Trying to be Positive – Covid19 Lockup

“All our wisdom is stored in the trees.” ― Santosh Kalwar

If anyone has read my last few posts (links on the menu on the lower right) you will know that I have become very disillusioned with our world and the lack of people thinking critically about Covid-19. This excellent interview with Professor Sucharit Bhakdi sums up where we are now.

But in a rare spurt of positivity during Covid-19 ‘lockdown’ as it is euphemistically known I decided that I should do something to celebrate how lucky we are to live through this ‘house arrest’ in such a beautiful environment. To this end I thought I should take a photo that represented our current situation. Liz even modelled her bum for you (probably a first and last for this blog).

Liz has broken through the digital surveillance and is escaping the ‘new normal’!

We went to talk to the ancient oak trees that are at the top of our field behind the house. Liz walks up here most mornings to have a conversation with them. Possibly to tell them what a ‘stupid twat’ I am and probably because they are much more likely to give a sensible reply than your average human being at present.

“Whoever has learned how to listen to trees no longer wants to be a tree. He wants to be nothing except what he is. That is home. That is happiness.”― Herman Hesse

Walking back down I still can’t believe how lucky we are to live here in these current times. Indeed I can’t believe how lucky I am to have known Liz for nearly fifty years and how she is still my best friend.

Trees are magical in so many ways and a week or two ago our ancient wood was resplendent with bluebells as you can see below.

The rest of the valley where we live is a very special place. I can’t imagine the day we have to leave here because we have become too old, as one day we will if something else doesn’t get us before then.

Walking back down our field in this time of ‘house arrest’.

A year or two after we moved here we decided to plant several more acres of trees. You can read about that and see some photos in an early blog post here. Since then Ash ‘die back disease’ has killed many of the Ash trees we planted. Most of the others are doing alright and we fill in gaps and carry out some maintenance where we can. But overall a new wood is starting to emerge that will become home for wildlife and perhaps another human will come and talk to those trees when they are old and wise. Even the bluebells are slowly starting to naturally spread here. Perhaps the trees will tell them of the stupidity of humans in 2020.

Our woodland planting in 2020

Meanwhile down on the river Cothi which runs very close to our house the trees were a delight in their new spring green colours. This is a favourite picnic spoke sat on a rocky island that appears when the river is low. Just us watching the ‘pond skaters’ skating across the surface.

So that was Monday the 18th May 2020 when I decided to tell the handful of people in the world who might read this (in the midst of a man made disaster that will kill millions around the world, crash the world economy and herald in the ‘new normal’ of state surveillance, traumatised school children and enforced vaccination) that there is a chink where the light can can get in – but you will need to listen to the wisdom of trees to understand how to let it in.

Share

Covid 19 – Is the Cure Worse than the Disease?

At the time of writing the ‘rich’ world is in a state of panic because a Coronavirus threatens the way of life of billions. Many countries are in ‘lockdown’ and here in the UK extreme emergency legislation has been enacted to confine people to their homes to restrict the virus transmission. At the time of writing this 39,014 deaths world wide are reported, since it was first discovered towards the end of 2019, by the John Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Centre.

The above sounds fairly serious and indeed it is for those that have died and their relatives. However, the figures do not distinguish between those whose deaths were caused by the virus and those who happened to have the virus when they died of something else. In the vast majority of cases those that died are likely to have been elderly or suffering from some other conditions. They are also more likely to be smokers or have other risk factors.

In any event around 25,000 people will die of hunger or poverty today and I’ve not seen any wall to wall 24/7 hysterical news coverage about that anywhere. Why? Because it affects ‘non people’ in poor countries- people who are viewed as being of low value to those of us in the west. Incidentally around 100,000+ people die in the UK every year from (mostly preventable) coronary heart disease. No one has closed down McDonald’s or brought in emergency legislation requiring people to take mandatory exercise.

The UK Government has passed emergency legislation that among other draconian measures states:

6.—(1) During the emergency period, no person may leave the place where they are living without reasonable excuse.

What is really scary how people have happily given up their freedoms. This has been exacerbated by various Police forces in the UK operating outside of the law.

And whilst isolating and reducing transmission rates, where this can be done, are clearly a good thing the legislation is draconian. There are various exemptions such as being able to leave the house to exercise (mysteriously once a day in the case of Wales) but many Police forces such as Dyfed Powys Police here in Wales and Derbyshire Police in England are operating Ultra Vires  and we are now in a ‘police state’ it would seem .

The Police are happily making up legislation to suit themselves!

But it’s an emergency I hear the hysterical, fearful masses shouting – which is of course exactly the time authoritarian regimes and dictators throughout history have implemented such measures.

Facebook groups are awash with people hysterically shaming anyone who dares to object to what is happening and who might be speaking contrary to the herd narrative whilst the state is making it’s people fearful and removing freedoms at a stroke. Hysteria and fear is running amok.

Hence it was with some surprise that I heard that former Supreme Court Judge, Lord Sumption, has now just said exactly the same as me (only more eloquently).

Here is the transcript of an interview Lord Sumption gave to the BBC on the 30th March 2020. Lord Sumption, is a former member of the Supreme Court and last year’s Reith Lecturer. The transcript is from BBC Radio 4’s World at One.

The real problem is that when human societies lose their freedom, it’s not usually because tyrants have taken it away. It’s usually because people willingly surrender their freedom in return for protection against some external threat. And the threat is usually a real threat but usually exaggerated. That’s what I fear we are seeing now. The pressure on politicians has come from the public. They want action. They don’t pause to ask whether the action will work. They don’t ask themselves whether the cost will be worth paying. They want action anyway. And anyone who has studied history will recognise here the classic symptoms of collective hysteria.

