The Mail didn’t like it – why are we surprised

Tuesday 31st July

The Daily mail has decided to become the curmudgeon of all papers and has come out against all things Olympic.  Especially the Opening Ceremony which was actually the only one ever with any humour and self-deprecation in it.  Yes, it was a decidedly personal view which ignored the whole of the usual ‘History of Britain’, the Romans weren’t in it, or the Normans, or even the Anglo-Saxons, and thank goodness Danny Boyle had the good sense to leave out the wretched Henry Eighth, whose importance has been consistently over-emphasised.  He decided to start with the Industrial Revolution, which changed the lives of just about every person now residing here, our own grandparents probably lived a quiet life in agricultural Britain, before the first World War, or were poor and working in some heavy industry like mining or shipbuilding or in a dark squalid mill in the North of England.  So the vision we saw actually resonated with families up and down the land.  The second segment which featured the NHS is obviously the source of most of the Tories ire – because, actually, they hate the NHS, despite Cameron’s recent conversion to it.  Most Tories would love us to be like America where the rich get excellent medical treatment and the poor suffer. Apparently Michael Gove, who is rapidly morphing into a modern day Norman Tebbitt, wanted the script changed, and good old Jeremy Hunt had misgivings (after he had spoken to Rupert?).

The amazing thing is that the polls that were done immediately after the Ceremony showed overwhelming approval.  Because the public may criticise Labour, and will vote them out of office when they feel like it, but do actually appreciate that working people would never have had a decent wage or free education or free schooling if it had been left to the Tories.  And the daily Mail is the mouthpiece of the right wing of the Tory party, so it is hardly surprising they hated it.  But they basically hate multi-culturism and any deviation from the nuclear family, so they were never going to get it anyway.  Actually the fact that they are so anti is great, showed just how good it was, doesn’t it.

The strangest of weather

Monday 30th July

Today (Sunday) has been the strangest of weather, sunny, squally, hot, cold, pouring, bright sunshine again, thunder and lightning, cold and hot and sunny again.  I know that the weather people told us to expect changeable weather, but how many times in one day are we supposed to watch it change.  It actually makes it quite difficult to do anything; if you were planning a barbecue you might get soaked, if you had given up on mowing the lawn because it was wet, you haul yourself off the sofa, drag out the mower, go in for the extension lead and while your back is turned the downpour begins, so you drag the mower back in, slump down on the sofa again, and glancing out of the window see the sun pulling through those grey clouds and before you know it the hot weather is here again.  Mind you, I am hardly complaining; at least we are seeing a few momentary glimpses of sunshine, and last week was splendid.  After three and a half months of rain we deserve a little sunshine, only can it just be a bit more constant.  I have just travelled back from Suffolk, where the fields are already being harvested; so much for the permanent farmers complaint; this year it was that the rain had ruined the crops.  When I was a child we used to begin harvesting in mid-August and it was still going on in September, but this year it could be over by the end of next week, barely into August at all.  At least the rain has been good for something.

And now the whole world can watch and be frustrated and cheered up by the vagaries of the English weather, as it is there for all to see in the Olympics.

The Olympic Opening Ceremony

Sunday 29th July

Just Brilliant.  For all the expectation, for all the hype, for all the fears that we might fall flat on our faces, it was quintessentially British. Bizarre in places, surprising, but very refreshing and different; in short it was a triumph.   And so emotional when the athletes came in to the arena, and the torch was lit, not by some super Olympian, not even by a member of the Royal Family, but by seven young unknown athletes, the next generation.  When as a child I was forced to wait outside the headmasters office for my weekly caning session I would read the placque in the school entrance lobby “To you we pass the burning torch, be it yours to hold up high.”  Forty five years later, I know exactly what those words mean.

Loving Yourself and Being In Love With Yourself

Saturday 28th July

It is often the shy ones, like me, the ones who are actually petrified of society and who lack any semblance of self-confidence whatsoever, who come across as cool and confident.  But like all confidence tricks it is still a trick.  In fact we overcompensate and often appear feckless and stupid, which of course may not be so far from the truth.  Enough of self-deprecation, and by my mid-thirties I had had enough too.  So I stopped hating who I was and despite a recurring fear of being exposed completely naked as an interloper, a gatecrasher and a pretender, I managed to get by.  I still do not exactly love myself, but I certainly do not dislike me anymore; I suppose I am resigned to the imperfection that I am, and try to big-up the good bits and ignore the obvious flaws.  But there is a world of difference between learning to love yourself and being ‘in love with yourself’.

