Monday, 20 May 2019

Environment Monday - Why High Street regeneration is the key to change

Mill Hill Wines - a great high street business
We are on the brink of an environmental disaster. We need to change the way we live our lives, otherwise the planet will suffer damage on an unprecedented scale and our children and grandchildren will be the ones to pick up the tab. I have long believed in the mantra of  "Think global act local". As citizens of the fifth most wealthy nation on planet earth, we are priveliged. We don't worry about where we will get our next meal, whether there will be fresh clean water available and whether we will get medical treatment if we develop a serious illness. But how often do we consider how fortunate we are, whilst over half our brothers and sisters have none of this?  I believe that the very minimum we should do is appreciate this fact and accept the responsibilities that come with our wealth. We could all do far more and do it far better when it comes to looking after our planet. It's a massive subject, but one as a society that we need to address. Over the forthcoming weeks, I'll be looking at the way we organise our society and how we can do more to change the disastrous outcome that is looming. 

We start with one of the themes I've been pushing ever since I first became aware of the issues of the environment, ecology and the risks we are facing. Each one of us has several basic requirements to live. These are air, food and water. If there is any problems with any of these, then our health will suffer. London has a plague of Asthma related  to pollution. There are several causes of this in urban areas, but traffic is a major contributor. There are three main reasons people make journeys. The first is work, the second is leisure, the third is shopping. In London and in the Borough of Barnet especially, there are tens of thousands of new dwellings being built. Many of these are in tall blocks of flats. A recent drive around Colindale brought home just how much development there is. Two things struck me. The first was how few people I saw, compared to the number of dwellings and the second was how little infrastructure there seemed to be to support them. There seemed to be cars parked everywhere, blocking cycle lanes etc. There are a few convenience stores available, but I couldn't help thinking that the whole place is completely soulless. One of my favourite pubs in Barnet is just around the corner. The Chandos Arms has done rather well since landlords Emily and Are Kollveit took over five years ago, but there is little else. 

When I look at Mill Hill Broadway, it is starting to resemble a rather grim, post apocalyptic vision. Closed banks, estate agents and independent shops abound. Large chains have opened identikit convenience stores, forcing out some well established long standing businesses. It goes without saying that such stores, with their buying power, advertising budgets and loyalty schemes etc will do well, but it means we end up with an identikit high street with no personality at all. I guess people who have no personality may welcome this, but Mill Hill has historically had it's own feel and vibe and to me it is awful to see this dissipated. High Streets have three key roles to play in the equation that adds up to improving the environment, air quality and general wellbeing of locals. I am using Mill Hill as an example, as I live here and know the area. 

The first role is that the more shopping people do in their local high street, walking to and from shops, the less CO2 is created by cars and vans either delivering people to far flung shopping centres, or delivery services to your door. Not only that, but the exercise will help keep you fit and healthy. 

The second is that High streets provide jobs. Every closed shop means that at least three or four people are not working locally. We all need money to survive, so the loss of jobs means more journeys and again more CO2.

The third is that good High Streets provide local opportunities to socialise and chill out.  Pubs, restaurants, bars and clubs give us the opportunity to meet friends, without the need to jump in the car. Again the walk to and from these is a great way to work off a few calories.

The fourth is that local high streets with independents give local suppliers an opportunity to sell locally produced goods.

When it comes to the Broadway, the question I ask myself is what would attract a shopper to Mill Hill? I do most of my shopping in/off the Broadway. I buy my meat from Gerards butchers. I buy my wine from Mill Hill Wines. I buy my fruit and veg from the Broadway Food Centre (great tomatoes, mushrooms and Olives). I buy my bread from Wenzels, my bagels and smoked salmon from Yummies. I always buy my televisions etc from Raj at Euronics. The rest of our groceries, we get from Marks and Spencers, Iceland and Tesco's usually. We bank at Barclays and The Post Office. I drink at the Bridge and The Mill Hill Services club regularly. I regularly eat at The Mill Hill Tandoori, Kiyoto, Prezzo,  The Good Earth, Bobs and Hudsons (in that order of regularity), I buy Jewelery from Rockman So on the face of it, I am well served. But then I look at all of the things that we don't have. All of the things that I have to travel to get. Here is a list - all of these things used to exist in Mill Hill