Hysteria is infectious. We are working ourselves up into a lather in which we exaggerate the threat and stop asking ourselves whether the cure may be worse than the disease.

Q At a time like this as you acknowledge , citizens do look to the state for protection, for assistance, we shouldn’t be surprised then if the state takes on new powers, that is what it has been asked to do, almost demanded of it.

A Yes that is absolutely true. We should not be surprised. But we have to recognise that this is how societies become despotisms. And we also have to recognise this is a process which leads naturally to exaggeration. The symptoms of coronavirus are clearly serious for those with other significant medical conditions especially if they’re old. There are exceptional cases in which young people have been struck down, which have had a lot of publicity, but the numbers are pretty small. The Italian evidence for instance suggests that only 12% of deaths is it possible to say coronavirus was the main cause of death. So yes this is serious and yes it’s understandable that people cry out to the government. But the real question is : Is this serious enough to warrant putting most of our population into house imprisonment, wrecking our economy for an indefinite period, destroying businesses that honest and hardworking people have taken years to build up , saddling future generations with debt, depression, stress, heart attacks, suicides and unbelievable distress inflicted on millions of people who are not especially vulnerable and will suffer only mild symptoms or none at all, like the Health Secretary and the Prime Minister.

Q The executive, the government, is all of a sudden really rather powerful and really rather unscrutinised. Parliament is in recess, it’s due to come back in late April, we’re not quite sure whether it will or not, the Prime Minister is closeted away, communicating via his phone, there is not a lot in the way of scrutiny is there?

A No. Certainly there’s not a lot in the way of institutional scrutiny. The Press has engaged in a fair amount of scrutiny, there has been some good and challenging journalism, but mostly the Press has, I think, echoed and indeed amplified the general panic.

Q The restrictions in movement have also changed the relationship between the police and those whose, in name, they serve. The police are naming and shaming citizens for travelling at what they see as the wrong time or driving to the wrong place. Does that set alarm bells ringing for you, as a former senior member of the judiciary?

A Well, I have to say, it does. I mean, the tradition of policing in this country is that policemen are citizens in uniform. They are not members of a disciplined hierarchy operating just at the government’s command. Yet in some parts of the country the police have been trying to stop people from doing things like travelling to take exercise in the open country which are not contrary to the regulations, simply because ministers have said that they would prefer us not to. The police have no power to enforce ministers’ preferences, but only legal regulations which don’t go anything like as far as the government’s guidance. I have to say that the behaviour of the Derbyshire police in trying to shame people into using their undoubted right to take exercise in the country and wrecking beauty spots in the Fells so that people don’t want to go there, is frankly disgraceful.

This is what a police state is like. It’s a state in which the government can issue orders or express preferences with no legal authority and the police will enforce ministers’ wishes. I have to say that most police forces have behaved in a thoroughly sensible and moderate fashion. Derbyshire Police have shamed our policing traditions. There is a natural tendency of course, and a strong temptation for the police to lose sight of their real functions and turn themselves from citizens in uniform into glorified school prefects. I think it’s really sad that the Derbyshire Police have failed to resist that.

Q There will be people listening who admire your legal wisdom but will also say, well, he’s not an epidemiologist, he doesn’t know how disease spreads, he doesn’t understand the risks to the health service if this thing gets out of control. What do you say to them?

A What I say to them is I am not a scientist but it is the right and duty of every citizen to look and see what the scientists have said and to analyse it for themselves and to draw common sense conclusions. We are all perfectly capable of doing that and there’s no particular reason why the scientific nature of the problem should mean we have to resign our liberty into the hands of scientists. We all have critical faculties and it’s rather important, in a moment of national panic, that we should maintain them.

Q Lord Sumption, former Justice of the Supreme Court, speaking to me earlier.

Now if that isn’t bad enough governments around the world, including the UK, have just driven the modern economy off a cliff and we are in ‘freefall’, heading to the bottom of the cliff, for probably no rational reason at all.

Some of this is explained in some detail in this article in the Spectator (behind a paywall but free for the first 2 articles). I quote from that article:

But there’s another, potentially even more serious problem: the way that deaths are recorded. If someone dies of a respiratory infection in the UK, the specific cause of the infection is not usually recorded, unless the illness is a rare ‘notifiable disease’. So the vast majority of respiratory deaths in the UK are recorded as bronchopneumonia, pneumonia, old age or a similar designation. We don’t really test for flu, or other seasonal infections. If the patient has, say, cancer, motor neurone disease or another serious disease, this will be recorded as the cause of death, even if the final illness was a respiratory infection. This means UK certifications normally under-record deaths due to respiratory infections.

Now look at what has happened since the emergence of Covid-19. The list of notifiable diseases has been updated. This list — as well as containing smallpox (which has been extinct for many years) and conditions such as anthrax, brucellosis, plague and rabies (which most UK doctors will never see in their entire careers) — has now been amended to include Covid-19. But not flu. That means every positive test for Covid-19 must be notified, in a way that it just would not be for flu or most other infections.

In the current climate, anyone with a positive test for Covid-19 will certainly be known to clinical staff looking after them: if any of these patients dies, staff will have to record the Covid-19 designation on the death certificate — contrary to usual practice for most infections of this kind. There is a big difference between Covid-19 causing death, and Covid-19 being found in someone who died of other causes. Making Covid-19 notifiable might give the appearance of it causing increasing numbers of deaths, whether this is true or not. It might appear far more of a killer than flu, simply because of the way deaths are recorded.

