H is above all for George Harrison

Thursday 28th February

As a child I worshipped the Beatles, along with a whole generation.  George was the quiet one, the dark horse, who played the tricky bits on guitar and sung harmony and just occasionally sung lead vocals.  But in a band of giants he too was a giant, but in a different way.  As the sixties progressed it was George who pushed the others towards Indian Music and philosophy, a lifetime obsession for George.  He was according to some the first of the Beatles to leave, and had two instrumental albums while the band was still together.  The quality of his songwriting was beginning to outweigh his meagre allowance of two songs per album too and I imagine he was bursting with enthusiasm to record on his own.

He surprised everyone with a triple album, ‘All things must pass’ and a hit single ‘My Sweet Lord.’   Albums and tours followed, but somehow the quality began to slip; a case of diminishing returns.  He had a hiatus of five years when he turned to film-making and gardening then returned with Jeff Lynne at the helm and stunned us with ‘Cloud Nine.’   He then formed The Travelling Wilburys with Dylan Tom Petty Jeff Lynne and Roy Orbison.  Two brilliant albums followed and George never sounded happier.

Then he began to get ill with cancer, which sadly took him away in the end.  One last album ‘Brainwashed’ was recorded when he was desperately ill, but it is actually really good.

Then the light went out, and all we have is the DVDs and the music to remember him by.

His best album for me was ‘Living in the Material World’ which married ‘pop’ and his ‘spiritual philosophy perfectly.   The best song on that was ‘That is All.’.

But his best song ever was undoubtedly ‘Here Comes The Sun’, the most life-affirming song the Beatles ever wrote.


The Weather is Bleak

Wednesday 27th February

It was cold in Eymet, but hardly any wind, just a clear blue sky and the sun shining high up with just a touch of warmth.  Slowly each day warmed up, until about four or five in the afternoon when it felt quite mild.  After the sun fell back over the horizon it soon got cold again.  But there was no rain, no drizzle, no sleety-snow, so in a way you could relish the cold, wrap it around you like a blanket, comfort yourself in it.

The plane landed about midday at Luton Airpost and there was snow in the air, but more than that – you could feel this biting wind, and overreaching it all was a dampness that went right through your clothes and into your bones.  My old Nana used to say she could feel the cold in her bones, and now I know what she means.  I hate these damp misty mornings, when you look out and can hardly see the end of the garden.  The damp seems to settle like a cold wet shroud, and no matter how many layers you have on it seems to permeate.

And there seems no hint, no glimpse of spring.  No sign of spring flowers yet, even the snowdrops seem to be hiding.  And so the Nations mood is bleak too.  We have lost our AAA rating, the very talisman which Osborne treasured and there is no sign of any growth in the economy at all, the news is full of even more sexual misdemeanours from the church and politicians.  Mind you it now seems that asking a woman (or a man) to go to bed with you is seen as a major sexual offence.  Why can these women not have simply said NO, or Fuck off?  (they had no hesitation in saying it to me) And put it behind them.  But it seems the whole situation has been turned on its head; if you feel offended by someone’s action then they must be guilty of some terrible sexual offence.  Some of this stuff is certainly a long way from Jimmy Saville territory, but still the News gives it credence.  And it all adds to the sense of depression, the bleakness of the outlook.

Seems strange now that it was only a few months ago we were all basking in Olympic happiness.

Brand Clegg is Dead

Tuesday 26th February

All parties have indulged in re-branding.  We had New Labour, where Tony Blair successfully re-positioned Labour in the centre of British politics.  We had Cameron’s partial success with his Compassionate Conservatives, cuddling hoodies and embracing the Health Service, whereas of course in power they have reverted to type.  The Liberals who merged with the Social Democrats to form the Lib-Dems, was a re-branding in itself.  And Ed Milliband has begun his One Nation Labour rebranding after New Labour got tainted with Iraq, and economic failure.  But one of the biggest re-brandings of recent years was Brand Clegg.

With his startlingly ‘honest’ good looks and direct to camera trick of saying ‘I am different, believe me’ he almost stole the last election.  He certainly fooled a lot of people, but the brand has suffered ever since.  Going into coalition so readily with the Tories, and at such a cheap price; they could have insisted on proportional representation as a pre-condition, not just a referendum they were bound to lose.  Then the scrapping of the University fee pledge was a huge blow to Brand Clegg, and the wonder is that he thought he could get away with it.

