Walton Weekend

Sunday 30th November

On Friday evening there was the Walton Christmas Fair.  It didn’t seem to be advertised and we discovered it almost by accident.  The town is quite small but there is a sort-of town square with a tiny market there on Thursdays and they always have a Christmas tree and a few street lights.  There were a couple of rides for the kids and a few stalls, tombolas, RNLI and a Christmas curry and hot mulled wine and mince pies and roast chestnuts too.   Christmas music was playing and the Salvation Army were leading some Carol singing at the other end of the high street.

We really enjoyed it.  It had an amateur feel, so unlike the commercialism of big towns with their neat rows of painted sheds selling expensive Christmas gifts, this felt real and genuine somehow.  We stayed for an hour or so and then went for a meal in our local Thai Restaurant which is actually very good.  We know the couple who run it very well and we are treated almost as family.  We were just finishing out banana fritter (shared between the two of us) when we heard the unmistakable sound of fireworks.  We hurried down to the beach and watched a rather good firework display let off over the sea from the sea wall opposite the pier.  A lovely end to a lovely evening.

This morning I had a long walk along the windswept beach with the dogs, the sun struggling to rise out of the few scattered clouds.  We were all alone and the sea quite rough, the beach littered with bunches of seaweed and a few bits of driftwood, it was just perfect.  Sometimes it is at moments like this that you realize just how lucky you are.

Black Friday – Consumerism Gone Mad

Saturday 29th November

You have to hand it to Big Business, they always come up with another wheeze.  And we, stupid consumers fall for it every time.  The latest nonsense is “Black Friday”.  The last Friday in November, which for many will be the last pay-day before Christmas, is seen as the perfect time to loosen the purse-strings of the great public, whose only true function is to oil the wheels of Capitalism by spending more than they earn,  increasing those credit card debts and to buy stuff they really have no need for and yet simply must have.  There have even been riots at some large Supermarkets as bargain-crazed idiots who have queued all night fought each other for that PS5 or TV or even clothes and toys.

In some ways one can understand it, people’s wages have been squeezed, that ever-increasing Standard of Living index has taken a knock in the last few years, and Christmas is just around the corner.  The phenomenon started in America and has come over here this year with a bang.  Drip-fed by the internet and TV and the Press it has become a scrum, one of those must attend events, how terrible if one missed out on a bargain.

But a bargain is only a bargain if you were going to buy it anyway.  And look around you for a moment.  Look at all the clothes in your wardrobe, all the junk in your house, do you really need anymore?  Not that that is likely to save anyone from this latest feeding frenzy.  Actually I bought hardly anything yesterday, because I had already bought nearly all my Christmas presents anyway.  I have only succumbed to Boxing Day sales once, and that by accident really, we were bored and went to Canary Wharf and I bought two tops in Next, supposedly reduced from £50 to £25.  And I deliberately did not look at any internet sites yesterday, just in case I would be tempted too by all those sparkling goodies….

Sport – A Dangerous Pastime

Friday 28th November

I used to love sport, participating as well as watching it.  At school I was never that good at Sport, too weedy, not popular enough to get picked first I ended up in goal, where bored I would ignore the game only to find myself picking the ball out of the net occasionally.  Our Sports master, Mr. Soames claimed that Rugby was for men, Cricket for Gentlemen and Football for those who were neither.  I was small and therefore used to get knocked over at Rugby.  One day Grice, who hated me, tackled and twisted my ankle as he fell on top of me.  On purpose I might add.  I limped off the pitch and my foot swelled like a balloon and I was in plaster for weeks – but I never told on Grice.  One damaged foot was bad enough.  At Cricket once I was wicket keeper and the batsman swung at a high ball.  He let go of the bat and it hit me smack between the eyes.  Unconscious for two or three minutes but no permanent damage (I hope).  In Gym we had to jump off the horse and catch a rope swung by the boy in front.  Pip Wright thought he was clever and yanked the rope back at the last minute as I was in mid-air.  A dislocated elbow was the result, and my left arm is still wonky.  When I was five Dad took me to watch Stowmarket play football.  He perched me next to him on a rail at the top of the stand.  I fell off and broke my arm.  When I was about thirty I was playing football in the back garden and I miss-kicked (maybe I shouldn’t have been wearing slippers) and fell and broke my wrist.

