Goodbye November – Hello December

Wednesday 30th November

And so we say goodbye to November, not usually my favourite month, with its damp and drizzly weather and the leaves almost completely off the trees, their bare branches spindling the sky like witches bony fingers. But November too has its beauty, the early morning mist hanging like pillows of candy-floss in the low-lying fields, and the sun coming out at midday and brightening up the day.  Even a few roses are budding on our bushes, one last flourish before Winter sets in.

And tomorrow we will be back in December again. Which inevitably means Christmas.  One part of me dreads Christmas more and more as each one passes.  But the child in me is still excited; not now for the presents I might receive but the ones I will give.  And though I will not see the faces of my Grandchildren as they open them I can still imagine their excitement at the pile of presents (hopefully mine will be one of the largest) under their trees.  And I have been good this year, I have bought and almost wrapped all my presents already; how we will fit them all into the car is another question.  And we will be leaving for England on Thursday 15th December, car laden to the roof I imagine – and the only thing you can say with certainty is that it will be just as full on our return…hahaha

Amazing how time seems to go faster and faster as each year passes, stupidly I thought it might slow down when I retired.  Oh well…

A Short history of the Universe – part 1 – In the Beginning

Tuesday 29th November

In the beginning there was nothing.  Or maybe there was something, or indeed everything.  Nobody knows.  The latest theories are just that – theories.  And theories will remain theories until some Nuclear Physicist or Mathematician disproves them and another theory becomes accepted wisdom, until some…

Currently most scientists agree that there was a big bang about 13 billion years ago where the entire known universe (more of that later) was condensed into the smallest possible space and suddenly expanded and created what we now think of as the Universe.  A bit unbelievable really, but then so were those who posited that the Earth was round rater than flat, or that the Earth revolved around the Sun, despite the evidence before everyone’s eyes.  But, so far, no Physicist has begun to explain how come all those atoms, all that matter (and there ‘ain’t half a lot of it) was condensed into such a small space, or what caused the expansion, or what was there before the Big Bang.

So, in essence we know nothing for sure.  The trouble is that everything we can see is from our own human perspective.  And we are stuck on a tiny planet surrounding a Star which is one of billions in a Galaxy which is one of billions in what may turn out to be a Universe which too is one of billions.  Yoko Ono once described the Universe as Approximately Infinite; and that’s about as good as our knowledge gets.  And maybe, because we as humans have a beginning and an end we expect all things to be the same.  Maybe there was no beginning to the Universe at all; perhaps it is just one never beginning and never ending continuum.  And its creation is a continual process, not a single event.  Where does that leave God?  Oh we needn’t worry; those who cling to Religion will rationalize everything anyway whatever science throws up.  And it may just be that despite more and more powerful telescopes and computers and space travel and all, we will never know….

It may be that the further you travel into the Universe the more the Universe unwinds and the further you will have to travel.  And this is only the beginning….

In my book ‘2066 – a personal memoir’ I described the Universe as a huge Moebius strip, winding around and inverting back on itself so that all dimensions meant nothing.  Who knows I could be right.

S – is for Michelle Shocked – Deep Natural

Monday 28th November

Michelle made three brilliant and quite successful albums in the late eighties and early nineties; she had apparently planned them, songs and arrangements long ago.  Then she had a dispute with her record company and they parted company, though Michelle retained the rights to all her music – a rare thing in the music business.  She released an album on a private label called “Kind Hearted Woman”, and it was a world away from her first three records.  This is a grief-drenched record with bareley an uplifting note on it.  Songs like Stillborn and Grace tell of infant deaths, and there are songs about the hardship of working the land.  I am not sure what caused this shift in mood, but though a sad album it has incredible beauty, and the songs, as usual, are brilliant.

She then released a second real Masterpiece “Deep Natural”.  The sound of this record is quite unlike any of her earlier albums and anything else as well.  It is laid back and bluesy and a bit jazzy with touches of Soul and Gospel.   The whole feel of the record is of a vibrant joyful release, full of beautiful guitars and quite a lot of brass, uplifting songs and gentle moody ballads.  Best songs are ‘Forgive to Forget’ (the more I forgive, the more I forget – holding on to the past is my only regret) and ‘That’s So Amazing’.  Almost every song is perfect; a true masterpiece and a mature album.  Well, Michelle would carry on, far from the Music-making machine now, with her own label and in total control.

