Monday 30th April

Sadness – at the passing of the years, the hopes and dreams, the laughs and the tears.  Like a chain of links that slips through my fingers, memories are the only things that still linger.  Each day as the razor sweeps down my cheeks, I gaze at a face that I never did seek.  I used to recognise who I could see, but I don’t know this old man staring back at me. Time is cruel and shows no pity, growing old can be really shitty.

Sadness – at a life I have probably wasted, the fame I sought I barely tasted.  I wanted to be a rock and roll singer, but was born with the voice of a complete minger.  I was spotted early as a potential M. P. but blew it – ‘ain’t that just like me.  I could have written much better than I did, but deep inside I was still a kid, too intent on having fun to have taken the prize I should have won.

Sadness – at the lovers that I let slip, the spaces between cup and lip.  The chances I wasted without number, the nights I woke sweating from slumber.  The faces I promised to love forever, the lies I meant but could honour never.  The empty rooms I wandered through, not knowing why or even who to.

Sadness – but tinged with some real hope, as towards understanding I finally grope. And looking back things haven’t been so bad, no real reason to be feeling so sad.  Every life is worth exactly the same, life really isn’t some sort of game.  It’s the only one we are likely to get, just get on and live it – no need for regret.

The Long Run

Sunday 29th April

What do we mean by the long run?  A few months, years even?  But rarely do we consider much past the length of our own lives.  But most of us have children or grandchildren, who we love dearly – what of them in the Long Run?

I was struck by an article in the Guardian from a long-standing Climate Change Scientist, who, now in his Eighties, is stating that the Human Race has almost been run.  Extinction is staring us in the face, he says, and no amount of technological change will save either us or the planet (or rather many species on the planet at present).  In all likelihood even if temperatures continue to rise inexorably, new species will evolve and take over the Earth.

It set me thinking; maybe we are just like those smokers who despite warning after warning that it is killing us, continue puffing away – well, it may not actually kill me, and I am going to die of something anyway.  Our dependence, or as some would see it, our addiction to, the burning of fossil fuels is going to be hard to let slip.  Even though, thanks to the EU, no-emission vehicles will be the only ones on sale in twenty years’ time, it may be long after that that we wave goodbye to Oil.  There are powerful Corporations still exploring for and extracting oil and gas; fracking is the new Holy Grail, we seem to be oblivious to the bleeding obvious.  We cannot continue extracting and burning both fossil fuels and minerals with impunity.  A price will always be paid.  Just as with smokers; it probably won’t kill us sometime soon, or even in our own lifetimes.  But our Oil addiction will surely kill us all one day.  Or that is the message from (most of) the scientific community.  The hope is that new technology will save us (as George W. Bush declared) but some scientists now think that the problem may be both too big, and too far gone, to be solvable.  What really needs to change is Human Behaviour.  We have to find a new stable and sustainable economic model that keeps everyone fed and housed but stops the rich getting inexorably richer (at everyone else’s expense).

Many science fiction writers have toyed with the idea of the human race escaping a ruined and dying planet and heading off into space to colonise a new planet (one full of minerals and all the resources we would need).  Well, that still remains Science Fiction.  But wouldn’t it make much more sense to try to save the planet we are on.

There are many who now deny Climate Change, or possibly admit that temperatures may be rising but it is not due to Human Activity.  I am not a scientists, but even if that is true, shouldn’t we try to save our precious planet.  In the long run it is all we have.

The Long-Awaited Return of Brexit

Saturday 28th April

The news cycle is a strange thing.  Stories come and then they go.  The Skripals and Nerve Agent, such a big story a few weeks ago and now nothing.  No conclusion, no interviews, no suspects, no arrests, no confirmation or denials.  Syria and chemical weapons, same again – nothing.  Three weeks ago and it looked like WW3 might kick off, and now nothing.  The Russians presenting ‘evidence’ that it was all staged is completely ignored by the mainstream media.  I wonder why that is?

And Brexit?  You might have thought it had all gone away as the news blackout was so dense.  But suddenly it is back in the news.  In reality it has never gone away.   The latest crunch point is whether we remain in the, or (according to which Government Minister is speaking) any Customs Union.