His apology last Autumn was again a bodged job; he never apologized for deceiving people but for offering a policy he ‘knew’ he couldn’t keep to once in Government, that very policy by the way which helped get the Lib-Dems into a position where they could form a coalition.

And then Chris Huhne, who was obviously guilty from day one, but whom Brand Clegg still supported right up to his volte-face on the day of his trial.   Brand Clegg was looking distinctly grubby.

And now the denials about any knowledge of Rennards sexual shenanigans; as if it were at all likely that he knew nothing about them.  And now the weasel words about general and specific allegations.  He is almost saying, ‘Oh yes, we all knew Rennard was a serial sexual pesterer of women, but no-one had given us actual names and dates, so we went easy on him.  After all a man is innocent until there has been a channel 4 expose these days.”

And now Brand Clegg is well past its sell-by date.  Eastleigh could be the final nail.  I am almost willing for the first time in my life for the Tories to win Eastleigh after all.  Best result would be for both the Lib-dem and the Tory vote to fall and for Labour to double its share of the vote.   Even if Clegg does hang on, the local elections in May will be another disaster, and two years out from the next General Election sphincters will be quivering.

But what can follow Brand Clegg – Danny boy, too tainted by the Clegg brush surely, or Vince, old Mr. Reasonable?   Makes you wonder why they ever ditched Ming or even Charlie-boy.

Back to Reality

Monday 25th February

And all too soon we were heading back to England; only a four day trip unfortunately.  My daughter organized it all, and really it was too short a trip.  But enjoyable all the same.  And now back to reality.  Another few weeks of work and it will be Easter and I will be out again, and this time I intend to stay a full week,

But what is reality?  Is it the nine to five drudgery of work, the weekly repetition, the slog and boredom of producing numbers which nobody bothers to read, the getting up each day at six, the standing on the tube, the battling through the wind and rain, the sheer monotony of it all.

Or is it waking up in France, popping to the boulangerie and paying four euro’s for a loaf of bread and four croissants, walking to Kismet, wandering around the markets, smelling the fresh fruits and vegetables, the wonderful array of cheeses, the charcuterie stalls with weird and wonderful sausages, the fresh bread stalls, the little man selling his honey, the single chateau wines, the rolling countryside with the vineyards and sunflower fields, the warmth and coffee smell of Kismet, Le Pub Gambetta with Simon lane singing his acoustic folk rock on a Friday night, with Rupert joining in on the chorus.

Which is reality?  I am not sure which is which anymore.  For a while it is the former reality, but more and more I am leaning towards that other reality.





At Least the Sun is shining here

Sunday 24th February

Admittedly it is very cold, bloody freezing actually, but at least the sun is shining.   It is one of those really cold and crisp but beautifully sunny days, where it actually feels quite good to be alive.  And driving along in the warmth of the car, looking out over the rolling Dordogne countryside, at the fields so recently turned by the plough, the vines all cut right back to the old gnarled and knobbly stems, the little copses with trees bare of leaf but with round balls of mistletoe high up in their branches, the sparrow-hawks circling high up, watching, ever watching, for the slightest movement of a small animal, at the plum trees in their neat rows, waiting for the spring.

In fact we are all waiting for the spring, flowers, leaves, all the animals and us too.  We don’t mind a bit of winter, or the occasional rain-shower, but secretly we are all waiting for the spring.

And here in France, we know that the spring and the summer will be much much warmer than in England.

It was almost a year ago that we first saw Eymet, Easter, and it was cold and wet then, unseasonably so, everyone told us.  So we have now seen it at all times of the year, and still I am in love with the place; the old town square with with it’s scalloped out arches, the narrow streets, the overhanging eaves, the two or three little pubs, the strange collection of ex-pat English who have washed up here, beached after the torrent.  I feel at home here, amongst the yellowy white stones, the little river with the weir and the bridge, the church and the chataeu.