She released a trio of records, one brilliant ‘Mexican Standoff’ one quite good ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ and a record of children’s songs – as one triple album or to buy separately.  In total control she may have been suffering from nobody else’s input;  not that that would have bothered our ‘Chelle.  A few years later and a conversion to born-again Christianity saw her embroiled in an anti-gay rant, which she insists wasn’t – but the American Media had a field day, she also released an awful half-live gospel album – the less said the better.

But Michelle still had at least one great album left in her.

Fidel Castro is Dead

Sunday 27th November

The news has come as a sort of quiet shock.  And we have had a lot of deaths this year, though few from the Political World, or actually from a World a world away from Politics; Fidel Castro was a real Revolutionary, possibly the last we will see for a long time.  He had been ill for some time and had handed over the reins of power to his brother Raoul a few years ago.  There has been a slow rapprochement with America and the West in the last few years; a long way away from the Cold War, the Bay of Pigs and all of that.

But let us not forget Fidel Castro and that other Revolutionary Che Geuvara, who was killed fighting a few years later in Bolivia.  In the Sixties we looked up to these guys, and they were young too back then.  We saw them as freedom fighters, fighting corrupt and rich rulers of their countries.  The shine had already rubbed off the Russian Revolution, and their leaders, and the apparatchniks of the Communist Party were seen as out of touch with the ideals of Communism which some of us still espoused.  But Fidel and Che were different, they didn’t live in Palaces, they weren’t interested in World Domination, although Cuba did send troops and assistance to a few movements in Africa.  If the stories are to be believed, everyone used to help with the sugar harvest, and there was real equality.

Looking back now, Cuba seems like a dream we might once have had.  The dominance of Neo-Liberalism and Corporate Big Business and Globalisation in our times makes it seem quite unfeasible that anything like fairness and equality, let alone brought about by a real Revolution, could ever happen again.  We are in a world where the Rich get richer and the poor remain poor; all Politicians seem able to do is to manage the wretched thing as well as possible.  The pendulum has swung way over to the Right; we need an army of Fidels to push it back the other way.

Law and Justice

Saturday 26th November

I mentioned Billy Bragg a couple of days ago and I was reminded of one of his lyrics “This isn’t a Court of Justice, this is a Court of Law”.  And sometimes the Courts are called Law Courts and sometimes Courts of Justice, but our perceptions of Laws and Justice are not quite the same thing.  We mostly (except the Super-rich) accept that Laws are to be obeyed and if one transgresses and is discovered then one should be tried, the Law applied and Justice duly administered.  But it doesn’t always work out that way.  Laws are passed by Parliament and it is then for Judges and Lawyers to interpret them, and when a question of Law is disputed then opposing Solicitors and Barristers will argue and, often going by precedent, the Law will come down on one side or the other.

However we, the general public, being ignorant of all the complexities of Law have a different perception of Justice, or what we might consider the lack of it.  Often after a sentence has been passed the Media will interview victims or relatives of victims and ask if they feel that they have received Justice.  In Law, the opinion of relatives, or indeed the victim themselves, does not matter; the whole point of having Law is to take revenge and retribution away from those directly involved in a dispute or a crime and to have an independent Judiciary decide guilt or not and to administer punishment if appropriate.  But people’s gut feelings are somewhat different; a crime has been committed and someone must pay.  And the punishment should fit the crime (almost) – we have come a long way from “an eye for an eye”, but still there is that popular feeling that Justice is not being delivered, and that Lawyers and Judges are not being fair to the victims and are protecting the perpetrators of crime; and of course this is fed by the Media.

And then there are the miscarriages of Justice.  Every few years a case comes up where either evidence was corrupted or new evidence emerges to prove the innocence of someone convicted of a crime, and after an Appeal, and sometimes a re-trial a new verdict may be decided.  And often we are just as outraged that Justice was denied to somebody.  Complicated?  It makes you wonder who would be a Lawyer; until you see the fees they charge….hahaha



Friday 25th November

They moved into the big house just two years after Phil married June, in those two short years his life seemed to be turning out really well for him, no longer the boring twerp studying Law for years on end but a real success.  At work Jameson was slowing down, and often left after lunch, leaving him to get on with stuff; he was writing letters with the bosses name and putting them in front of him to sign the next morning, he rarely questioned Phil.  He seemed to trust his judgement, and gradually he let go of the purse strings a bit too.  As his Dad had predicted, he was lining him up.

