated the EU so much.  Now, there is uncertainty, and the embarrassment of Ministers being unable to give any answers at all.

And this is only about the Transition.  There have been no discussions at all, and so far, no agreed Government position on any future trading agreement after that.

December was poor for retailers, as was January too; inflation is really 4.1% if you exclude mortgages which have stayed steady for the last few years.  GDP is running at about 1.5% only half what we had on average year on year from 1945 to 2007.  But this poor performance is set against rising economic growth in Europe and around the world.

Car sales are slipping, and it looks as if even house prices in London and the SouthEast are falling too.  And the longer the uncertainty the worse things will get.  I suspect that no agreement will be reached on trade by the time we actually leave the EU (March 2019), and actually there is no reason why there should be.  Any future trading relationship has nothing to do with the process of Brexit itself.  The Japanese ambassador gave a stark warning that if it became unprofitable to make cars in Britain then they and other manufacturers would leave.  By unprofitable, he meant if tariffs are imposed, if there is no Customs Union, if the free movement of goods is impeded.   And yet, all the signs are that that may well be the Brexit we end up with.

Oh dear….and yet the Brexiteers will not only blame Europe for not giving us what we have asked for, but will also no doubt cry “Recession…what recession?”

Syria – The Most Complex Conflict

Sunday 11th February

Can someone tell me, please, just who is not involved in the fighting in Syria?  It is the most unholy mess imaginable, and it has been going on for almost eight years already.

It started with rebel groups, supported and equipped by a crazy coalition of Saudi Arabia, America and Israel – who of course all deny any involvement.  The Saudi’s are really fighting iran, who they suspect of having influence over Bashhar Assad, the pretty undemocratic leader of Syria who took over from his father.  The Assads are from the Baath party which is actually quite a Socialist party.  Before the war started Syria, along with Iraq had Universities and Free Schools and hospitals, most people, despite having few Political freedoms had a decent life. There is also a Religious element (when isn’t there?) as Syria and Iran are Sunni, and Saudi Arabia is Shi’ite.   America just love to destabilise this region…oh and Syria also has oil.

Anyway, the rebels were quite successful to begin with and seized quite a lot of cities and territory in Syria.  But, one (if not quite a few) of the disparate rebel groups were Religious nutters, including ISIS or Daesh (or whatever name they now use).  Supported by America, this group started to gain ascendancy in both Syria and Iraq, and at one time were actually threatening Baghdad itself.  Panic in the West, who then practically declared war on this group.  A bombing campaign started with France and Britain involved too – though thanks to Milliband we stopped short of committing troops on the ground.  Instead we helped the Kurds, who were fighting anyway for their own homeland in both Northern Iraq and Syria.  The Kurds have been the most successful of all the forces fighting in both Syria and Iraq.  Meanwhile, the Russians, allies of Syria waded in with bombing missions of their own, targeting not only ISIS but many of the rebel groups.  The tide started to turn and ISIS is practically wiped out and the rebel groups are being beaten back too.  The Kurds are hanging onto a large area in Syria too.

Now enter Turkey, who have always had a problem in the East of their country, as the Kurds are also fighting for a homeland in Eastern Turkey.  Turkey is now bombing the Kurds in Syria.

Not to be left out, Israel is getting involved (maybe always was) and a plane of theirs, on a bombing mission – supposedly to target Iranians in Syria (Oh, I forgot to mention that they are also fighting alongside Assad’s forces) has been shot down.  Who knows how this will ever end, or if it will ever end.  But so far France, America, Russia, Turkey, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Israel and Britain have been fighting or bombing people in that poor country.  And what no-one mentions is that each and every bombing raid kills people, almost all of them innocent civilians…