None of which has dampened my enthusiasm and I still love swimming and the occasional game of tennis or ten-pin bowling.  But I have studiously avoided joining a Gym, I am sure I would be injured in the first week.  Which brings me to the sad news of that Aussie cricketer who has just died after a ball hit him on the head.  A freak accident I suppose, but a tragedy.  We all take Sport for granted and all enjoy it, but it is unpredictable and is actually a dangerous pastime.

The Fourth Crusade

Thursday 27th November

Looking back with the benefit of hindsight, and from the relative (dis) comfort of 2114, it is easy to see what we now call “The Fourth Crusade”, but at the time it was as if the world, or at least the Judeo-Christian world had sleepwalked into it.  It possibly started with the First Gulf War, where a local tyrant Saddam Hussein, who the West had formerly backed against Iran, was slapped down when he tried to re-integrate the oil-rich protectorate of Kuwait into Greater Iraq.  The Muslim world was slow to react, but after the wholesale and careless invasion and oil-theft of Iraq in 2003 thousands flocked to reclaim these ancient lands for Islam.

The Crusade was in full swing with Syria, Lebanon and Iraq being bombed indiscriminately, and in many countries in the West Muslims reduced to second-class citizenship.  In Britain and America the veil was banned and Mosques were regularly burned with no Police intervention.  In 2017 Israel made the fatal error of bombing Tehran, seen at the time as a pre-emptive strike, but secretly backed by America.    This brought in Russia who had agreed to defend Iran.

There was a stand-off for two years, when most of the emergency anti-Islamic laws were enacted; forbidding  Friday worship and banning Halal meat from Supermarkets.  Even then there might have been a chance for compromise, for some sort of negotiated peace but stupidity ruled the day.  The real turning point came in 2022 when Chelsea Clinton pursued the ill-fated policy of trying to retake the Crimea from Russia.  President Putin, though no real friend of Islam, decided that enough was enough and gave the West ten days to back down or he would unleash a Nuclear bomb, target unknown.

There was panic in the West, and a hastily convened gathering of the rump of the EU, Britain and America and as we all know NATO crumpled.  Iran was given special status as the sixth member of the UN security-council and an agreed timetable of reduction of forces was negotiated.

Most of the anti-Islamic laws have been revoked but in Britain the veil is still frowned upon even though almost half the population considers itself Muslim.  Israel has at last been forced to co-exist with her neighbours and has had to rollback its borders to 1967 or thereabouts; petty arguments continue.

There are rumours, especially in the Mid-West of the States that a Fifth Crusade will one day be needed but nobody in the newly enlarged EU (now including Russia and it’s satellites states) has the stomach for it anymore.  The last crusade, the fourth, brought the World to the brink of another World War and we may have finally learned to tolerate those whose religion we disagree with rather than try to defeat them.

Lewis Hamilton – a shoo-in for BBC Sports (Lack of) Personality Award

Wednesday 26th November

Okay, so he just happened to be in the fastest car and with the best team in the World, but he still had to drive the thing.  Lewis has been around for a few years now and we tend to dismiss him – and dear old Jensen too.  Occasionally one or the other would manage a podium finish, or even rarer, actually win a grand prix but there was very little danger of either of them overcoming the supremacy of Ferrari or Red Bull.  In fact when Sebastien Vettel won it four years in a row it hardly seemed worth switching the TV on, it was so predictable – only mechanical failure could stop it becoming a parade.

And now that he is World Champion again he must be a shoo-in for that most prestigious (and meaningless) award, BBC Sports Personality of the Year.  Two years ago there were so many Olympians and Paralympians that it was almost impossible to crown one over the others and last year Andy Murray winning Wimbledon just had to be chosen.  But this year, up to now who was there?  Our Cricketers were awful – as usual; our Rugby players uninspiring; our Cyclists rapidly being caught up by everyone else and our Athletes failing to achieve quite the heights of 2012.  That left Golf and Rory McIlroy I suppose, but he seems quite arrogant and I wonder how many people are that interested in golf anyway.  Football?  Did someone mention football?  Okay, so England have played quite well in the last few matches but they did really badly in Brazil.  So, Lewis I guess it must be.  Though one does wonder who came up with the title “Sports Personality” – surely an oxymoron.  “Sports Person” would have been fine.  So rarely do sporting heroes actually have a personality at all these days, so driven are they, so totally focused on winning that developing as a real human being seems beyond them.

