Thursday 28 August 2014

What if the festival fences are to keep the freaks in, rather than the freeloaders out?

Another festival season has come and gone, and I am not sure if it’s my age, or the fact that I am a lot more sober than I used to be, but there is suddenly a lot to question about the phenomenon of the music festival than there used to be. And not just the usual moans about the weather, everything being more commercial than it used to be, all modern music sounding the same, teenagers not pulling their trousers up properly, the drinks being too expensive, the fact that tents are horrible etc. etc. etc. although, to be fair, most of that is true, but that genuinely is just because I am getting old now.

I have recently come back from a double weekender of two very, very different festivals, both of which disturbed me in different ways. First off, I spent a slightly crazy day at Boomtown near Winchester. Truly a magnificent site/sight, take your pick on the spelling, both apply equally, the time and energy that has clearly been put in to making the stage sets was very well spent. There were mines, pirate ships, town squares and giant dancing robots (and a whole bunch of other cool stuff that we missed) all in what was essentially some fields with a wood in the middle. But the fantabulous surroundings were filled with groups of lads and lasses who would not look out of place strolling down the main streets of Magaluf. I’m all for inclusion and happy togetherness, so this is no tribalist attack on the humble chav, it just surprised me. I expect to see the airy-fairy-hippy-dippy-beardy-weirdy classic festival types and little else at these things, not the Inbetweeners. No offence meant to any inbetweeners out there you understand, particularly not those of you who packed out the little tent we played in at midnight, you beautiful onesie wearing freaks you.

The weekend afterwards, we were playing at Beautiful Days, nice and nearby in Devon. Also a lovely site, fairly decent music, might be reasonably priced, I don’t know, I refuse to pay more than twenty quid to go anywhere these days, so am no judge. However, this was a place dominated by yummy mummies and their solicitor husbands desperately trying to relive their youth, and dragging the kids along. Again, good for them, I suppose, but it seems a terrible idea to me. While the unexpected outfits of Boomtown were deck shoes, pedal pushers/clam diggers and superdry vests, at Beautiful Days the uniform of the weekend was definitely early 90s chic, as the 30/40 somethings tried to get back to those heady days of flowerpot hats and baggy checked shorts. 

Now, at this point you are probably going to ask what my bloody problem is right? These and all other people are entitled to go about their business and have a lovely time without some beardy hippy twat sneering at them, especially when he slots quite nicely into the '30 something trying to relive their youth' demographic. Except that I don’t really, I haven’t really stopped dicking about playing in bands since I was twelve. My mid-life crisis is looming nicely, and it appears to be manifesting itself by me stopping all the rock and roll stuff, and staying in more, I might even buy a jumper and get a nice haircut. I think this may have been my last festival season, particularly when I have never really liked the camping bit much anyway. 

What got me, is that I don’t remember the 'normal' people being there so much back in my youth. I may not have been paying attention to be honest, so they may have been there. But I remember the few festivals I made it to back then (not loads, they were too expensive then as well) mainly being filled with the young and the groovy, tye-dye and dreadlocks ahoy, certainly not the well-dressed about town types, and definitely not teachers, accountants and their kids. Although, as I said, I may just not have noticed, or been at the wrong places, that is entirely possible. There also didn’t used to be showers back then (or anything like as much hair product as was clearly in evidence this season) and if memory serves, the toilet facilities were planks over a pit, and a good sense of balance. It is also important to note that in 1991, my ticket for the Monsters of Rock festival cost me £25, this year, it was around that for the mandatory donation to an unnamed festival for the +1 tickets we got for the band. Inflation is a bitch, and even beer hasn’t gone up that much (A pint is approximately 3 times what it was in the early 90s, I estimate festival tickets have at least quadrupled, feel free to do your own maths). I put this down to it being more expensive to put stuff on now, due to the upside down nature of today’s music industry where the tours pay for the albums rather than vice versa.

I then thought harder, and went a little more tin foil hat over the whole thing than maybe I should. And apologies if the following sounds paranoid and crazy, but it is. What if those massive fences and watchtowers are not to keep the poor people who can’t afford tickets out, but to keep the freaks in? And what if all those lovely mind-altering substances that somehow can’t ever be kept out, are in fact being supplied to keep us all happy and docile? What if the entire festival scene has been designed by our Lizard overlords to keep anyone with an alternative viewpoint safely away from the rest of society when the weather is nice enough to maybe go and do some protesting? It’s a thought isn’t it? Particularly when the current drug of choice for the under-the-counter-culture is a horse tranquiliser sold by big pharmaceutical companies, so you are now very much helping ‘the man’ out.

If you thought you were somehow rebelling and sticking it to 'the man' by going to a large corporate event and spending a small fortune on camping gear, overpriced food and drink, wellington boots, even your ticket, and then taking a shed load of hallucinogenics until you can no longer think straight, then I am terribly sorry. Quite the opposite is true, you have been played, it has happened to every generation, and it will happen to you. The baby boomers were lured away from their Bob Dylan records and cries for freedom with cheap property and weak marijuana, some of them are still going to festivals, and singing along to Bob Dylan records while smoking cheap marijuana (you can’t find weak marijuana anymore apparently) but make no mistake, they are establishment now. The punks forgot the revolution part when the amphetamine took out their thoughts. The ravers got lost in Ecstasy and went off to buy shiny iThings from apple, and today’s ketamine kids are being played worse than anybody. Sorry to be the one to break it to you.

If you really want to stick it to the man, and be a part of the revolution, stay in your own head, do some thinking, write something revolutionary, start a group, start a club, start a movement, change the world. Don’t get sidetracked by the drugs and the fun, it is in your way. If you are just in it for the drugs and the fun, then excellent, enjoy and have a good time, all the time, but if you think by going to these things that you are part of the counter-culture and starting a revolution, then stop fooling yourself. These are concentration camps for the hippies, keeping us pacified and happy. Bread and circuses for the modern age, keep the long haired freaky people from this song away from society, and ensure they are too stoned to formulate any plans.

