Thursday, May 13, 2010


Pick a cliché, Any cliché.

a) Carpe Diem

b) All Political Lives end in Failure

c) A Week is a long time in Politics

The first was originally spoken by Horace in around 20BC although Hollywood got in the act recently with Dead Poets Society (1989) and Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs (2009) chimed in with the rather delightful take on it - "Come on, Steve. We've got a Diem to Carpe!". The second and third came from Enoch Powell in the mid Sixties and Harold Wilson around the same time. This week, all three came into my mind at the same time, like a line of buses, one behind another in a queue.

This last week has been quite mesmerising to anyone with the slightest interest in the politics of how this country is run. You simply can’t appreciate how what is going on today will be perceived in 50 years time. But something tells me that a long time hence, May 2010 will be seen as a time of massive importance to the UK and the way it’s run. David Cameron said it was “Seismic”, and I hope he is right.

We’ve had 13 years of the most depressing and stultifying Government this country has had in my lifetime. I include the Thatcher years in that judgement. She did what had to be done, and thank Goodness she did. It was most unpleasant while she was doing it, but, like taking a nasty tasting medicine which is the only way to cure a terminal disease, she had the balls to do it and carry on doing it when she could so much more easily have given in.

Blair and Brown’s era is, Thank God, over. Blair’s touchy, feely, clandestine, freaky, creepy, “Trust me, I’m a straight Man”, quasi religious approach, combined with Brown’s subversive, secretive, bullying, arrogant, financially irresponsible, micro-managing, State enveloping approach to the governance of this country, turned this author at least into a very cynical, disappointed, sad, and increasingly depressed individual.

We’ve just seen 6 days where the election seemed to deliver the worst of all worlds to everyone, and you could be spared for intoning “Beam me up, Scotty” and looking around for Dr. Spock to pull the levers.

And then David Cameron, instead of settling for the humdrum possibility of a strained “Let’s see what we can cobble together with the Lib-Dems”, stands up and makes them a completely unexpected offer of Shared Government, based on the Highest Common Denominator rather than the Lowest Common Denominator of the policies which each party had. I, for one, listened, almost childishly thrilled as he spoke. It is all too easy to be cynical about it because the last 10 years in Politics has made us all like that, but in a few minutes, a shaft of light seemed to switch on in Westminster.

That was the “Carpe Diem” moment. A massively bold move, at once brave and very risky. He’s got a fair numbers of non believers in his own party let alone the Lib-Dems, but he clearly decided that such a breathtaking offer was the only way forward, and he’d try to gather the non believers back into the flock together later.

The maths, at first seeming to be horribly against any reasonable outcome, immediately seemed to be almost perfectly set up to ensure the Tory/Lib-Dem “Coming Together”. Just sufficient to ensure that New Labour couldn’t quite manage to strike a deal, and just enough to ensure that the Tories couldn’t take the easy option and just enough to force them to think in a radical fashion.

Given what they’ve done, they’ve actually sealed the deal extremely quickly, helped no doubt by the increasing realization between Cameron and Clegg that there might be more that binds them together, than separates them. Clearly, there’s a considerable personal chemistry between them, which the country really needs at this juncture, which Brown couldn’t begin to share in a million years. For all New Labour’s ruthlessly efficient Party machine, as a comparison they looked old, tired, spent and lacking any desire to look forward, think differently or even consider a compromise. That was the “All Political lives end in Failure” moment. I personally hope that they rue that position very greatly in times to come.

So here we are, and yesterday the new owners published the text of the Conservative/Lib Dem Agreement. It’s written under 11 clear and separate headings and I find it an exciting and rather moving document. I suppose it’s inevitable and obvious that, when you are making a binding agreement between two political parties, you need a “contract” written down to set out the details if only to avoid the “He said, she said” issues which will inevitably come up when the policy waters get choppy. But they seem to have done it, and done it in double quick time and I for one can hardly fault it. And it’s so positive.

Everyone in this election seemed to utter the mantra that sorting out the country’s economic woes is Item 1 on the Agenda. Which it is. In some ways though, the issue is so big that anyone party which came to power would have to do broadly the same things. Massive cuts in public spending and/or huge rises in taxation. The only real issue is where and how thickly you spread the pain. No-one is going to get away without suffering whoever wields the scalpel or axe. So in reality, the size of this Deficit issue is such that it broadly neutralises the differences between the various parties.

It’s really the other areas of policy which make the difference, and the one massive, overwhelming area which splits the pack into two is the emphasis that both Cameron and Clegg place on Civil Liberties. New Labour’s guiding Principle, as a party is to interfere in and control the lives of the citizens of Britain, and the other two parties want to roll back this intrusion. It’s simply the State versus the Individual.

