Monday, December 28, 2009

today I'd be a millionaire...I'd be a Fred Astaire

I know there's a fashion for it at the moment, where old bands put on special shows where they run through a long player, but there aren't that many albums that can really stand up to it. Even before the days where the album as a concept became pretty much irrelevant, there were always one or two tracks that could be skipped over and, lets face it, many albums were a hit single or two packaged with some other tracks, which may or may not be excellent, and often crushingly dull. This is especially true of pop, as opposed to rock. Genesis or Cream or Zeppelin operated in the album form, and hardly ever released singles. They could probably perform IV or Disraeli Gears or Selling England by the Pound in full and get away with it. Dark Side of the Moon or The Wall likewise. OK Computer at a push. But pop music is built on the three minute radio-friendly ditty. The very idea of pop is to have hits and be popular. And the economic model of pop is to concentrate on the singles and follow up with the album - hence the very concept of filler.

Which is what makes ABCs The Lexicon of Love so remarkable. At the time it was widely hailed as one of the best albums of the 1980s and has since cemented its place in the critics top howevermany of all time. This, for a pop concept album on that perennial pop topic of love and heartbreak. It's a difficult trick to pull off. Write a song cycle that more or less describes the arc of a love affair but make it not cheesy, not cloying and not sentimental. In fact, pack it with wit, honest emotion, clever wordplay, a pinch of pretension and even political allegory, but without tipping over into detached cynicism. But do all this to music which makes people dance, smile, sing along and suffer a sublime soaring heart from the first to the last second.

But ABC pulled it off. Orchestrating a timeless and joyful brew of 80s funk, Philly Soul, Bacharach and David, 60s film soundtracks, shiny electro-pop and even a slight nod to Vegas and musical theatre. The LoL also contains several of the greatest pop moments ever committed to tape. Like the bit in Poison Arrow where the girl declares: "I care enough to know I can never love you" and the drums crash back in (and for that matter the simple injerjection of her saying "Goodbye" as a percussive beat in Look of Love), or the bit in All of My Heart where there's a piano arpeggio that goes all the way down the keys, ending with a resonating bass note (which was soon after nicked by Quincy Jones on Michael Jackson's I Just Can't Stop Loving You), or the climax of Valentines Day: "If you gave me a pound for the moments I missed And I got dancing lessons for all the lips I shoulda kissed I'd be a millionaire I'd be a...Fred Astaire", or the tension break when Many Happy Returns segues into Tears Are Not Enough, or the way the electric piano break Show Me loses it's echo and suddenly feels really close to the speakers. Or the three shimmering guitar chords on All of My Heart that back the words to the bridge..."I won't be told, there's a pot of gold, at the end of the rainbow..." that are like the wind ruffling the surface of a mill-pond.

So to watch Martin Fry, band and orchestra perform The Lexicon of Love a couple of weeks ago was potentially a special experience. It was also potentially a naff nostalgia-fest for gone-to-seed, stuck in the 80s former new-romantics. But in fact there were fewer of the 80s nostalgia crowd in attendance than I thought. Maybe ten people or less would have also paid to see, par example, Spandau Ballet. You could tell them by their recently washed and pressed 80s nostalgia tour T shirts.

I truly love that album. It's travelled with me throughout my adult life, reflecting my youth as if in gold lame, reinvigorating the part of me that loves pure edge-of-kitsch pop music as much as I might also like Janacek's String Quartets or Sketches of Spain or heavy metal like Hanoi Rocks. And it seemed I was in a room with several hundred like-minded folk. There were plenty of middle aged men with their slightly less interested wives, but also a smattering of people from all ages. One row was taken up with an entire posse of teenaged girls. Odd, but explained when Martin Fry dedicated a song to his daughter and one of the girls squirmed and blushed whilst her friends pointed and giggled.

The first half of the show was a run through of the other, less brilliant hits - how else could they structure a show such as this? And then a civilised interval where people queued in a middle-aged, civilised way for wine and premium lagers.

The sense of anticipation in the room increased. You could feel it. I mention this because I never quite expected what would happen next. The orchestra came on, followed by Anne Dudley, to strike up the overture. After a smattering of classical concert styler applause, everyone went silent. Then the band appeared and moved smoothly into Show Me, tremeloed bass harmonics and all. It was great. I could feel my face smiling and I couldn't stop. But then the quite unexpected happened. As the piano arpeggio/glissando and handclap intro to Poison Arrow began, people began to stir. Almost as single person the audience stood, as if ordered. And by the time the intro led into that 7 note slap bass fill before the real song began everyone was keening towards the stage with tension and expectation. As the bassline and the drums kicked in properly the place went absolutely chaotically, uncontrollably mad. People were jumping up and down. Groups of middle aged folk ran from their seats to places where there was room to dance. The people on the balconies were throwing shapes and cheering along as if their team had just scored the winning cup-final goal. Everyone just let go. It was almost bacchanalian and out of control. At the song's abrupt end the place roared its approval. People stayed on their feet for Valentines Day, dancing a little less energetically, but then came The Look of Love and everyone entirely lost their senses again. For the next thirty minutes the energy gradually dissipated. But then after Anne and the orchestra had finished Look of Love prt 5, the band skipped back on and encored Look of Love (part two), causing mayhem again. People booed when a second encore didn't materialise. I genuinely think they could have heard the hits two or three times over and still have been left wanting more.