Apologies, I seem to have gone slightly off track, and may be angrier, and a great deal more tinfoil hatted than usual today. All of this is just conjecture, I don’t actually believe in the Lizard overlords, and I suspect the festival phenomenon is just the usual thing, corporations finding new and more inventive ways to make us part with our money, and ensuring it stays reassuringly expensive to put up some tents and listen to some music. I have nothing against you wanting to listen to music and stay in tents by the way, these are good things.

Choose a life, Choose a job, Choose a career, Choose a family, Choose a fucking big television (actually don’t, the TV is even more of the wonderful soma sent our way by those who would keep us down) or something. Choose what you like, but if you think you are making a difference and starting a revolution by dancing, make sure you’re not being sponsored by Richard Not-a-fucking-hippy-at-all Branson.

If I can't dance, I don't want to be part of your revolution– Emma Goldman

Friday 8 August 2014

Plenty of rich folks wants to fight. Give them the guns

It is all very well me spouting off about how much I enjoy ignoring the rest of the world. And I have been advocating taking time away from the internet, and particularly news and facebook for quite some time. In fact, in my recent fortnight off work, I successfully ignored the entire online world for the whole time I was off. I liked it. And when I returned to work I was quite busy, and continued to not read online news, or mess about on facebook and twitter all day. I was also eating my breakfast, lunch and dinner out in the garden, away from the TV, and it left me all content and happy and marvellous inside.

All well and good you may say, well done you smug git, now leave us alone. But it turns out that if quite a large part of what you enjoy doing involves writing stuff about other stuff, you need to be in touch with the other stuff to have any ideas. Did any of that make sense? Probably not, but anyhow, I haven't so much as written a note down on the back of an old receipt for a thing I should write later on in nearly a month. Because I have been sitting about in the sunshine all content and happy. So, if you rely on being annoyed at other people either for a living, or just for a hobby (like what I do) then you may have to keep on scrolling down people's facebook feeds and being disappointed at the pictures from Britain First they are sharing, and hating their children and pets for being in your face all the time. Your children and pets are different of course, everybody loves seeing them, otherwise they wouldn't keep 'liking' them all the time would they? Point being that moderation is a fine thing in all aspects of one's life. Just as the odd drink won't do you any harm, have a squizz at the internet once a day, keep in the loop a bit, you'll be fine, the cat pictures are good.

Anyhow, none of this is really the point I wanted to make. It was more upsetting when I finally returned to looking at the internet, watching the news and reading the papers again, as the news hadn't changed. Israel and Palestine at it again (really not going to get into that right now) and government cuts to essential services, while giving tax breaks to the 'wealth creators' so they don't leave and join their off shore bank accounts. And then came the centenary of the first world war.

Let it be said from the off that the first world war was an almighty cock up from start to finish, and really there is nothing worth celebrating about any war. This one was the last great imperial land grab, nobody was fighting for anybody else's freedom and it is naïve at best to try and paint it that way. Even a hundred years later no two historians can agree on the cause of this disaster, let alone who managed to balls up the treaty at the end so completely.

Nothing at all was achieved as the old method of lining up two armies and making them run at each other turned out to not work as well as it used to before machine guns, tanks and aerial bombing raids. Most of Europe lost almost an entire generation, no real gains were made by any sides, and the treaty was cocked up so badly we had to go back and have a rematch again a scant twenty years later, wiping out the next generation as well. So excuse me if I think all the commemorations of 'heroism' are missing the point a bit. It was supposed to be the war to end all wars, but we have learned absolutely fuck all about anything in the hundred years since. Have a look at Gaza and Iraq if you aren't sure about that. Gaza is still suffering the fall out from the wars of the mid twentieth century and the ridiculousness of carving up land masses between different owners.

I can't help thinking that the money that is being spent on yet more monuments (every village and town in this country already has a war memorial in it already, we don't need more) might be better spent on putting back the services for the mentally and physically handicapped that we are systematically destroying. Ironically, those very heroes of 1914-18 that we are remembering would be left with nowhere to live and no help with the terrible mental and physical scarring that they were left with after their ordeals if they were living today. Much as they were at the time if they weren't independently wealthy.

As to the wonderful plan of only having one light on in your home between 10 and 11 on the very anniversary of the outbreak of war, in memoriam to Sir Edward Grey's enigmatic quote 'The lamps are going out all over Europe, we shall not see them lit again in our lifetime' was another example of our current awful tendency to conspicuous, self-aggrandising displays of what good people we are. I suspect everybody that did it left the fucking Telly on as well, or sat and surfed the interwebs at the same time. Certainly my facebook feed was full of pictures of candles with 'remembrance' captions all over them. As I said, ego-stroking, conspicuous, look at me wankery of the crappest nature. I also worry that some godawful PR company got paid a ton of cash to come up with it, though I haven't checked, as I don't want to be right. Apologies to anybody who actually sat in front of a candle in quiet contemplation for an hour, I have no problem with you if it helped you, otherwise, I fail to see the point.

Obviously Britain first got their oars in with their poppy covered memes, taunting you to share their page and get them likes, by saying only 1% will do it. Awful, nasty, political posturing of the most shameful kind, and many people I like, who would have nothing to do with Britain First still shared that fucking picture, because they like the sentiment. I will not apologise for the many comments I left that merely said 'check your source and change your mind'.

I have no problem with remembering the victims of all wars, and am looking forward very much to next years centenaries of Agincourt and Waterloo, I will be lighting candles on St Crispins day, while quoting Shakespeare on Twitter. Oh, and singing along to Abba with my hand inside my coat and a funny hat on at my stepdaughter on her 22nd birthday. Except these centenaries aren't going to happen are they? Point is, that on armistice day, every year, we put aside everything, and stop and remember everyone who has ever been duped into doing the dirty work for the power-mongers and gotten themselves killed in the process. And that's a good thing, and also perhaps, enough. I can't take four more years of airbrushed history being forced down my throat in every 'news' bulletin. If the anniversary of a thing from a century ago is the top story when UN shelters are being bombed by a US sponsored democratic state, then something has gone very wrong.