If there has been a main, serious thread running through this blog in the three years I have been writing it, this is it. The one thing which really upsets me as a citizen in this country is the way the Blair and Brown Government have systematically and deliberately set out to restrict the individuals in this country. The surveillance, the restrictions, the data assembling, the limitations on dissent, the continual intervention of the State in the lives of the British citizen. We’ve all sat and watched it like rabbits in headlights, almost powerless to prevent its tentacles spreading into our lives. Most people are still only just waking up to its implications and it is a matter of great personal joy to read Section 10 of the Agreement the two parties have written.

No weasel words, or Party Political spin doctor language. Simple, straightforward proposals for Major Change. Just read this extract -

10. Civil liberties

The parties agree to implement a full programme of measures to reverse the substantial erosion of civil liberties under the Labour Government and roll back state intrusion.

This will include:

· A Freedom or Great Repeal Bill.

· The scrapping of ID card scheme, the National Identity register, the next generation of biometric passports and the Contact Point Database.

· Outlawing the finger-printing of children at school without parental permission.

· The extension of the scope of the Freedom of Information Act to provide greater transparency.

· Adopting the protections of the Scottish model for the DNA database.

· The protection of historic freedoms through the defence of trial by jury.

· The restoration of rights to non-violent protest.

· The review of libel laws to protect freedom of speech.

· Safeguards against the misuse of anti-terrorism legislation.

· Further regulation of CCTV.

· Ending of storage of internet and email records without good reason.

· A new mechanism to prevent the proliferation of unnecessary new criminal offences.

If that’s not a breath of fresh air howling through the corridors of Government, I don’t know what is. Hoo-bloody-Ray.

I am now in my 64th year, and I was becoming almost resigned to this dispiriting spread of Government interference destroying the essential nature of the way of life in this country. Now, I see a glimmer, possibly a glow of hope. The flame has only just been lit, but let’s hope it burns brighter in the months ahead. I hope I’m not being too naïve and expectant. I’m sure it won’t be as easy as they all think at the moment. Swinging the direction of Government around is like turning supertankers around on themselves, requiring immense effort and taking far longer than you’d imagine. But if you don’t set out to turn the wheel, nothing will change. That was the “A Week is a long time in Politics” moment.

I went out this afternoon to take Milly, our dog, for a walk along Wenlock Edge, a beautiful part of the landscape from where you can see the Shropshire Countryside laid out like a green and yellow patchwork quilt for 20 miles or so. The trees were in blossom, the fields were ablaze with colour, the weather was sunny and the countryside had that zingy freshness that Spring brings – everything new and clean.

I had a real spring in my step and I was glad to be alive.

Monday, May 10, 2010


The last week in the UK has been quite momentous, at least from a political viewpoint. We’ve been through the most exciting General Election in decades, and 4 days after it all happened, we still have no idea what’s going to happen. As I tap these keys, Gordon Brown has just resigned, so another rock in the pool. We have politicians claiming to be acting solely in the “National Interest”, and having to understand the word “compromise” for the first time in ages, as two parties who make significantly uncomfortable bedfellows, try to square the many political circles facing them both.

If, before last Thursday, you were trying to make the result as uncomfortable as possible for all three major parties, you’d have ended up choosing just about the position we’ve actually found ourselves in. If it wasn’t so serious, you’d collapse laughing at it all. It’s one of those stories which, if you read it in a novel, you simply wouldn’t believe.

And because of the involvement of the Lib-Dems, where Proportional Representation (PR) is a religion, this issue leaps to the front of your thoughts.

There is no doubt at all that the structure of the way we hold our elections is not right. To start with, we have too many Member of Parliament in this country and we simply don’t need 650 MPs.

In addition, the constituencies need to be massively rebalanced – it is quite wrong that constituencies exist with such dramatically different numbers of electors in them. It’s supposed to be a democracy surely – at least I thought it was, and in electoral terms, we’re all supposed to be equal. The average constituency in the UK has around 74,000 electors, but the Western Isles seat in Scotland has 22,000 and the Isle of Wight in Southern England has 110,000. Where’s, in heaven’s name, is the fairness in that? A Scotsman with 5 times the electoral power of someone in Ventnor.

The debate about PR, and the virtues and vices of the many alternative systems is not an easy one, and there is absolutely no right answer. Even explaining it to the average person is a major task. Just look at the explanation of the Single Transferable Vote (STV) system on Google if you don’t believe me. The task of getting the electorate firstly to understand and then ultimately agree on a replacement process is, in my opinion just what this country does NOT need at the moment. It's the Economy, Stupid.