If we take drastic measures to reduce the incidence of Covid-19, it follows that the deaths will also go down. We risk being convinced that we have averted something that was never really going to be as severe as we feared. This unusual way of reporting Covid-19 deaths explains the clear finding that most of its victims have underlying conditions — and would normally be susceptible to other seasonal viruses, which are virtually never recorded as a specific cause of death.

But it gets worse. On the 19th March 2020 the UK’s Advisory Committee on Dangerous Pathogens downgraded the status of Covid 19 saying that COVID-19 is no longer considered to be a high consequence infectious disease (HCID) in the UK and that the mortality rate is low overall.

Read that again – the UK’s expert advisory body on pathogens has said that ‘the mortality rate is low’. We have more than likely just crashed the world economy, and make no mistake a massive recession and years of hardship will follow, whilst hundreds of thousands if not millions of people in the poorest countries will die as a direct result of this potential massive mistake.

The above change from the UK advisory body probably came about with the publication of this important French paper (on the 19th March) Sars-CoV2:Fear versus Data which states: “Under these conditions, there does not seem to be a significant difference between the mortality rate of SARS-CoV-2 in OECD countries and that of common coronaviruses (χ2 test, P=0.11). Of course, the major flaw in this study is that the percentage of deaths attributable to the virus is not determined, but this is the case for all studies reporting respiratory virus infections, including SARS-CoV-2. Indeed, viral infections are ecosystem infections where the outcome depends on the inoculums and the surrounding microbiota [26]. Thus, certain bacteria seem to be associated with symptomatic manifestations, such as Streptococcus pneumoniae, Haemophilus influenzae and Staphylococcus aureus, which are known to cause an excess of mortality due to secondary infection. Finally, seasonality, geographic location, heat and humidity are co-factors, as are age, gender and underlying pathologies. Under these conditions, and all other things being equal, SARS-CoV-2 infection cannot be described as being statistically more severe than infection with other coronaviruses in common circulation.

Finally, in OECD countries, SARS-CoV-2 does not seem to be deadlier than other circulating viruses. In addition to coronaviruses, there are 16 endemic viruses in common circulation in developed countries (adenovirus, bocavirus, cytomegalovirus, enterovirus, influenza A H1N1 virus, influenza A H3N2 virus, influenza B virus, metapneumovirus, parainfluenzae virus 1, parainfluenzae virus 2, parainfluenzae virus 3, parainfluenzae virus 4, parechovirus, picornavirus, rhinovirus, syncytial respiratory virus), and 2.6 million deaths from respiratory infections (excluding tuberculosis) per year have been noted in recent years worldwide [27]. There is little chance that the emergence of SARS-CoV-2 could change this statistic significantly. Fear could have a larger impact than the virus itself; a case of suicide motivated by the fear of SARS-COV-2 has been reported in India”

I’ll leave you with two highly qualified people who think similarly.

First John P.A. Ioannidis (C.F. Rehnborg Chair in Disease Prevention, Professor of Medicine, of Health Research and Policy, of Biomedical Data Science, and of Statistics; co-Director, Meta-Research Innovation Center at Stanford.) who has written this article ‘A fiasco in the making? As the coronavirus pandemic takes hold, we are making decisions without reliable data’

Secondly Dr. Sucharit Bhakdi, Professor Emeritus of Medical Microbiology at the Johannes Gutenberg University who has thoughts in a similar vein.

So folks there you have my prediction. A dreadful mistake has been made, a massive recession or even depression is on the way because we’ve just driven the economy over a cliff. All we needed to have done was isolate the vulnerable and to have invested properly in the NHS in the preceding years (rather than try and dismantle it for political reasons) so that it was equipped to deal with the crisis when it arose. It would have been way cheaper. The financial costs of this fiasco will be felt for a generation in the UK and many in the developing world who ‘live on the edge’ will die as a result.

If we decide to jump off the cliff, we need some data to inform us about the rationale of such an action and the chances of landing somewhere safe.

More lives have probably been turned upside down through all of this and futures stunted than any lives that might have been saved otherwise.

Edit : More thoughts from some academics on the same points:

Share

Apparently I’m not Immortal

Aortic heart valve replacement and aorta repair on the horizon and I (John) am guessing that open heart surgery is not a bundle of laughs.

It’s a strange thing to realise that things may end sooner than you thought . Thinking about your mortality is of those things you ignore. The days tick by and you just expect they will keep on coming; until the unexpected happens.

Anyone who has read this blog will know that Liz is a retired doctor. Just before she retired, about 8 years ago, we were watching television one evening when she put her head on my chest. ‘I think you’ve got a heart murmur’ she said.

Thus started a chain of events which led to me having a CT scan and echocardiograms every 9 to 12 months to keep an ‘eye on things’. Apparently I have bicuspid aortic valve and an aortic aneurysm.

After 8 years of monitoring things have got to the point that complex open heart surgery is going to be required. I was only told this earlier this week so it’s kind of weird to be faced with the knowledge that you need serious and risky surgery to carry on living.

Heart Surgery
A lot of ‘black humour’ is going to be required to get through this.

To be honest I’m not looking forward to this and it’s obviously a tad scary. On the other hand I’m fortunate enough to live in a country where this surgery is routinely carried out about 7,500 times a year and is free within our wonderful National Healt Service that slime ball politicians on the right are trying to dismantle.

I have no choice; but I can write some words about the process that may help someone else in the future. So despite being the world’s worst blogger I will try and keep this updated to the end (not the best choice of words, John).

The next step is being called for another scan and some further tests so that the surgeons have a clear idea of what they are facing.

So as I get called for tests and then surgery I’ll give you a patient’s eye view of things.

Now hopefully, with the skills of those who work in the NHS and the support of Liz, I’ll come through this ok. 

