When The Wheels Touch Ground

It is an obvious truth that none of us has ever been older than we are today. But do we always feel our age? Over recent months I’ve been ill a fair bit, and have been feeling way short of my best, but that had never made me feel old. But, last Friday, I did. The reason for that is shown in this post from my Instagram that evening:

For anyone who doesn’t know of it, Glastonbury is the biggest music festival in the UK. It began in 1970, when it was more of a hippy trip than a fully blown extravaganza, but has grown to the point where it sells out 200,000 tickets at around £200 each, within hours, and without having announced any of the acts who will be playing. I guess the punters want to be there so much that they’re happy to take the risk that over six stages and four days there will be something to make the financial investment worthwhile, not to mention the privations of living in a tent in what are usually fields of mud – though not this year, as the weather gods smiled.

In all honesty, I’ve never really been a fan of music in the open air. Call me a boring old traditionalist, but there is something about an indoor venue with good acoustics which I find unbeatable – for me, it isn’t the same when the music just wafts away into the air. The nearest I’ve ever got to a festival was the Isle of Wight in 1970 – the UK’s answer to Woodstock from the previous year. A group of us had planned to ride our motor scooters to the festival but in the end it didn’t happen. I think it was something to do with our mums finding out! In the mid 70s the local council in Harlow, where I lived at the time, ran several free concerts in the Town Park. I remember seeing Thin Lizzy there in 1975, Fairport Convention and (ahem) Mud in 1976 – we only went to see Mud as the DJ between acts was the guy who we’d had at our wedding the previous year, honest! After that, memory is a little hazier, though I think we saw the Glitter Band (without the disgraced one) and the Real Thing, amongst others – my ex-wife’s musical taste was a lot more pop-oriented than mine! There were also rumours that an up and coming band called AC/DC were going to play, but that may be apocryphal and they didn’t show up anyway. It may have been the acts we saw, but for most of the shows I found myself people watching, and as the music was far from memorable my view of open air concerts had been set in stone in the canyons of my mind (bonus points if you get that reference!)

But I digress. Back to Glastonbury last weekend. Although I’ve long felt that the festival has moved miles from its roots and is now no more than a giant moneymaker, paying the bands far less than they would get elsewhere because they know it looks good on their CV, the television coverage by the BBC has expanded too, and I usually enjoy some of what they offer. So, as usual, I tuned in last Friday. My first thought was that the presenters were awful. Firstly, there was Jo Whiley, who was wearing a dress made out of those silver wraps they give marathon runners after a race, set off by a pair of off-white baseball boots and black ankle socks. She’s only 51 after all, so maybe she hasn’t fully developed dress sense yet. And I found her giggly school kid act too much to bear. With her was a guy who looked like the love child of Julianne Moore and Mick Hucknall – to my eyes he was a bearded hipster twat. I couldn’t find a sick bag, but was relieved when they actually stopped gushing and telling us how ‘awesome’ everyone was (how I hate that word!) and played some music. Firstly, Kris Kristoffersen, whose songs I’ve enjoyed for many years. Sadly, he was showing every one of his 81 years, and looked and sounded awful. I tried their other channel, which was showing the band Elbow. To be fair, I’ve never understood their popularity, and this performance did nothing to change that: feeble vocals, over tuneless dirges which all sounded the same and dragged interminably. But Jo and the Bearded Twat told me that Elbow were, you guessed it, awesome – so I began thinking that maybe it was me. It was at that point that I took to Instagram. Maybe you can see how I felt, and there were still two days of potential disappointment to come!

I know, I can hear you saying it was my choice to watch and I could have switched over, but the event promised so much and there is that feeling of not wanting to miss out on the good bits. So, like a hapless victim, I tuned in again on Saturday. I saw some of the sets by the Kaiser Chiefs – always fun – and Katy Perry – one of those pop acts that I think shouldn’t be there. Not really my cup of tea, and not a patch on Lady Gaga when she played there some years ago – she really does know how to put on a show wearing silly clothes! For me, the main attraction was always going to be the Saturday headliners: the Foo Fighters. They aren’t to everyone’s taste, and you need to switch off the swearometer when Dave Grohl speaks, but boy do they put on a show! Two hours twenty minutes flew by in a flash, and suddenly all was right in my Glastonbury world again. Sunday was a bit of a let down, though – Barry Gibb was passable, the Killers a little off par, and as for the headline act – Ed Sheeran – sorry, but I just found him incredibly tedious.