Doesn’t it just make you sick to see them all, the pretty girls and boys who think they are so beautiful and cool and strut around as if they are too precious to even acknowledge the existence of us lesser mortals.  In their high-heel shoes and immaculate make-up and not-a-hair out of place they are constantly sneaking an approving glance in shop windows or any reflecting surface to get just another look at the one they truly love.  And the guys, who are so obviously ‘guys’, ‘hunks’, and generally all-round gorgeous chaps, who walk with such a confident swagger and bark into their mobiles and guffaw along with the rest of the good old boys in the pub, and have great jobs and a steady girlfriend who is also one of the gorgeous ones too; how lucky, how smart, how cool they are.  But underneath this superficial gloss, do they never question themselves, are they ever unsure, or are they simply blinded by the light of their own brilliance.  Learn to love yourself and you stand a chance of loving others; in love with yourself there is no room for others

Noise is all around, everywhere you go

Friday 27th July

In London that is.  It may indeed be quieter in the countryside, but even here it is hard to escape the effects of modern life, as 12 wheel juggernauts trundle through small villages daily, and the combined harvesters will be out soon filling the air with diesel and dust.  And every house you pass, even quite late at night has their windows open and television blaring,   The twenty four hour lifestyle means cars constantly drone past too, and Ocada delivery vans are still slamming their doors long past ten in the evening.   And now with the Olympics comes the full utilization of the quiet hours; all shops and restaurants are now required to receive their deliveries between midnight and 6 a.m.   This is supposedly because the roads will be so full of Olympic visitors that someone came up with the bright idea of night-time deliveries, so at-a-stroke removing all of those commercial vehicles from the roads.  As well as causing chaos and extra cost for small businesses, who now have to employ someone to sit and wait for the deliveries, there is also the problem of pollution continuing 24 hours a day, to say nothing of the noise.  But in a way we are all becoming addicted to noise.  It feels quite eerie of you can hear nothing at all, so we reach for the remote as soon as we get in, if only to fill the void with human voices.  And rather than actually have to talk to someone, we plug in our earphones and drown out the silence with what passes for music these days.  Quite often on the tube every person is encapsulated in their own private universe, and silent as it is when you switch your i-player off, noise is all around, everywhere you go.

Air drumming on the tube

Thursday 26th July

Ever since the first Walkman came on the market and were gradually superseded by CD Walkmen and at first bulky but now ultra-slim MP3 players we have seen more and people with headphones stuck in their ears.  I have managed to combine this activity with reading my Kindle too, but do find that the intake of the music becomes a bit more a background osmosis while my full concentration is on the words.  When they first emerged it was not uncommon to hear people actually singing along with the music, and even now the lips do sometimes move involuntarily forming a silent singing accompaniment.  Foot-tapping can sometimes be observed too, especially amongst younger men who enjoy the rhythmic qualities of the music maybe more than the subtler melody.  But late at night when travelling on the tube, as the alcohol intake begins to seek an outlet it is quite common to see (again mostly young men) slumped forward at their imaginary drum-kit, wrists appropriately slack as they rhythmically slap out their own drumbeat. And their proficiency is amazing, they cannot all be actual drummers can they?  Even the bass drum pedal and the high-hat cymbals are employed, as they rival Keith moon in their explosive drumrolls.  And when ever I see it, I too am tempted to air-drum, if ever so discreetly, so my little wrists go slack and a tiny repeat pattern is infectiously enacted.  The kindle is switched off and the music becomes king as one surrenders to the primeval beat and one joins the airdrummers on the tube.

Boys, keep your Karcher out of the hands of women

Wednesday 25th July

We are often accused of being anal, we do tend to love spreadsheets, ‘Excel’ rather than ‘Word’, and we receive the most incredulous looks if we suggest applying logic to a problem rather than intuition, which we men consider nothing short of guesswork.  That doesn’t make us wrong, girls, just different, but certain jobs do unfortunately require thinking in straight lines; bricklaying, painting doors and using a Karcher for instance.  How many times have I had to gently remove a paintbrush from the hands of an erratic woman and suggest she makes the tea, while I repaint the scattergun strokes she has so far mullah’ed the paintwork with.  I know it is boring to go up and down and keep to narrow bands as you cover the door with neat vertical brushstrokes, but we are not asking for a Picasso or, heaven help us – a Tracey Emin – here, we are asking for a uniform finish, and straight lines are unfortunately called for.  Outside the house is a brickwork parking space, which has become overgrown with weeds and dirt growing between the bricks.  Unsurprisingly the bricks are arranged in a neat pattern of rows.  This uniformity had no effect on the female mind which grasped the Karcher nozzle out of my hands and proceeded to spray this brick here and then that one there, squiggly lines of clean brick appearing like a madman’s doodles.  Having retrieved control of the nozzle I proceeded to work in rows from the front door to the pavement, cleaning each brick in the row in turn and gently teasing the scum and water towards the gutter, leaving neat rows of uniform colour bricks.  It does make one slightly nervous to think of all these women now in the armed forces having their fingers on machine gun triggers, but hopefully they have had this scattergun approach knocked out of them.  And despite the eternal complaints about men standing up to pee, thank God women do not have penises.