It’s a cliche but ‘live every day as if it is your last, for one day it will be’.

Share

40 Years Ago – The Wild, The Innocent and The E Street Shuffle

The Wild the Innocent and the E Street Shuffle
The Wild, the Innocent and the E Street Shuffle

Forty years ago today one of the greatest rock albums of all time was released. It was the difficult second album for a 23 year old Bruce Springsteen who went on to become a household name.

People seem to love him or hate him. The greatest rock artist of all time or a boring formulaic oldie? This post isn’t about that debate.

How did this young man, who had not exactly been a success at school, manage to conceive, write and put together this masterpiece? Although he probably answered this question himself later in life – “For me, I was somebody who was a smart young guy who didn’t do very well in school. The basic system of education, I didn’t fit in; my intelligence was elsewhere.”

It’s a massive cinematographic style album of the characters and places of where he grew up; stories from the board walk and the beach. Springsteen is observing life from the street corner, rather than driving down the highway.

For me Bruce has never surpassed this album and whilst this was an early (and some argue weaker) incarnation of the E Street Band I love the production and feel of the recording. The music has vast open spaces and room to breath whilst at the same time you can almost feel the heat of a Jersey night. I much prefer the production to the later ‘wall of sound’ production.

As Bruce grew older he seemed to restrict himself into tighter and tighter song structures, that were much more formulaic (albeit a formula that most would be more than happy with). I guess we shouldn’t be angry that he never wrote down this way again, we should just be grateful that, at one time, he did.

So if you detest the thought of listening to Springsteen give this a listen and marvel at the creativity of a 23 year old; you may be pleasantly surprised and if you’re one of the ‘converted’ (like me) have another listen to probably the most underrated album of all time. The last three tracks, especially ‘Incident on 57th Street’ and ‘New York City Serenade’  are some of the best tracks ever written in the ‘rock’ genre (although it defies categorisation); lyrical and vivid story telling at its best. Probably my ‘Desert Island Disc’ if I had to just choose one.

Share

Sleepwalking into a Police State

The detention, this week, of David Miranda at Heathrow airport under the Terrorism Act should send a shiver through every right thinking citizen of the UK. It probably won’t because most people are too busy trying to keep their jobs and keep their heads above water than to worry about remote legislation that they don’t think will ever affect them.

However, it is clear to me that this legislation is being routinely misused by the authorities. How do I know? Because I was on the receiving end a couple of years ago. Here is what I wrote to my MP at the time; it seems pretty prophetic in view of this weeks events.

More recently (September 2010) I travelled to Cork via Swansea Ferry terminal. As I queued, in my vehicle, to get on the ferry I was stopped by port security under the provisions of The Ship and Port Facility (Security) Regulations 2004 and was asked by the member of staff where I was going. Resisting the impulse to laugh out loud (as the Irish Ferry was moored 500 metres away and there was no where else to go) I asked him was he sure he had the power to ask me that question and under what legislation was he asking it. He clearly did not have a clue as to what powers he might have. At that stage he detained me before fetching a Police Officer who questioned me under the Terrorism Act before letting me proceed.

 On my return I had subsequent correspondence (with a very reluctant Ian Meredith Port Facilities & Security Manager, ABP South Wales Ports) with AB Ports Swansea. At first he claimed that the above legislation gave powers to question travellers about their journey, when pressed he had to admit that he had no such powers. But he has stated in writing that he cannot guarantee that it will not happen again. As I understand it the Security staff at the port are actually private contractors. So in this instance a private citizen going about their legal business is detained by a private contractor who has no power to do so, asked a ludicrous question about their private travel arrangements and then after being detained is questioned by a Police officer under the terrorism legislation. The irony is exquisite in that the law abiding citizen is questioned because of the failure of security staff to work within the law as it exists. It is astonishing that such intrusive questions are being asked by private contractors.

 I hope that it is as apparent to you, as it is to me that we are ‘sleepwalking’ into a Police State. As a citizen of a free democratic society I should be able to go about my life without the state asking (and possibly) recording details of where I am going to and from. I accept that there are circumstances where further enquiries are necessary and in this case questions should only be asked where they are necessary and proportionate.

Share

It is Just a Telephone and it is not Smart

Once again I’m in the wrong century. On the odd occasion that I do stray into the real world I’ll see people constantly walking along talking to or looking at their mobile phones. On other occasions when I go to a restaurant it’s not unusual to see four people sit down together get out their phones and start texting or doing whatever they do with them. How  fecking stupid is that?

respect

The only ‘smart’ thing about a phone is the company that sold someone an expensive contract to keep the money rolling in whilst they trade drivel with their ‘friends’.

For the record I do have a mobile phone for emergencies and the odd call. It’s about 10 years old on a PAYG contract and the quarterly bill is sometimes around 3 pence.

Don’t even get me started on the morons who go to hear live music and spend the whole concert pointing their phones at the stage. Dickheads the lot of them.

Phone Feckwits the Lot of Them
Feckwits the Lot of Them

My Sort of Place
My Sort of Place!

I don’t normally add addenda to blog posts but I just (23rd August 2013) read the following UK statistics, which confirms to your writer that there really is no hope for the human race – a complete species of feckwits. The only real glimmer of hope is the thought that the radiation may fry their gonads before they can breed.

The average British child gets their first mobile phone aged almost 12, but nearly one in ten (9%) have one by the age of five.

Parents spend an average £246 on their own handsets, compared to £125 on their children’s but one in ten children under 16 (11%) have mobiles worth more than their parents.

More than four in ten parents (42%) don’t monitor their children’s mobile spend and just a quarter (25%) cap their kids’ contracts.