And here on a very cold day, it is lovely.  And at least the sun is still shining here

Why is travelling so stressful

Saturday 23rd February

And yet it shouldn’t have been.  Not the 16 hours in the car this time, but a simple plane journey.  And yet it ended up, or I allowed it to become, stressful.   Firstly there was the incredible amount of luggage we carried with us.  For myself, just the one small suitcase, but Laura had a large hand luggage bag, a suitcase which was huge and so heavy, and the car seat, which had no hand hold at all and was bulky and heavy and a pushchair.  First obstacle was the check-in.  Of course the suitcase was too heavy, and we had to take things out and redistribute them amongst our two bags.

Then it was my favourite – security.  Empty all you pockets, coats (and I was wearing two, fearing the cold weather) hat, belt and cardigan in the tray.  Laptop must be removed and put in a separate tray.  Credit cards, phones, i-pods, keys, money all removed.  And still I set the alarm off.  Full frisking pat-down, remove your shoes, and they went through separately.  So there you stand in your socks trying to retrieve and replace in the correct pockets all your belongings, rethreading your belt, retying shoe laces, worrying if you have your keys and phone and credit cards.

Then a really long wait; our plane was delayed an hour, but at least because of the baby we were first on the plane.  But how cramped we were.  On your own you don’t seem to mind too much, but with the baby, and our bags, and changing her nappy and feeding her, as well as trying to manage two cups of tea.  At least the flight went quickly.

We had hired a car, and couldn’t see any signs of where to go to pick it up.  Then out in the car park we saw the EuropeCar sign.  Off we trudged, huge suitcase, two smaller bags, baby, pushchair and carseat.  No, this was where you dropped the car off, you collect it back in the airport building.  Another trudge to get the keys, trudge back, and at last we were ready to go.

All in all it took about 10 hours door to door, not so much quicker than by car.  So, a  bit stressful, but at least we were back in France.  Eventually.

On the Way to France

Friday 22nd February

I am sitting in a Starbucks at St. Pancras.  I who abandoned Starbucks and before the tax scandal too; I abandoned them during the Olympics because they were incapable of serving fresh croissants.  And even today, here at what must be one of their busiest outlets the croissant is a bit stale.  Irony of ironies, the coffee palace I abandoned them for was Pret, and as I sit here disconsolately munching a tasteless almond croissant I can see a new Pret just across the station forecourt.

I am waiting for my daughter Laura and my granddaughter Imogen.  They are on a train which I have to join, going to Gatwick.  We are flying to France today.   She has arranged it all, and we are flying into Bordeaux, which will be a change from the tiny Bergerac, then we are hiring a car and driving to Eymet.

At last a return to my spiritual home.  Julia and the dogs are already there, having driven down nearly a week ago.  How wonderful to be a teacher and have all those holidays.  Almost worth putting up with the brats for.  The weather there is similar to here, but maybe a touch warmer.  But I just cannot wait to see the little town again.  The boulangerie, the Café de Paris and Kismet, and le Pub Gambetta.

London is changing so fast, despite the recession cranes are still building high-rise flats all over.  Strange that in the seventies and eighties everyone wanted to get out of high-rise flats, and now that they are all private and cost a fortune people cannot snap them up quick enough.

So, off to France, and a word of warning.  Internet access is flaky so your daily blog may be late in appearing some days.  Which may of course come as a relief to many.

H is for Steve Hackett

Thursday 21st February

Steve was originally in Genesis and left about the same time as Peter Gabriel.  And although Peter went on to world-wide fame and super stardom, Steve has just carried on making wonderful inventive and beautiful music ever since.  But though never a front man his influence on that early Genesis sound was no less important.

His albums are so varied that there is almost no definitive Steve Hackett sound.  A brilliant classical guitarist who has released whole acoustic guitar albums he can also produce great heavy sounds, and isn’t averse to drum shock-therapy on some songs.  He also produces some lovely lilting melodies which when you first hear them you can hardly believe that they haven’t been discovered before.  Each new album, and he is incredibly prolific, is a gorgeous surprise.

He also occasionally revisits and re-interprets early Genesis music on some albums, which brings a lovely touch of remembrance and innovation to those old songs.

Steve thought his own voice was too weak, and he was after all in a band with Phil Collins and Peter Gabriel, so on the first few albums he had other singers, the most notable being Please Don’t Touch, where amongst others he persuaded the stately Richie Havens and also Randy Crawford to join him.   He does sing on his albums now and his voice is fine.