Business - My current alternative - Where it used to be

Fishmonger - Salcombe Gardens or Burnt Oak - We used to have Nat Jacobs
Patisserie/Cake Shop - North Finchley - We used to have Chowens
Record store - Camden Town -  Stephen Siger/Mill Hill Television
Furniture shop - ???? - Mill Hill Pine Shop (where Bobs is),
Art Shop - Shoreditch - Maxfields
Car Accessory store - Halfords Colindale - Acceleration (where the closed Sushi bar is)
Bicycle repair store - ????? - Callis bike shop where M&S is now
DIY store - Wickes - Where Mailboxes is
Health Shop - Hatfield - I think where Rockman is now
Toys/Models - ????? - H.A. Blunt & Sons where Cosways is now
Proper Deli shop - ????? -  Walton Hassle and Ports where Mill and Brew is now
Launderette - ????? - On Station road where Nails shop is
Sports Shop -  Borehamwood - Milletts
Woolworths - ???? - Iceland

Then there are other High St features that we've not had (to my knowledge) but I do use regularly

Book shops
Electrical/light fittings etc
Clothes shops
Gift shops
Kitchen appliances and utilities
Chocolate shop
Music bar
Cheese shop

With our current Amazon culture, are any of these actually sustainable in Mill Hill Broadway? There are several that I believe would do a roaring trade. I think that if Elias Fish were located in the Broadway, it would do amazing business, as would a proper patisserie, chocolate shop and a bicycle repair / spares shop. Some of these could be wrapped up into a single shop/cafe. I'd love to open a book/record cafe bar in the Broadway. Local MP Matthew Offord has spoken about Mill Hill needing a cheese shop. Sadly, this has never been delivered.  I suspect that a high end toy shop (an updated version of HA Blunts) would also do ok, as people love their kids and have money to spend. I think that when the Broadway lost Woolworths, it lost a huge asset and it removed huge footfall. People say "Oh Woolworths was outdated and no one ever shopped there". I did and it was always busy. I happen to know a senior level person in the organisation, and Woolworths failed because it was bought by asset strippers, who sold the property portfolio and refused to invest in the business. Any business will fail if you run it in that manner. 

I'd love to see a music bar, one for grown ups. I go to them all the time and I am sure that one would work locally. If we added all of these assets to Mill Hill, I firmly believe that it would reinvigorate the High Street making it a far more attractive place for locals to shop and spend time. I believe that as this would generate tax revenue etc, grants should be available to tempt such businesses back. Maybe these could be in  the form of long term, low interest loans, guaranteed by the govt. Of course a sensible business plan would be required, but new ideas are needed.

In Mill Hill, I estimate that there are approx 60 jobs not currently existing due to the empty properties. With a return bus fare being £3 a day, £15 a week, that is a decent chunk of a shop workers salary if they have to find employment further afield. It is bad for the environment and bad for household budgets. Attracting start up businesses, that would employ local young people and expose them to working in a business where they matter would make a huge difference. 

It would also help build our sense of community. Sadly some local social commentators simply do not get the benefits of independent stores, local business and the dynamics of how successful small firms work. If you work in Iceland or Tesco's the boss doesn't give you a tenner for a pint if you do something great. If you work in a small firm that's well run, it happens all the time. Staff soon learn that if they do good things, they get appreciated. This means they build relationships with customers that build community. This was brought home to me over the weekend. I went into three shops. In Gerards, when I bought a chicken, I had a chat with Gerard for ten minutes over the weather and life etc (much to my missus annoyance as she wanted to get home). I later I went to Mill Hill Wines and bought two bottles of the Argentinian El Supremo Malbec (best wine on the Broadway under a tenner). I had a chat with the guy in there about the health of his dog (we are both dog lovers). I then went to one of the large chains to get an apple pie. For some reason, I couldn't find one, so I asked one of the people stacking the shelf. They were very helpful. I happened then to see the person I assumed was the manager. I said "Are you the manager of the store?". The person gave me a rather irritated look and said "What is the problem?". I replied "There is no problem, I just wanted to tell you that such and such a member of staff was very helpful and I think it is important for you to know". The response "Oh, Ok, erm thank you" and they shuffled off. I know they were busy, but I was a tad disappointed. I got the feeling that this wasn't really something they were interested in. 