Children spend an average £11 per month on mobile bills less than parents who spend £19 but more than one in ten (11%) spend more than their parents.

Share

The Laugharne Weekend

Spring 2013 has seemed long and cold and whilst still cold, the days have recently been dry and bright. So on a lovely sunny and bright Friday afternoon we found ourselves heading off to the small town of Laugharne here in Carmarthenshire. Laugharne is not far from where we live and is best known as being the home of Dylan Thomas from 1949 until his death in 1953.

The Laugharne Weekend
The Laugharne Weekend

Every spring Laugharne hosts an absolute gem of a music and arts festival and to our shame we had never been before; in fact before moving here we had never heard of it! But having gone to Hay festival last year to see Chris Wood in concert and not been impressed (not by Chris Wood who was excellent but by the whole corporate bollox) as it was full of trendy people from London having a ‘few days in the sticks’ before they rushed back to the city for a shower, a latte and the security of street lights. I really should have known better about Hay Festival as it is sponsored by the Telegraph Newspaper (enough said).

The Laugharne Weekend is the complete opposite and is clearly run for pleasure rather than profit. Laugharne very much reminds me of Kinvara in the west of Ireland and it proved extremely confusing, as I overheard in a conversation, for those from the city who did make it here. The locals had cunningly extracted all their cash from them for board, lodgings and refreshments but had failed to advise them that things like cash machines don’t exist in small towns in Wales. Not sure how they would get on where we live with no mobile phone signal either but I expect that you can get counselling for such trauma.

The Castle at Laugharne
The Castle at Laugharne

We parked by the church and had a walk round. It really is glorious down by the estuary on such a grand day – as Beth Orton remarked in her set later in the evening; ‘It’s fecking gorgeous’ or words to that effect. After getting orientated and collecting our wristbands we headed off to the Millenium Hall where Joe Boyd was to give a talk, based around his book ‘White Bicycles’, about his time working with the late Nick Drake. Joe was pretty much responsible for a who’s who of music in the late 60’s and 70’s (He was Muddy Waters’s roadie once as well) and here he was on the pavement in our remote part of the world shouting across the road to Robyn Hitchcock who had just turned up with a guitar and who was wearing a hat like a dead cat to insulate him from the chilling air. Joe’s talk about Nick was interspersed with music from Robyn Hitchcock, Charlotte Greig and Keitel Keinig (the latter who did a very emotional version of River Man). All in all a pretty fine opener.

We returned later for Beth Orton’s gig in the packed hall. ‘Oh look’, I said, ‘there’s Sam Amidon‘ who was tuning up on stage before the gig – we didn’t think he would be playing. Sam is Beth’s husband and son of Peter and Mary Amidon who are pretty well respected folk musicians in Vermont. We had last seen him last year at the Gloaming concert in Dublin with Martin Hayes and Dennis Cahill. Sam is also the childhood friend of Thomas Bartlett or ‘Doveman‘ who is another astonishing musician who has worked with all sorts of people including producing an album for Hannah Cohen whose grandfather was a friend of Dylan Thomas (I think I just went ‘full circle’ – you still with me?). To cut a long story short; Sam is a damn fine musician and I felt that he accompanied Beth perfectly with guitar, fiddle and vocals at this rather good gig in a village hall in Wales.

As we had splashed out on a weekend ticket we headed back on Saturday to ‘fill our boots’ with more music and culture. This can prove to be a bit of a lucky dip in our case as we don’t pay much attention to names and celebrities; so for at least half of the ‘names’ here we didn’t have a clue who they were. But at least it’s a chance to see if anything has passed us by over the years that perhaps we should have paid more attention to.

A Welsh ‘food fair’ was set up in the castle grounds and people were doing what they do at food fairs; eating and sitting around in the sun.  Sir Peter Blake the Godfather of British Pop Art was also waiting for his ice cream cone.

Sir Peter Blake waiing for his Ice Cream!
Sir Peter Blake Waiting for his Ice Cream Cone at Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Ice Cream Stand

And later in the afternoon Robyn Hitchcock is enjoying his ice cream.

Robyn Hitchcock enjoys his Ice Cream and has a chat with Sir Peter Blake
Robyn Hitchcock enjoys his ice cream and has a chat with Sir Peter Blake

This is turning into a right celebrity ice cream festival; all we need now is John Cooper Clarke to eat an ice cream but he just seems to stick to chain smoking cigarettes. I presume that they must have run out of nicotine flavour.

Time to head off to our first event which was Tracey Thorn reading some of her book ‘Bedsit Disco Queen’ and chatting about her life as a pop star. This was a weird one as I hadn’t a clue who she was until I heard her reading a serialisation of her book on the radio a few weeks ago; and very good is was too. Her reading of extracts from the book was just as humorous; she is obviously an intelligent woman who came through being a ‘pop star’ and rejoined the human race quite successfully. I’m not sure the same could be said of the ‘music journalist’ who subsequently chatted to her on stage and who didn’t seem to ask any questions that got to the heart of who Mrs Thorn was. That said it probably wasn’t helped by me not knowing anything about ‘Everything But The Girl’ or any of the records they ever made.

On reflection Tracey’s writing was very much in the style of the ‘late’ John Peel. Perhaps she’d make a great presenter of ‘Home Truths’ on Radio 4? It would certainly be better than the fairly dire replacement programme now on a Saturday morning; which causes me to hurl abuse at the radio and reach for the off button in the same manner as when ‘Thought for The Day’ appears. I’m digressing too much.