What was so brilliantly joyful about it was that this wasn't a crowd of uninhibited teenagers on too many blue alco-pops and half a dodgy E. This was a respectable middle aged crowd who'd got baby sitters and driven their people carriers to the show. Perhaps its not so shocking that the place exploded. All that middle-aged respectibility can be so restricting. And to have your favourite ever songs playing in front of you in a way you never thought you'd see and at a level of quality you never expected is the excuse you need to let it all out and express the fact that even though you're 45, you still feel 15 inside.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

today : politics: a warning from history

It's very clear...Gordon's not here to stay. What with the press upping the ante with their attacks on him and everything he does being portrayed as incompetent and blundering. And unless something really stands out as a topic requiring comment in the run up to the election in a few months, I think I'll leave it all alone. I don't really feel the need to use my 'umble blog to play at being a pundit. After all, it's the Nick Robinsons and the Adam Boltons and the John Pienaars and the Laura Kuensbergs who get to do that. And it's a slight pet hate of mine to see that lots of people use Web 2.0 to endlessly broadcast the minutiae of their stupid opinions, like the web was a great big local radio phone-in. So here's all I have to say. If you are going to vote for the Tories next time because you're bored with Labour, or are taken in by the endless negative press on Brown, or even if your political instinct is conservative, don't come crying to me when it turns out that you didn't quite get what you thought you were getting.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Today : Saltydog's now traditional Xmas music selection

It's Christmas (or December, at least) and each year I like to post a Christmas Video or two. Let's start with the best one

and a new one that's quite good

and a bonkers one

and proof that some people can make even those tired old naff Xmas songs swing like a mother

Be nice to people.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

today : a small step

What with all the floods and the Queen's Speech and all that, this
interesting news story kind of slipped by.
Nobody seemed to have noticed that the bank involved was RBS. Remember them? They ran themselves into the ground by sheer unadulterated greed and incompetence, and are currently existing purely on the backs of Britain's tax-payers, including paying their useless and rat-faced former CEO a 'pension' of 3 million quid a year.

And then they want to spend money on appealing a decision that treating people well is kind of something you should endeavour to do.

Whoever decided to appeal this decision on their behalf should be sacked forthwith, and possibly replaced with a
disabled person. At least we cripples tend to have some perspective on things like managing our meagre finances and what it is like to live in the world rather than a palace made up of diamonds and sculpted towers of cocaine.

Friday, November 13, 2009

today : practice

As I'm still recovering from my ankle operation and am facing a pretty crucial couple of weeks (will ever walk again?), I am planning to take another short break. The plan ts to indulge in the simple joy of sitting and playing the guitar for a bit.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

today : the importance of a hat

Say what you like about Hamid Karzai. He may be corrupt; a US puppet who turned out to be more Punch than Judy. He may be President of an unrulable country (how many people in Afghanistan are part of the 'political class' - with access to being in government? I guess there are as many as tens of people based in Kabul who are potential Presidents of the nation that is really not a nation at all), but he does always look well turned out. Apart from from his rather benign, dapper, avuncular looks, his luxury bathroom-carpet-based hat is especially impressive, especially when accompanied by the heavy curtain-based shawl in Wimbledon Tennis colours.

Friday, October 23, 2009

What is it about the colour pink that scares men so much? I was watching the Heineken Cup Rugby Union the other day and Stade Francais were playing. They wear a pink strip, and I played a little game. That was : see how long it took the commentators, for no particular Rugby related or sporting reason, to begin making childish remarks about the pink strip, snickering whilst offering innuendoes about the sexuality of the players wearing it.

It took about 10 minutes. One of the commentators made a vaguely homophobic comment. Another one made a point of saying that these particular 'dressed-in-pink' men were, remember, burly rugby players.

A similar thing happened not so long ago when Nicolas Bendtner, the Arsenal striker, wore a pair of pink boots in a game. The Sky commentators spent an unreasonable length of time discussing them, rather than the football itself. And reading between the lines of their comments it was pretty clear that all of their focus was based on the connection between the colour pink and homosexuality. (it doesn't help but Bendtner's name lends itself to puns about people being 'bent' and Arsenal contains the word 'Arse'. I actually heard one or two people make these puns in conversations, and I imagine the pub I was in was not the only place these 'jokes' were made amongst men).

I've experienced it myself even. A couple of times I've worn stuff like a pink tie to social events and it inspires a kind of adolescent nervousness amongst a certain type of men (i.e. the kind of men who, like Sky commentators, make jokes about people with foreign sounding names.) They make 'banterish' comments that are just too much for something as small and insignificant as a tie. They over-comment on it. They slightly obsess about it. It grows in size and significance. They start to make slight homophobic innuendoes about it, whilst backpeddling from them just in case you actually are gay and the pink tie and the man-bag aren't just metrosexual fashion statements. I personally quite enjoy the idea that I can unsettle people so much with the colour of my tie. I would have not worn sequins, make-up and strange hair colours when younger and playing around with the the ideas of stereotyping and campness. A pink garment of any kind would have had the same effect. It simply doesn't culturally compute. In the eyes of many still, straight men somehow aren't allowed to like showtunes, Marc Almond records, electric cars, wine, pastel colours of any kind or cultural stuff like books and art. It's suspicious. Wearing pink and having a man-bag automatically puts you beyond the pale.