Finchley Nurseries fresh local produce
The bottom line on this is that the more successful our local High Streets are, the less CO2 we produce, the better our sense of community is, and the more prospects for our young people. Whilst the online retailers such as Amazon have a role to play, I firmly believe that the government needs to regulate them, so that local independent retailers have a more level playing field. Our system of business rates and taxation was designed in a pre-internet age. As a result, there are huge financial incentives for vans and lorries to clog the roads delivering designer kippers etc. The tragedy is that there is less, not more choice as a result. If I want Cumberland sausages, I can buy them online or I can walk to Gerards and buy them. When I get there, I might notice that the Wild Boar and Apricot look tasty. It only becomes a choice because I can see them in front of me. Online sellers try to replicate this by offering other suggestions when you buy, but for food it can never replicate seeing them in front of you. The whole concept of Amazon is anti local. Everything is centralised. If I opened a craft beer business in Mill Hill, it would allow me to sell to people in Aberdeen which is great, but Mill Hill Wines would allow me to build a locally focussed brand, without producing tons of CO2 getting it to your front door. 

I will let you in on a little secret. If you go to Finchley Nurseries in Burtonhole Lane, they sell freshly grown local fruit and veg, that is all strictly seasonal. It tastes better and it has a postive carbon footprint, if you take a walk up there to buy it. Please spread the word. 

Sunday, 19 May 2019

The Tweets of the week in the London Borough of Barnet - 19/05/2019

Usually putting this list together is a task I look forward to. Today it is rather a chore, but fortunately as I plough through the mire of inane and banal, which it seems sporadically gushes in our neck of the woods, there are as ever some fantastic tweets. Maybe I am just grumpy because I had a wonderful day at the Cup final, a very pleasant meal with friends at The Bull and Gate in Kentish Town, and then saw the Specials. I am suffering for my sins! Anyway, enough of me, here's our selection of the best of the local tweets, showing that there's actually a few sane rational people on Twitter in Barnet and they have something interesting to say!

1. It is rather sad to see the beautiful Darlands Lake Nature reserve looking like this. This lake used to be full of beautiful mature carp and in the 1960's even had a boathouse, so locals could rent boats to enjoy it. Everyone in Mill Hill should want to see it restored to its former glory. I'd settle for it being properly maintained and alive with fish.

2. Interesting thread on Edgware pubs from BBC Radio London industrial correspondent Mark Amies.

3. I must confess I rather like what the NW2 Residents Association done around Cricklewood is amazing. Seems like I'm not the only one

4. Anyone know what is happening to this Burnt Oak Landmark?

5. Respect to our local hero, Anthony Joshua, for remembering his roots!

6. Great pictures of the Gaumont in Finchley. I used to wait for the 221 bus home from FCHS when I was a teenager. You never think these landmarks will disappear without trace

7. We rather like the architecture of garages back in the day when people wanted to make buildings visually pleasing

8. Once again we take our hats off to the Colindale litter pickers

9. Congratulations to Emily and Are, who celebrate their fifth anniversary of running the Chandos Arms pub. They have done an amazing job!

10. Good luck to everyone coming to Mill Hill today to do Rock School Exams!

That's all folks!!!

Saturday, 18 May 2019

The Saturday List #218 - #Eurovison special - My top 10 European records of all time

Today is #Eurovision day. I am not a fan of the show. There is amazing music produced all over Europe, but what we tend to get is bland europop and sanitised versions of folk songs. So here is my Top Ten European Songs.