A quick mid afternoon sugar boost of cake was required back at the Food Fair before heading off to see someone else called Mark Watson. This was really a toss of a coin as the choice was him or someone called Caitlan Moran. Once again we hadn’t got a clue who either was but we did think that Mark Watson might be a comedian and thus possibly funny so the coin landed funny side up and off we went. Well he did turn out to be a comedian who also wrote books (he was reading from his book and trying to flog it) and yes he was quite amusing in that fast ‘smart arsed’ way that ‘comedians’ seem to perform these days. He is probably better as a comedian than a novelist from the bits I heard; and no I won’t be buying the book.

The afternoon was now passing and it was getting cold on the shady side of the street. It was time for the main event to see Robyn Hitchcock in the Congregational Church. This event unfortunately clashed with John Cooper Clarke who was on just across the road in another venue; but being more ageing hippies than ageing punk rebels it was Robyn we wanted to see – particularly as he can best be described as quirky or as other might say ‘as mad as a box of frogs’ (in the nicest possible way!). He played a gorgeous intimate set, accompanied by a rather fine cello player (the lady in the ice cream picture above) to around 50 or 60 people and a similar number of Welsh midges who had flown into the church for a warm on a cold night. Robyn is very much of that whimsical English singer song writer tradition  who very definitely ploughs his own furrow; who else sings lyrics like ‘I feel like a three-legged chinchilla, standing on a table so wide I can’t see over the side’? Contrary to most of the others here he wasn’t trying to flog his merchandise and very refreshing that was too. The midges also seemed to have a particular affinity for Peter Blake’s hair, which was also fascinating to watch and certainly made for quite a surreal evening.

How many other people have sat, in a Welsh chapel, by an ‘icon’ of the Pop Art movement watching a cloud of insects hop around his white hair whilst a quirky British eccentric sang ‘ River Man’ (written by another eccentric) in the wrong time signature? Evenings like this (mosquitoes excepted) don’t happen too often in our part of Wales.

So Sunday dawned, not quite so bright but still acceptable by Welsh weather standards and we headed back for the the last day of the festival. It has proved to be quite the best little festival we have ever been to in the U.K. and I hope it remains so and avoids the trap of  getting too big and accepting the money of corporate sponsors. Sunday couldn’t be any better could it?

Like most weekend festivals Sunday is a more chilled and relaxed affair. A time for recovering from any excesses the night before etc. So we decided to go along and see what Sir Peter had to say about Pop Art and ‘that’ Sergeant Pepper Cover.

Sir Peter Blake with His Painting of Himself with Badges
Sir Peter Blake at Laugharne with his painting ‘Self Portrait with Badges’ or my shot of ‘The Artist with Himself Looking Over his Shoulder’.

Now most art goes ‘whoosh’ over my head so this was an interesting hour or so as he chatted to Mark Ellen (remember him from the ‘Old Grey Whistle Test’?). On the way in to the hall they had been selling some raffle tickets and Liz said she’d buy one to help support the festival. I suggested that she wait for the seller to come to her; as good fortune would be more likely to come to her (rather than go chasing it).  The event came to an end and the winning ticket was drawn……..drum roll…….ticket number 45…….yes we were the winners of a cartoon of Sir Peter Blake drawn by Martin Rowson of the Guardian and signed by Sir Peter. So now we have a Rowson and Blake on the Wall or at least we will have once it has been framed.

Edit: Since posting this Martin Rowson has kindly commented on the blog and explained how the cartoon came into being; which probably explains the bit above Sir Peter’s ear; which now turns out to be a portion of refried beans – not a carefully considered dash of the pen. I do wish we had gone to see Martin now as anyone who can write ‘Is God A Hedgehog‘ is O.K. by me.

Cartoon of Sir Peter Blake by Mark Rowson; signed by Sir Peter
Cartoon of Sir Peter Blake by Mark Rowson; signed by Sir Peter and Mark Rowson

We drove home in the weak sunshine asking each other if that weekend had really happened or did we just dream it?

Share

A Second (or perhaps third, fourth or fifth) Rate Country?

It has been a fair few months since I decided to let my thoughts spill into cyber space. Mostly because we’ve been too busy with the work on the house. But now we are back home it’s time to let rip. Actually I have been goaded from my usual inertia by receiving an email last night from some kind reader who actually said he agreed with most of my sentiments; not sure if I was more amazed that he agreed or that someone actually reads this drivel!

However, a pent up desire to hit the keyboard has been building for a day or two since reading this article written by Stephanie Flanders on the BBC website. In the article one of her friends said that London was ‘A first-rate city with a second-rate country attached’ (presumably one should infer that Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland are probably somewhere between third and fifth rate?).

I must of course overlook Stephanie’s obvious lack of good judgement in respect of her friends; this is a women who may well have shagged (as she dated them – reference Wikipedia) Ed Balls and Ed Milliband. That alone brings a whole new meaning to the sayings  ‘a political cock up’ and a ‘right balls up’.

However, I can’t overlook the crap in the rest of the article with such gems as ‘The Office for National Statistics reckons that the average Londoner contributes 70% more to Britain’s national income than people in the rest of the country’. Really? Now this peasant out here in his unfashionable and obviously dire, bleak part of Wales would like to present you sophisticated city types (and I’m not inferring that all Londoners are like this) with a few home truths.

Firstly London is only ‘wealthy’ (I’m using wealth here in it’s monetary sense as the article clearly seems to have missed the point that you don’t need money to be wealthy) because of the City of London and secondly because lots of rich people with ‘dodgy’ money moved their assets there to get them out of another country. This is aided and abetted by the fact that the centre of power is there and that the politicians, the powerful and the media ‘scratch each others backs’ (you got any thoughts on this Steph?). In the case of the former that money is not created but skimmed off the backs of other folks (mostly in the third world). In the case of the dodgy money that too has, in the main, been looted from other citizens in another country. In the case of the government they have stolen power from people outside of London and relocated it there.

