Saturday, 28 May 2016

With Apologies to Bob Dylan

Seeing as it was Dylan's 75th birthday this week (and anyone who doesnt like at least one Dylan song is lying btw) and the Chilcot report is imminent, I tried to combine the two with a rewrite of one of my own favourite Dylan songs.

It's all over now, Tony Blair

You must sssh now, save your words, the time’s arrived.
But whatever you wish to say, it’s not a time for lies
Yonder lie the orphans in the sun
Stolen from their parents by your gun
Look out Chilcot’s bout to lay it bare
And it's all over now, Tony Blair.

The dossiers were dodgy, still you spread alarm
So take what you have gathered from Kazakhstan
The suicidal expert neath the tree
Is waiting for your date with history.
Those WMD’s were simply never there
And it's all over now, Tony Blair.

All your wounded sailors, some without a home
Sit unloved and unwanted like a millennial dome.
The bodyguards that stand outside your door
Will not take bullets for you anymore.
You went to war before the enemy was there,
And it's all over now, Tony Blair.

Leave London behind, the Hague it calls for you
Forget the dead you've left, they will not follow you
The hate cleric who’s preaching holy war
Is standing in the clothes that you once wore
A million dead but you simply didn’t care
And it's all over now, Tony Blair.

Tuesday, 24 May 2016


There’s a guy I pass every morning on my way to work. I don’t know his name, age wise I’m guessing somewhere in his thirties. Possibly younger. Sleeping rough will age you pretty quick I’d imagine. Most people pass him, don’t stop, too busy, morning commute, worries of their own. I get that. Occasionally I do the same.

About a fortnight ago, I saw a couple of guys shout a ton of abuse at him. I didn’t challenge them. I wish I was brave enough but I’m not. But I gave the homeless guy a couple of quid and muttered some kind of platitudinous nonsense about hanging in there. Before I could get up, the guy shook me by the hand and thanked me and told me to have a good day.

Anyway, I make a point now of checking in on him each morning. He doesn’t beg. He doesn’t shout abuse or stink of drink. He just sits quietly, staring at the reconstruction of our city’s transport hub. I stop by, wish him well, and give him a couple of quid or a coffee from the Starbucks next door.

Over the weekend I mentioned this guy to my wife. We know full well how easy it is to find yourself in that situation. A couple of years back, through no fault of our own, we were evicted because our landlord had been caught cheating on his partner and was forced to move out of the family home.  He’d grown up in the house we rented and was able to evict us (and our 9 year old daughter) on grounds of his own impending destitution.

Nowhere comes up for rent at Christmas. The local authority said they could put us up in a hostel thirty miles away. Our bond turned out to be next to useless as the landlord hadn’t registered it with the deposit scheme as he hadn’t informed his mortgage company of his renting out to us.

Anyway, to cut a long story short, a kindly friend of a friend put us up in her granny flat for 6 months. She didn’t know us, met us the once when she heard of our impending destitution and put us up. Charged us a pathetic fee for the electric and water and said we could stay as long as we wanted. An act of kindness that I cannot possibly ever come close to repaying and one I will never forget.

It’s all too easy to slip through the safety net now that the government has cut the webbing. Claimants are scroungers, benefits are a burden to the taxpayer and the system is now so wedded to a labyrinthine set of rules and regulations that it’s easier to be sanctioned for being over paid than it is to make a successful claim in the first place.

Anyway, I digress. I mentioned the homeless guy to my wife and last night, she made up a small hamper to take to him. Nothing fancy, just some fruit, a couple of sandwiches and some bottles of water. So I give this to him this morning but I don’t want to just hand him a bag of food and fuck off. Least I can do is find out a little about him, shoot the shit for a second.

6 months ago, Lee had a job. And a flat.  And one day he got ill. Phoned in sick. Presumed it a stomach bug. It didn’t get any better. Collapses at home, gets rushed to hospital. After a few days it’s revealed to be Crohn’s disease. There are some long term implications for him and some immediate complications to try to remedy. He spends 10 weeks in hospital. During which time he loses his job and his landlord evicts him for non-payment of rent. Eventually well enough to leave hospital, he discovers that his life has turned to shit.

The local authority decides he has made himself “intentionally homeless” meaning they don’t have to look after him. The DWP decide likewise. So Lee’s life is entirely dependent on people handing him food and money. He isn’t so much caught in the cycle as kicked out of it completely.

We used to give a fuck about people in this country. And now we don’t. We buy the occasional Big Issue, text a fiver to Comic Relief and tell ourselves we’ve done our bit. The fifth richest country in the world lets people die on the streets because it’s easier for a junior civil servant to hide behind a piece of procedure than do something human.