You only have to look at the political map of the UK for one thing to jump out at you. Scotland is almost a complete mix of Lib-Dems and Labour seats – Red and Orange covers the map, with the Tories having only 1 seat in the whole of Scotland. Look at the rest of the UK, and it’s totally different - the situation in the rest of the country is covered in blue with the Tories, geographically at least being the overwhelmingly dominant force. Just look at the numbers, and you see an almost complete divide between Scotland and the rest of the country. Surely, this presents an obvious option.

The maths seems, on the surface, straightforward. The UK electorate has spoken and voted with the Tories getting 306 seats, Labour 258 and the Lib-Dems ending up on 57 – what is technically known as a Dog’s Breakfast. No one party can do anything with that set of numbers. Take the Scots out of the equation however, and the English (well alright, including the Welsh and the Northern Irish as well) situation is transformed. The Tories would have 305 seats, Labour has 217, and the Lib-Dems 46. If you balanced out the constituencies out properly and fairly, the differences would be even greater. The electorate, or at least the English electorate, has spoken. Decisive One Party Government – QED.

Our current impasse is down to the ridiculously inappropriate effect of the Scottish electorate on the UK. The whole of the Scottish votes cast for ALL parties (2.47 million) is less than 80% of the 3.02 million rag-bag of “Others” who voted in the whole of the UK, votes which interestingly only generated 22 seats between them. So how can the Scots possibly believe they’ve got any moral right to argue against this situation.

Stand back from it all for a minute. The Scots, as a nation, at best dislike, and at worst, hate the English, and, as far as most of the English are concerned, they love Scotland as a place, but we are not, taken as a whole, quite so keen on its inhabitants. Three hundred years of Union have not resolved this issue, and today, it’s still the Haggis, rather than the Elephant, in the Room. The West Lothian Question, which is amazingly lost in the background noise of this election needs to be polished and burnished for the electorate to consider its position.

So let’s give them what they (or at least the majority of Scotsmen and Englishmen) actually want, and let them go their own way. The Scots actually cost the British economy a fortune. England pays them a vast premium, with England’s far superior wealth generation supporting the Scots inability to do so, with a massive subsidy. And the simple question now is – Why do we let this carry on?

They’ve got their own Parliament now (paid for by the English!), so they have got the administrative structure in place. Let them have their oil. Let them sort their own Tax structure out. We’ll still defend them against the world, but they can pay a fair share of the cost of doing it. They’ve got brains, and they never cease to tell you how many intellectual developments which have changed the world have their roots in Bonnie Scotland. So let these clever souls sort it all out for themselves. Let them charge everyone to go to Scotland to see the glories of the Highlands and Islands. Let them have the immense revenues from Whisky, Drambuie and Harris Tweed. They have a strong thread of University prowess and considerable entrepreneurial skills – so let them use it to concentrate on forging their own destiny.

From my (probably jaundiced) view, I can easily live with Scotland being a separate country. It would stop their continual whinging having any effect on us Southerners. And at least, England could at least make a sane decision on British Summer time without worrying about a little old lady in Thurso who would find it too dark when she got up to make her porridge in mid March, preventing the rest of us enjoying the day as we should.

Rant over!

Now all I’ve got to do is to explain all this to my Scottish wife. I suspect a separate bedroom beckons tonight!

Saturday, April 24, 2010


We live in interesting times. An Icelandic volcano with a name which looks like the Pass-Key encryption into my Photoshop software has burped and reminded us all too clearly of its existence, and every aeroplane in Western Europe has been grounded. My holiday to the Carmargue in Southern France duly bit the dust, or more accurately the ash, so I’m sitting here at home venting my spleen and writing increasingly vitriolic letters about the Pension Scheme I run, rather than taking pictures of pink Flamingoes against a blue Mediterranean sky, whilst drinking a cool beer in the warm Provençale sunshine.

Now that the window of opportunity to reinstate the holiday a couple of days later has completely shut, they all start to fly again. Bastards. All, that is, except the Royal Air Force fighters we have paid Billions of pounds for to defend us from the murderous attacks of our scheming Cold War Russian foes. The Tornados are grounded because the Icelandic ash apparently screws their engines up particularly badly - a good time to invade perhaps. I have to say I’m not sure I’d have announced that little nugget of news to the world on Nationwide TV, but maybe I’m missing something. Perhaps their bombers use the same engines.

Anyway, the country is gripped (I think) in the build up to a General Election, and flocks of political chickens are about to come home to roost for those who look after us so diligently in Westminster. Whether to lay the Golden Egg, or shit on the floor of the cage, we will shortly find out.

At first, when the campaign started, it all seemed like the same old “Yes you did, No I didn’t” argument between the two main parties who have dominated British politics for nigh on 100 years. Then, for reasons which I haven’t quite got to grips with, a decision was made to have a series of TV debates in this country for the first time. Debates held between the THREE main protagonists in the British Political system. Yes, there is a third, although you don’t get to hear much about them. They’re called the Liberal Democrats, and in the main, their voice is sidelined, deliberately I suspect, drowned out by the noise from the other two main parties.