Perhaps I should rephrase what Steph’s friend had to say and tell him how I see it; ‘A First Rate Country with a cess pit attached to it’. As most of the wealth there is not earned, but rather stolen from those who do ‘real work’. As far as I know actually creating something is the only way of creating economic wealth. Then again I don’t have a first class degree in Philosopy, Politics and Economics like Steph; which is kind of ironic as I warned my children about the dangers of it all coming ‘crashing down’ at the height of the boom. I still shudder at the memory of the smirking chancellor ‘Crash Gordon’ repeating his no more boom and bust speech every budget.

As I’ve said previously the City, London and all those people who live there feeling so superior because of their ‘good taste’ can only exist because of the hard work of good, honest everyday working folk. Where do think that delicious piece of rare lamb on your plate in a swanky London restaurant came from? It certainly wasn’t reared with dedication in some glass palace of an office where they have fast internet access and shift money uselessly around to take a percentage.

It was (for example) raised by some Welsh hill farmer who got up at some god forsaken hour in his unfashionable farm house (without nice furniture from John Lewis). He is lucky to have any internet connection because the private companies only want to ‘cherry pick’ the profitable, easy areas (thanks Maggie for selling off essential assets like BT, water and closing down the mines) in the cities. However, HIS community may of course have to have wind farms and pylons imposed on it to send electric power in the direction of London; because London needs it. Yep, it’s really essential that the advertising lights are kept on to sell even more worthless crap to keep profits high in the good old City of London.

He will probably have struggled through the snow these past few weeks to ensure that his animals got food, water and shelter because he cares deeply for them; something you should remember as you tuck into your delicious lamb, in ‘oh so fashionable’ Kensington.

Meanwhile I’ll leave you with a photo I took last week in our part of the world and remind you of a saying by someone far wiser than Stephanie’s friend.

‘When all the trees have been cut down,
when all the animals have been hunted,
when all the waters are polluted,
when all the air is unsafe to breathe,
only then will you discover you cannot eat money’

snow
Snow on the Hills in March last week here in Wales. Are you more wealthy walking up Oxford Street, buying more consumer crap or walking up here as free as a bird?

Share

The Diamond Jamboree

queenie

Unfortunately because of the impending work on the house we haven’t been able to take off to a Republic somewhere whilst the rich woman with several large houses and numerous servants, paid for by us, continues with her PR offensive to ensure that when she ‘shuffles of this mortal coil’ the family will continue to get ‘loads of dosh’. As Newsthump puts it: ‘The Queen, who has been the head of the UK’s most prolific family of benefit claimants since 1952, said she felt “deeply moved” by the amount of cash she has received over the years without even having to queue up and sign for it.

harry

‘The Family’ went through a fairly rough patch for a while. Joe Public was starting to see through the pantomime what with Charles being an adulterer whilst he was married to that lovely ‘Saint Diana’, some of the others getting divorced (despite mummy being head of the Church that frowns on such things) and Andrew being friends with an American paedophile and having meetings with Muammar Gaddafi.

But ‘hey ho’ lets soften up a gullible public with an expensive Royal Wedding and then go for the full on PR offensive with a Jamboree. They’ll soon be shouting ‘hurrah’ and doffing their caps in a suitably servile manner once again.

Talking of servile if I have to listen to the gushing, sycophantic ramblings of Nicholas Witchell for much longer every time I turn on the Beeb I’ll be feeling more nauseous than I do already. Whilst I’m a big fan of the BBC they really should just report the facts, somewhere towards the bottom of the news agenda. Personally I find the fact that about a billion people go to bed hungry every night needs bringing to Joe Public’s attention rather more than this bean-feast. The BBC seems to have become the official 24/7 propaganda channel for the Royal Family and the Olympics.

It really is like we’ve fallen through a time hole into an age where nobody questions the utterly bizarre situation that in a modern country in 2012 some people get given a load of castles, servants and treasure simply because of who their dad was; then the rest of us are expected to bow down in front of them. Mind you it’s even more bizarre that people accept it.

Now before Mr Angry Royalist of Royal Tunbrige Wells starts posting about how disgusted he is about my lack of patriotism I should just point out that I have no personal hatred of the woman and she’s more than welcome to call by for a cup of tea any time (although I’m not installing a new WC for her at a cost of £5000 as she seems to expect; does she crap solid gold or something?). It’s just that I take exception at her and her entourage living in unbridled luxury, at the expense of hard working folk, just because of which bed they were born in or (in certain cases) because they were deemed suitable breeding stock (i.e. there isn’t too much mongrel in the blood).

And before someone else starts off the ‘but she works so hard and brings in loads of tourists’ crap can I just say I’d agree with the former if she’d been working12 hour days, six days a week cleaning NHS toilets for the last 60 years and as for the latter that’s hardly a good reason as no doubt turning the Palace into an upmarket brothel would pull in the overseas punters.

Jubilee Marketing

Of course the cynic in me would also say that Dave and his public school mates are loving it because it’s a distraction from what’s really going on; but then Bread and Circuses aren’t exactly a new concept. Deep in debt? Lost your job? Lost your home? Never mind; wave a piece of coloured cloth on the end of a stick and everything will be fine.

Share

Baltimore Fiddle Festival and Some Thoughts

Early May 2012 saw us setting off in Huey, our campervan, for Ireland. We headed off at first for East Clare and after calling in to Peppers Bar to see who was about we visited our good friends Michael and Dorothy and their family in their excellent B&B at Clondanagh Cottage. If you are ever visiting the west of Ireland I can’t recommend their hospitality too much!