A customs union means that Goods can travel freely between countries with no border checks and no paperwork, as all external tariffs are the same and will have been paid in the country of first entry.  Without this, the UK will face huge problems with trade between us and the EU; potential long lorry tailbacks, tariffs to pay and the inter-country supply chain for many manufacturers completely disrupted.  Car factories work on only 30 minutes supply…(almost inconceivable) but apparently true.  This means that lorries must be arriving almost constantly with parts otherwise the factory grinds to a halt.  Rather than face the nightmare which border checks will create many manufacturers will simply move their factories to mainland Europe….oops.

But Theresa May is still insisting there will be no Customs Union.  And the reason is that being part of a Customs union means that we will not be totally free to agree our own trade deals with other countries outside the EU without EU agreement.  Brexiteers argue that this means we will not have left Europe at all.

It will soon come to a vote in the Commons (though the government is holding out for as long as possible).  On paper there are just enough votes to defeat the Government….even bigger ooops.

My Record Collection 16


Thursday 26th April

Barclay James Harvest (continued) – A year later and they released one of their best records Once Again.  A clever title and the first to feature their trade mark butterfly. They were on a new label Harvest, a subsidiary of EMI devoted to new bands, and the label took it’s name form the group.  Once Again is a huge leap in creativity.  The songs are much better and features two of their most famous compositions ‘Mockingbird’ which they have played at almost every concert since, and ‘She Said’ but my favourite is the exquisite ‘Galadriel’, a hauntingly gentle and beautiful song about a girl who comes up with the morning sun to tell you life has just begun.  BJH were at the forefront of what came to be known as ‘prog-rock’.  Ridiculed at times by the music press, especially during the punk years, but loved by millions of fans – and where all the punk bands have long since gone, the dinosaurs of prog-survived for much longer.  BJH became one of my very favourite bands, along with The Beatles and Crowded House.  I have bought every record, except the many compilations and except for a couple of live records they are have all been played to death…I simply love them.

Later that same year (1971) they released their third album Barclay James Harvest and Other Short Stories.  Another all-time favourite, full of brilliant songs, majestic orchestral arrangements, superb drumming too – and beautifully sung lyrics.  This album featured ‘Medicine Man’ and ‘After the Day’ – but my very favourite must always be ‘Little Lapwing’ with its’ brilliant trumpet coda.   I think that Woolly was the real classical man, and John a bit more of a rocker.  His song ‘Blue John’s Blues’ matches almost anything other ‘heavier’ bands were producing, and it still has a brilliant melody.  I think it is the melodies which capture me most in BJH music; they are timeless, often a bit slower than most, stately almost.  The lyrics are pretty-well post-hippy idealism, wanting a better world full of love and peace – that sort of thing – but easy to sing along with.  So, three brilliant albums to start with – but trouble was looming.  The cost of touring with an orchestra almost bankrupted them.  They were also having disputes with both their management and record company over money.  As usual they were being screwed over, working every day and seeing nothing for their efforts.

Barclay James Harvest And Other Short Stories

The Long Grass

Wednesday 25th April

The long grass is where your balls get lost – in all senses of the word.  But it also means safety from those who would cut the grass from beneath your feet.  Governments are increasingly good at announcing new policies, but we very rarely see them actually come into practice, despite their often repeated claims.  Money is a good example, as extra money is promised time and time again for the NHS or for rough sleeping or for whatever the newspapers are banging on about this week.  But those on the front line never see the cash.  It has to go through committee after committee first, it is mulled over, weighed and divied out, but by that time so much has been spent on consultants that the dribble that arrives has been all but forgotten about.

Tony Blair was the absolute master of kicking things into the long grass.  First you raise expectations by announcing a commission, an inquiry.  You appoint some grandee, an ex-politician, a judge, a Lord, and a team of experts to produce (after a couple of years) a report.  Grand blast of trumpets as the report eventually thumps down (all 5,000 pages) onto Ministerial desks.  We are considering carefully the recommendations of this important report.  Two years later and Ministers are still seriously considering the proposals.  Then you hear nothing at all, until a new commission is appointed.  The long grass slowly grows over the original, probably quite sensible report, until the weeds take over and it is completely lost, only to be discovered by historians of the future.