Jones and Phil got on really well too.  Jones was more into business, and he sometimes gave him share tips.  Phil had already bought a few shares, but it felt too long term somehow, why tie money up for years when there were opportunities closer to home.  Jones and Phil decided to go into business together and buy the lease on a small shop at the wrong end of the high street, where the shops petered out and the houses begun.  It had been a second-hand furniture shop, and before that a greengrocers, but nobody seemed to make it work.

Jones had this friend who wanted to open a Newsagents’, and had the money to pay them a decent few bob if they could find him a site.  It was like taking sweets from a child; they only paid a thousand for the lease, Phil borrowed his share from the bank on the pretext of needing a car and no questions were asked of the smart new Junior Solicitor.  They sub-let the shop for a decent rent, and got a premium of six hundred back for their trouble.  It was so easy, and Phil was really beginning to like making money too, it seemed more his style than conveyancing yet another property.  Phil bought a nice little Austin with the premium money; it wouldn’t do for the bank manager not to see he had a car, would it.  And the rent they got for the shop more than covered the loan, so Phil was quids in too.

Then June went and got herself pregnant, and would have to stop work in a few months so Phil would be needing money more than ever now.  He was like a hawk, on the look-out for prey.  He realised that quite a few clients, small business-men, shop owners and the like would have a consultation with old Jameson and then not come back to give them their business.

“Put off by the fees, I expect,” said Jameson, “but I won’t do it for less. That’s the road to ruin, doing business on the cheap, soon run down your business that way I can assure you Phillip.  Better to lose business than do it on the cheap.”

And Phil had to agree with him, at least while he was in the office, but in the pub after work he would find they often spoke to him, and bewailed the fees they were charging, and even asked if Phil knew a cheaper solicitor by any chance.  Of course he did, though it would have to be done on the QT.  We wouldn’t want old Jameson to find out, now would we?  And it would have to be a one-off, oh, and cash, he couldn’t start running cheques through his bank account or questions would soon be asked.

*  * *

It was barely a month after they moved into the big house when Ted and June would meet about once a week and just do it.  No preliminaries, just frantic kissing, undoing of clothes and getting him inside her as quick as they could.  And it was as good as it always had been, if not better. It was spring when they started, and Ted and her would meet at the bottom of Spikes Lane, and he would have the farm truck with him, so he could drive them round the back way, and they would have their fun in one of the barns, full of straw and old machinery, sometimes on an old tarpaulin or just on their coats, Ted’s trousers loosened and her skirt hoiked up, leaning on a bale of hay at the back.

Somehow doing it half-clothed was more exciting, and the possibility of getting caught only added to the excitement.   June came so quickly with Ted too, whereas she was often left hanging on after Phil had finished, wishing it had lasted a bit longer, or that it was Ted doing it, rather than Phil.  In fact it was far better with Phil if she let her mind drift, and it was Ted here with her, behind an old Combined Harvester smelling of oil and cow shit, rather than Phil with his red neck and Brylcreamed hair banging her in their new bed.  It was quite easy, she just had to half close my eyes and let her thoughts slip and it was her and Ted all along – maybe it had always been that way, who knew?

Of course June was scared of getting caught.  Who wouldn’t be?  The last thing she wanted was to hurt her sister, despite a residue of jealousy that wouldn’t quite go away, but somehow she felt that if Julie didn’t know then it wouldn’t hurt her, would it?  And you know how it is, the first time you do something you shouldn’t you are scared wit-less, then each time after that it just gets easier, and the guilt slips away like the mist over the fields on Summer mornings.  Then by the time it got to Autumn she was pregnant, so Ted and her stopped, stopped meeting let alone doing it, but they had never had a discussion about any of it, there never seemed the right moment to actually talk about what they were doing.  It was as if some madness had overtaken them both, besides June didn’t think they could have talked sensibly about any of it if they had wanted to, they were just too besotted with each other.

Ted and June had stopped seeing each other because it was getting much colder, and she was huge with Harriet too, so she couldn’t be bumping down country lanes anymore, let alone doing it in freezing cold cowsheds.  Strangely enough her sister was pregnant at the same time, and in a way this brought the two sisters closer together.  They had never been that close growing up really, June was two years older than her sister, and probably thought Julie was too young for her to be her friend, she’d always hung around with older girls at school, and the last thing she would have wanted was a younger sister under her feet.