There will always be somebody making a lot of money from wars, and as long as they keep fooling the common man (whoever he is) that the wars need fighting, then nothing is going to change. Learn the real lessons of the big bad wars of the twentieth century, and don't fight for anybody but yourself. Anybody who tells you the trenches of Belgium were the worst human suffering ever and that you are being disrespectful knows nothing of history. Napoleon's russian campaign was no fun for anyone, neither was Hitler's. And living in Aztec times was no fun at all, particularly when Cortez came along. You can't just pick one awful thing from history and keep on banging on about it, it will lose all impact.

“I would like to see every single soldier on every single side, just take off your helmet, unbuckle your kit, lay down your rifle, and set down at the side of some shady lane, and say, nope, I ain’t a gonna kill nobody. Plenty of rich folks wants to fight. Give them the guns." ~ Woody Guthrie

Thursday 31 July 2014

Why some mornings I cry like a little girl for no good reason at all

Apologies for the long gap between blogs. I have been making money, and being on holiday, this is my only excuse, and it is the one I am sticking to. I hope it suffices. I am not really sure where this particular entry is heading, but humour me, I wish to talk about the phenomenon of mourning the end of summer. I admit this seems an odd thing to write about as we veer into august in the midst of blistering temperatures, and when I have not willingly worn socks for over a month now, but I was reminded of a thing on monday morning, and I shall try and describe it now.

What happened was this, I woke up and prepared for my return to work after a fortnight off. It has been about a decade since I last took a whole fortnight off, and so it had felt like a proper summer holiday, like you get when you're a kid, and the summer lasts forever. Well, not that good, but pretty great. After a fortnight of blistering temperatures, in which I had pottered about in flip flops and shorts, it was no fun to yank on a real pair of trousers and force my feet into shoes and socks. At this point some smart arse is going to point out that I regularly go to work in shorts and flip flops as well, and they are right, I do. However, on monday I woke up to the rain lashing away at my windows, and it looked to be a pretty awful day.

The rain almost lifted my spirits, as I figured I may as well be at work if the weather is going to turn back to standard devon summertime. However, I was thinking of the mornings I had spent on Jersey with my wife the week before, strolling through glorious sunshine and going to see marvellous and wonderful things. And then I realised I was going to have to drive to work, and wear a coat, as it was really proper raining by this point. I hate driving to work, it is a lovely walk, and it cheers me up to walk in the morning (well any time of day really) but this may be a subject for an entirely separate entry later on. Anyhow, I got into my car, and had left a lilac time album in the CD player, it played me this song.

Salvation Song (please follow the link, it's the most fragile and beautiful thing you are likely to hear today)

Now, I love this song, it is a beautiful and lovely piece of music which cannot fail to touch anybody who hears it. And on this occasion, it got me, I very nearly turned up to work in floods of tears as I was so unnecessarily emotional over the whole end of holiday, crappy rainy morning, beautiful love song thing I had just been through. Which reminded me of when I was a strange and unusual child, really.

Seriously, I had utterly forgotten this, but when I was a kid, pretty much every september without fail, I would find one morning on the bus to school in the first week back, my eyes would fill with tears, and I would be heartbroken over the death of the summer. At least that's what I put it down to, I might have just been overly emotional, or on the edge of a nervous breakdown (might be on one now as well, who can tell?) either way, I would pretty much cry in front of people for no good reason, and not be able to explain why (not the coolest thing for an awkward and geeky 12 year old with a serious Dr Who problem). This still happens if somebody plays the wrong song at me at the wrong time. I am old enough now to admit that it was Richard Marx on the school bus, one very shameful september. I have never liked that song, and I never will, but if I hear it at the wrong time, I will howl like a little girl with a kebab skewer through her foot.

My emotional instability aside, those long summers when I was a kid, when we'd go out and play in rivers, and just do nothing in bright sunshine for what felt like years, are really worth getting upset about when they're over. Even when it's just a fleeting fortnight in your thirties that felt a bit like the late 80s somehow. I am glad I can mourn the good and lovely things, and am not dead inside. Now pass me the flip flops, I'm having cider for lunch again.

Thursday 26 June 2014

The Ever Decreasing Circling Joy of Birthdays

I turned 37 last week. It is a thoroughly unremarkable birthday, 36 is no different, 38 is incredibly similar, in fact it may be the most utterly pointless birthday I have ever had. It only occurred to me a few days before, when I was listening to this song (which by the way, if you do not love, you are wrong, it belongs up there as one of the best track one side one songs ever, right next to Janie Jones)

Just how old I actually am now. Because I remembered my brother buying me this album for my sixteenth birthday, well, he bought me a dodgy tape from Bideford market, that almost certainly wasn't original, but I loved that album, and didn't care. Sixteen wasn't that long ago was it? Well, I then realised that 1993 was the very year of that album. I then remembered that my stepdaughter Rudi was born that year. And that it was also her 21st birthday the same week. Which makes that album 21 years old. That tape my brother bought me is now old enough to drink in the USA, and I suddenly found myself feeling a little ancient. For perspective, the gap between the Spin Doctors album and now, is larger than the gap between the spin doctors album and the first Clash Album with Janie Jones on it. And the same as the gap between it and Black Sabbath vol 4. Feeling old now?

I think after a certain age you should probably only celebrate your birthday every half a decade, or possibly only when there's a zero in your age. I realise that makes me sound a curmudgeonly old sod, and you'd be right there. I am very much a curmudgeonly old sod, as my wife and step-kids are wont to remind me. I did in fact have a lovely weekend, Rudi came all the way back from Falmouth especially to see me, my parents took me out for lunch, even my usually slack stepson, Adam came through with a card and a very decent bottle of wine (as well as the invention of the phrase multi-celebration Sunday). I was made to feel loved and special, which is always nice, but not entirely deserved I suspect.

