Goodbye to 2016

Saturday 31st December

So many people think that this last year has been horrible; what with Famous deaths and Brexit and Trump many are pulling their hair out and hoping for the year to end.  So what does your famous blogger think?  Firstly, it is too close to really assess properly – History has a way of seeing things a bit differently.  And secondly, I have lived long enough to know that however bad we might think 2016 was, there will be surprises and disappointments a-plenty in 2017.  Not that I think we will ever look back and say “Oh yes, what a wonderful year that was.”

Part of the problem is that we are getting older, and so when a musician or actor or film-star dies we feel that we have known them, we have listened to their music, we have seen the films they were in, they are like old friends.  When we were younger these deaths were just names, now they feel like family. Then there is Social media, where we often first hear of their demise, there are immediate tributes, and somehow one feels an awful collective grief.  Twenty-four hour news doesn’t help either – sometimes it feels as if we are being bombarded with news and information we have to process, much of it depressing.  The ‘Pop’ revolution I enjoyed started (for me) in 1962 with The Beatles.  I was 11 and my heroes around ten years older than me, so they are all due to die sometime soon anyway.  Imagine if Paul or Joni or Jagger or Dylan dies next year – it might just put 2016 into perspective.

Politically it has seemed disastrous.  But maybe not.  There has been a feeling that the General Public was stupid, but maybe they are simply letting the Establishment know that they are fed up with the lot of them.  True their choices appear maverick, but it is certainly worrying the main Political parties, and even the Tories are realizing that it cannot simply be business as usual.  Whether this signals a real Political change or will wither on the vine is still to be seen.  And even Brexit may not be quite the disaster many, including me have been predicting.  We have to wait to see just what Mrs. May can achieve.  And the “Donald”?  Well we will just have to wait and see, maybe he will turn out to be less awful than we currently suspect.

One good thing about 2016 was that Syria, with Russia’s help, has turned the tide in the awful civil war going on for six years.  The rebels were never going to win, and we, the Saudis and America, were stupid to keep arming and supporting them.  We should have learnt from Iraq and Libya that deposing a Dictator does not mean Democracy will work in its place.  After all, we had a civil war in Britain, and then 400 years working on a sort of Democracy that is far from perfect – and yet we preach about how wonderful it is.  Also the UN at last has had the guts (or America has caved in) to remind Israel and the rest of the World that what they are doing in the Occupied Territories is illegal and will end badly.  No doubt I will be accused of being anti-Semitic but it is the actions of the state of Israel I disagree with not the religion of the people of that country (many of whom are Muslims or Christians by the way).

Who knows what 2017 will bring; it may be worse or better than 2016.  But things have a habit of evening out over time, so let us raise a glass tonight.  Goodbye 2016 and Hello 2017…

It’s Four In The Morning

Friday 30th December

I remember these words so well, and they always seem to pop into my head in these last few days of the year, they seem to sum up that mood so well.  Don’t ask me exactly what they mean – even Leonard Cohen was puzzling over the lyrics thirty years later.  But it is one of his best songs – Famous Blue Raincoat – from Songs of Love and Hate.  This is from memory, because I have played this song so many many times, I never tire of it.

“It’s four in the morning, the end of December, I’m writing you now just to see if you’re better.  New York is cold but I like where I’m living, there’s music on Clinton Street all through the evening.  I hear that you’re building your little house deep in the desert; you’re living for nothing now, I hope you’re keeping some kind of record. Yes, and Jane came by with a lock of your hair, she said that she gave it to you, that night that you planned to go clear.  Did you ever go clear?

The last time we saw you, you looked so much older, your famous blue raincoat was torn at the shoulder, you’d been to the station to meet every train, then you came home without Lily Marlene.  You treated my woman to a flake of your life and when she came back she was nobody’s wife. I see you there with a rose in your teeth, one more thin gypsy thief.  Well I see Jane’s away (awake?). She sends her regards.