You can play another little game to see how unpopular and distressing pink is to many men. Go to one of those shops that stocks last years leftover designer clothes (TJ or TK Maxx, Marshalls and the like). There you will find a splendid selection of pink mens' clothing, leftover from last season because most men just will not buy it.

This person reckons that the association started with the Nazis making gay people wear a pink triangle whilst imprisoned. A quick zip through the internet provides no better theory. although I did find out that pink used to be the colour for a boy until WW2.

I can only conclude that the massive power the colour exerts on people is symbolic. It's not colour itself, but a reminder about the profound discomfort that society feels about homosexuality. How strange that it should reside in something so seemingly harmless as a colour?

Monday, October 19, 2009

today : a dilemma

Here's my dilemma. When Nick Griffin appears on Question Time, should I watch?

Reasons for: I want to see what happens. I'm curious to see what the audience and the other panellists make of having a fascist horror in their midst. I want to see what someone whose entire ideology I utterly abhor, might say. What weasel words will he use?

Part of me would also like to see him screw up big time. Squirming when reminded of his previous convictions for inciting racial hatred and his close associations with violent anti-Semites, Holocaust deniers and other unpalatable racist thugs. I'd love it if he slipped up and made prosecutable comments on TV.

Reasons against : I would be offering him exactly what he wants. I'd be a viewing figure. And even though I could convince myself that I'd just be 'observing', by tuning in to watch him debate I would be participating in his awful project to legitimise the politics of evil and hatred.

When I was younger, and a University student, I was pretty uncomfortable with the then NUS policy of offering 'No Platform' to people whose views were dodgy and unacceptable. This was the mid 1980s - so that involved many sitting MPs and pretty much anyone who'd not supported the miners. There was an ugly trait amongst some left wing activists that smacked to me of extremism, and sometimes it struck me that the agendas were not political but personal. People were outcast and stuff was censored and proscribed for no good reason. I guess it was mainly young people who had a bit of power and got drunk on it.

But I am more than twenty years older now. I still an inveterate fan of free speech but am a solid believer in offering no platform to fascists. And I don't think the two are mutually exclusive in a mature society. I cannot really understand why The BNP is not just banned from standing in elections, or at least aggressively prosecuted every time they show their ugly faces in public. It does nobody any good for them to spread their poisonous falsehoods under the banner of political ideas. Their rhetoric and policies are monstrously retrograde and demeaning to anyone who believes in democracy.

Should I watch?

Update : I didn't watch, but didn't need to. The news gave it blanket coverage. In fact only a couple of hours later I'm sick of the sight of the odious rat faced fascist.

Monday, October 05, 2009

today : too eazi

I rarely just repost stuff I find on the web, but this is too easy and fun. These are the people who are more worried about Obama giving a start of term talk to their kids and 'indoctrinating' them with his dangerous communist bullshit, but hardly ever complaining about the state of the education in their schools.

Monday, September 14, 2009

2 unpleasant symptoms

Where do you put your anger? I ask this rather difficult question because I'm watching a report on the G20 finance minsters' conference and it reminds me that bankers are still bleating on about the necessity to pay themselves colossal bonuses on top of their rather generous pay packets. And it reminds me that we own them. They work for us. These people who are more than comfortable with cutting lines of credit to businesses, throwing people out of work and lines of credit to homeowners. Literally destroying lives at the stroke of their gold-plated overpriced pens. These people who rail against state intervention as some kind of ultimate evil but who ravenously bit the arm off governments when it meant they can stay in their country mansions and still drive their childish and unnecessary sports cars. These people whose moronic ultragreed led us all into disaster.

If we the poor non-bankers deign to rip off a couple of quid from the rich or figuratively steal a loaf from their gluttonously laden tables face prosecution and punishment. Yet as a result of their mutant imbecility they are invited to continue to suck the blood of our pitiful labours, laughing as they bury their pig-snouted faces into salvers of cocaine, feeding their baseless arrogance.

I'd like to see these bastards digging pointless holes until their hands bleed and they cry out with pity. They work for us: we should insist.


It seems that lots of folk have a bit of them that enjoys other peoples' discomfort. How else do we explain the popularity of TV shows like Total Wipeout, and the fact that skateboarding accidents and car crashes are always at the top of web-video charts? Schadenfreude is not simply a German concept, even though plenty of other nations accidentally forgot to invent a word for the concept.

Which is why I've taken to quite enjoying watching American politics in the past few months. You can't help but laugh at the fact that plenty of Americans (i.e. the dumb-ass Right Wingers) are quite happy to piss away the fact that they have an intelligent and pro-active President. It's not even like they even object to what Obama is doing or planning, because their ranting and raving is always targeted at some ridiculous scheme that he isn't actually enacting. So far we've had him banning guns, creating death panels, introducing compulsory government funded abortion and gay marriage, and punitively taxing everybody in order to create big government for no other reason than he hates people having money and simply loves big government. Oh, and he doesn't want to fight any wars and kill anyone if he can help it.

Of course the apogee of this is the 'Health Care' debate. It's not about health care at all, but about the fact that the right wing has demonised Obama in any way it can. It started during the campaign and just got more extreme. They can't seem to get out of that Attwater/Rove thing where you don't win by being better, but win by insisting the other guy is worse. It's not so difficult with a black man because the fact is that many 'natural' Republicans hate black people (which is part of why they are 'natural' Republicans), but even for those Bible-belters who might be post racist, there is plenty more for them to chew on. He has been portrayed as everything from an illegal immigrant to someone whose politics are slightly of Castro. His Christianity is questioned, his morality is attacked, his stated policies are simply not believed.