No Ifs And Buts

Tuesday 25th November

David Cameron is fond of using what someone must have told him are common expressions.  He gets it, and there will be no ifs and buts.  So he told us about a referendum he promised regarding the signing of the Lisbon Treaty.  He had said that he would definitely offer a referendum on that Treaty, which many in his party were arguing had given even more powers to Brussels.  Then it turned out that what he meant was that there would be a referendum, unless the treaty was already ratified.  So no ifs and buts, is that quite clear.  Actually whenever one hears a politician say that their policy is quite clear you can be sure it as murky as hell.

Just before the last election Cameron came out with what he hoped might be an election winner; he promised that net migration would come down to the tens of thousands – no ifs and buts.  He has repeated this pledge a few times even though it is patently obvious that he cannot control this at all.  Theresa May has semi-officially announced as much this weekend.  Net Migration is the difference between the number of people (immigrants) coming to live here and those leaving to live elsewhere (emigrants).  This figure has remained stubbornly over two hundred thousand for the last five years and was even higher before that.  It is no co-incidence that these numbers actually rise when the economy is improving and fall a bit when it is doing worse.

Two things to say – one, a large part of the number of immigrants are foreign students coming to UK universities.  The Universities welcome them as they pay ridiculously high fees.  Secondly the influx from Europe is largely beneficial, they are mostly young and do not use the NHS or have children to be educated or retire here.  They come here to work and work hard and pay their taxes while very few claim benefits.  There may be some evidence of immigrants from Africa or Asia claiming benefits but very few from Europe do.  And of course many Brits living in Europe claim benefits too.

So, next time Mr. C. promises something, adding no ifs and buts – you will know exactly what he means.

The Ukip Bubble Refuses to Burst

Monday 24th November

Everyone keeps thinking that UKIP will implode, that somehow their bubble will burst.  But they, in fact all of us, are wrong.  It is now only 5 months until the General Election and they are now a force to be reckoned with.  It may well be that their vote might drop a little under the intense media scrutiny in May, but I don’t think it will change that much.  It may be less thoughtful people voting for them, or those who have rejected all the others.  it matters not, they will still get around 15% (or more) of the vote.  Both Labour and the Tories have lost voters, but not as many as the LibDems.  It is almost impossible to tell what has really happened.  It is quite possible that there has been quite a lot of movement.  Where have the LibDem voters gone?  Mostly I suspect to Labour, but a few to the Tories.  Labour are losing to the SNP in Scotland and to UKIP in some northern cities, but again they may actually have gained some votes back from the Tories.  The Tories are losing mostly to UKIP.  And suddenly coming up on the rails are the Greens, possibly disaffected Labour or LibDem voters.

So, it is all a huge muddle and I suspect there will be no uniform swing at all, and not a few unforeseen results.  Another coalition looks very likely.  Maybe Tory, UKIP.  But more likely Labour, SNP and LibDems.  At least that way we might save ourselves from leaving Europe.  But the chances of a new election in two years time are very real indeed.

C – is for Leonard Cohen, Old Poets Never Die

Sunday 23rd November

Leonard came out of his self-imposed ‘retirement’ with another wonderful record “Ten New Songs” co-written with vocalist “Sharon Robinson” in 2001.  Just when we all thought that that was the end of Leonard Cohen, just how wrong can you be.  It seems that old poets do not die, there words just become a bit slower.  Leonard has toured extensively in the last few years and now he relies on a brilliant band and backing singers, Sharon and the Webb sisters.  Leonard now almost whispers the words, hardly singing them at all but has created an incredible experience; a Leonard Cohen concert is akin to a religious ceremony, a personal enlightenment, a gathering of the clan and a truly uplifting time.  All those fools who say he is so depressing obviously have never listened to the words which offer hope and harmony and wisdom in a timeless voice that now carries with it eighty years of life-experience.