And what can I tell you, my brother, my killer, what can I possibly say. I guess that I miss you, I guess I forgive you, I’m glad that you stood in my way.  If you ever come by here, for Jane or for me, your enemy is sleeping and his woman is free.  Yes, and thanks for the trouble you took from her eyes, I thought it was there for good, so I never tried.   And Jane came by with a lock of your hair, she said that you gave it to her that night that you planned to go clear.  Sincerely L. Cohen.”

Whether those are exactly the words or not it doesn’t matter.  It is sheer and beautiful poetry, even though both Leonard and I don’t really understand what it means.  Maybe that’s why it is so wonderful…

Songs Of Love And Hate

S – is for Simon and Garfunkel

Wednesday 28th December

In those amazing late Sixties, new sounds, new groups, fabulous records were tumbling in a never-ending stream from our transistor radios.  I heard ‘Sounds of Silence’ and was hooked instantly, but for a few years I, along with millions of others, assumed that Simon and Garfunkel (weird, but hey) were their Christian names.  We also had no idea that Paul Simon wrote all the songs and played guitar, Artie with the voice of an angel just sang most of them.  Their harmonies, like the Everlys, who were their idols, were perfect.  But it was always the songs that got me. I particularly loved ‘I am a Rock, I am an Island’, which in my teenage angst I identified with perfectly – my books and my poetry to protect me.

Hits followed hits, ‘Scarborough Fair’ (Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme), ‘Homeward Bound’, ‘59th Street Bridge Song (Feeling Groovy), and ‘America’.  They were asked to contribute songs for the best film of the Sixties “The Graduate” and came up with ‘Mrs Robinson’,  Then came their Masterpiece “Bridge Over Troubled Waters”.  Few songs are anything like as brilliant, but the whole album is just wonderful, every song perfect and perfectly following each other ‘Cecila’ and ‘Keep the Customers Satisfied’ and ;’The Boxer’ and ‘The Only Living Boy in New York’ being my favourites.  What none of us knew at the thesetime was that the pair were not the perfect happy couple depicted on their record sleeves.  Paul was writing better and better songs and was frustrated by Artie who not only sang with such a saccharine sweet voice but was spending time on his film career and not working as hard as Paul in the Studio; one time he got quite angry in an interview as it was inferred that Artie was the songwriter.

Trouble lie ahead, but we are so lucky to have just these five wonderful albums of the duo.  They have re-united a few times over the years for lucrative live tours and once recorded a whole album together (Hearts and Bones), which Paul then deleted Arties vocals and replaced them with his own; I wonder if we will ever hear those earlier versions?

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The Dog-Days Of December

Wednesday 28th December

Well, Christmas is over now and many of you will still be off work, not returning until the 3rd of January or maybe even later.  The presents have all been opened, your kids already bored with their new toys, Christmas dinner long past, you are down to wondering just what to do next with that turkey, cold meat again, or some sort of mince, or just chuck the thing away.  You’ve already been out shopping because even the best list-writers forget something.  You cannot face another day slouched in front of the telly, or playing another board game.  Even a nice Winter walk has lost all its appeal.  We are truly in the dog days of Christmas.

The TV news is as depressing as ever, 2016’s crop of famous deaths not quite gathered in; politics is as suspended as the weather, unseasonably mild an;d yet still dreary.  New Years Eve, where a forced jollity may ensue is still a few days away, it almost seems that your life is suspended until January when that decorating can begin.

Well, that isn’t quite the life for your intrepid blogger…We drove back yesterday and this morning we have to crank the Café up again.  There are scones to be baked, and bacon and sausages to be cooked.  A new coffee machine to be opened and set-up.  I also have a new laptop, as this one is showing visible signs of ageing and silly things keep going wrong.  So there will be hours of transferring files over and learning Windows 10, which I have never liked the look of, but we all succumb in the end.

Anyway, now that you have a few days with nothing to do, use the time sensibly and think up some New Years Resolutions; a change in your eating habits, rather than a fad diet; being kind to someone else every day; read those books you always said you would; watch a lot less telly.  Whatever,  let’s try to make 2017 a better year than this one…

Competition or Co-operation ?