Okay, so he is probably the most left wing President of all time, but that's not saying much in a world context. What's extreme left in The USA is right-leaning social democratic to everyone else. Another out-of-step phenomenon is the fact that in almost every other democracy the political spectrum is a shifting, organic thing. In Britain the incumbent party tends to lead the way in the way everyone thinks. Other parties analyse what is popular and adopt similar stances. It's pragmatic and it means that that almost everyone hovers around the centre and never strays too far to the right or left. The political landscape moves around - a little bit left, a little bit right - reactive to context and events. The same kind of thing happens in France, Germany, Australia, Spain and most other countries you could care to name. Since Reagan, however, the opposite has happened in the USA. Whatever happens the Right wingers stay nailed to right hand wall like shy kids at a disco. Politically they are going la la la with their hands over their ears.

In fact, any excuse is legitimate in making them dig in to their positions and shift even further right.

The fun in this is in watching these dunderheads screaming at town hall meetings, Like the young woman bursting into tears with fear over her country turning into Russia, or the woman who embarrassed John McCain by accusing Obama of not being an American. The fact that they are so easily susceptible to the downright lies they are clearly bombarded with is worrying in one way, but watching them is a bit like watching one of those compilation shows of the stupidest ever answers on Family Fortunes.

The fun is also in watching the self-styled paragon of democracy having a hilariously frozen, dysfunctional democracy. The nation that recently has been spreading its 'freedom' around the world battling its own citizens over what they do with their own bodies. A nation that prides itself on being fair and free giving money away to the rich and punishing the poor. Nobody seems to have reminded Bush and co. that 'huddled masses' are something America has always been there to cosset - not create.

It's hugely entertaining to see Americans rushing headlong into disaster because a blinkered few refuse to accept that their healthcare system needs reform. It's like watching 'Funniest Home Videos when you can see the banana skin on the ground. Never mind the huge deficits crippling the government because of costs, how about the fact that every other G10 nation has sorted out their healthcare system, leaving America as the only straggler. And lets not get started on literacy rates and educational standards.

Basically, we in the rest of the world are able to sit and chortle as America blunders recklessly onto the slippery slope of decline. China and India are pretty much falling off their chairs with laughter. Because that's what is happening. 26 years of post-Reagan economic policy has left the country with bridges that fall down, schools that are a haven for violence, major industries that are teetering on the edge of bankruptcy and entire states running out of water and barely able to keep the lights on.

It's a kind of insanity to be so violently opposed to the 'other' party that you become obsessed with blocking anything that they do, even if it is necessary for the nation, and morally out of tune with your stated belief (I'm thinking the evangelist right wingers forgetting the Good Samaritan and insisting that uninsured people remain uninsured).

And that is why we laugh.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

today : The Baroness

I didn't personally know Baroness Nicky Chapman but for much of her life she lived on my street, so we were used to - for as long as I can remember and from when she was a child - her being around. I saw her last year tootling along in her wheelchair. She wasn't much older than me but I didn't have anything to do with her because Nicky was educated at home and then at a special school for people with disabilities. My Mum says that she used to chat with Nicky's Mum and even at a young age, perhaps ten or eleven, Nicky would join in and voice strong opinions. She told me that because Nicky was so small people would look strangely at two women apparently chatting with a baby in a pram (an image that puts me in mind of Stewie Griffin - although not in character, obviously). I was reminded of her later when I went to College to do my PGCE. It was the same college where she'd got her degree and people still talked about her. She was a star wherever she went.

Lucky for me that my congenital disability wasn't debilitating until recently. Nicky Chapman was written off at birth with brittle bone disease. In 1961 the fact that her body was so frail and problematic meant her brain and personality were disregarded. Her parents were apparently told to put her in an institution and then try for a 'normal' child. Shocking, I know. Not too many years later I was in hospital for the first two months of my life and my parents were only allowed to visit for a few minutes a day. I think it still upsets my Mum when she goes into hospitals.

Famously, Nicky Chapman kept statistics of negative discrimination, counting the 9 London taxis that ignored her in one day and the hundreds in a year. From the House of Lords she used her voice to highlight this hidden and ignored discrimination. And now that I am using stuff like wheelchairs and walking sticks I am acutely aware of it. How nobody thinks to design the built environment to be disabled-friendly, despite it being very easy and cost-effective. How so much of life is inaccessible because people just don't think - such as supermarkets placing heavy objects on high shelves out of reach of wheelchair users and too heavy to lift for many, including the elderly. How the lot of the disabled is ignored or even disparaged (I should really - Nicky-style - compile stats of the large number of people who complain to me, an obviously disabled driver, about blue-badge parking being some kind of undeserved privilege, or the people who speak to me like I'm an imbecile because I'm shopping from an electric cart).