But the illusion is potent – the Government is doing something…


Tuesday 24th April

Well, there is nothing like being topical – but, as many of you know, I have written about this before.  It wasn’t just Brexit, but that helped – it suddenly became okay to speak about being concerned about immigration.  But what exactly were people worried about.  Immigrants usually do the jobs which the native population doesn’t want to do, like working in catering or fruit and veg picking.  They are usually poorly paid.  They do pay taxes and very few claim benefits.  Most are in their Twenties and don’t have children to be educated.  They don’t tend to be old and have long-term illnesses which costs the NHS so much  In fact many come here to be nurses and doctors, roles we struggle to fill without them.

It is really a cultural fear; that somehow our ‘British’ identity is being lost.  True, there are a few towns where immigrants tend to congregate, and where little English is spoken, and more should have been done to promote integration.  But this fear of immigration tends to be an older generation’s concern.  Younger people are more likely to have gone to school with, or worked alongside, immigrants.  There is also an urban, rural split, with those living in cities where they are rubbing shoulders with immigrants more likely to be tolerant.  Many rural communities have little or no contact with immigrants but seem to be worried about them the most.

It is no accident also that these older people, living in smaller towns and villages vote Conservative.  They don’t want things to change.  And the Tories know this, and have bowed to their views (which some may call prejudices).  For the last 8 years in power they have banged on about immigration, even having a target and failing badly to get the annual numbers down to below 100,000 net immigrants.  Theresa May, as Home Secretary, and now Prime Minister has been among the most virulent.  There are now leaks that many fellow Cabinet members expressed concern at the vitriolic language and the more and more draconian policies she introduced.  An inordinate amount of money is spent on tracking down and deporting those who (in the polite words) have outstayed their welcome.  More and more those suspected of being an illegal immigrant are required to ‘prove’ their right to remain – before they can rent a flat, before they can get a job, before they can be treated by the nhs even.  And actually the numbers being discovered are still tiny, but the suffering is wide-scale.  Along with the Brexit decision, immigrants are being made to feel less and less valued and in many cases despised.  We should all be appalled by the treatment of the Windrush children, but not surprised.  Amber Rudd is now trying to blame officials for interpreting too cruelly the policies.  But it is her and Theresa May who not only passed the laws but have created the, in their own words, ‘hostile environment’ for immigrants.  A national disgrace, I am afraid.


What is News?

Sunday 22nd April

We all watch the news; although a few watch only rarely (I once worked with a woman who NEVER watched the news and had no idea even who the Prime Minister was {maybe she was better informed than the rest of us…hahaha}).  But what are we watching really?  The most important job is that of the News Editor, who, just as a newspaper editor, decides what is news.

And not only what goes on the Front Page, where Celebrity rules for most of the Tabloids, but even what to report on, and which stories are to be told and which to be buried.  Unfortunately the TV News is even more controlled than the papers are. They follow closely the News Agenda set by the papers.  So, it is no surprise that more and more of us are resorting to the internet to get not only a different political slant, but actually completely ‘New’ News.  I recently spotted a link to a report by Robert Fisk, who writes for the Guardian.  Now, I read on-line the Guardian almost every day; although not every page.  But I do scan the ‘front page’ and follow up anything I am interested in.  This article must have been deeply buried somewhere in the paper, but the News Editor had not chosen to highlight or Headline it in any way at all.

Which is amazing, as it was the most revealing article about the recent Syrian adventure I had read.  Robert Fisk is a celebrated and incredibly careful journalist, specialising in the Middle East.  He speaks Arabic and has many friends in Lebanon, Israel, Egypt and even Syria.  He has written extensively and critically about both the Israeli’s and many of the Arab leaders.  I have read his articles for years; he seems to have a deeper understanding of the conflicts and history, both ancient and modern, of this troubled region.

He visited Duoma, the site of the recent ‘chemical’ atrocity four days afterwards, which the Western powers immediately blamed on Assad.  He spoke to several doctors who had treated ‘victims’ of the ‘gas’ attacks.  They laughed when he mentioned chemical weapons.  The people treated were suffering from oxygen deprivation.  The rebels had built a series of tunnels under the town where soldiers and civilians hid from the air-raids.  These had become smoke filled and people were choking.  A simple problem and a simple solution, the water being poured over them was not to wash chemicals from them but to cool them down.  He found no evidence of any deaths or anyone being ‘’gassed’.  That is not to say that the ‘chemical’ attacks did not happen.  This is only one journalist’s voice.  But I haven’t seen a single report from another journalist who was actually in Duoma.