Let me elucidate a bit, getting a year older is very easy, for most of one's life it requires very little effort. At the beginning and the end, it is something of an achievement, but at 37, it's just the mileometer clicking over, the inexorable slide towards forty is in full swing, and there is no way you can stop it now, unless you've got troubles, in which case celebrate all you can. I have always felt that on my birthday, I should buy my mum a present and take her out, after all, she did all the work that day, I don't even remember it. Dad also deserves some credit, as he did punch the windscreen out of his car on the fast lane of the M3, which is pretty bad ass. Either way, they should be celebrated a lot more than me, I did nothing except tie myself up in an umbilical cord and jump out a month early, causing all kinds of problems for everybody concerned.

Birthday celebrations for children, I suspect, go back to the days of high infant mortality, when your child remaining alive for another year was definitely something worth celebrating. Also, birthdays when you are a child, are just awesome, the best thing ever. You tell your family all the things you want, and they get you as many of them as they can. Well, they do now, when I was a kid, I told my mum and dad a bunch of things I wanted, and I got one. Or sometimes half, as if it was expensive, it got stretched out over birthday and christmas, which taught me a valuable lesson about the value of money, or stuff, or something, I forget. My gran on the other hand, got me pretty much everything I ever asked for, and my every whim would be indulged as she truly was brilliant, and I miss her every day. The point is, that when you are a child, your birthday is very much your day, and you get what you want.

As you get a bit older, birthdays become very much an excuse for a party. By the time I was in my late teens and early twenties, I did not care at all if there were any presents, as long as we were all drinking, and having a good time. Again, it was a day entirely for me, and I could indulge my every little whim without reproach. Until a few days later, when those around me would let me know what an arse I had been, and I would have to go and apologise to the multitudes of Bideford. But again, the point is, here you tell your loved ones what you want to do, and they do it.

After a while, the presents become thoroughly pointless, because you are a grown up, if there are moderately priced things you want, you can go out and buy them. This of course leads people to buy you novelty gifts. These are invariably pointless, and a bit shite, and you have to keep them, because you usually live with the people who bought them for you. Get some shelves, get lots of shelves, it never ends. You can hint as much as you like about the book or DVD that you really want, and not buy it in the run up to your birthday, but it will not be there, you can buy it the week afterwards. And enjoy the almost but not quite as good as you'd like gifts that you have been given. Don't even think that complicated musical equipment and other expensive specialist items are going to come your way, your friends and family do not understand your hobbies, and will not buy you vintage stratocasters. And you now have too many records, books and DVDs for any sane person to look through and check what you already have before picking something you might like and buying it for you. Welcome to adulthood, expect inappropriately stayed clothing as gifts (I am talking cardigans here).

Then you have your own family, and here it changes forever. As because it is your birthday, your children want to spend it with you, and make you happy. They are not going to get you drunk, they are not going to buy you a jet ski. They are going to want to spend the day with you, and they will want to do something they like as well. You may even get given something home made, do not under any circumstances ask what it is, tell them it is beautiful, and the best gift you could have had, and ask your significant other quietly what it is supposed to be. Chances are you won't even be lying about it being brilliant, as it genuinely is the thought that counts. But the dynamic has changed, your birthday is no longer about you, or what you want to do. It is about what the people who love you want to do, and you will have to share it.

I, for example, would like to spend every day sitting around in my dressing gown drinking cider and swearing at inanimate objects. I am not allowed to do this every day, as it is a stupid idea, and would alienate me from polite society. Even on my birthday I cannot do this, as it is still a stupid idea, which is a good thing. My family want to celebrate with me, and luckily, they are now all old enough to drink, so we do. We do get dressed, and we lay off the swearing at furniture, and they gently coax me into being happy, and having a good time, rather than being the miserable shite I am 90% of the time. And I am glad about that.

I have always pointed out that I don't like cake much, and would rather have a birthday pie. Occasionally this whim has been humoured, but generally, there is a cake instead, because other people like cake, particularly the kids. Equally, this year, I was told by my lovely wife that we were going out for the day, the day before my birthday, as my parents had already bagsied the actual birthday for a family meal, because my sister was unexpectedly in Devon (this worked out very nicely, it has been at least a decade since I was with my parents on my birthday, and as it was fathers day as well, both me my Dad, and my brother in law did quite well). Being the curmudgeonly old sod that I am, I kind of wanted to be left the hell alone for at least one day of the weekend, but as I said, birthdays when you are older are for the people who love you to let you know, not for you to indulge your own strangeness.

Equally, the saturday night (generally one which would be spent in the pub, where I would have been all day probably) was spent at a play, as all my current batch of local friends were going to this play as well. It was outdoors, and there was a bar, so my habitual drunkeness could be indulged, but again, I was feeling railroaded into doing what other people wanted. Of course, all this being forced into doing things other than sitting around drinking meant I had a far more pleasant and memorable weekend than I would have done had I been left to my own devices, or indulged like a seven year old. The very reason I love my wife so much is that she has a knack of knowing what I will actually enjoy a lot better than I do. And my stepkids are fast becoming the most pleasant drinking company I have ever known, so the future is looking bright.

I am sure one day, they will be too busy with their own families, and I will be lucky to get a phone call saying Happy Birthday, so if I were to waste these last few family birthdays in a scrumpy induced, misanthropic dressing gown clad daze, it truly would be a waste. For one day I will probably be sat in a stinky arm chair, with no idea who I am, and if I am lucky, once a year there will be a sofa full of scared looking grandchildren wondering why they have been made to come and sit with the weird old man on such a lovely sunny day, and why he is swearing at a cupboard.

 I apologise to my future grandchildren for the misery I am going to inflict on them, but I will anyway, as they need to learn the importance of family, so that one day they will have scared grandchildren in front of them.

Tuesday 17 June 2014

So I finished the course, and I wrote a story :)

Yep, finished the creative writing course this week, and by ignoring all the advice I got from it, and just doing what I do anyway, I wrote this for the final piece, which had a 1000 word limit on it, that I also ignored.
It got very positive reviews from the other poor sods doing the course, I wrote it far too quickly, and thought it was okay. However, all this, and turning 37 have left me with very little time to write anything else this week, so I'm posting this due to extreme laziness taking over, enjoy, it is loosely based on a not anywhere near as interesting true story.