Two personal examples I could give:

I worked on the 9th floor of a building. Arriving one morning the lift was broken, which meant to get to my office/teaching room I would have to go up 18 flights of busy, crowded steps. Instead of going home I did the steps and it took me almost 40 minutes. I phoned upstairs and apologised in advance for missing the daily morning meeting. When I got to the 9th floor with my dodgy foot screaming in pain, a couple of management types made cutting remarks about my absence and, even when I re-explained what had happened, because of previously booked meeting that was scheduled before I started there and my office was considered 'spare', I was still reshuffled to work in another room on the floor above for part of the day. This meant four more flights of stairs as well as the 18 to get back down at the end of the day. Perhaps they did it as some kind of punishment as they were pretty nasty people all told. But I guess they actually did it because it was easier for me to move out than for them to use another room and tell the attendees about the change. Other peoples' pain is easy to ignore because you can't see it and in my experience there is a no win situation. If you complain you are a complainer: if you are stoic then there is clearly nothing wrong.

Some time ago I went to a wedding. Planned into the schedule of the day was drinks on the lawn of the hotel. Very nice - apart for anyone who simply cannot walk on soft and uneven ground. Then, the photographs were taken on the lawn and nobody took into account the fact that I couldn't be involved. A week or two later I got a thank-you card from the bride and groom. Inserted was a memento of the day. A copy of the group photo of every guest raising a glass of champagne. Except I wasn't on it. It was as if my effort to attend had been wiped from history. The couple are lovely, kind people. I am sure it was just a minor detail overlooked - like forgetting to put a vegetarian option on a menu. But its impact was pretty big on me. I'm okay with not being able to join in the country dancing in the evening, but it made me feel as if I was a pretty pointless invitee.

I am always wary of signalling the achievement of disabled people as special. Anything a disabled person does is often not in the face of their condition, but in the face of other peoples' prejudiced perception of their condition. So she should be celebrated simply as an achiever first. The fact that she was the first peer ever to be born with a serious disability itself says a lot. I can only think of David Blunkett as someone else in Parliament with a serious disability. It's pathetic that it took until the turn of century for these people to get into positions of influence. The statistic is all we need to tell us that not so much has changed in her tragically too-short lifetime.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

I predict the future

One of the very few advantages of having to live below the breadline (i.e. on benefits, which I have to do currently due to illness and recovering from surgery) is that it really gives you a perspective on money and what it can do.

I was listening to a radio discussion today where the panelists were talking about the 'credit crunch' (surely this is a term that is already sounding a little old-fashioned, which is apposite because it didn't sound like any of the panelists were actually suffering from the effects of said event). One had a friend who went to Aldi rather than Waitrose and bragged about how cheap the fresh parmesan was. What? These people are suffering so badly that they have to save money when buying their staples, such as fresh Parmesan. Is this the very definition of middle class poverty? Another was talking about buying cheap clothes and, rather than washing them, throwing them away. Her point was that there isn't enough land-fill to cope with all these worn once or twice items.

I'll just repeat what she was talking about; just so we're all sure of her topic. Buying clothes, wearing them once or twice and then throwing them away.

Live for any length of time on what is effectively negative income (benefits never really cover even your basic expenses, they simply stop you from becoming homeless and dying of cold and starvation. Don't believe anyone who talks about the unemployed and otherwise state-dependent being benefit scroungers. There are, of course people who cheat - claiming benefits when they already have an income, misrepresenting their circumstances in order to claim more - that kind of thing. But people who live on benefits live in poverty and I would suggest that very few, if any, are happy. Yes, the cliché of benefit dwelling is that everyone has a widescreen TV, but it was probably bought on unaffordable credit that will follow people around for decades), and you will find that, along with the things that you need and cannot afford, there are plenty of things that you just don't need.

What is clear is that getting more and more stuff is the default setting for pretty much everyone. Before I was sidelined with illness and disability, I earned pretty good money. But at the end of the month it was almost always all gone. Looking back now I can't understand where it went. I don't have an awful lot to show for it. I guess money just flew away in the breeze.

I'm going to go out on a limb here but I think the 'credit crunch' or whatever we want to call the near collapse of the world financial system is just a taste of things to come. It should have signaled a fundamental change in the way people approach matters of finance and economics. But it didn't. I read that the banks are back paying their bonuses to themselves (continuing to use their bogus justifications of staff retention and contractual obligations - all of which boil down to one thing they never say: I am greedy and I like being rich). It's as if I, as a school teacher had managed to make my results drop from a 70% pass rate to a 5% pass rate but then on raising that to 7% demanded a bonus because I was so bloody good at my job. Or a builder who built a bunch of houses that fell down then demanded a bonus because the next couple of houses they built didn't.

We still have some pretty big issues to work through. Starting with oil. Even though there is still loads of oil left, the issue is distribution and the patterns of consumption. Once Africa starts to join in with the global economy (and it will - pretty soon India China and Indonesia will pass from being producers to consumers and everyone will still want their cheap costs and bloated profits) there will be yet another factor thrown into the mix.

Second we have the environment. And this is not just global warming. It's pollution, waste management, natural resource management and all that.

Third we have population - possibly the biggie.

Then we have global health issues/crises.

Then we have ideological differences.

Then we have historical issues. Can a prosperous, educated China keep itself together? Can Russia retain its sphere of influence? Where does Europe end and Asia begin?

I have no idea if anyone is actually thinking about these things seriously or if anyone with any real power is trying to address them. But they should. My instinct is that governments are like any other social structures, in that the magnetism of the pursuit of prestige causes everyone to more or less line up together. Difference is not tolerated and dissenting voices are quickly silenced or discredited. How else did nobody in government spot what was going to happen to the financial system and take early action? Everyone I know with any financial nouse agreed that the house of cards was heading towards collapse and there was little surprise when it all fell down.