He obviously has legions of fans because he keeps releasing albums, which never get reviewed in the music press, but still are almost all available on Amazon.  And he still tours, though you have to go to his web-site to find out when and where.

Steve is a great survivor form the Seventies, where so many have crashed and burned, and maybe that is because he has never embraced the rock life-style, and seems very grounded and just wants to make great music.  Also most of his album covers are by his wife Kim Poor, and are just like his music, ethereal and hauntingly beautiful.

Spectral Mornings

Inadequate Answers to the Big Questions

Wednesday 20th February

I nearly decided to call this piece ‘Engulfed in Mist – 3’.but it might not have got your interest. So, the big questions and why the answers are so inadequate.  Why are people still starving in a world of plenty? What is the meaning of life?  Why do the keys on sardine tins never work? And most important of all why is their life at all?

I watched the charismatic Brian Cox last night explaining why size matters, as if his middle name was actually ‘Large’, and very well explained it was, though some of the physics lost me a bit. But he blithely swiped away the biggest question by a throwaway reference to ‘the Theory of Evolution, and Natural Selection.’

But I just don’t buy it, not completely – it only explains the how of the thing and not the why.  And even where it is obvious; giraffes have long necks as it gave them an advantage over other tree grazing mammals in that they could reach higher branches.  Okay, so if that is true then why aren’t there a) loads of other animals with long necks, and b) if this gave them such an advantage why aren’t we overrun by giraffes?  The answer is inadequate, incomplete, not the whole truth.

Now, I am not going to go all religious on you, but it is this very inadequacy, the lack of a convincing answer that drives people into the arms of God.  And all of Darwinism does not explain why? Why life in the first place, I suppose.  And yes you can explain how in the chemical soup certain atoms were attracted to others to form complex molecules.  But what was it that kick-started those chains of molecules into a single-cell living organism, with a nucleus and able to process other chemicals as food.  What made life, you know the independent chemical machines that all of life is?  Let alone why complex apparatus like eyes and brains and radar in bats and intelligence, language and art evolved?  Natural selection?  Or something else?

Is there actually a life force in the Universe?  An extra force in physics that will always strive to make more and more complex proteins out of maybe whatever is lying around in order to strive to achieve life,  Improbable maybe, but no more improbable than the Big Bang itself, or Saturn’s rings, or sex, or the success of X Factor.

Maybe therefore the science fiction writers were right all along, and life is endemic in the Universe, but maybe so diverse, so different from life on Earth that we just haven’t recognized it yet.

Engulfed in Mist – part 2

Tuesday 19th February

Yesterday I wrote about the strange phenomenon of a sudden sea mist which engulfed me.

And the metaphor is appropriate for the economy too.  It seems as though we too are engulfed in a mist, created partly by so much contradictory data.  Does anyone have a clue what is happening?  One day we get a PMI (Purchasing Managers Survey) indicating that orders or exports are picking up, and the next the already awful GDP figures are revised down yet again.  And it certainly feels chilly out there; sales are consistently down year on year, and in my industry that is down on the year before that which in turn was down on the year before that. Even Supermarkets, the mainstay of the economy are suffering.

And yet we are seeing figures for employment rising, and those unemployed have now fallen to just below 2.5 million.  So what is happening here?  There are one or two special factors, such as the raising of the school-leaving age from 17 to 18, where the usual crop of those failing to get into college or on some apprenticeship scheme or indeed a job would normally be swelling the ranks of the unemployed have had a year’s respite.  But the rise of part-time working is I believe the real answer to this conundrum.  Far more of us, especially the young, are working shorter hours, often less than 20 hours a week, because any job is better than none at all.

But how do they manage at all.  Fares keep rising and most of these youngsters do not own a car.  Most of them still live at home, and for far longer.  It is quite common for over 25’s to be still living with Mum and Dad, paying little if any rent.  Which simply means those parents spending is also limited by these never nest-departing children.

And there seems no end to it, the recession, depression, stagnating economy, whatever you want to call it seems to be feeding on itself.  Most of the coalitions cuts are only just coming in to play and will only depress the economy further.

I am sure that in a few weeks time George Osborne will stand up and commend his ‘Budget for Growth’ to the house to much Tory applause.  Unfortunately he has had three budgets for growth already and none of them had made a jot of difference.  We are still engulfed in mist.