I’ve looked at the BBC’s website to catch up on acts I missed, but there was nothing that really took my fancy. So, that looks like that for another year – well, two actually, as 2018 is one of their ‘fallow’ years when they give the Worthy Farm cows a chance to recover from their deafness. But at least I have the memories of Saturday night. They even played this one, which they don’t always do, and as it is my favourite of theirs that was a real bonus:

As the man says, ‘when the wheels touch ground’ you’re ready for another round in life. And as I’ve often said that music possesses restorative powers, I’m happy to confirm that I’m not feeling quite so old any more 😊

Building A Wall?

With apologies to Pink Floyd:

“We don’t need no new election,

We don’t need no thought control;

No deeper schism in our country,

Leader, leave us plebs alone!”

I really don’t think of myself as a particularly political person, far less a political blogger, but for the second time this month I feel I just have to vent my thoughts on what is going on. A few days ago, our Prime Minister, Theresa May, called a snap general election. This was despite her saying publicly on five occasions that she would not go for an election any sooner than 2020, as required by law. May became Prime Minister after the debacle of our referendum last summer, and was anointed by her party without an election, as the other candidates engaged in collective self-destruction. She faced pressure at the time to hold a general election, to ratify her credentials to lead the country, but withstood this. Since then, she has ditched her tepid support for the Remain camp and is leading a party which is moving relentlessly further to the right, and somehow seems to have redefined a narrow majority in the referendum into a mandate for what is known as a ‘hard Brexit.’ In other words, her aim is to break as many ties as possible with the European Union, seemingly on the basis of dogma rather than any practical or economic common sense. After all, why just have a simple car crash when you could drive the car at great speed off the highest cliff?

I’ve written recently, in The Ongoing Nightmare, about my concerns for the UK’s post-Brexit future, and won’t repeat myself here. Let’s just say that I don’t believe that the ‘information’ on which voters based their decision was anywhere near sufficiently detailed for a hard Brexit definition to be interpreted as what people voted for. Indeed, there has been some reporting of disquiet, along the lines of ‘that’s not what I voted for,’ but this has been fairly muted, largely because the media in this country – particularly the press – is of a right wing persuasion. I use the term ‘right wing,’ but I could actually have used words like insular, jingoistic, xenophobic or fascist. All apply, as evidenced by the Daily Mail’s front page headline:

I wonder if they realised that the original use of that phrase was by Lenin, in the context of opposition to the Russian Revolution. There is a certain irony in there, as that approach in 1917 led to widespread state control. I hope that history doesn’t repeat itself, albeit at the other end of the political spectrum. For non-British readers, that paper is the worst exponent of fascist ‘reporting’ – after all, it did declare support for Hitler during the 1930s, so it is keeping up its own tradition.

So why has the PM decided to go for an election now? Wouldn’t it have been fairer, if she was seeking some kind of ratification of her approach to Brexit, to have done this before Article 50 was enacted? Yes, of course it would, but although that is what she implied in her announcement of the election, I’m sceptical. Politicians tell lies, it’s how they seem to fulfil their role, and I think that was another. The real reason for the election now is a combination of opportunism and expediency. For expediency, there are growing signs that if she had waited until 2020 we could be suffering the economic fallout from a poor result from the negotiations to leave the EU, and her small parliamentary majority would be at risk from that. As for opportunism – the main opposition party is in a state of electoral disarray, and I suspect May believes she could win a landslide on the strength of this. The Labour Party has saddled itself with a leader who enjoys only minority support amongst his own parliamentary colleagues, and although he welcomed the chance to put his policies to the vote this cartoon from The Times rather sums that up:

© Times Newspapers

Corbyn has already ruled out a second referendum, and by doing so he appears to me to have given up the opportunity to offer a significant difference, and a home for disgruntled voters from the referendum. In the unlikely event of a Labour win, Brexit would still happen, and he might not be able to achieve a better deal than May could. The Conservatives will also expect to pick up votes from UKIP, who will be likely to lose much of their protest vote value. Our system means that you can get a landslide with around 42% of the vote if you do well in the right constituencies and they are polling better than that at present. Whilst there is still a lot of opposition to Brexit I think that is unlikely to translate into Parliamentary seats – I just don’t see how it could. I’d love to be proved wrong though, and there are already suggestions about tactical voting to achieve this. As I live in a constituency that had a 54% Conservative vote at the 2015 election, with UKIP in second place, I think it unlikely that would work here but there are better targets, so I can but hope.