I also suspect that electoral politics trumps most long term thinking, so if a maverick voice is allowed to survive, it is quickly drowned out by other noise. After all, electoral politics is about winning elections and pursuing power, and it is easier to trap electors into short term thinking and then feed them news-cycle-long trivial good news, than to actually effect any real change. Why else would America still not have a decent functioning healthcare system?

My point is that I have just not spotted the fundamental shift in attitudes that would insulate us all from a continued cycle of financial aftershocks. There is an argument that the global bailouts were an easy, rather than a wise choice (governments and leaders often spout the rhetoric of making tough decisions and avoiding the easy choices - surprise! they hardly ever walk the walk). Lots of people kinda think that we deserved some pain and that it might have taught us a lesson in what is really important This is actually something that my (and subsequent) generation (s) haven't learned. The generation that is past retirement age either lived through WW2 or it's austere aftermath. Everyone else in Europe and the UK has reaped the benefits of the war generation's sacrifice. Maybe we have all become too complacent. A little pain might remind us how fragile everything really is.

The bonus culture is apparently still standing. The ideology of globalisation and privatisation remains intact. The obsession with targets is undimmed. The radically conservative low tax, small government ideology is more or less unshaken. All the elements that led us into our current states of crisis (prosecuting ideological wars abroad; the economy cannibalising itself like a rabid snake; the arrogance of self-insulation; the trivialising of reality; the quest for stuff) are still there.

Which leads me to think that, as nations, economies and communities, we are bound, like a wasp trying to escape through an unopened window, to continue bumping ad infinitum into downturn and disaster.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

today : hospital break

I know I have at least 3 regular readers. So for them, I am taking another hospital break. Could be a few days: could be more.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

today : on John Hartson

It's not looking good for former footballer John Hartson. I do hope he manages somehow to beat the cancer that has struck him down. I always liked him, especially since he was the cause and recipient of my only descent into football hooliganism.

I'd got free tickets to see Bradford City play Wimbledon. It was a real relegation crunch match - the second to last game of the season. It was Bradford's first (and penultimate) season in the Premier League. Wimbledon had been around, defying the odds for years.

So there I was watching the game. I am not a Bradford supporter, but have had antipathy towards Wimbledon from their non-league days when my Dad took me to see them play my team Leeds in the FA and they beat us 1-0. It was one of the first matches I'd even been to and the
experience of losing must've scarred me.

Hartson was the kind of player that you hate when he plays for them but you'd want him on your team. His brand of football was full of old-fashioned physicality, aggression and never-say-die spirit. In short he was a perfect member of the crazy gang, even though the late 1980s 'gang' itself had long since broken up and moved away.

We were seated about six or seven rows back, between the goal and the players' tunnel. Bradford were awarded a very generous penalty in the first half, and were winning. But the tension was palpable. After all, 'we' were only a goal up with a player like Hartson on the pitch. All he did to get his two yellows was jump, run and tackle harder and with more desire than anyone else. You could sense his personal desperation to rescue his flailing team, which had been on a disastrous run and obviously had that relegation momentum - a mix of frustration, bad luck, trying too hard and inadequacy - that teams sometimes get. They were on a downward roll. For Wimbledon, their only chance of survival as a club was to stay in the top division. We all know what happened when they did get relegated...pouff!...they disappeared.

As Hartson trudged in front of us, he stopped and turned to dole some verbals to the ref. The Bradford goalie started having a go at him and he shouted back. For reasons that I still don't understand, this got me out of my seat. I skipped the few steps down to the front where one or two people were already standing at advertising hoardings jeering and gesturing at Hartson, who was about 5 yards away. As he turned away from his arguments, I let off a volley off horrid abuse which contained negative references to his weight and hair colour, as well as aggressively attacking his race, and questioning both his relationship to animals and his parentage. I used lots of swearing. Head down, Hartson had begun walking towards the tunnel. But then he stopped for a moment and turned his head, looking me right in the face. His eyes were filled with tears.

Whether he had even heard my abuse, or had turned to actually look at me I have no idea. Similarly, it's probable that his emotions were nothing to do with the crowd but with adrenalin, the anger and disappointment, and the realisation that he might have cost his team the game; the flipside of the committed way he always played. Either way I suddenly snapped out my bizarre state of hooliganism. What the hell was I doing? I would no more indulge in this kind of behaviour normally than join the Conservaive Party and campaign for the beatification of Mrgaret Thatcher. How did my temporary and relatively disinterested support for a team that isn't even close to being my team lead to this? The rest of the stand - committed Brantams all - continued with their jeering and gloating. Hartson's perceived tears made their baying and shouting even worse.

I went back to my seat and watched the rest of the match in a state of embarrassment.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

today: the lesson

I talk quite often about teacher stress. Recently I have posted about bullying and death. And now this.

Obviously there is no way that murderously attacking someone (if that is what happened here, we always have to take into account the fact that everyone is innocent until proven guilty by law) is a correct response in any situation, especially in loco parentis.

But the surprise is that this kind of thing does not happen more often. In a profession which suffers epidemic levels of stress illness, meltdowns that result in violence are seemingly rare. Without having any recourse to statistics, I imagine that in wider society they are not as rare.

Teachers often put up with intense levels of violence, threats and abuse. Perhaps not in every classroom but if there are even one or two pupils prone to violent behaviour it can induce immeasurable and protracted problems.