But now that they were both pregnant they suddenly became friends (despite the fact that June had been banging her husband all Summer) and they would go to the Hospital together on the bus, two hugely pregnant ladies sitting side by side on the downstairs seat opposite the conductor.   And Julie would wait at June’s house with her until Ted came to fetch her in the evening, and he would laugh and say there must be something in the water.  Phil never saw the funny side of it though, he was peeved about June having to stop work, and how they were going to manage with the mortgage and loan to pay, and that was when he started going out to meet clients in the evening.  June knew it was a bit peculiar, but somehow she just accepted that with Phil that was the way it was, and so a couple of evenings a week, he would drive off in the Austin and meet some crony or other to talk about business.  He never shared any of the details with her, it was all just ‘business’ with him, and so she put his absences out of her mind, besides she had quite a lot to think about with this baby coming.  She was determined that this would be the end of it with Ted; it had been stupid and reckless and it must end now.  But in her secret thoughts she wasn’t sure how she would tell him, let alone be able to stop herself from wanting him so desperately.

I Used To Paint….

Thursday 24th November

I discovered Art, or rather Art discovered me, in the Lower Sixth Form at Stowmarket Grammar School.  Our Art teacher Jack Trodd, besides having a penchant for stroking the backs of young boys legs and almost touching their bum cheeks (we used to laugh about it – it seemed harmless enough to us 11 and 12 year olds) as he asked you to stand next to him while he showed you how to do a water-colour wash, (amazingly his right hand never faltered despite the machinations of his left) was very laxadaisical about us Sixth formers, we could come and go whenever we pleased and had a section at the back of the very well-appointed Art room reserved for our work in progress.  What started off as a half a morning a week soon ended up with me in the Art room at every opportunity – I had suddenly discovered Art and I painted Faces.  I would also sit up in my bedroom painting, sometimes monochrome but using Acrylics too; I was consumed with Art, and writing pretty awful poetry full of death and despair – all in all I was quite a happy teenager.

Then as a young parent I would draw and paint, trying to work out the bad memories of my errant wife’s departure in the lines of black biro, or in the obscurity of painting Alazarine Crimson dark backgrounds to numerous portraits…

I painted for years and the writing slowly improved, or so I thought.  But sometime around the mid-eighties I stopped drawing and painting and only occasionally wrote.  I really don’t know why but somehow the muse deserted me, or maybe I just left her crying on some street corner.  I kept promising myself I would start again when I retired.

But I can still draw, and I can still paint – only in my imagination these days do I create my Masterpieces.  I am simply too busy; the Café to run and a big house to decorate; so I write my little blogs for your delectation and I paint walls and ceilings and skirting boards and windows – and I am still working out the mysteries of my life, sometimes worrying over small failures or re-living some dreadful scene of the past, and as I ply the brush and try to make the strokes as neat as possible I sometimes seem to see things a bit clearer.  As Billy Bragg once sung, looking out to sea on a misty morning “Sometimes I begin to see the point”

The Almost-Revolution of the Right

Wednesday 23rd November

Not all revolutions come from the Left, in fact History teaches us that the rise of National Socialism in Germany was Protectionist and anti-foreigner (in this case Jewish people) backed by several rich industrialists but appealing to an impoverished working class.  Even the American Revolution was led by rich Colonists not ordinary farmers.  And now the almost-revolution of 2016 is also coming from the Right, both UKIP and the Tea Party (which has now overtaken the GOP) have captured large sections of the population who feel dis-empowered and neglected by both major parties, and by using an instinctive dislike of both change and an influx of people they perceive as different, many who have never been really interested in Politics before voted for them, and they have gained Power on the backs of a backlash against the Modern World.   And have no doubt about it; those leading this almost-revolution have no real plans to improve the lot of ordinary people, they are the very ones who have created the Modern World.

And we have all had to accommodate an accelerating pace of change over the years; I can remember seeing signs in windows “Room to Let, No Blacks or Irish”.  And Computers and Globalisation and International Trade are not going to go away, the best we can hope for is a strong International regime of Democratic Control to ameliorate the worst aspects and to protect the weak and vulnerable.  The Right hate International Agreements and will try to take us back to Protectionism and Nationalism.