And yet, look at the votes the Lib-Dems got in the last election. Firstly, less than two thirds of the British electorate actually voted (61.2% for the pedants), and of those 36.9% voted for the Labour Party, 33.9% for the Conservatives and 23.1% for the Lib-Dems – not that far behind.

This actually means that the Labour Party’s mandate was endorsed by only 22.5% of the country’s electoral role. Nearly 80% of us either wanted somebody else, or couldn’t be bothered, didn’t want any of the candidates etc, etc, etc. I am not qualified to pontificate about the pros and cons of Proportional Representation, except to say that a system which gives us the situation above does not seem right, and does not seem fair. They bang on about the need for strong Government, and “Look at Italy”, but “They would say that, wouldn’t they” in Mandy Rice-Davis’s immortal (or is it immoral) phrase.

The last 5 years have seen massive issues raised in this country, things which will be looked back at in years to come as seismic, and potentially life changing. We’ve had a religious zealot (by the name of Blair) who, almost single handedly took this country into an illegal war. We’ve had a Chancellor, now an unelected Prime Minister, who has finished selling off the Country’s “Family Silver”, who has led a positive campaign to eradicate any sensible level of regulation within the Country’s banking system, who has poured unbelievable sums of money into the National Health Service with far less benefit than we have the right to expect, who is part way through the ruination of the country’s education system, and who has presided over a systematic takeover of the rights of the Individual in this country in a way that would have given Stalin a fair degree of satisfaction, had he been in charge. He and Blair have also been the individuals in charge of emasculating (or attempting to emasculate) the Judicial system, the Parliamentary legislative system, of politicising the Police system, and creating a New Labour labyrinth of “Jobs for the Boys” - His Boys - in a breathtakingly brazen and quite appalling way. We’ve all watched, powerlessly we thought, while it was all going on around us.

And 4 out of 5 of us didn’t even vote for him. It’s the Politics of the Madhouse.

If we want the country to be run by One Man – in Brown’s case One Man who has never even been given a mandate to lead us – and a bunch of unelected cronies, then fine. But let’s have a referendum to agree a change in this.

To police and mould all this, the more sinister political systems of America, the focus groups, the pinpointing of the small minority of voters who swing the marginal constituencies, the ruthless smearing and bad-mouthing of any dissenters, the continual pressure to be “on message”, with no individual thoughts being brooked or allowed have all been brought into play. The Drones, the Apparatchiks, the Control freaks have taken over.

So, back to this week. Some bright spark came up with the suggestion that for this election we’ll have a series of TV debates. Not just between the two “main” parties, but one including the Lib-Dems as well. Quite what these clever souls who think about these issues in the Labour and Conservative Back offices were thinking is beyond me. Gordon Brown is always going to look like “Yesterday’s Man” in that sort of company, and on any issue raised, the question “If you’ve been in power for 13 years, why haven’t you already done something about it?” is one he simply can’t answer. He’s on a hiding to nothing.

As far as the Tories are concerned, with the current Government’s performance being so shambolic, Cameron and his men should be miles ahead, hardly able to see Brown’s cohorts in their rear view mirrors. But that is not the case. Cameron, however he seems to put himself over simply does not cut the mustard. There’s something about him that just stops you believing in him. He’s not a saviour, and I suspect he knows it, and it all seems a bit “manufactured” and “Top-show”.

The third guy, who, I suspect less than 5% of the British public could recognise from his photograph up until 10 days ago, must have seen this TV debate development as “Manna from Heaven”. A chance to stand alongside the Big Two, show he can talk, show he’s got something about him, lay out his thoughts in a way he has been totally unable to do until now. No baggage, no “History”, no “Form”.

Why, in heaven’s name, did they both agree to do it?

But, agree to it they did. And just look at the result. New kid on the block, Nick Clegg, for that is his name, is suddenly on everyone’s lips. They got 22% of the vote last time when no-one even knew who the Lib-Dem leader was, so what’s going to happen in a couple of weeks time? Clegg “ambushed” them both in the two debates to date. It almost doesn’t seem to matter what their policies are, here’s someone new who isn’t tainted like the others. It may not be true of course, and there may be carpets to be lifted, and skeletons to be found, but that’s all in the future, and on May 7th, it won’t matter. In the way the political game is played today, Perception is All, and Now is Important.

I have absolutely no idea how it’s all going to turn out. The really exciting thing is that I’m pretty sure that nobody else does either. Pandora’s box has been opened, and what’s flown out, let alone in what direction it’s flown, is anyone’s guess. In the same way that a Division 2 volcano in Iceland can, at a stroke, bring the European air transport system to a halt, a couple of hours of prime-time TV can throw all the British political balls high in the air. The thread on which we all dangle is very thin. Little things can make big changes, and we’d do well to remember that.