In ten years of teaching (admittedly in challenging inner city schools) I have been punched, kicked, scratched, bitten, shoved from behind, pushed downstairs, headbutted (broken arm), run into (another broken arm), shoved over (broken glasses and sprained knee), stabbed with pins and had furniture thrown at me.

This is just the actual assaults and violence. We can add to this the theft of property, sabotage of classroom work, vandalism of property, threats to my home, stones thrown at the car, threats to damage and/or steal my car, violent encounters with parents, verbal abuse and threats issued in places like supermarkets, pubs and on the streets, as well as an almost constant strain of verbal abuse in the classroom and around the school.

I lost my temper twice. Once I took it out on a table, slamming it to the floor and breaking the top from the base. Another time I took a five minute time out.

But I ended up quitting - caught in a spiral of stress illness depression, panic attacks and disillusion. What might happen if I and my colleagues didn't routinely internalise the violence?

Saturday, July 04, 2009

today : On the death and life of Michael Jackson

And so that was it.

Michael Jackson died from what was effectively a heroin overdose. I cannot understand why some people seem so surprised. It was never going to end well was it?

I personally thought, at the time of his trial, that suicide would be a good way out for him. It's extremely cynical, but it would have been the PR coup of the century, upstaging everything and keeping the legend intact. As it was, he won the trial. And although people aren't talking about it now, the portrait painted was of a person who might not have done anything proven in court to be criminal, but certainly did things that were on the very edge of suspicion, and way over the line that reasonable people would draw
(Whatever my suspicions I have to assume that he didn't do anything illegal vis-a-vis any children, given that rumour was never proven legally)

I used to think that it was all too easy - to paint Jackson as a victim and use this victimhood to excuse his questionable behaviour. I used to think that if he really wanted, he could have bought anonymity, focus on working out his problems and forget about the spiral of fame and misfortune. I still think that to some extent. Part of this was predicated on my annoyance at the hype. Floating statues of yourself down the Thames and demanding to be called the King of Pop is one thing. Everyone seemingly following and thinking this was normal is another.

I never thought Jackson was, as an artist, as great as they told me. Out of his whole career you could probably squeeze a terrific single CD of music. And the show I saw of his at the height of his megastardom was quite overblown, remote and curiously unemotional. As if they assumed that just seeing him was enough. The crowd went mad, but mainly for the jet-packs, the disappearing tricks and the moment when, after teasing us for an hour, he finally did the moonwalk.

But I think his predicament was more complicated than I liked to believe. When you are the factory, the salesman and also the product it's a pressurised position. Everything depends on you. At the age of six this is hard to imagine. I could barely write my name at the age of six, never mind be the central figure in a huge money making organisation. For Jackson, this all happened before he had the chance to develop a personality and maybe this was why he never had the strength to stop the carousel and get off. And if all the stories and the evidence is to be believed Jackson was the classic case of someone with outstanding talent who suffered rock-bottom self esteem.

And this is the key. One of the main symptoms of low-self esteem is the desire to please others and get their validation. It's even more difficult to step off the carousel when your world is filled with people who make a very good living from what you do. But if you are also crippled with the desperate need to please them then you'd never take the chance of alienating those around you. Even if they are parasites whose opinions actually count for nothing. They know this and use it to trap and control their cash cow.

So, trapped in what is clearly an extremely pressurised and unhappy place - perhaps facing the daunting prospect of the public gaze, Jackson did what many millions of people do. He self medicated. We (the little people) take illegal drugs, drink too much, gamble and indulge in mindless hedonism. Anything for a high, an altered state, escaping our terrible, mundane lives. Some of us go to the doctor and get Valium or Prozac or Temazepam.

Jackson didn't go to a dodgy house in a seedy part of town or cruised the corners for a hit. No, he's no Bubba. With half a billion dollars in the bank you can afford a private doctor who'll prescribe you the drugs you want. But the effect is the same. If you don't learn to live without the medication then sooner or later it'll kill ya.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

today's rockin tune

look up 'killer chorus' in the dictionary and there's a chance you'll find this.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

This weeks song is...

...this. It's groovetastic

today : how to not stand up to fascists

I am pretty angry that the BNP seem to be gaining political credence and cannot understand why they are not simply a banned organisation. The establishment seems to bend over backwards to make sure they have a voice - which is odd, because we have fairly robust anti-racism laws that are quite regularly enacted - like when we banned that Dutch lunatic with his silly little film. I posit the question: why is Nick Griffin not locked up?

But my disquiet at the BNPs electoral success does not mean that I recommend anyone frenziedly punch Nick Griffin repeatedly in his smug, cretinous racist face. That. of course, would be wrong. I also don't think it's a good idea for people to bombard the BNP offices with envelopes of white powder, or set up DNS attacks on their computers, or issue an avalanche of bogus threats that might lead to the building being evacuated several times a day, repeatedly slash the tyres of the people who work for the party, or plant Saudi and Pakistani flags in every garden on the streets where they live. Of course, all of those actions would be wrong too. I also would come out against cramming up Griffin and Bronzes' appointment books with asylum seekers asking their advice on immigration issues, Muslims who are seeking a voice against Brussels bureaucracy, and black people insisting on their right to representation. That, of course would be unhelpful and nobody wants to make a mockery of the fact that single issue racist bigots have demonstrated their hypocrisy by peddling fascist ideology through representational democratic means. It would make Griffin and Bronze and their childish, moronic little cronies look like foolish, gormless little shits.