And now being reasonable, plying the quiet Centre Ground arguments, is not enough.  Jeremy Corbyn tried that in the Brexit debate and got blamed for the vote to Leave; Hilary presented herself as the Continuity Candidate, all reasonableness and sense.  But reason went out of the window.  Maybe the Left and the Centre will have to fight fire with fire, take the gloves off and really hit back at the ultra Right.

This Revolution may not have run its course; Marine Le Pen in France and elections in Holland and Germany may throw up more surprises.  But…..

Most Revolutions fail, the enthusiasm of the mob, once so easily whipped up can wane just as quickly, and even turn on those who drove them down that particular road.  Let us hope so, before too much damage is done.

S – is for Michelle Shocked – Short Sharp Shocked

Tuesday 22nd November

I can still remember the moment I first heard Michelle Shocked, it must have been in 1988.  It was in my Dad’s car, I think he was taking me and my daughter Lydia to the railway station in Wokingham after a visit.  The song was ‘When I grow up’, and I had never heard anything quite like it before.  Great bass notes and a simple strummed melody and a beautiful voice singing almost nonsensical words about having hundreds of babies.  For once too I caught the announcer saying it was by Michelle Shocked.  I cannot say exactly what it was that captivated me but I suppose it was just the honesty of her voice, unaffected and refreshingly different.  So, I bought the album ‘Short Sharp Shocked’ with its iconic cover and have played it ever since.  Michelle was apparently discovered at a small festival in Texas and recorded and was instantly signed to a small independent label “Cooking Vinyl”.  This was her first record, but apparently she had already written the songs she planned for her first three albums long before she had a record deal.  And this was not precociousness but simply what she knew and how she wanted the records to sound.

Well, the campfire tape was eventually released, but Michelle followed Short Sharp Shocked with “Captain Swing” – a more jazzy record and “Arkansas Traveller” – A country tinged album.  Both are brilliant and almost as good as her debut.  But I always return to songs like ‘When I Grow Up’ and the gorgeous ‘Memories of East Texas” where she describes learning to drive around red clay back roads, and my very favourite ‘Anchorage’ where she sings a simple letter from a friend who had moved “You know you’re in the largest state in the Union when you’re anchored down in Anchorage, Anchorage Alaska”.

But Michelle has always been controversial and left her label acrimoniously.  She has had a sporadic career since, releasing albums mostly on her own label and became a born again Christian.  But she still had some great music in her…

Short Sharp Shocked (Michelle Shocked album - cover art).jpg

Come on Mrs. May – Show Some Leadership

Monday 21st November

Every new prime Ministers comes in with a degree of good will, and especially so with Mrs. May, after the departure of the much disliked Cameron; incidentally how strange that we end up hating every leader after a few years – only to often resurrect them when their successors fall out of favour in their turn.   So why have we seen and heard so little from Mrs. May?  She has not only been quiet about her plans for Brexit but she has hardly spoken on any other subject.  Bland statements such as “Brexit means Brexit, and we are going to make a success of it” hardly count as policy direction.

The Brexit vote itself was very divisive and even now the question is far from settled.  How exactly do we leave the EU?  Do we leave the Single Market too, and the Customs Union, and the European Court of Human Rights (which actually preceded and is not part of the EU) – and how about shared Intelligence and Common Border Procedures?  We could go on and on, but the most alarming fact is that we have heard nothing from our P. M.  Okay, I understand the argument, that before formal discussions begin she doesn’t want to reveal her negotiating position, but in reality her hand will be shown on day one of the talks.  And would it not make much more sense to go to parliament and try (difficult as it may be) to get some sort of consensus; her hand will be much stronger if she does, and much worse if with every leak there are howls of discontent from Parliament.

And we must not forget the 48% who voted to Remain, or the farmers who won’t be able to get the crops collected, or the Restaurants and Coffee Shops who rely on Europeans as British kids don’t want to work in kitchens or serve at tables, or the nurses in the NHS.

Mr. Cameron called the referendum partly to shut up critics in his own party who kept ‘banging on’ about Europe.  He should have learnt from Scotland; he thought the referendum would shut the Jocks up – but in fact it simply bolstered their support.  Same as Europe; it doesn’t matter how much red meat you feed them the EU-hating sharks will still circle the boat screaming for more.  And the quieter she is the noisier they become.

So, please Mrs. May – step up to the plate and show some leadership.