It does seems very sad and telling however, that one man, whoever he is, in 3 hours of Talking Heads on TV can seem to transform the UK public’s views on how their country should be governed. You’d like to think that the policies and beliefs of the parties, and the strength of their candidates, would be the major factors, but maybe that’s not true anymore. Whoever said that we get the politicians we deserve may not have been too far away from the truth.

As a principal, I don’t want such power to be in the hands of one person, and the systematic and progressive stripping away of the checks and balances within our political system have worried me increasingly over the last 10 years. Maybe, as a way to give a bit of moderation, a “hung” parliament, and the probable consequences of Proportional Representation may be the way to go. Who knows?

But Churchill’s comment in 1947 is still worth reading – “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time." We still need the common endeavour of a bunch of intelligent, honourable, far sighted individuals to take us forward – one where wisdom is still seen as a key ingredient. You don’t get that from one man, and a return to a wider spread of views in the Body Politic would be something I’d like to see given a chance.

Cue Bob Dylan – “The Times they are a-Changin”, or is it “Don’t think twice, It’s Alright”. Or maybe even “A Hard Rains a-Gonna Fall”?

Roll on May 6th.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

1/125th at F4, AND THEN SCARPER

I don't usually put up images taken by other people, but here I make an exception. I was going to say "it's an ill wind that blows nobody any good", but you might take that in bad taste, seeing as all the Airports in the UK are closed because of the fall-out.

But - The Volcano eruption in Iceland has resulted in a raft of pictures. I saw this one, and it blew me away (that's not particularly funny either).



It was taken by a guy named "skarpi" and can be found on Flickr. His title for it is "Playing with the Devil", which is a bit more eloquent than my version - see Blog Title.

Note - "Scarper" is a verb meaning "To Run like Hell away from where-ever you are".

Thursday, April 01, 2010


I've been a Peter Gabriel fan for a long time. For the last 30 odd years, he has been one of the most inventive, intelligent and thought provoking singer/songwriters around. Ever since his Genesis days in the mid 70s, when he would appear onstage wearing a fox's head or a sunflower, or a women's dress, the one thing you could say about him was that he was unpredictable, and you never knew what was coming next. His songwriting was always on the eccentric and somewhat bizarre side, but it was always interesting, absorbing – and different.

He has never been one to follow the crowd, thank goodness, and sitting back on his laurels is absolutely not his style. He hasn't produced a new body of work for something like 7 or 8 years, so it was with a fair amount of anticipation that I heard a new album was about to appear, and that he would be setting off on one of these “Saga” like tours they all seem to do when 60 is around the corner.

I had not bothered to read much about what was going to happen, so expectation hung heavy in the air with me. Mr Gabriel tends not to do the “more of the same” routine.

3 months ago, I got my ticket, and last Saturday, I dutifully set off to London for a day of "Kulchur". Firstly, a visit to Tate Modern on the South Bank, and then off to the O2 Arena in the old Millennium Dome to see "yer man" in the evening. I have to say that the O2 Arena is a terrific Concert Venue. It’s a marvelous looking building, especially when seen at dusk from the other side of the River. Its purity of line and simple but striking design mark it out as a real landmark construction. It’s a great pity that Politics almost managed to drag the building down with the ineptitude of what Our Leaders originally put inside it, but all’s well that end’s well. It’s very well set out, easy to get to, and seats huge numbers of people in pretty reasonable comfort. The acoustics of the place are also good, so, all in all, an excellent place.

Not my picture, I'm afraid. Author unknown.




The Tannoy system made a real point of emphasizing that he would be onstage at 7.30, so everyone found their seats in good time. There's always a real expectant buzz when 10,000 people sit there waiting for something like this. Of course, 7.30 came and - Nothing.

20 minutes later, a large 50 piece Orchestra had assembled behind a screen which cut off the main audience's view of the back of the stage. We were seated close to, but to one side of, the stage, so could see the magician's tricks going on behind the screen. Then, out he came, sidling onto the stage. He was dressed all in black, looking like a cross between a slightly portly Olden Day Sage, and a scruffy Undertaker’s Assistant. The days of the fancy dresses are clearly a lifetime ago. No matter. Here he is.

To me the show didn’t start well. He introduced a tall Scandinvian girl named Ane Brun who sang 3 very samey songs, accompanying herself on a guitar. The poor girl was on a hiding to nothing. The songs were unexceptional, and everyone was waiting for Peter Gabriel. The guy next to me summed it up with a comment “Now I know why the Norwegian Suicide rate is so high”. Not totally fair, but there you go.