Sorry for the laziness, usual ranting will be resumed next week, when I will have a lot to say about birthdays when you're a grown up.

Just Because You're Paranoid...

'Excuse me,' came a voice from the car that had just reversed 200 metres back up the road, 'I know this sounds weird, but could I take your photograph?' Pete was taken aback, that did sound weird. But sometimes weird is good, and interesting, and if there was one thing Pete wasn't, it was impolite. And it would be tremendously impolite to refuse such a simple request, besides, he was only strolling out to the pub for the evening, he had time, and this did appeal to his vanity.

'Ok, why not.' Pete leaned into the window of the silver saloon car, pushed up his Aviator sunglasses, and grinned manically at its occupant. Inside he could see tripods, lights and all the assorted paraphernalia of the photographer's trade, which put his mind at rest on one count. This chap was a photographer, or at least had made sure his back story held up okay. Pete was cursed with an over-active imagination, and within the time it had taken for the car to reverse back up the road towards him, and his answer to the man inside, he had enacted five separate scenarios in his head, which all ended with him dead, and none of them were nice.

'Sorry to do this, it's just that you look really interesting, and it's a sort of hobby of mine, collecting photographs of interesting looking people. I'm not some kind of weirdo, honest,' the man chuckled nervously as he got out of the car. He was wearing a corporate uniform, blue jacket and matching trousers, with the logo of the energy company he represented emblazoned on the left breast. This reassured Pete a little more, the man would have to answer to his employers, a serial killer wouldn't have an ID badge casually hanging on a lanyard around his neck. Possibly he was just some kind of government spook, looking for subversive elements, and Pete had once been to a greenpeace meeting, that was pretty subversive. But it was true, Pete did look interesting, with his brothel creepers, midnight blue drape jacket, bootlace tie and quiff, you would swear it was still the '50s rather than the twenty first century.

'No, no, you're fine, to tell you the truth it's not the first time this has happened' Pete lied, he didn't know why he felt the need to lie, it was probably to put the man at his ease, though why he needed to put him at his ease evaded Pete completely. This encounter would either be over in less than two minutes, and they would never see each other again, or Pete would be knocking on the boot of his car and screaming at the top of his lungs to be let out. Either way, there was no need for the chap to be at his ease.

'I'm not surprised, you do have an enigmatic look about you, I'm Darren by the way, pleased to meet you,' said the stranger, smiling through a neatly trimmed beard, and he put out his hand in greeting to Pete, who shook it excessively firmly and vigorously, in a meaningless attempt to show his strength, in case Darren still turned out to be some kind of weirdo, also it might prevent Darren from injecting him with any kind of tracer or bugging devices, by increasing his blood pressure enough to spit it right out again.

'Pete, likewise.'

'Now, if you can just stand there, against that wall with the graffiti, I think that would make a really interesting backdrop,' Pete did as he was told, the wall was, he had to concede, a pretty good backdrop. Some street artist had sprayed a 10 foot high image of an electric guitar surrounded by stars on the electricity substation by the road. Pete dutifully stood in front of it, doing his best Elvis sneers, while Darren snapped away from every angle he could find.

'All done, thanks Pete, do you want copies of these shots? I can email them to you later if you want?'

'Yes please mate, that would be excellent,' Pete said, before he'd had time to think it through, and before he knew it he was writing his email address down on a scrap of paper for Darren. Why had he done that? You could use an email address to call up every bit of personal detail you needed on somebody nowadays couldn't you? He might have been following Pete for weeks, and just needed to confirm his email address to make sure he had the right guy. They could link this to PeteyRNR75 from all those Rock and Roll internet forums he hung out on. What had he said? Was he going to be locked up in some Orwellian nightmare for his strong views on period correct equipment for rockabilly bands, or laughing at the guy who's turn-ups had been half an inch too short? He awaited the knock on the back of the head, and resigned himself to being bundled into Darren's boot.

'Well, thanks for that, I'll send you the pictures once I've jiggled them about a bit, speak to you later!' and with that, Darren drove away into the hazy sunshine of an early June evening. Pete took a deep breath, and walked on to the pub. He managed to talk himself down, and realised that Darren was almost certainly  just a harmless eccentric with a photography project, just as he had said. He thought no more about it.

Later that night, having returned from an uneventful evening at the Three Pigeons, Pete found an email in his inbox with the photographs attached, they were good. They were really good, Pete looked fantastic, with the sunlight glinting off the sides of his Raybans, and his brylcreemed quiff shining majestically in front of that giant guitar in the background. He sent a quick reply, 'Thanks mate, look really good, I hope they help with your project. - Pete' and then went off to bed.

Outside, just past Pete's garden wall, Darren closed the email he had just received on his blackberry, nodded to himself and took out his little bag of lockpicks.

Saturday 7 June 2014

Some Thoughts about D-Day

I woke up this morning, and saw yet more coverage of long ago wars. A whole day of TV dedicated to the D-Day landings of 70 years ago. Union Jacks all over my social media feeds, and newspaper front pages. A wholesale massacre of roughly 12000 people, though the counts vary depending on the source you use. Like a lot of people (not all, but a lot) I was mildly upset by the continuing glorification of war, and given that this is all just before the proper kick off of the first world war centenary remembrances, I thought 'this is going to be a very long four years'. I said something along the lines of “you didn't get stuff like this about the charge of the light brigade fifty odd years ago” to my wife, and then wondered how long the Germans were going to have to keep apologising, and feeling vague guilt over the whole thing, as, if I were a German over here at the moment, watching all the tributes to the allied dead (and a lot of the facebook statuses I saw this morning were explicit that they were only remembering the allied dead) I would be feeling pretty shitty, despite it being 2 generations ago, and not my fault at all. I posted a facebook status to that effect, and that was where the trouble started.