But the wider question is why this different version of events was not more widely carried by the News Media generally.  or why the extensive use of gas in the Iran-iraq conflict of the Eighties is never mentioned. Or why the report of a senior American Colonel that in fact there were many uses of chemical weapons by Isis and other rebel groups all over Syria and Iraq before this one, which, real or not, so horrified the World that they had to teach Assad a lesson.  Or why the reports of Russia’s blocking of a UN resolution was not the only one vetoed; the American and us and the French also vetoed a Russian resolution because it would have had Russian observers witnessing the work of the weapons inspectors.

And we all blindly watch the News, believing the ‘official’ version of events, and not realising that many other versions may exist, or indeed completely other news which never gets reported.

My Record Collection 15

Saturday 21st April

B – Barclay James Harvest – the second of the ‘biggies’.  I have every single album they ever put out, except a couple of compilations where I already had everything on them.  I first saw them, as I did so many bands, at Weeley in 1972.  This was the most incredible ‘pop’ festival ever; two stages; constant music through three days and nights; every semi-decent British band was there, including Faces and T-Rex, Genesis, Lindisfarne, Edgar Broughton, and of course BJH.  Well, I was surviving on a diet of gin and orange juice and ‘slimming’ tablets, and when BJH came on they had a 45 piece orchestra with them (which nearly bankrupted them a year later) and they blew me away.  Absolutely wonderful melodies and superb playing.  The Orchestra complemented rather than competed with guitars and drums.

So, on returning home I rushed home and bought what at that time were their only two albums.  The first is simply titled Barclay James Harvest.  Great songs but a touch bombastic, a little bit naïve.  I still played it to bits, I especially love the last two tracks; ‘The Iron Maiden’ and ‘Dark Now My Sky’.  A few years ago, these first early records were re-released with bonus tracks.  This has about 10 earlier songs which they recorded but wisely did not release, and their first two singles which bombed at the time.  Apparently the band, made up of guitarist John Less and keyboards Woolly Wolstenholme were in one band and bass-player Les Holroyd and drummer Mel Pritchard in another.  They joined forces and spent almost a year in the Yorkshire countryside in an old manor house perfecting their songs and their craft.  All the songs on this record are credited to the whole band, but gradually they would claim individual song-writing credits, the tensions in the band being settled by John and Les having equal songs on each record and Woolly just one or two.  Amazingly they lasted for almost thirty years before splitting, though only coming together to record and tour.  But all in all, their first album was a triumph; there was nothing quite like it,

though the Moody Blues and Yes did add orchestra’s occasionally.  Woolly was always more classical than the others, and was one of the first in England to get his hands on a Mellotron, a hefty and awkward piece of kit which played pre-recorded bits of tape rather than individual notes.  This contributed to their unique sound.

Barclay James Harvest (3Cd+1Dvd)


THE HOST (short story)

Friday 20th April

“Come in.”  The host smiles, glances round the porch and shepherds her in. “What a terrible evening.”   The heavy front door glides silently shut. “Such unseasonal weather, you must be soaked.”

“Yes, but I’m not that wet.” She replies. “I came by taxi actually; it seemed more sensible.  I’ve heard the Gendarmes round here are hot on drink-driving.  Not that I intend to drink much, of course.”

“Here, let me take your coat.”   He holds his hands up like two pegs at shoulder level.  She instinctively turns her back to him while he lifts her suede coat.  As it slides away from her arms she has the strangest feeling, an almost imperceptible suspicion, that he is leaning in just a touch too close.  She chides herself for being suspicious and turns to meet his knowing smile.

“Let me guess” he says nodding, “Samsara?  Yes?”

“Yes, it is” she says, comprehending ‘why the closeness’. “How did you know?”

“Oh, it’s just a little hobby of mine.  Perfumes. Well, the classic ones anyway.  It is actually – quite a late fragrance, by Geurlain, as, of course, you must be aware.  1989 – if memory serves, but a classic none the less.  Sadly, almost everything since the Sixties is synthetic and smells like it too.  Samsara…mmm – don’t you just love it?  Very Eastern, ylang-ylang and jasmine, with hints, but not too much, thank goodness, of sandalwood.  Very refreshing.  And so rewarding that some women of today are still wearing it.”

