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.

Sadness

Monday 30th April

Sadness – at the passing of the years, the hopes and dreams, the laughs and the tears.  Like a chain of links that slips through my fingers, memories are the only things that still linger.  Each day as the razor sweeps down my cheeks, I gaze at a face that I never did seek.  I used to recognise who I could see, but I don’t know this old man staring back at me. Time is cruel and shows no pity, growing old can be really shitty.

Sadness – at a life I have probably wasted, the fame I sought I barely tasted.  I wanted to be a rock and roll singer, but was born with the voice of a complete minger.  I was spotted early as a potential M. P. but blew it – ‘ain’t that just like me.  I could have written much better than I did, but deep inside I was still a kid, too intent on having fun to have taken the prize I should have won.

Sadness – at the lovers that I let slip, the spaces between cup and lip.  The chances I wasted without number, the nights I woke sweating from slumber.  The faces I promised to love forever, the lies I meant but could honour never.  The empty rooms I wandered through, not knowing why or even who to.

Sadness – but tinged with some real hope, as towards understanding I finally grope. And looking back things haven’t been so bad, no real reason to be feeling so sad.  Every life is worth exactly the same, life really isn’t some sort of game.  It’s the only one we are likely to get, just get on and live it – no need for regret.

The Long Run

Sunday 29th April

What do we mean by the long run?  A few months, years even?  But rarely do we consider much past the length of our own lives.  But most of us have children or grandchildren, who we love dearly – what of them in the Long Run?

I was struck by an article in the Guardian from a long-standing Climate Change Scientist, who, now in his Eighties, is stating that the Human Race has almost been run.  Extinction is staring us in the face, he says, and no amount of technological change will save either us or the planet (or rather many species on the planet at present).  In all likelihood even if temperatures continue to rise inexorably, new species will evolve and take over the Earth.

It set me thinking; maybe we are just like those smokers who despite warning after warning that it is killing us, continue puffing away – well, it may not actually kill me, and I am going to die of something anyway.  Our dependence, or as some would see it, our addiction to, the burning of fossil fuels is going to be hard to let slip.  Even though, thanks to the EU, no-emission vehicles will be the only ones on sale in twenty years’ time, it may be long after that that we wave goodbye to Oil.  There are powerful Corporations still exploring for and extracting oil and gas; fracking is the new Holy Grail, we seem to be oblivious to the bleeding obvious.  We cannot continue extracting and burning both fossil fuels and minerals with impunity.  A price will always be paid.  Just as with smokers; it probably won’t kill us sometime soon, or even in our own lifetimes.  But our Oil addiction will surely kill us all one day.  Or that is the message from (most of) the scientific community.  The hope is that new technology will save us (as George W. Bush declared) but some scientists now think that the problem may be both too big, and too far gone, to be solvable.  What really needs to change is Human Behaviour.  We have to find a new stable and sustainable economic model that keeps everyone fed and housed but stops the rich getting inexorably richer (at everyone else’s expense).

Many science fiction writers have toyed with the idea of the human race escaping a ruined and dying planet and heading off into space to colonise a new planet (one full of minerals and all the resources we would need).  Well, that still remains Science Fiction.  But wouldn’t it make much more sense to try to save the planet we are on.

There are many who now deny Climate Change, or possibly admit that temperatures may be rising but it is not due to Human Activity.  I am not a scientists, but even if that is true, shouldn’t we try to save our precious planet.  In the long run it is all we have.

The Long-Awaited Return of Brexit

Saturday 28th April

The news cycle is a strange thing.  Stories come and then they go.  The Skripals and Nerve Agent, such a big story a few weeks ago and now nothing.  No conclusion, no interviews, no suspects, no arrests, no confirmation or denials.  Syria and chemical weapons, same again – nothing.  Three weeks ago and it looked like WW3 might kick off, and now nothing.  The Russians presenting ‘evidence’ that it was all staged is completely ignored by the mainstream media.  I wonder why that is?

And Brexit?  You might have thought it had all gone away as the news blackout was so dense.  But suddenly it is back in the news.  In reality it has never gone away.   The latest crunch point is whether we remain in the, or (according to which Government Minister is speaking) any Customs Union.

A customs union means that Goods can travel freely between countries with no border checks and no paperwork, as all external tariffs are the same and will have been paid in the country of first entry.  Without this, the UK will face huge problems with trade between us and the EU; potential long lorry tailbacks, tariffs to pay and the inter-country supply chain for many manufacturers completely disrupted.  Car factories work on only 30 minutes supply…(almost inconceivable) but apparently true.  This means that lorries must be arriving almost constantly with parts otherwise the factory grinds to a halt.  Rather than face the nightmare which border checks will create many manufacturers will simply move their factories to mainland Europe….oops.

But Theresa May is still insisting there will be no Customs Union.  And the reason is that being part of a Customs union means that we will not be totally free to agree our own trade deals with other countries outside the EU without EU agreement.  Brexiteers argue that this means we will not have left Europe at all.

It will soon come to a vote in the Commons (though the government is holding out for as long as possible).  On paper there are just enough votes to defeat the Government….even bigger ooops.

My Record Collection 16

 

Thursday 26th April

Barclay James Harvest (continued) – A year later and they released one of their best records Once Again.  A clever title and the first to feature their trade mark butterfly. They were on a new label Harvest, a subsidiary of EMI devoted to new bands, and the label took it’s name form the group.  Once Again is a huge leap in creativity.  The songs are much better and features two of their most famous compositions ‘Mockingbird’ which they have played at almost every concert since, and ‘She Said’ but my favourite is the exquisite ‘Galadriel’, a hauntingly gentle and beautiful song about a girl who comes up with the morning sun to tell you life has just begun.  BJH were at the forefront of what came to be known as ‘prog-rock’.  Ridiculed at times by the music press, especially during the punk years, but loved by millions of fans – and where all the punk bands have long since gone, the dinosaurs of prog-survived for much longer.  BJH became one of my very favourite bands, along with The Beatles and Crowded House.  I have bought every record, except the many compilations and except for a couple of live records they are have all been played to death…I simply love them.

Later that same year (1971) they released their third album Barclay James Harvest and Other Short Stories.  Another all-time favourite, full of brilliant songs, majestic orchestral arrangements, superb drumming too – and beautifully sung lyrics.  This album featured ‘Medicine Man’ and ‘After the Day’ – but my very favourite must always be ‘Little Lapwing’ with its’ brilliant trumpet coda.   I think that Woolly was the real classical man, and John a bit more of a rocker.  His song ‘Blue John’s Blues’ matches almost anything other ‘heavier’ bands were producing, and it still has a brilliant melody.  I think it is the melodies which capture me most in BJH music; they are timeless, often a bit slower than most, stately almost.  The lyrics are pretty-well post-hippy idealism, wanting a better world full of love and peace – that sort of thing – but easy to sing along with.  So, three brilliant albums to start with – but trouble was looming.  The cost of touring with an orchestra almost bankrupted them.  They were also having disputes with both their management and record company over money.  As usual they were being screwed over, working every day and seeing nothing for their efforts.

Barclay James Harvest And Other Short Stories