Not as much trouble as I have been running into by other political posting recently, because every rebuttal I got, I countered with the terribly diplomatic reply that I was not getting into it, as it is a very emotive subject, I know people who were directly involved, and people indirectly involved, and these are people I love and respect, and do not want to upset. Particularly my friends in the military, who, while not involved in D-Day itself, are understandably very much on the “we will remember them no matter what, don't you bring your pacifist lefty shit into it today please Dave you hippy twat!” side of things. And I love them for that, and decided to keep quiet. But then I saw a promotion for a D-Day celebration, and I figured a celebration of a massacre is really going a bit far and I thought I'd write a blog on it, and set out my hippy, pacifist, lefty agenda, and did a load of research. I was not prepared for what I found out, and I am less angry on others behalf than I started out.

Let me say at this point that I am not patriotic in anyway, I think national borders are arbitrary lines drawn on a map, and people are the same wherever they are, and utterly different despite being from the same place, all at the same time. Thus the many wars for territory fought over the last few millennia seem like childish playground squabbles that the bigger boys have managed to get their smaller friends to take all the hits for. Yet for some reason, people persist in this idea of a fixed national identity, no such thing I'm afraid, we are all individual and very different. This is a good thing.

I began thinking from the perspective of the ordinary German citizen today, including their veterans, and decided that they were no more guilty of any crimes than the British soldiers. All of them were told that what they were doing was for King and country (or fuhrer and country if you like) and nobody needs it thrown in their faces that they were very much being fed lies and propaganda. Though had they been on the winning side, would it have been different? Given that it has since come to light that in 1944 a large faction of the Nazi party were planning to overthrow Hitler, would the Reich have gone as far as set out in Mein Kampf? Would they have stopped the systematic slaughter of Jews, Gypsies, and political dissidents? Or would they have operated in the same way as the Soviet Union did, and Red China still does. We will never know. As to whether there was another way to finish the war other than D-Day, history again suggests not. Though as mentioned, the Reich may have torn itself apart, but allied forces had no way of knowing that.

This however, was not intended to be a what if? History lesson, although it is a bit. I then decided to have a go with the double standard argument, since Hitler's dream of a thousand year Reich, and lebensraum for the German people was possibly based on various Empires. Particularly the British Empire, on which the Sun never sets (sorry, it's a commonwealth now, is that a better thing?) The war that put the coffin nails in the great empires, world war one, had left Germany with nothing but huge reparations to pay, and their lands split up amongst the other empires. The German people were not likely to take it for long, had it not been Hitler, some other leader would have done something, the second world war was inevitable from the shambles that was the treaty of Versailles. Which is a shame, as had things been dealt with better in 1918, the world would be a better place today, and we wouldn't have had to have the replay. I would like to think that the end of the second world war marks the end of aggressive imperialism in the world, but it's too early to say yet.

After all my wonderings about Hitler's position on Empire, and Britain's own colonial past, which is far from pleasant, I posited the question, do the Zulus mark the anniversary of their brief victory at Isandlwana? Do the Sioux nation mark theirs at Little Big Horn? Of course, I scoffingly assumed that they would have more dignity than that. I was wrong, but they certainly do have dignity, and still mark these occasions, despite having ultimately lost against the occupying forces they were opposing, as you can see here.
and here
That's how wrong I was, you can remember massacres with dignity.

At which point I started to think that these anniversary remembrances are not so crass after all. I looked at the numbers, and there were at least 9000 (up to 11000) killed from the “winning” side, against, between 500 and 3000 (depending on your source) on the losing side. Apparently it is a question of percentages when you're playing the game of war, check Rourke's Drift for another force that were hopelessly outnumbered, but pulled through (although they had a significant advantage). And then at lunchtime, I put the TV on, and saw some of the guys who were there telling their stories. And there are none so humble as these chaps, they have tears in their eyes still as they tell of the hell they had to live through, mostly with a few gags thrown in, and a couple of chuckles. I have nothing but respect for those who were sent off to die as cannon fodder in the political machinations of their leaders. It would be nice to think this wouldn't happen any more, but sadly we still convince our young men that they are fighting for the good of all, when they are mostly fighting for corporate interests. And we send them off to die in foreign lands, while ironically, increasing the chances of domestic terrorism with the same decision.

I suspect it is the twenty four hour news culture that makes it all that little bit grating for me. Were it a tasteful service on the beaches for the veterans and their families from all sides, and then everyone shakes hands, tells a few stories and has a nice day out I would doubtless have had no problems at all. But a whole day of BBC1 given over to a huge world-wide media circus, with world leaders and their wives in nice dresses making moving speeches seems horrendously over blown. Grief porn if you like. Hours and hours of moving montages with rousing music, and Huw Edwards smiling benignly through the whole thing, if you want to bury bad news, do it today please. Constantly being told we must be grateful for the world we live in because so many died for it is slightly patronising, particularly coming from the ruling classes who are systematically trying to dismantle everything that generation achieved for us. By all means have small tasteful remembrance services, but these TV spectaculars are tasteless, crass and frankly insulting to the dead, who were more likely fighting in the hopes that they wouldn't get killed rather than for any future generations.

This TV coverage showed wide-eyed children being shown the landing beaches, and eager to learn about the great sacrifices made that day to keep us all free. I sincerely hope that this is true, and kids today have learned from the past. I remember myself and my brother on beaches in France with war time fortifications on them, and rather than being eager to learn of great sacrifices, we made machine gun noises at each other and shouted “Die you Nazi bastard!” while playing our merry war games. But it was the 80s, and we had been raised on a steady diet of Victor, Eagle, and Commando comics, with a sprinkling of war movies like a Bridge too Far, the Longest Day, the Great Escape, the Dam-busters, and Bridge over the River Kwai. All fine pieces of art, but not unpartisan, and faintly jingoistic. I hope that the current generation of kids are brought up in a more tolerant way, but I suspect they play at terrorists and still pretend to die while one of them shouts “ack-ack-ack-ack-ack” and “Die you Muslim bastard” at them. And with the world cup fast approaching, I would like the playground to be devoid of the chant “Two world wars and one world cup, doo da, doo da” but I will probably be disappointed. After all, the England supporters band still play the theme from the Great Escape at matches, I'd like to think it's because it's a jolly rousing tune, but I suspect I am wrong there as well.