He has continued to release studio records and rather a lot of live ones.  “Dear Heather” was experimental and maybe a mistake, but “Old Ideas” was not at all bad.  His latest “Popular Problems” is winging it’s way to me as I write so a review will come later.  Could this be his last album?  Every tour is seen as possibly his last, as saint-like he tours the world gaining new and pleasing old fans alike.  Long may he continue…4

C – is for Leonard Cohen, (I’m His Fan)

Saturday 22nd November

A long wait between albums has become a trademark of Leonard Cohen, with always the fear (or hope) that the last album was indeed the last album.  It was five years between Recent Songs and Various Positions and then another four until his 1988 masterpiece “I’m Your Man” – a self-referential joke, but also a brilliant and very sexy song.  The whole album was on another level, very modern with a sharp and brilliant production and a batch of songs that are almost without parallel.  “First We Take Manhattan” is dark and sinister and almost a rock song, although I have never quite understood the lyrics.  There are great ironic love songs “Ain’t No Cure For Love” and “Everybody Knows” , A translation (or re-writing) of a Lorca Poem “Take This Waltz” and last but not least “Tower of Song”, in which Leonard admits he is a hundred floors beneath Hank Williams and is blessed with the gift of a golden voice, which in concert always raises a cheer.  The song is simply brilliant and Leonard accompanies himself on a small synth keyboard where his tiny arpeggio of notes chimes in the mind as if it were a full orchestra.   The album resurrected Leonard from the relative obscurity he had slipped into and he gained thousands of new fans.

But they, just like us had to wait another four years for his next offering with the ominous title “The Future”.  Again there were fast songs, “The Future” itself, and “Democracy” where Leonard takes on these huge ideas; ‘Democracy is coming – to the USA’ was the soaring chorus line.  There were also classic songs such as “Anthem” with the wonderful line ‘There is a crack, a crack in everything – that’s how the light gets in’.  Another beautiful haunting song “Light as the Breeze”; a Country and Western romp which many have chosen to be buried to “Closing Time”; a couple of covers and even an instrumental “Tacoma Trailer”.  In some ways it is a more rounded album than “I’m Your Man” and the two serious songs “Democracy” and “The Future” show what a philosophical poet Leonard was.   These two albums were followed by massive World Tours that left the public waiting and begging for more.  But Leonard was set to disappoint them; in his never ending search for spiritual enlightenment he spent many years on Mount Baldy studying Zen Budhism with a monk known as ‘Roshi’

The general view was that Leonard had retired, that he had nothing else to say and had left the stage.  However a personal disaster where his Accountant ran away with almost all his money may have caused a rethink…….

C – is for Leonard Cohen, The Ridiculous to the Sublime

Friday 21st November

After the riotous attempt at rock’n’roll of “Death Of A Ladies Man” we were all ears for Leonard’s next record.  But it was so different it was unbelievable.  Recent songs sounded as if a new grown-up Leonard had emerged from the chaos.  Here were ten immaculate songs, delicate and humble and possibly his greatest collection.  ‘One by one the guests arrive’ he sings on opener “The Guests” then Leonard is “Humbled in Love” (forced to kneel in the mud, next to thee), ‘Come over to “The Window”, where he “Came So Far For Beauty” sings this “Canadien Errant.”  “The Traitor” sings of his “Lady of Solitude” who may well be “The Gypsy’s Wife”.  He settles for a remarkable duet with Jennifer Warnes singing of “The Smoky Life” and lamenting  his loss in “The Ballad of the Absent Mare.”  Simply beautiful, the songs roll together, filled out with violin and piano  a fuller richer sound.   At the time I was breaking up with Joy and this record saved my life….

Another five year wait before “Various Positions” which Columbia refused at first to release in the States; the President of the label saying to him, “Look Leonard, we know you are great, but we just don’t know if you’re any good.”  The album used synthesizers, creating a more modern sound and Jennifer Warnes duet-ted on every track with him.  At the time it was seen as a flop but has grown in stature with time and the song “Hallelujah” is now considered to be maybe his best ever.  Not my favourite record at the time, but I am beginning to like it…hahaha.

Then four years later (obviously a perfectionist) came I’m Your Man which was critically acclaimed and almost relaunched his career…… Actually his back catalogue had continued to sell and all us old hippies still loved him, whatever he decided to do next.