1. Ireland  -  The Pogues - Sally MacLennane
This needs no commentary. Ace track from a vrilliant band

2. Sweden - Ebba Gron - 800 Grader
I became a fan in 1981 when I was living in Stockholm. A great band.

3. France - Serge Gainsbourg and Brigitte Bardot - Bonnie and Clyde
If you've never seen this before check it out! It is amazing, there is no time when it's not good to see Bardot in her prime!
4. Spain -Jose Feliciano - Light my fire
Amazing. Imporoves a classic

5. Italy - Giorgio Moroder
Now I know everyone always thinks Donna Summer, but this was Italian genius Giorgio Moroders creation.  A real game changer

6.Portugal - The Parkinsons - Bad Girl

This band are amazing. Portugals answer to the Ramones. They recorded an album in our studio

7. Germany - Kraftwerk - Autobahn

Perhaps the most influential band/single to come out of Germany. Three minutes of Brilliance

8.Russia - Pussy Riot - Make America Great Again

Everyone should listen to and love Pussy Riot. They take risks and they are incredible

9. Scotland - The Bay City Rollers - Bye Bye Baby

The Rollers were massive. They revelled in their Scottish identity. They had catchy songs and were fun. I hated them!

10. Iceland - Bjork - All is full of Love

No list of European music could possibly miss Bjork. Weird and wonderful.

That's all folks

Friday, 17 May 2019

A personal message to people considering voting for Nigel Farage

My reasons for supporting Remain are not entirely different the reason many people support Leave. I believe in democracy and I would have accepted the Referendum result if the govt had embarked on the process of leaving in a coherent and rational fashion. The first thing they should done was to set up a Royal Commission to work out a roadmap to a successful rather than a chaotic Brexit. They should have identified all of the benefits of EU membership and then worked out mitigations for all of them, in a clear and concise manner. To this day, there is no clear and concise definition of these are and what the mitigations are The whole process of negotiations has been botched. May's deal is the worst of all worlds,  associate membership of the EU with no say on how things are run. Whatever the reasons people gave to vote leave, I do not believe it was to achieve this sort of a deal. 

My reasons for voting remain was based on the fact that whatever happens the EU will be our biggest trading partner for the foreseeable future. My belief is that Europe (not the EU) needs Britain to be a member and we should have worked with the smaller nations and taken leadership to reform what is a very corrupt club. The reason we never did that is because the EU doles out massive grants to the smaller countries to keep them sweet. Cameron was a very poor negotiator and the 'new deal' he tried to sell the UK electorate was nothing of the sort. When he failed he made up a cock and bull story to pretend he'd done a great deal and everyone ceased to trust him.