A chap posted this on a Billy Bragg thread earlier, which kind of sums up how many of us feel when we see the many and various union jack and poppy tinged posts about the massacres on social media, particularly when linked to odious groups like Britain First, and I repeat it here for you, as it helped me to get through it all,

While we commemorate the brave soldiers from all the allied countries, including the commonwealth, who fought on D-Day, let’s also take a moment to remember what they were fighting for. It was not for ‘patriotism’, Britain or anti-Europeanism. It was a fight against Fascism and all it entails.
When ‘Britain First’, the EDL, the BNP, UKIP or any of the racist and bigoted factions try and hijack that fight for their own political agenda it makes me sick. The sacrifice that those courageous men made was in response to an evil man who exploited antipathy towards Jews, Gypsies, Ethnic minorities, Gays, Unions and the Unemployed to control the population and who offered hatred as a solution to his country’s problems. These groups wish to peddle the same ultra-right ideology and the fact that they choose to do so by exploiting the very men who fought against such prejudice and intolerance is shameful. WW2 was described as the war to end all wars. Sadly humans still continue to destroy each other in armed conflicts the world over but Europe, at least, has lived without war since. If we return to days of obsessive and subjective patriotism, hatred of other races and colours, intolerance of religious or sexual persuasion and the demonization of the unemployed, the poor and the needy then we truly do dishonour every man that lost his life on those beaches on that day 70 years ago. Say NO to Fascism – that’s how I will commemorate them.”

Now I heartily endorse this (although I think he means western Europe, the eastern half has not been so lucky) but with all the propaganda being thrown around by both sides back in the war, I don't think any of us can truly second guess the motives behind each and every soldier fighting. Every man there fought for his own personal reasons, most were probably just trying to make sure their homes and families were safe. Some of them may have just been doing it because that was what they felt they should do, after all, they weren't cowards. A lot of them may have had no idea why they were there, and suddenly found themselves in a world of bullets, shells, blood and death with no idea how to cope with it, and were fighting just to stay alive. Had I been alive then, I would almost certainly have been a conscientious objector, and ostracised for my dangerous strain of pacifism. I worry today that those right wing groups who are just “saying what we're all thinking” are employing the very same hate tactics that the National Socialist Party of Germany did 80 years ago. After all, I doubt all their supporters thought they were racists either, but those Jews eh? Can't trust them, you know what they're like. Trying to infiltrate our schools with their Sharia laws....

Anyhow, I wanted to remember the people involved in the D-Day landings, who shouldn't have had to be there in the first place. Moved around like puppets by a ruling class (on both sides) desperately clinging to empires that no longer existed. If only Hitler had written back to Gandhi. 

I leave you with a story from my friend Devlin Butler about his father who was on the beaches of Normandy 70 years ago, it brought a tear to my eye.

On this day in history;
The Normandy beach invasion began and a certain SGT Arthur William Butler (My Dad) and his friends and squad members took to the beach in the first wave of the Normandy invasion. My dad never really spoke about the war or that day much the only thing he really said was "it was hell".
We all know roughly what happened we know of the heavy machine gun fire the countless losses etc. but on this day while most focus on the loss and devastation, I can not help but smile as I remember one of the only things my father ever told me about that day, it is not the graphic detail or the sheer horror knowing about four thousand allied troops died this day that makes me smile, only a completely deranged head case would find that even remotely amusing, but I will explain what does.
So, picture the scene, before even getting to the beach under heavy mortar fire, then hitting the beach still under mortar fire but now within range of the heavy machine guns, friends, comrades gunned down or blown to bits right next to you, everyone trying to get through the water which is now pretty much nothing but blood and bodies to find a defensible spot to take cover behind and get their bearings, somehow my father managed to do that.
So there he is pinned down behind a rock by machine gun fire in his words "The army makes a man of you and puts things into perspective, I thought this was the day I was going to die". So with this in mind, my father who was always very down to earth a complete realist decided in his wisdom that if this was the day he was going to die he was not going to die hungry, and in his webbing he had secured two (I forget if they were pork or lamb off hand) chops and a hard boiled egg, when he told me this I said "but dad? isn't webbing for ammunition etc.?" he said "yes, but there is always room for food" (my dad liked his food lol) and so he proceeded to eat them right there behind that rock being shot at by the German army.
And so, he finished his little picnic (as I call it) and continued to fight on, he survived that day and counted himself fortunate for the rest of his life, he died a few years ago of a brain tumour, pretty much the last thing my mom, myself or anyone who knew him even considered would be the end of him, his final words to me were "Do not cry, I have no regrets"
When people think about war (those who have never experienced it and hopefully never will) the first thoughts are usually the loss of lives, the bravery and heroism etc., and while these are things that are worth thinking about, also remember, all those who fought died were normal people the same as you or I. If you were in that situation, thinking this was your last day on earth surviving all that had come before and knowing you had to charge into the mouth of hell would you have had enough foresight to have packed something to eat? again in my fathers words "To die is one thing, to die in the service of your country is expected, but to die hungry is something else completely".
R.I.P. All of those who gave their lives that day and throughout the whole of WW2
R.I.P. SGT Arthur William Butler (my hero in so many ways, my father)

Monday 2 June 2014

The ghost of John Peel hates 6music as much as I do

In all the furore this week over the Radio one playlist meeting that was documented in the Guardian (you may not realise there was a furore about it, I didn't until somebody linked me to an article about the furore in an unrelated place, and then another one after that, I then had a look, and discovered that there in my cup of tea, was a raging storm of obvious. I was more surprised that nobody at Radio one was taking massive bribes to play such dreary, antiseptic drones all day). I realised that my long standing hatred of playlists could do with being written about. Interestingly (or not, depending on your viewpoint) I was going to write about the radio making me hate bands very quickly after really liking them anyway.