Tuesday 27th December

We are slipping out of a phase of co-operation and into a different one of competition.  The EU is about to lose one of its members – us, with the possibility that it will set the whole row of dominoes tumbling.  The EU had many faults, but it was an attempt at co-operation, a way for Europe to be stronger together than apart.  The First World War was brought about largely by competition amongst the Great Powers of Europe, and the Second a direct result of a bad peace settlement after the First, along with increasing competition between Japan and America for dominance in the Pacific.  After 1945 almost all politicians were agreed that things would have to be done differently from now on.  And so an era of co-operation ensued.  It isn’t perfect by any means but it is far better than countries competing ruthlessly for Supremacy.

But these institutions are beginning to fall apart; we may be seeing the start of a new Nuclear Arms Race, and possible Trade Wars and Protectionism.  The slogan “We’re Gonna Make America Great Again” won out and indeed trumped “Stronger Together”.  Competition is now the order of the day, the strong winning out and the weak going to the wall.  Everywhere you look, Housing, Health, Education – the rich and powerful get what they want and the poor are left to fight over the scraps.

I firmly believe that collectively we are far more effective at making this World a better place than by competing and fighting for dominance (whatever that looks like).  The truth is that we cannot all live in gold apartments in Trump Towers; some of us humans will always need a helping hand and only by co-operation will we succeed in the really big problems – Global Warming, Poverty and Inequality.

Here endeth the lesson for today, go away children and think about it.

Gone, But Not Forgotten

Monday 26th December

What a year; forget Brexit and Trump, the Grim Reaper has scythed down so many this yeat we have barely had time to mourn them.  For me the greatest losses were Bowie and Leonard Cohen; both original and beautiful artists who emerged in that most fertile period – the late Sixties and early Seventies.  Bowie was a real shock as we didn’t even know he was ill, though there had been rumours – somehow we didn’t believe them.  The man who fell to earth, the creator of Ziggy, the man who went to Berlin and wrote “Heroes” was gone.  And his last act was to leave us with ‘BlackStar; and the haunting single ‘Lazarus’ – every time I see that face with the bandaged and button eyes I almost cry ‘Look up here, I’m in Heaven, I’ve got scars you cannot see.’  What a way to go, but what a waste too.

Throughout the year we lost so many talented and wonderful people; if I name just a few that spring to mind – Wogan, Paul Daniels, Victoria Wood and Ronnie Corbett, it isn’t because the others mean any less.  Musically we lost Glenn Frey from the Eagles and just lately Emerson and Greg Lake.  Prince, who I was never a fan of, but an undisputed talent nevertheless went in the Summer.  Only on Christmas Eve we learned that Rick Parfitt of Status Quo had gone.  And now we wake up on Boxing Day to the sad news of the death of George Michael – only 58 too.

My great friend and mentor Leonard died a few weeks ago, I had read that he was seriously ill so this didn’t come as such a shock.  But there will be no new music from any of these artists – live albums and rejected tracks maybe , but no creativity; we must simply treasure the old records and be thankful that we live in an age where their music, their performances and images will always be with us.

2016 has been a sad year in Music; let us hope we don’t get another crop like it in 2017.




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A Very Merry Christmas

Sunday 25th December

Yes, and actually Merry is the very word.  Merry, not a well used word now, unless in a slightly pejorative sense, as in “She was a bit merry” – meaning slightly drunk.  But Merriment is something we can all enjoy; a relaxing day, some nice food, maybe a chocolate or two and a drink or three.  Eat, drink and be merry, the old phrase went.  Of course we all eat and drink too much most of the time, and get a bit merry quite often too, but it used to be special at Christmas.

I am not going to bore you with tales of the rarity of oranges at Christmas, or the simple toys we had as children – needless to say, Christmas is changing and will always change.  The simple act of getting together with friends and family on this one day is special – so have a merry old time, one and all, and to all the readers, occasional and compulsive of my little blog, thank you for reading have a good and merry Christmas

A World Without Nukes

Saturday 24th December

And just as we were beginning to relax and think all Christmassy thoughts of Peace and Goodwill to all men, we had the Donald and another of his wild tweets.  “We need more Nukes”.  As if the declared 7000 weren’t enough to destroy us all several times over.