“It was a present.  From my husband.  Many years ago now.  But – I still wear it occasionally.  Am I the first to arrive?”  she looks round the large deserted room, a couple of white sofas, matching armchairs, a round black rug, a glass coffee-table, and very little else.

“Yes,” he drawls, “I expect it’s the weather.”

“I hope I am not too early?” she tentatively queries.

“Oh no.” he reassures her, “I too am a stickler for punctuality; such a pity others are not.  Some people think it is actually polite to turn up at least an hour late.  I am sure the others will be here soon.”

“Tell me, who else is invited?  It is just drinks, isn’t it?  I’ve eaten already.”

“Oh just a few old friends.  I have a little soiree every year around this time, just as people are coming back from the Easter break.  I invited you because you are new to the village.  Everyone is nosey really, I suppose.  A single woman in her, let me guess – early forties? moving into our little community.  Quite intriguing really.  Tell me about yourself.”

“Well, what do you want to know?”

“First names would be a start.  I hate formality.  I am Edward.  Ed to my friends, which I hope I can count on you becoming.”

“Angela, actually.  My husband…my…late husband…always wanted to retire here.  He had holidayed as a boy.  Sadly, he passed away a year ago.  I bought the house here for him really.  Silly, as he isn’t here to enjoy it, but still.  I am not sure if I will live here or just use it for holidays.  I stopped working when he passed away, but I have a reasonable income and a house in London.  That’s all really.”

“Fascinating” he languidly lets out, and, for the briefest of moments, she has an image of Leslie Phillips eyeing up some piece of totty in a Sixties romp. She reminds herself to be on her guard – but then – tells herself not to be so silly.

“What would you like to drink?”

*  * *

And they drink one and then two, or is it three, glasses of a rather good red wine.  Her mind is veering between a growing nervousness, like a monkey squatting on her shoulder, and a comforting warmth seeping through her as the wine slinks its way into her brain.

“Where is everyone?” she is trying to sound nonchalant, as if she is mildly surprised, but deep down there is this nagging concern.  She has never met her host before, the invitation had been sitting on her doormat two days ago when she came in from the market.  Here she was, to all intents and purposes, a single woman – and yet – she wasn’t really single.  She still loves and yearns for her late husband, for the comfort of his, often silent, presence, for the warmth from his side of the bed.  She is having trouble sleeping. Or – rather – she wakes in the early hours feeling desolate, abandoned, alone and cold.  She thumps the pillow in frustration, turns over, tries to read, watches some television even, but sleep refuses to draw her in, to safely harbour her.

It is only as dawn creeps through the slats of the shutters that she can close her eyes and drift towards shore.

And she is still unsure of her host.  His urbane charm, his obvious intellect, his repartee, his dazzling smile – all serve to both soothe and alarm her by turns.  He is sprawled lazily on his sofa, one leg on the floor, one stretched out full length, his fingers idly stroking the neck of his glass.  She sits opposite him, her knees, in what she now suspects was a ‘too-short’ skirt, firmly clamped together, only too aware that she must not send him confusing signals.

“I really must be going” she suddenly says, forcing herself to break the spell.  She reaches for her phone scanning recent calls for the taxi company.  She phones but the beeps ring out unheeded into the empty void.  He notices her slight panic.  “No answer?  I expect they have given up for the night.  Just like our other guests, I imagine.  Just listen to that wind, and the rain is pelting the windows like fury.  I am afraid you may be forced to stay the night.”

“What?  What are you suggesting?  I…I have to get home.” She looks across at him in alarm; he is smiling; a beaming Cheshire Cat of a smile, a self-satisfied job-done, smirk of a smile.

“My dear woman, there is no way I could have planned this, I am simply offering you the best solution.  I do live here – alone – but have two guest bedrooms ready and made up.  And despite your obvious charms I can assure you I am a gentleman.  Or, if you prefer, you can try and walk the two kilometres home.  That suede coat of yours will offer scant protection though; and will be ruined in this weather.”

“But I don’t even know you.” She protests.  “I…I don’t know what to do.”

“Relax,” he almost leers at her. “Have another glass of wine.  You are in France, we do things slowly here.  Honestly, I am your perfect host, my only desire is to make you comfortable.”