Peter Gabriel’s new album is called “Scratch My Back”, and is a collection of 12 cover versions of other peoples’ songs. The plan is that they record one of Gabriel’s songs in return – presumably that will be called “And I’ll Scratch Yours”. We’ll see. Before tonight, I couldn’t imagine Peter Gabriel doing a cover version of anyone’s music. It just seems so alien to the man. He’s ploughed a very lonely furrow for the last 30 years, so for him to copy other people’s ideas seems quite strange.

The whole of the first half of the concert was given over to a performance of the 12 song project in its entirety. As soon as it started, the difference between the original songs and the versions we were hearing here seemed like a chasm. These weren’t cover versions, they were total reworks and reconstructions. No guitars, no drums, and a semi Classical orchestration of people like Bowie, Paul Simon, Lou Reed, Aerosmith and others was laid out in front of us. I’m not a pop music anorak, and many of the songs were new to me, but the ones that I did know came across as totally different in this performance, almost unrecognisable.

They were almost all slowed down dramatically, with the lyrics taking on a sparse character of voice, piano and strings. Even a song as bouncy as Paul Simon’s “Boy in the Bubble” was turned into a mournful, introspective contemplation. All the up beat rhythms, and the bright, bouncy tempo were discarded. And yet, if you read the words of the song, you could argue that this version was truer to the meaning of the lyrics. It's always good to hear a another view of any song, but this was from a different planet.

On the negative side, you could be forgiven for thinking the orchestrations were all a bit samey. Or that the tempo of the songs verged on the monotonous. There wasn’t a fast song in any of the 12, and the whole project took on an almost classical span, which clearly got some of the audience in a bit of a dilemma. The 3 minute Pop song this was not.

It demanded attention and concentration. Now I think Peter Gabriel has one of the most remarkable voices in music. He has such a purity of tone, overlaid with a husky edge which is quite distinctive and true. His top register is remarkable. What he gave us was the result of somebody paring down the original to an almost skeletal form, distilling down the essence of the song and reforming it in his own totally different view. In many places in the songs, he was almost talking melodically rather than singing the words, and you felt an almost intimacy coming over. And there were 22,999 other people in the Arena sharing this approach!

On several occasions, I wanted to rewind the performance, and get him to sing it again, because I’d failed to keep up with the message. There’s always the CD to do that with though.

The lighting effects were not spectacular in their scope. But, in some ways they matched the music. There was a backdrop of LED lights, and a perfectly synch-ed animation of red and white accompanied it all. No colour changes, nothing to distract, but gentle and beautiful animations which were very thoughtful, sympathetic and appropriate.

It was absolutely not one of those “Dancing in the Aisles” nights you sometimes get on the big venue, superstar nights. It was a thoughtful, contemplative couple of hours which stayed with me on the long journey home. Only for the last song of the whole evening, an orchestral reworking of “Solsbury Hill” did the audience jump up and get animated. “Here’s one you might know” was his telling introduction which said that he knew perfectly well what he was doing. I’m sure for some this was a bit of “Too little, too Late”, but with a guy like this, he leads and you decide if you want to follow.

I thought he produced some very haunting music, something I want to listen to again. It didn’t have an immediate “impact”, but you could feel it creeping up and engulfing you – something which would mature and burrow its way into your mind. I would imagine a Review of Reviews would result in a real polarization of opinion. Some would love it, some would hate it. No middle ground.

I know where I am on it.

Wednesday, February 03, 2010


What is it about dogs?

The world is split into those who love them, and those who don’t. I tend very much towards those who love them. The relationship between a dog and the humans that surround it is very strange and, in my experience, one that is utterly unique. It’s not “unconditional love” as some people suggest but a symbiotic partnering where each side gets and gives immense pleasure from and to the other, a pleasure which exists nowhere else.

We play together, walk together, sit together, lie on the floor in an evening together, and, as a result, spend huge amounts of each day together. The relationship becomes a major part of one's life. With our dogs, watching them running free on the empty Norfolk beaches is one of the most pleasurable things in my life. The place itself is quite beautiful, and they seem to show a simple and utter joy there. They look fabulous as they bound around and play in the sea, and for a short time while this is going on, you might think you’re in Paradise. I know, to most people, this is all probably inconsequential stuff compared to the “big” things in life, but I’m not most people. I’m me.

But nothing is ever perfect. Today, out of the blue, our senior dog collapsed and died. On Sunday, she was tearing around in the snow in the sand-dunes on Holkham Beach over in Norfolk. Yesterday, she was running around like a puppy while we walked near home for miles.

Now, she’s gone, and I feel quite, quite lost.