I’m a prick, trust me. I wanted to walk away from my chat feeling like I’d done something to help this guy out for a few hours. I walked away in tears, disgusted at my own inadequacy, shocked by his tacit acceptance of this unnecessary cruelty. What do we do?

This isn’t Tory bashing. This is the system. And it’s in this context that a Ken Loach film about victims of that system can win the Palme D’Or. The safety net is non-existent. People hide behind their mortgages, their holiday brochures and they kid themselves that they’re immune. Nothing can touch them. And it’s bullshit. With the rolling back of the social security program there has in turn come a reduction in people’s sympathy for those less fortunate than themselves. When we reduce acts of kindness to the pressing of a red button on your TV remote then it’s fucked. Empathy is just weakness leaving the bank account.

And then, I swear to God, this happened in front of me. I’m crossing the High Street down by the Philharmonic. A squirrel runs into the road in rush hour. It darts in between all the vehicles like it’s a cartoon. Before finally coming to rest before the front wheel of a Cardiff Bus at a red light. It sits there shuddering, exhausted. Soon the lights will change and it will surely be crushed. I’m screaming at the squirrel like a lunatic from the roadside. And it just won’t move. So I run away. I can’t bear to be around. I literally sprint 100 yards over into Custom House Street and I’m welling up.

Maybe the squirrel will have come to its senses. Maybe it made its way safely to the pavement once I’d stopped screaming. Or maybe, like Lee, like thousands of Lees across this rich and pleasant land, it sits there and waits for the inevitable.




Thursday, 12 May 2016

The Return of the Roses

I don't listen to the radio much these days. I wait till Mother's out. She only leaves on pension days or if there's a funeral .

Anyway, here's what happened. I remember it like it was yesterday. Which it was. So, it's pension day and it's the usual rigmarole. Mother's found two reasons to leave the house at once. She's just heard Elsie Blenkinsop is being cremated at St Anne's Friday week. The hallway smells of Mr Sheen and the disability scooter is gleaming.

"Who's Elsie Blenkinsop?" I asked.

"You know Elsie. She lives with her daughter Karen in Rossiter Street. She wears a cagoul all weathers and plays the triangle in the Salvation Army outside Cancer Research."

Still none the wiser. I'm more of a YMCA man myself.

"They're cremating her at St Anne's. I need a new hat. If there's not one in town, I might get the train to Leeds."

I said, 'Leeds. Mother, you've not set foot in Leeds since Dad bought that Millenium Bug book in Waterstones there’

£14.99 it was. My father thought his toaster and microwave would both retire at the century's end. Mother made him take it back. She made quite the scene. I hadn't heard language like that in a shop in all my life. Well, not since Betty Wombwell's colostomy bag had exploded all over the pic and mix in Woolworths.

She said, 'It’s fine. I'll be alright. Maureen Hepplewhite from the Bingo. You know her. I'm meeting her outside TK Maxx. I won't venture into Leeds alone.’

I said, 'Well if Maureen Hepplewhite's going you better zip up your pockets." Maureen had taken to shoplifting like a duck to water since her husband had died plane spotting in Filey.

I kissed Mother on the cheek, as she settled herself down into what I secretly referred to as The Chariot.

A day to myself, how should I spend it? I switched on the radio, the digital one by the condiment rack. I selected 6Music, a little blast of excitement might inspire me. They'd just played a record by the Kaiser Chiefs, whose singer I'd once swam against in a schools gala near Hunslet, when it was announced that this evening there would be an exclusive play of the first Stone Roses single in 22 years.

A modest Proustian rush. 19. Just sacked from the local tailors for poor tie keeping. On my way home I bumped into Michael Simmonite and his sister Paula. Twins. They'd both gone to university that summer. He was doing Geography in Lancaster and she was doing everyone in the UEA.  They were wearing tie dye tshirts and flared jeans. They looked ridiculous.

Anyway, they were keen to tell me all about "uni" and we went to the nearest pub for a pint and a ham roll. It was only half one. I felt decadent. It didnt suit me. Anyway, Paula goes over to the jukebox and puts some money on. First song crackles through The Dusty Farmboy's rickety speakers.

The song was "One Love" by the Stone Roses. I didn't care much for music, I'd been exposed to Showaddywaddy as a young boy and presumed it to be punk rock. Which, to all extents and purposes, I suppose it was. Anyway, what with an undigested ham roll in my system and the best part of a half of mild in me, I got quite carried away and started tapping my foot. One thing led to another and five pints later, I was, well I won't say violated. But there was a distinct lack of consent on my part and Paula was a big girl. She threw shot for West Riding and there had been talk of an appearance on Look North.