The Olympics are almost here

Tuesday 24th July

So, after all the hype, all the disaster predictions, all the moans, the security fiasco, and the rain, the sun is here and so too almost are the Olympics.  I know that they are commercialized almost out of sight, and McDonalds and Coke have sponsored them to bits, and most of the (top) athletes are millionaires already, and earn a fortune from Nike and Adidas, but you have to look beyond that.  You have to go back into the mind of a child who was watching the Rome Olympics in grainy black and white on a tiny Murphy television in the early sixties.  That child wondered what the Olympics meant, and asked questions and found out that they were only held every four years, and all the very best of athletes and swimmers and cyclists and horse riders turned up somewhere in the World and tried to win medals.  Every four years?  But that was almost a lifetime to wait until the next one, and as each one happened the wonder never ceased, as the Opening Ceremonies became more and more expensive and spectacular, as the stadia became more outlandish, as the TV coverage became ubiquitous, as the athletes ran faster and the weightlifters lifted more, and the drugs scandals started unfolding, and the buying of votes of the committee members and the bankrupting of cities became synonymous with this four-yearly extravaganza, the wonder never ceased.  Because in a way, just like ART, the Olympics are another one of those activities which humans cannot stop themselves from doing, but that really serve no purpose.  And that is really why they are so wonderful.  In themselves they are pointless, except that they add immeasurably to human happiness.  Just like ART.   So, stop the moaning and ENJOY.  It will be four years till the next one.

Hello Children, Everywhere

Monday 23rd July

I have been listening to all my old cassette tapes, which in the eighties were the height of modern technology, only to be succeeded by CDs and now digital downloads.  But amongst the albums and singles and a few live concerts were some special radio broadcasts, one of which was ‘Hello Children Everywhere’, a celebration of children’s radio songs from the fifties.  And I remember every one, from ‘Billy Goats Gruff’ to ‘Sparky’, with a fair smattering of ‘How much is that doggy in the window’ and Max Bygraves singing ‘You’re a pink toothbrush, I’m a blue toothbrush, and we both share the same tooth-paste.”   A time of real innocence, no television, no dvd’s, no internet, no information overload, just a weekly dose of silly songs about little red monkeys, and teddy bears picnics and runaway trains and ugly little ducklings; it was a whole world of simple melodies and not a Gangsta or Lady Gaga in sight.  We were children and no-one would have dreamed of treating us as adults.  We had no inkling of sex or what went on between consenting adults; this was a time when children were expected to be seen and not heard, and the only indulgence we had was a weekly dose of ‘The Laughing Policeman’ and our very own Uncle Mac.  Listening again it was all very middle class, but as a working class child I never felt excluded, even the classical tracks held me enraptured, especially the ‘Typewriter Symphony’.  I have tried playing this tape to young children of today and they just look at you as if you are some sort of moron.  Maybe we were morons, but contented and happy morons all the same, as we sung along to ‘Nellie the Elephant’ and ‘Little Boy fishing Off A Wooden Pier’   And as I file away the tape for a few more years I wipe a little tear from my eye, for the child I once was, and never will be again.

C is for Harry Chapin

Sunday 22nd July

‘Oh not another music blog’ do I hear you groan.  Well, yes, but this one is different.  As you know my record collection is wide and esoteric, my ambition (still unfulfilled) is to own every piece of recorded music, or at least that which I consider essential.  And what could be more essential than the honesty of Harry Chapin.  Harry was a most unlikely success story, and possibly only in the seventies, when record companies were willing to give time and space to anyone who appeared to have talent, would Harry have made it.  Not that he ever wanted success at all, except as a vehicle to engage with people and to make them think about the world, and how we live.  From the personal songs like Taxi, where Harry picks up an old sweetheart in his cab who always wanted to be an actress ‘And I hear she’s acting happy, inside her handsome home, and me, I’m flying in my taxi, taking tips and getting stoned,’ to the story-songs like Mr. Tanner the drycleaner who wanted to be an opera singer, and ‘Sniper’ about the desperate loneliness than has driven a young man to murder.  But through it all was a deep social conscience and understanding of the important things in life.  He campaigned tirelessly for solutions to world hunger, and gave away almost all his money to charity as fast as he made it.  His life was cut short by a tragic car crash in 1981.  I am not sure if he could ever be included as one of the all-time greats as a singer, but as a selfless and honest man he is second to none.