Here's a little background, I spend a disproportionately large amount of time listening to the radio. Really, all day from 8:30am until 5pm, sat at work, I have the radio on. Have done for a very large proportion of my adult life, as it is the only way to get through the painfully dull working day. And the thing I have noticed most is that the playlisted songs (those that are played on every single one of the daytime shows) go very quickly from being my very favourites, to being utterly hated. Familiarity really does breed contempt in many cases.

Normal people, who listen to the radio in the car in the mornings and evenings on their way to work, will tell me how much they are enjoying a new playlisted record. Because they hear it at most, twice a day, and generally, not even that much. I hear these damn things at least four times a day, five days a week, and if they stay on the playlist, then this can go on for months. The most recent casualty being the new Royal Blood single, which is sad, as I really liked them. And now I don't.

This can all go back to the summer of 1993, when two bands became utterly hated due to over exposure. Those bands were the Levellers and Rage against the machine, both of whom I really liked at the beginning of the year, when I first heard them. By the end of the summer, where every party I had been to, and every place I had been hanging out as one can only do when you're 16, had been endlessly playing those two albums, I hated them. With a passion. Twenty years later I can happily listen to them again, without flinching. The same thing happened with Nirvana, Guns and Roses, and any other band that were overly popular at any point. I am often accused of musical snobbery for my dislike of the current trends, and there may be a grain of truth in that, but it's more often than not that I get bored of hearing the same thing over and over again really quickly.

When I got a proper job, we had Radio one on in the factory all day long, and to begin with, I was being happily brainwashed into buying albums by the bands they endlessly played. I even bought the Ocean Colour Scene album on the back of “The Day We Caught The Train”. I bought a lot of god-awful brit-pop, and I can only claim that I was 18, and therefore stupid, and without taste. Shortly afterwards, however, the self-same endless radio play led me to sell most of these albums, as I was sick of them. Especially Ocean bloody Colour Scene, and their utterly insipid tedious dirges. There's probably a chance that if I'd only heard these tracks a couple of times a day, I'd have been joining in with all the recent brit-pop nostalgia, hell, I might even enjoy the music of Blur and Oasis, but that's stretching things a bit.

I was brought up to speed on how important technology is now by a seventeen year old of my acquaintance (no names, privacy is respected here still) who when told that somebody's parents didn't have any internet access, said “But how do they listen to music?” Which obviously got a few laughs, and was then changed to “But how do they discover new music?” which made me think a bit more. Now obviously, these are people in their 60s, and as we know, people of that age don't want to discover new music thank you very much. Not all of them, but a fair proportion I suspect, if my own parents are anything to go by. But if you are so inclined, there is now an absolute avalanche of new music available in just a click. I think if that had been around when I was a kid, I would have never got anything useful done, just sat around listening to new tunes. Not necessarily a bad thing. I was surprised that the afore-mentioned seventeen year old couldn't think of any alternative though, stuff does change quickly these days.

The only place to hear really interesting, new and exciting music when I was a kid, was John Peel in the evenings. Now, I suspect, Zane Lowe is filling that void (don't shoot me, I know he'll never be Peel, but he does play some good tunes at times). When we were young, you either heard it on Peel, or you had a mate who somehow had all kinds of weird, interesting records that they would tape off for you. I had quite a lot of mates like that, and I thank each and every one of them for the many strange and exciting records they got me into. I also spent a huge amount of time sitting in a local second hand record shop, listening to the stock with the friendly owner, and went through a phase of buying records based on whatever had the most interesting cover, and was super cheap. That really was the only way to get into different music back then kids, you could read the music press, but unless there was a tape or a flexi disc free with it, you had to imagine what they sounded like, and when you finally got to hear them (after saving up your pennies, and picking one of the many albums you wanted to buy, and buying it, major investments back then) you would be disappointed (except for the Dogs D'Amour, they sounded as awesomely cool as they looked).

Now, a few years ago, I invested in a DAB for work, as the years of Radio 2 (no Steve Wright, it is not ok to talk over the guitar solo at the end of Rainbow's Since You Been Gone, and you need to tell the audience what the record they just heard was called, and who it was, I hate you with a passion you can only dream of) and Radio 1 had left me hollowed out and hating all new music. I now had 6music, which was like a whole day of John Peel, briefly. And then I noticed the playlisting was taking over, and for the most part, every daytime show was playing the same songs over and over again at me, and it made me sad again.

It is the best of a bad bunch though, and you can easily tell the records that the DJ has picked themselves. Because Lamacq will never ever stop playing bland mid-90s indie music whenever he gets the chance, Laverne cannot resist Riot-Grrrrl, and Keaveny still has a Who obsession that cannot be quelled. It is a little like my first discovery of Radio 2, around the turn of the millennium, they played the Who, they played Zeppelin, and not the bland insufferable white noise that was being called new music, and being blasted across radio 1 at the time. But that got old, as Radio 2 are still playing the same songs now that they pulled me in with back then.

Why must those of us who listen all day be force fed the same thing over and over again? Why are evening listeners so special that they get the interesting stuff? I've been listening all day, I don't want to listen all evening as well, I want the good stuff in the daytime. And yes, I know, iPlayer, but I like the real time aspect of radio, we are all listening together, and the DJ is talking to me, and we are all in the same gang. I can tweet/text/email the DJ, and he/she might read out what I have said, and maybe reply. I like all that. I want more music that they have picked especially for me, and not stuff that they have been told to play because some crazy statistician has said that is what the target demographic would enjoy. I know I could make my own playlists, and listen to music I want, and have listened to before, and I could use the spotify algorithms for music I might enjoy, based on music I have already heard. But I pay my license fee so somebody else can do that for me. Make the daytimes like the evening and weekend shows 6music, we listen because we like new interesting stuff, if we wanted the same playlisted shite over and over again, we would still be listening to Radio 1.