Once the UK departs the EU, the smaller countries are at the mercy of a monolithic bureaucracy with overbearing German and the French interests driving forward with no credible major force to challenge them. I believe that is dangerous. At least whilst we were in the club, we could use the fact it cost us an arm and a leg to reign them in. The reason that the Germans and the French are so keen on their deal is that it gives them complete control of the agenda, whilst also emasculating the UK's political agenda. The likes of Farage are trying to force a no deal exit. Whilst on the face of it, this may deal with the issue of the emasculation of UK's political influence, consider what that does to our smaller European allies. They have long looked to the UK for leadership and the safety blanket that offers. We did not fight two world wars to throw our friends, who have backed us for centuries, to the wolves. That is not what the UK does and it will damage our standing and influence. Countries such as Poland, Portugal, The Czech Republic etc, have long looked to the UK to watch their backs. We sacrificed millions of men in two world wars for this principle. We cannot walk away from our friends, just because the EU bureaucracy has proven difficult and inefficient. I believe that this may light a powder keg in mainland Europe and anyone who thinks that would be good for the UK simply hasn't read the history of the 20th century in Europe. 
As to the financial side of Brexit. As I mentioned in the first paragraph, any move to a no deal Brexit should have been a proper study of what this meant, a detailed plan to minimise the downside risks of the process. Had the government started planning on a proper basis for an orderly Brexit in 2016, we may have been near a position where we could manage the process. As it is, we are completely unprepared. Whilst well off people with MEP pensions such as Nigel Farage will be alright, a responsible politician would ensure that any process does not damage the standard of living of the ordinary working people of the UK. Platitudes from the likes of Farage are not enough. Dismissing any discussion of risks of job losses and economic damage as 'project fear' is not a rational way for grown up politicians to proceed. Brexit was sold to many as an opportunity to open the UK up to the world. If this does not happen, then whatever you call the process, it is not Brexit. The UK government has made no serious effort to negotiate pre agreement protocols with other major markets, so the will of the 17.4 million people has been ignored. Given that we'd been in the EU for over forty years (in all its incarnations), the leave side should have been honest and set an expectation that an orderly withdrawal would take a full parliamentary term and that the first three years would be a planning and discussion phase. Only when a proper plan was put together, should the government have enacted Article 50. I had a discussion about this with a leaver recently, who claimed that delaying serving Article 50 would have been a betrayal. I pointed out that by serving it too early and then having to apply for extensions, we have done something far worse from a leaver perspective. The Government has shown that the Article 50 process is meaningless. It would only ever have worked, if the UK was fully prepared, which it has never been. 
The architect of this chaos was David Cameron. He should have been honest with the UK electorate and said that the EU as an institution is fundamentally corrupt. He should have committed us to a guerrilla process of stopping everything until it reformed and became fit for purpose and spelled out that having lost millions in two world wars to protect the smaller countries of Europe we couldn't throw them to the wolves. There are many Europeans, even in France and Germany, who would have supported this strategy. Margaret Thatcher showed that you could get a better deal if you held your ground. Cameron called the referendum purely because he was terrified of his own right wing (the ERG mob) and the rise of UKIP. If he'd stood up and said "The EU is a broken organisation. The UK is going to forge an alliance of nations to fix it and it is going to take a long time and be very difficult, but we have shown over the centuries that we can prevail". He would have silenced those forces (assuming he'd actually done what he said). This would have made us very unpopular in the corridors of power in Brussels as we blocked budgets and stalled political change and federalist forces. But once the EU got the message that we were serious, they would have accommodated us and Europe would have benefitted from reform. It would not have been perfect, there would have been many compromises, as that is what grown ups do, but if we'd stuck to our guns for transparency, an end to corruption and proper democratic processes, eventually we would have got there. The truth is that David Cameron would never have done that, as I really don't believe it is what he wanted. I believe he was quite happy with the status quo and believed that the electorate were stupid. Theresa May is no better. I don't see any major politicians with any backbone at all. If you look at the calibre of politician the UK used to produce, people who won wars, created the NHS, abolished slavery, created the Open University etc, you soon realise that something has gone wrong with our parties. I enjoy reading historical biographies. I can't imagine anyone finding anything of worth reading David Cameron's autobiography. As to Theresa May, I look forward to her on Celebrity Pop Idol singing My Way "Regrets, I've had a few, But then again, too few to mention, I did what I had to do, they saw through me,  without exemption" would certainly bring me to tears. 

But we are where we are. Much as we may despise the politicians we have, that is like getting dealt a five high in three card brag. You can still win, if you play it right. You just need the balls to do it and a poker face. The Euro elections offer a chance to send the major parties a message. If, like me, you are a remainer, it is clear what parties you should vote for. The Lib Dems and the Greens have a consistent position. Even if you dislike the parties, neither will form a government if you vote for them, but a strong vote will send a message of disapproval to the government. But what about those on the Brexit side? Given the absolutely despicable opaqueness of both the Tory and Labour position, what should you do? The newly formed Brexit party, lead by Nigel Farage has issued no manifesto and is basically Farage and a bunch of washed up chancers, hoping to hop on the EU gravy train. If I was a Brexiteer. I would run a mile from him. Giving Farage a blank cheque is crazy. He will do what he's always done and whatever he sets up will fall apart leaving a mess and a lot of people feeling very betrayed. So what should you do? I am amazed that no one on the Brexit side has advocated this, especially ERG Tories. The answer is simple If you are a Tory or Labour, you should spoil your ballot paper and write in large letters "Deliver Brexit" on it. That way, no one will hop on the Gravy Train. If say 30% of ballot papers were spoiled in this way, this would send a signal out far louder than voting for charlatans ever can. I would be tempted to write on the back "Labour/Tory (delete as appropriate) voter for Brexit". 
The bottom line is that if you don't believe in the EU, why would you want to send someone there to hop on the gravy train?