Of course, we all agree (or every sane person must) that Nuclear Weapons if ever deployed mean the end of Civilisation.  But we all know too that it will be almost impossible to live in a World without Nukes.  “That was just a dream some of us had.”

And even a World without War seems unrealistic, as several are happening now and as soon as one War ends another one seems to come into bloom.  .And yet, don’t we live in a Democracy?  Surely the vast majority of people want to live in a World Without War, without conflict, without starvation, without the threat of a nuclear holocaust.  So why do our Politicians all seem to share the same aggressive posturing, building bigger and better (worse) weapons of mass destruction?

We can only live in hope that Donald is just playing to the audience…boasting for whatever egotistical reasons of his own….and that wiser heads will prevail.

Otherwise, you had better read all my tweets quickly, as there may not be much time left…

Religion and Politics

Like water and petrol they shouldn’t mix but all too often they do.  Some states are indeed so intertwined that it is impossible to be in Politics at all if you are not of the faith; Israel, India, Iran and Pakistan spring to mind but here in the ‘secular’ West we are not so immune either.  In America it is unimaginable for a President not to be a Christian, and a practicing one too; wearing ones Religion on ones sleeve is ‘de rigeur’.   In Germany the present Government coalition is led by the Christian Democrats, though I am not sure how ‘Christian’ you have to be to be in that party.  In Britain it is extremely unlikely that a Conservative leader would not be from the Church of England, though historically this wasn’t always the case.  I think that Neil Kinnock might have been the first leader of a British party who admitted that he might be an agnostic, and since then we have had Blair, who was almost a Catholic and Brown, a son of the manse, Milliband, a possibly lapsed Jew and now Jeremy who is almost certainly an Atheist.  Whether anyone in England nowadays votes or indeed doesn’t vote because of the religion or lack of it in the candidate is doubtful, though there is probably some resistance still to declared Muslims or Hindus.  But it is when Politicians bring religion, often as some sort of justification, into their decision making that things get a bit hypocritical.  Can you be a Christian and preside over policies which may result in people dying, or suffering any form of hardship?  And worse still is when they use their Religion, genuine or not, as a photo-opportunity.  Religion, if one is daft enough to still cling to it, should be a private matter, better excluded from Politics completely.

So whatever your Politics or Religion, let’s keep them separate and Happy Holidays or Merry Christmas to you all…

The Fox

Thursday 22nd December

The fox; we have always had a strange relationship with the fox.  Traditionally farmers hated them and rich folk rode around in red jackets and a pack of hounds and hunted them in a highly ritualized manner; the Hunt as much a social rite of passage and one-upmanship as a real attempt to rid the countryside of what were considered vermin.

And then there is the ‘morphism’ of the fox; throughout History they have been awarded special human characteristics of cunning (that sly old fox Reynard) and an almost sinister slinking devilishness.  Elton John made a record titled The Fox (one of my favourites) especially the title track where Elton is the fox, sly and scheming.  And cartoon foxes are never really nice, even Basil Brush had a sinister laugh and was not exactly cuddly…boom boom.

And even in this Twenty-first Century men in pink coats are preparing to hunt the fox this Boxing day, and call it sport too – well it isn’t my definition of sport that’s for sure.  And the strange thing is that foxes may still be around in the countryside but they have moved into the cities big time.  Here, especially in London, there is plenty of rubbish for them to scavenge with all the take-away joints and black bags sitting on the pavement waiting for collection.  Walking the dogs I see them, slinking along and driving the dogs mad; they have little fear of humans here in the city who are mostly tucked up in bed or slinking along some opposite pavement themselves.  And my heart goes out to Mr. Fox, the ultimate survivor, living on his wits and outwitting the men in pink coats.  He may be sly and cunning, but maybe we have driven him to use all of his intelligence to evade us, the most sly and cunning of enemies in the whole wild world.