Sunday, January 17, 2010


Serendipitously, last night I idly turned on the TV, and found myself 5 or 6 minutes into a High Definition version of David Lean’s epic film, Lawrence of Arabia. Nearly 4 hours later, it ended, and I sat back quite entranced. For the last I don’t know how many years, it has sat at either No.1 or No.2 at the top of my favourite films of all time, alternating with Ridley Scott’s BladeRunner. The film is now 45 years old, and I must say that the remastered version, funded I suspect as a labour of love, by Steven Spielberg, is a magnificent transformation.

I sat about five feet from the screen, so that the TV image filled most of my Field of View, and the effect of the landscape which unfolded before me was quite overwhelming. Anyone who says that the optical quality of a film is not important and that the story is the only thing that matters should have been sitting alongside me. I found it breathtaking, and there were several occasions during the evening when I could only gasp at the beauty what I was watching.

It’s a bit of a cliché, because only because it's true, but the landscape Lean captures on film deserves Star Billing alongside the actors. He captures the absolute nothingness of the place, its remorseless and unforgiving size, the searing heat of the Sun, and the insignificance of man’s place in it all, quite superbly.

Forget the story for a moment, and just ponder the unmatched cinematography (courtesy of Freddie Young), the inch perfect screenplay written by Robert Bolt (A Man for All Seasons was another of his), the editing (unsurpassed in my limited view) of Anne Coates, and Maurice Jarre’s musical score which surely sets the standard for epic films, and you almost couldn’t fail to produce a classic.

There are scenes in the film which I think will live with me for ever – two involving the humble matchstick, one in HQ in Cairo (see the YouTube clip below) and the other with O’Toole (Lawrence) and Claude Rains (Dryden - the superbly devious, suave and many faced symbol of the British Government in the Middle East) which ends in one of the greatest film transitions ever. One minute you are held in a close-up of Lawrence holding the last throws of a burning match and instantly you cut to the same orange of the flame except now you're looking at an orange, sand and sky only, burning shot of the desert, a couple of seconds before a shimmering sun rises for the day over the stark bare horizon, a shot which Lean holds for ages. If that’s not perfect film-making, then I don’t know what is. Even though it’s mid January here, I could feel the heat of the desert suddenly warming my room up.


I could go on and on about many other bits of the film which please and delight me.

Omar Sharif’s long drawn out first ever entrance into films starts with a microscopic dot of a man in black on a camel on the desert horizon and ends up with the death by shooting of Lawrence’s companion. “My name is for my friends” is Lawrence’s response, when Sharif asks him who he is. Best entrance ever? I know of no better.

The charge of Lawrence leading his men into Aqaba, having crossed the uncrossable desert, and taken the town from the undefended side - undefended because no-one thinks an attack could be mounted from that direction. The camera then swings round after seeing the cavalry charge which captures the town, to show a fleeting, momentary glimpse of the unmoveable guns installed to protect it all pointing uselessly out to sea. Nothing is said, but the camera’s image, no more than a second, tells us all.
And there are more -the discovery of the Canal, the "No Prisoners" charge, the explosion, derailing and routing of the Turkish railway train, the desert meeting of the men on the two camels following the recovery of the fallen soldier - all moments of great pleasure. They won't mean too much if you haven't seen the film, but that simply means you should watch it.

The film is full of such moments, and even at nearly four hours long, for me it ends way too soon. Even so, it’s the series of conundrums in the underlying story in the end which binds it all together. The actors are, to a man (mainly because there are no women in it) all excellent, but it’s the enigma of Lawrence the man which digs away at you all the way through.

Terrorist or Freedom Fighter? Genius or Mad Man? Self serving publicist or One in a Million Soldier? Historian, archaeologist, linguist, writer, fighter, leader, embellisher of the truth? Some of the answers to this list are known, some not.

Ninety years later, with as much known about him as there probably ever will be, there are still conflicting views about him. Perhaps that’s why the story has so many twists and turns. Yes, the film has to be a work of fiction in the end. The dialogue is Bolt’s, the images are courtesy of Young and Coates, and the structure is David Lean’s and Sam Spiegel. But the start point and the end point of it all is Thomas Edward Lawrence – a fascinating and complex human being if ever there was one.

Friday, January 15, 2010


Sometimes, posts on this blog are like buses. You wait ages for one, and then two come along together. This is simply an update to a couple of relatively recent pieces – the Ghosts of Blogs Past.

Firstly, musing musically over Christmas about a late 2009 post about CDs/LPs where each track hit the bell, made me think of two more. So, in order to maintain some form of editorial completeness, these are offered for posterity. The real reason for their non-inclusion was probably something to do with the gentle alcoholic haze in which that post was put together not actually aiding my aim of Total Artistic Recall.

ABC – Lexicon of Love – one of the best albums of the Eighties – still sounds fresh 25 years on.