Assuming that the Government does achieve a significant increase in its majority – a landslide is usually taken to mean an overall majority greater than 100, and this seems possible – what kind of country will we be? Parallels have been drawn between our referendum and the US election. One of Trump’s promises was, in effect, to become a much more insular country, becoming more self-sufficient and threatening tariffs on overseas goods. May has been cosying up to that abomination of a human being, and it is to be hoped that she isn’t thinking along the same lines. We will lose current access to EU markets and will have to rely on World Trade Organisation rules, as a small nation with a pressing need to negotiate trade deals with countries who would have no particular incentive to change their current arrangements and trade with us. This isn’t a strong position, despite the optimistic guff spouted by the three government ministers in charge of the process, and today’s news that the US will prioritise trade deals with the EU over the UK confirms our weakness. Trump is also infamous for his promise to build a wall to keep out the ‘bad hombres’ he believes are intent on rape and pillage. We have a natural boundary – the ocean – so being insular is, by definition, much easier for us. I hope that isn’t the plan, as we aren’t big enough as a country to survive, even without the likely loss of contributions from multinational companies who will probably scale back their commitments to Britain when the tariffs kick in. I just hope this election isn’t, all in all, just another brick in our own wall, as we would lose out – we would be isolating ourselves, not insulating.

In her speech announcing the election May said ‘our country is coming together.’ If she really believes that, then she must be living in La La Land! The 48% who voted against Brexit don’t feel that, and I’m pretty sure that many of the 52% who did are having second thoughts about the effect of their vote and the path the country is now following. In two years we will be outside the EU, in what I believe will be a significantly worse state than while we have been a member, and that is not a recipe for creating a united country – and there is the Scottish independence question to consider too. Joni Mitchell put it best: ‘you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone.’

A further concern is that the electorate will suffer some kind of fatigue – this will, after all, be our third major election in successive years. This view was put well by ‘Brenda from Bristol’ when told by a BBC reporter that another election was coming:

I’m not sure that this should be a reason not to vote, but I can understand her frustration. Historically, low election turnouts have worked in favour of the Conservatives so I’m hoping the electorate aren’t all like Brenda, sweet though she may be. Perhaps Theresa May factored that into her decision as well? She showed herself to be a canny political opportunist in the way she became party leader last year, so I wouldn’t rule that out.

As you can tell, I’m not feeling optimistic about this country’s future. I’d love to be proved wrong, but somehow I doubt it. Try googling ‘Teresa May,’ i.e. without the ‘h.’ I know which one I’d prefer was screwing the country!

#SaturdaySongs No.8 – Ring Out, Solstice Bells

Continuing my theme of songs related to this month, today’s #SaturdaySong is this one:

Unlike the other songs in this series, there isn’t a personal story attached to this one. I’m including it because it has always been a favourite of mine at this time of year. It was released in 1976 and was an unashamed attempt by Ian Anderson, the leader of Jethro Tull, to make a catchy, commercial song that would generate airplay and sales in the pre-Christmas period. To an extent he succeeded, as it reached the dizzy heights of no.28 in the UK charts, and I don’t think it charted anywhere else to any great degree either. But it has become one of the pop standards for Christmas and features on many a compilation album. It is actually about the winter solstice rather than Christmas itself, but that’s still good enough for me to include it!

This was actually Jethro Tull’s third Christmas record – they had previously released both A Christmas Song and Another Christmas Song (I kid you not!). Neither of those bothered the chart statisticians, though both are still available on the Jethro Tull Christmas Album, along with Solstice Bells and many others – I commend it to you, it’s a lovely record. The band is still going strong in its latest incarnation, and there is a live recording also available of a Christmas concert they performed in 2008 at St Brides Church in London. Sadly, I didn’t see that, but I did see them in 2010 and they were a delight: a huge back catalogue to draw from, and the wry wit of Anderson in between the music. But as the gig was in summer there were no Christmas songs on the set list.

This song is among many without which my Christmas wouldn’t seem complete, and I really should get round to compiling a proper playlist at some point! The nearest I’ve got to this is on YouTube, where you’ll find my playlist of #ChristmasSongADay for your perusal and delectation. I started this last year, and shared a song a day (just like it says on the tin!) from 1-25 December. I’m doing it again this year, both on Twitter and for those of you who have made the excellent choice of being my friend on Facebook. Links are to the right. And as it’s the season of goodwill and I’m feeling especially generous, I’m going to leave you with a video that was made especially for a BBC TV programme to promote the song. I think it fits rather well.

I hope you have enjoyed this brief stroll through my Christmas Past. See you again next week – it’s a cracker, I promise!