Anyway, the years pass and all I have to show for a record collection is a car boot purchase of the best of the Stone Roses. Mother never liked music and she took Dad's Mantovanis to the Harelip Relief shop.

The day passes without incident, Mother was out looking for a hat, and I spent several hours failing to add an extra hole to my brown belt. Suddenly there's a commotion. The doorbell rings and it's Mother, she can't find her key and her face could pass for a strawberry compote.

"What's happened?"

"I tell you what's happened, I have just spent three hours and forty minutes in the police station in Leeds."

"What? Were you mugged?"

"No, but that Maureen Hepplewhite should be strung up. She's only stolen the charity dog off the PDSA counter. Stuffed it in my rear basket."

I felt a shiver.

"I'll put the kettle on, Mother."

As I retreated to the safety of the kitchen I could hear my mother shouting out down the centuries - "Your father's working late", "Your nan's died", "Your tea's gone cold", "The police let her off with a caution." I reached for the tea caddy and spooned three large heaps into the pot. My mother doesn't like tea bags, says they remind her of nappies. The tea caddy's got a picture of Napoli on it for reasons I've never fathomed. Nearest my mother's got to the Bay of Naples was when she won a year's supply of Dolmio in Take A Break.

I switch the radio on and, as luck would have it, the DJ announces the Stone Roses new record is coming on. I fetch Mother's cup from the draining board and a packet of Rich Tea from the cupboard. The music starts and I'm about to lose myself in another slice of what could have been when the moment is broken by Mother's arrival at the serving hatch.

"Turn this shit off Alan."

"Yes, mother."


Monday, 9 May 2016

A Moon-Shaped Pool.

Radiohead, those purveyors of sticking it to the man stadium paranoia,are back! And this time they brought some tunes! Well, kind of. Opener Burn the Witch is typical 21st century Radiohead fare - corporate menace in search of a tune, Thom crying out "This is a round up" in a manner similar to Kenneth Williams proclaiming "Infamy! They've all got it in for me." only with less convincing paranoia.

Daydreaming offers more of the same, except that with a melody half inched from Cats the Musical "Memories" it's hard to take seriously.  Even the sample at the end, which I presume is of the cop being reversed over in Happy Valley, seems unnecessary. This venture into what might be called Aphex Lloyd Webber characterises the album, a polite abrasiveness seeps through everything and it's both unsettling and unconvincing.
Like a lot of people, my introduction to this album came courtesy of BBC 6Music broadcasting it in it's entirety minutes after it's release. One track seemed like Radiohead had ventured into self parody - some posh bloke talking about politicians and terrorism over vague electro mumbles. It turned out to be the 730 news. (WINKS TO CAMERA).
Here and there, A Moon Shaped Pool hints at the influence of their rejected Bond theme in it's creation - Identikit especially, with its Duane Eddy riff and Spectoresque drums.
Tracks like Decks Dark and Desert Island Disk don't really do anything, except poke their head round the door and mumble Hi. Ful Stop is better, employing the same muscular skronk jazz of Kid A's The National Anthem, Present Tense introduces tropical Radiohead, far better and lovelier than that sounds, though admittedly more Man from Uncle than Girl from Ipanema.

Highlight though is Glass Eyes, part panic attack, part lullaby and all tune. Unsettling without being unlistenable, and proof that brevity is beautiful, it's something Radiohead might have considered for the rest of this infuriatingly inconsistent work.

Wednesday, 4 May 2016

The Hate List

About a year ago I tweeted a list of 100 things I hate the most. People seemed to like it. Here it is in full.

The 100 Things I Hate The Most.

100: Hats
99: The song "Breakfast at Tiffany's" by Deep Blue Something
98: Kirstie Allsopp
97: People who say "Glasto"
96: Team GB. Team anything.
95: The term green belt. Which means "dont reduce the value of my home" rather than "won't somebody think of the countryside"
94: Anybody over the age of 12 on a skateboard
93 People who put their middle finger and thumb to the side of their eyes to intimate a level of stress you cannot comprehend.
92 Football hipsters. Vintage Barcelona shirts, non league fanzines, all that shit.
91: Jeeps. Fuck off.
90: The film Pretty Woman. Unless its a subtle satire of Reaganite values. Which it isn't. And even then it would suck.
89: Childish menus in pubs. I'm here to obliterate myself. I don't want fucking Little Yummies. I want to drink till I'm sick.
88: Glamping. It's fucking camping. And camping is for paedophiles. And those poor bastards outside Calais. Get a hotel.
87: Vaping. You look like a dick. Get some dignity. Back on the cancersticks man.
86: That twat from Blur. No. Not him. The other one.