We then headed just across the border to Kinvara in Galway for The Cuckoo Fleadh, a rather extended weekend of traditional music and drinking, to search out a few sessions before going on to Connemara. We then drove south, heading for the Baltimore Fiddle Festival stopping off on the way on the Dingle and Kerry Peninsulas. Finally we travelled back north east to Dublin staying overnight in the Wicklow mountains on the way before returning to Wales via Rosslare.

Camping on Valentia Island
Over night stop on Valentia Island, Kerry in our Camper Van

For us there are two different Irelands. The one that is represented by the traditional musicians who keep the tradition alive with their amazing musicianship. Just in these few days we listened to Edel Fox, Andrew MacNamara, Thomas Bartlett, Dennis Cahill, Martin Hayes, Caoimhin O Raghallaigh, Iarla Ó Lionáird, Sam Amidon, Cleek Shrey and Nic Gareiss. Most have devoted much of their lives to learning their craft and tradition. The other Ireland is the one that rushed headlong into the nonsense that became the infamous Celtic Tiger. A land of speculation, institutional corruption, garden decking, hot tubs and men in pink shirts driving 4x4s and talking excitedly into mobile phones about their next ‘Real Estate’ purchase in Bulgaria.

This  two-facedness was apparent when we stepped into a bar in a village on the Dingle. The pub looked very traditional and even sported a plaque giving it some ‘Trad Pub Music status’. I should have known better when the menu outside was promoting their Chinese food. Inside there was a cosy fire and a large plasma TV which, about 5 minutes after we sat down with a pint to await pretty much the only non Chinese item on the menu, was turned over to ‘Britain’s Got Talent’ or some such programme. Until now I’ve not watched one of these shows and my worst fears were realised. A variety of truly dreadful acts were loudly cheered by a studio audience of imbeciles and was presumably watched by many millions of cerebrally challenged morons who clearly don’t have two neurons to rub together. First came an appalling girl singer followed by a dance act who cheekily misspelt their name to start with a ‘K’. I can’t remember what they called themselves but it should have been ‘Kuntz’. The teenage girl singer, whose sole talent seemed to comprise a pair of decent legs in a short skirt, was ‘singing’ some anodyne song with a voice that had all the charisma of public service broadcast in North Korea. When she had finished the judges, the two female ones of whom seem to have just come back from a face painting competition, pronounced their verdict. By now I’d lost the will to live so finishing my food and resisting the need to vomit (not from the food) we headed out on onwards to Baltimore Fiddle Fair.

As I write this I wonder if I’m just a miserable old git, elitist or probably both? Am I just sneering at what other people seem to enjoy? So what if someone enjoys such banality? Then, no doubt like my elders before me, I muse over the lowering of standards to the lowest possible denominator. Are people so fecking stupid that they can’t even get out and watch some live music for themselves and decide if it is good or not?

Today, like every other day, we wake up empty and fright­ened. Don’t open the door to the study and begin read­ing.

Take down a musi­cal instrument.
Let the beauty we Love be what we do.
There are hun­dreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground.

People seem to be sleepwalking into a packaged world where the advertising executives are trying to control what they think so that they can sell them more crap.

A world where people are so divorced from nature that thy think meat comes wrapped in cellophane in TWATCO’s. A world where people think they have talent because their ‘friends’ on Facebook tell them they have.

Loads of Brilliant Beaches to Stop at near Baltimore
Loads of Brilliant Beaches to Stop at near Baltimore

Baltimore Fiddle Festival was the antidote I needed. It was our first trip here but the amazing list of musicians that have been here over the years and played in small bars, rooms and marquees is almost a ‘who’s who’ of traditional music. This weekend was no exception and it would have been great to stay longer but we had to head up to Dublin.

In the Wicklow Mountains
In the Wicklow Mountains

Things only got better when we did get to Dublin, via an overnight rough camp in the Wicklow mountains, and not just because Liz got to see a shower for the first time in a week! We were in Dublin to see ‘The Gloaming’. This band are made up of some of the best trad musicians around who are pushing the boundaries away from the ‘trad’ tag. This Irish new wave doesn’t suit all the traditionalists; but of course music always evolves and needs to or else it just becomes repetition. We had been at their first ever gig in Dublin last August and now we were back for a ‘one off’ gig this year. It was a very, very special night; it must have been because even the Irish President turned up to the rather unglamorous venue at Vicar Street. Their trad tunes and songs were played on the edge with Thomas Bartlett (who also opened with his childhood friend Sam Amidon) playing some sublime piano. I probably shouldn’t use the word ‘play’ it’s more that he feels the music throwing in single notes and chords together with plucked and damped notes on the piano strings. Iarla Ó Lionáird’s singing (and I can’t understand a word of Gaelic) made you want to cry at the beauty of it. But I doubt that the media muppets who trotted out the bilge on the plasma TV will ever understand that music is about emotion not the plastic crap foisted on an acquiescing public between the commercials. The principal purpose of the whole exercise being to sell them even more crap (such as air fresheners) that they don’t even need in the first place.

And if you want emotion no one really puts their ‘heart’ in to it more than Martin Hayes. When he plays music, he doesn’t just play notes; he becomes the music and when it is over you feel drained by the emotional journey he has taken you on. You feel spiritually uplifted and know that you have been transported and transfixed in some world in another place. I could of course just be talking complete bollocks as a tone deaf Englishman who has absolutely no musical ability in his body. On the other hand I’ve always been able to make my own mind up and I’ll choose Martin Hayes, Iarla Ó Lionáird,Thomas Bartlett and the rest over what some TV executive deems to be talent any day.

Share