“But this is ridiculous.” She is now, really, quite frightened.  “Whatever sort of woman you think I am, I can assure you…” and then her words dry up, her mouth dries up, her brain seizes up, she reaches for the glass her host has silently re-filled.  “I don’t know what to do.  I’ve had too much wine already.  I don’t know what to think.  Please…”

“Please what?” he smiles strangely at her.  “Look, you are new here.  This is not quite what it seems.”  Her heart is pounding, she thinks she might be having a panic attack.  She wasn’t ready for dating, for even thinking about another man.  Another relationship?  The thought horrifies her.  It feels like betrayal.  Surely, it hasn’t come to this. She only buried her husband a year ago.  Not so soon, surely – not so soon.  Could she say no?  Of course; she has to say no.  But suddenly she feels desperately lonely.  Her whole life is lonely.  She nursed her husband for four years.  Four long years.  Five now, with no loving, no touch of gentleness, no passion at all.  Surely, this isn’t how the evening is destined to end.  Why, oh why had she come?  Why had she had so much to drink?  Confused, lonely, scared, wary of her host, and yet, and yet….

“Listen, one thing you are obviously not aware of.  I do love the company of women.  I have always worshipped them; their beauty, their elegance, the way their perfume melds with their own smell.  But….”

“Oh please….” She almost cries, “what are you trying to say?”

“My dear.  Much as I can see how splendid you are, how, I almost said, desirable.  The simple truth is – that I am not attracted to women.  Not in that way, anyway.  I am, what you might call a passive gay.  I only desire my own sex; though I have rarely actually consummated my fantasies.  I prefer to remain sublimely celibate.”

She breathes an audible sigh of relief.  “Oh, how silly of me.  You must think me so rude, you have been the perfect host, I must admit.  It must just be the wine making me so jumpy.  I am truly sorry.”  She almost laughs, embarrassed at her own stupidity, of course he was gay, it was obvious, all that perfume nonsense – and takes another gulp of wine.  “Perhaps I had better stay the night after all.  I’m feeling quite tipsy. Would you kindly show me my room – If that it is okay?  I mean, I am so sorry I misjudged the situation.”

“Please don’t apologise, it’s an easy mistake.” putting his glass down beside her empty one.  “let me show you the way.”

As he opens the door to her bedroom the host leans in for one more heady draught of Samsara while his right hand slides down and gently caresses her bottom.


The Latest U-turn of Theresa

Thursday 19th April

Theresa May likes to present herself as ‘Strong and Stable’.  And yet she is interested in one thing and one thing only – staying at No. 10 Downing Street.  She will change and tack and sometimes make a complete U-turn, if circumstances appear favourable.  She insisted, at least three times, that she would not call a general election in 2017 – which she did and nearly lost.  She was a Remainer but had no hesitation in not only jumping on the bandwagon but insisting on driving it into as many ditches as she could find.  And again she has just backtracked over the Windrush children scandal.  In 2014 she introduced mandatory employer checks on people ‘suspected’ of being immigrants.  She strengthened this in 2016to include Doctors and NHS staff and schools.  The intention was to both appear tough on immigration, and to weed out those who may have slipped through the net – even though the net was full of massive holes through poor or non-existent record keeping by the Home Office.  I used to know an Australian waitress who had outstayed her two-year visa by two decades; nobody had ever questioned her, no Home Office officals had come to deport her.  Because she was white, everyone assumed she had a right to stay here.  In my opinion why not?  But what about those black kids brought here as children in the Sixties and Seventies, where nobody even thought to record them.  Ah, but they are Black or Asian you see.  And so, employers will naturally have to question them.

And unbelievably they have to produce documentation (four separate pieces) for every year they have been here.  Can you imagine that?  I couldn’t do it and I suspect almost every ‘British’ (hahaha) person could not either.  And even worse, the Government doesn’t even know how many may have been deported, or lost their appeals, or their jobs or even their lives as a result of this monstrous policy.

And yet every Tory MP voted for this draconian nonsense (which will still apply – the exemption is only for those ‘Windrush kids) – including Amber Rudd, the current Home Secretary, who was sent out to bat and apologise for the stupidity of the former Home Secretary Theresa May who hadn’t the balls to apologise herself.

Another scandal, another U turn, and she still clings to her job.  I am pretty certain she will do a few U-turns over Brexit too…..