Tuesday, 14 May 2019

Euro Elections - My thoughts on Nigel Farage

If Farage was what he claimed, a man who doesn’t believe in the EU and believes the EU Parliament is nothing but a fake talking shop, he’d have refused to take his seat or draw his salary. But what does he believe? One thing Farage has made crystal clear is that he despises the NHS. He’d love to see it opened up to Trump supporting US corporations who have ensured that working class Americans live in fear of serious illness.

I actually feel sorry for #Brexit supporters. It is not their fault that a complete Bell End like Farage has inserted himself at the head of their campaign. What sickens me is the way he seeks to airbrush out the honourable figures on both left and right who campaigned for #Brexit. I don’t agree with the likes of @KateHoeyMP, Tony Benn, @DavidDavisMP, Rees Mogg etc, but I object to the way Farage has sought to airbrush their decades of support for Brexit out of the picture and try and claim all the credit for himself.

Anyone who followed the Tories, from John Majors problems with Portillo and Redwood style bastards, would know Cameron thought calling a referendum would silence them. It was the support of the likes of Boris that swing it, Farage was a peripheral figure. It is worth recalling that Farages parting gift to @UKIP was to destroy it. That is why he had to start a new party.

In a democracy, the way demagogue takes power is to hide his true nature.

He cannot be trusted.

Monday, 13 May 2019

Church Farmhouse Museum - The ultimate irony

Do you ever happen on an old item at the back of a cupboard, and find yourself reduced to tears by the memory?  A good friend of mine, Robert Smith, Banjo player with Mill Hill's finest Hillbilly band, The Skiff Skats passed away last week. Robert was instrumental in getting Mill Hill Music Complex involved in  the "Sound of The Suburbs" Exhibition at The Church Farmhouse Museum in Hendon. This was a collection of rock and pop memorabilia from the musicians of the locality.

I had taken some pictures of the opening day of the exhibition with Robert and I was looking for them, following Roberts passing. Back in 2006 when the exhibition took place, I was not writing blogs etc, or on Facebook or Tweeting, so I only had a few dog eared images. Sadly I couldn't find what I was looking for. What I did find was a letter of thanks from the then curator, Gerrard Roots thanking me for the loan of various items and my support. I also found a selection of photographs of the studios over the years. There they all were. Happy, smiling pictures of Ernie Ferebee, my former studio partner who died in 2001 of Pancreatic Cancer. A picture of Paul Hircombe, the former bassplayer of the False Dots and another partner in the studio, looking young and moody. Paul passed away in 2011 from Oesophageal cancer. There was also a picture of my Mum, who was still alive at the time. I'd taken her up to see the exhibition and then next door for a Sandwich and lunch. Despite the fact that she'd had a major stroke in 2000, she had been determined to see the exhibition. She was proud that the studio was recognised in the exhibition. Despite being almost unable to climb the stairs, she was determined to see it. She was thrilled to learn of the pivotal role in the North West London music scene that the studio played. She said that it brought home to her how much we'd achieved. She enjoyed a beer and a sandwich in the Greyhound even more. My mum had been a lunchtime regular before her stroke and was pleased to go back. It was the last time she ever went there. She died in 2008.

Church Famrhouse was an absolutely amazing asset for our local community. It offered an opportunity for local people, especially children to learn of the history of our community. Sadly the local Conservative Council place no value on the history of our area. They summarily closed the museum in 2011. I made a film on the day the museum closed with Gerrard. I am proud of my little film, but it is a sad tale.

.Having  watched the video once again, I decided to see what Wikipedia had to say about the building. I had to laugh at the irony of the final sentence "The building is now occupied by the Centre for Abuse and Trauma Studies and the European Human Rights Advocacy Centre, both part of Middlesex University. The University took over and restored the building in 2016."