It think it was William Burroughs who wrote about bigotry by stating that the only way to change a bigoted mind is to destroy it. I'm paraphrasing but basically he recommended shooting bigoted bastards in the head - hastening nature's work for the good of everyone. Clearly this is an extreme and illegal thing to actually do, and I would never wish to promote it.

Friday, June 12, 2009

today : another victim

I don't know whether bullying affected with my pal and former colleague Kevin, who died yesterday. I imagine not. But stress - that's another issue. Kevin was 52, and all the signs point to a heart attack being the cause of his death. Yet another school teacher whose years in the job ultimately paid him back. He was a good guy and shall be missed.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

today: The Victims

I know personally what it's like to suffer bullying at work in a school. In fact, when I think about it, I know too many teachers whose lives and careers have been affected and sometimes devastated by the appalling behaviour of colleagues. Often, it seems that teachers who are suffering stress are targeted, somehow nominated as weak and pushed out of their jobs. The deep irony is that those teachers I know who have ended up ill with stress, at the end of their tether or just worn out are the ones who really care about the children in their care. Invariably the bullies are self-serving and the kind of bad teachers who also damage the education of their charges and the standing of their profession.

I myself was piled on with work and extra pressure as a response to me having time off with stress. Like sharks smell blood, the management, rather than address what had made me ill (i.e. their poor management of my impossible workload) they seemed to decide to pile on more work and responsibility. I tried hard, because I felt a responsibility to my pupils, to their grades and futures. But it was too much. I no longer teach.

A good friend of mine, also a superb teacher was targeted in his school. His results were consistently excellent. New management wanted him to achieve the same but with less time and fewer resources. When he couldn't the criticisms, undermining and questioning started. Observers were sent to his lessons, he was placed under constant scrutiny until he just decided it wasn't worth it. Another friend of mine who worked hard and cared about achieving excellent results for her pupils was not alone in applying for new jobs but being told explicitly that she could not leave. Whilst not being offered any opportunities within her school she was told by the head that he would give her poor references and deliberately block her attempt to leave. If she brought the Unions in that would simply give her a reputation and add to her unemployability. The real issue was that he didn't want to lose a high achiever but had managed his resources and internal promotions so badly he had nothing to offer her as an inducement to stay. Eventually she got out and is dong well, but another friend placed in a similar situation ended up with stress illness and left the profession.

I could go on. I could list the people with alcohol or drug problems, the people whose marriages are in tatters, the people who suffer ulcers and IBS, those who have committed suicide. All of them the victims of bullying campaigns either from specific colleagues or in an institutional sense, by blockheaded and arrogant managers.

Britt Pilton was probably the victim of both of these, a staffrom bully and a lazy and incompetent management who failed to deal with it.

Friday, May 01, 2009

'time for me to go away...I'll get a new name, I'll get a new face...'

It feels like time for me to take another short break. Earlier this year I took a week or two off due to an operation. This time, it's because I have just run out of things to say for the moment.

That's the problem with having a life as narrow as my walls. I am currently more or less housebound awaiting a major operation and my horizons have shrunk to almost zero.

This means that communication with the outside world occurs through the radio, TV and internet. Because the realtionship between people and media is two-way, I find they have kind of sucked the life out of me. I might still switch on Kristy Lou Stout at midnight, but tend to watch with the sound off, looking at her beautiful face (it's like it's been naturally Photoshopped to be flawless). Because it doesn't matter what she says, in her intriguingly adenoidal voice, she just repeats the same news I have been bombarded with all day. The only reason to watch her is because she is much better looking than pretty much all other purveyors of news - although Anjali Rao runs her close.

Eventually, all TV and radio blurs into noise and begins to reveal itself as shallow and formulaic.

People (by that I mean this person) were not designed to do nothing, or indulge in only passive activity. But given the fact that I cannot walk and am in significant constant pain that is where I find myself. Until I had to quit work I was one of those people in one of those jobs who would often work evenings and weekends, and even if I wasn't working but at home I would never switch on the TV upon arriving home and only switch it off at bedtime. I'd tune in when something I wanted to see was on, then read or listen to music or do something in a "Why don't you...?" kind of way. Downtime means nothing if it stretches out in a horizonless desert in front of you.

It IS true that the more you do the more you do. My days were full from early morning to late at night, leisure and passivity only one element of a range.

But I am forced into doing nothing and this has left me feeling socially and intellectually undernourished with no social or intellectual energy.

Here's another thing. There is so much to think about that I am recently kind of given to consuming but not fully processing. The economy, the fact that we're all doomed by whichever means, personal thoughts triggered by my disability and situation, whatever else.

In the end you just wither. I have worked with unemployed people who were frustratingly free of motivation and hope. However, I get it now. Your ability to see brighter times ahead is limited by the inability to see any diferentiating lines between the past, the present and the future. Weekends to me mean nothing. Any attempt at weekend activities are merely symbolic.

And then, for me, there are the drugs. They are pretty good at slightly dulling the pain, but leave my sleep patterns destroyed and my head full of soggy sponge.

It's quite nice in so many ways. Comfortable numbness is often what we crave and I have it. I can fall into a trance-like daydream and live out some delicious fantasy several times a day. I look at complexity and my brain just shrugs and turns away.

And everywhere the internet is full of opinion and comment. It can do without mine for a while.