Eagles – Hotel California – Yes, I know it’s right down the white line in the Middle of the Road, but I still think it’s terrific. I remember playing it about a dozen times in one day not too long ago. It absolutely reeks of whatever it reeks of.

And Secondly, a culinary update for fellow Mars Bar Afficionados.

Following my purchase of several thousand of the Limited Edition Dark Mars Bars and my subsequent creation of a structured stockpile in several secret locations, I developed a plan to consume my strategic stock of them on the strict basis of One per Day.

You will no doubt be overwhelmingly impressed to hear that, as long as tomorrow is May 1st 2010, my consumption is absolutely dead on target. Self Control of an exceptionally high order, I think you'll agree.

Just thought you’d like to know.

Thursday, January 14, 2010


Well, “The Wire” is finished and I still think of it as a piece of televisual genius. To me, the storyline was so overwhelmingly encompassing in the way that it dealt with the real, big problems of today with each of the five series given over to one over-arching theme. The balance of good and evil in everyone of us, contrasting the good in the bad with the bad in the good, the disappearance of heavy industry in Western Society, and the despairing effects it has on people whose life are being destroyed with it, the emergence of an original uncorrupted vision and the gradually corrupting effects of the taking of power within complex American conurbations, the potential of enlightened Education to change, or fail to change, underprivileged children almost on the toss of a coin, and the diminishing capability of the newspaper Media to mould and lead public opinion as they come under pressure from the presence of new forms of information dissemination.

Powerful stuff indeed, welded together by a near flawless cast, brilliantly realistic and unremittingly honest dialogue, fabulous photography, editing and cutting all combining with a beautifully paced way of telling the story. I found it quite spellbinding, and still think of it almost every day.

How to follow that? I’m in the middle of the "Sopranos", and it’s very good, but it’s not a match for McNulty and his colleagues. So perhaps a change of direction. Cue Christmas. Cue pressies.

I think I must be losing the odd marble or two, but I ended up with two Box Sets to watch – “Mad Men” and “Shaun the Sheep”. The Sublime and the Ridiculous you might think, although I’m not sure which is which yet. My current view is that it’s going to turn out to be The Sublime and The Sublime. I’ll hold fire on the adventures of our ovine friend until a later date, as I’ve only watched 16 of the (8 minute long) 42 episodes so far, although I have to report on an interim basis that I haven’t collapsed into fits of hysteria so much and so consistently for many a long year. And it’s supposed to be a Children’s programme!

Back to “Mad Men”. HBO famously passed on it, and it ended up being produced by another American Studio – AMC. It’s a period drama set in the very early Sixties in a large American Advertising Agency on Madison Avenue (hence “Mad Men”). You are transported perfectly back to the age of Triple Martinis at work, colleagues who have at least two faces, a perfectly caught demonstration of casual sexism, pre Martin Luther King racism, a mind boggling amount of alcohol and cigarette smoking, and a macho-ness among the almost exclusively male elite in the organisation which is like an alien culture today. To think it was only two generations ago makes you realise just how frighteningly quickly the way of life can change - perhaps one of the reasons for the “They don’t know they’re born” attitudes of Grumpy Old Gits of my age.

The real irony of the whole production is that everything goes on with a security of belief in the way it is, which is unerring in the eyes of the protagonists. And yet, a couple of years hence their World is about to undergo a total seismic change in social attitudes. And we have the luxury of the hindsight which shows us these Ad Men, whose job it is to mould, change and manipulate the American Public in their chosen direction, being totally oblivious to the tornado which is about to hit them. As a clue, the closing credits to the last episode of Series 1 is Bob Dylan - "Don't think twice, It's alright". Just hum the words to yourself to get the drift.

It’s a series where nothing happens. Or at least, nothing seems to happen. Seen mainly through the eyes of Donald Draper, a Senior Ad Exec, we see the glossy Ad World colliding with family relationships where wives are almost fashion accessories, where business “relationships” between Secretaries and executives are acted out in a completely different universe from the home environment. Gradually in Series One, we start to see behind the slick Draper Business Persona, and glimpse what is washing around underneath.

It’s very underplayed, with a lovely feeling of the time. A huge effort has gone into the accuracy of the production values, and to very good effect but in the end, as always, it’s the people in it who grab your attention. The almost black and white stereotypes you are invited to observe gradually dissolve into a range of fragmented shades, and simplicity is slowly replaced by complexity.

I find it quite beguiling, and have devoured Series 1 in a bit of a rush. In our house, Father Christmas got his knickers in a bit of a twist when he wrapped my presents, and sent me two copies of Series One, when I remember quite distinctly asking him (very politely) for Series One and Series Two. But his franchisee (Amazon, I believe) is currently looking to find a spare reindeer to hot foot it through the snow send a replacement Series Two down my chimney.

I can’t wait.