I was and am still disgusted that Middlesex University participated in this act of cultural vandalism. For a centre of learning to destroy such a resource is ironic indeed. To destroy our heritage is not only an abuse of office, traumatising many people who had a long held deep affection for the museum, but I believe that it totally disregards the human rights of our young people to learn of their heritage and be deprived of their rights to a heritage. In other European countries, this is recognised. In the Borough of Barnet, is it any wonder that we are plagued with vandalism, when our council and local university are the biggest vandals of all.

I have this question for the great and good at Middlesex University. How can you be so crass as to to destroy such a jewel in our community and how can you possibly claim to be 'educators' if you are a party to such actions? Educational institutions are meant to teach us to appreciate things of beauty and recognise the value of history. How can you square this with your participation in the destruction of the museum? This building should be what it has been for generations. A place where local people come to learn to appreciate our heritage.

In loving Memory of Robert and Pete Smith RIP - The Skiff Skats - Mill Hill's finest Cowpoke band!


Why #Brexiteers are right to feel a sense of betrayal

In 100 years, when we read the history books about the UK, my belief is that there will be one man that stands out as  the destroyer of the United Kingdom. That person won't be Kaiser Bill, the man who my Grandfather fought in the trenches in The Somme. It won't be Adolf Hitler who my father flew Wellington Bombers for the RAF, to halt in its tracks. Perversely, both Kaiser Bill and Hitler brought us together as a nation. Englishmen, Welshmen, Irishmen and Scotsmen stood together. They were joined by men from the Commonwealth, such as my Father, an Aussie, prepared to die for King and Country. My Father who's squadron (40 Squadron) was filled with brave men from all around the world, once told me that the extraordinary strength of the English speaking world was that when there was a crisis, we set aside our differences. We pull together and we come through, in adversity.

But here we are in 2019 and there is a very real prospect that the UK will break up. I have been amazed to hear Brexiteers stating that Northern Ireland departing the Union to save Brexit is a price worth paying to deliver their goal. It seems that the concept of Britishness is alien to Brexiteers. As anyone who understood the Irish situation knew before the referendum, Ireland would always be an insurmountable problem. This was one of the many things summarily dismissed by the likes of Nigel Farage in the campaign.  I can see no way that Scotland has a long term future as part of Great Britain once we leave. The country voted remain and it has a devolved government committed to remaining, who see #Brexit as the key. Why are we in this situation? Who is the villain of the piece? The answer is quite simple. The man who the history books will pin the blame on is David Cameron. 

Why did Cameron call the referendum? It wasn't out of any sense of democratic duty to the British people. It was to fix a difficult issue in the Conservative party. It is rather ironic that his attempt to "fix the Europe problem" looks likely to destroy the party for once and for all. Cameron made three mistakes when he came up with his cunning plan. The first was that he failed to recognise that there was a massive sense of anger in the country. This was looking for an outlet. The second was he failed to recognise that no one really trusted him or his deputy George Osborne (who he put in charge of the Remain campaign).  The third was that the referendum process he set up was fundamentally flawed. 

My guess is that most readers will understand the reasons for the first two of these. What some may  understand less, is why the referendum process was flawed. Cameron's arrogance was the root cause of this. Cameron being a rather shifty sort of character made the referendum an 'advisory referendum'm with no legally binding power. This sleight of hand was his backstop, a statement of complete contempt for the UK electorate. I believe that Cameron should have posed a very different question and made it legally binding. 

The question should have been Please choose one of the following two options which would be legally binding. 

Do you want to:

1. Remain in the EU on the current terms and conditions
2. Leave the EU, Customs Union, ECJ and all other institutions of the European Union on or before the 23rd June 2021. 

That way, everyone would have had a clear understanding of exactly what it meant and there would not be a period of drift. There would have been a proper debate, rather than the one where all sorts of dishonest claims were made by both sides. I happen to believe if the the truth of what the #Leave campaign was asking for was debated had been set out, the result would have been different. If it hadn't, there would have been a set period to properly manage the process. As it is, we are three years into the process and still no one knows the likely future relationship between the EU and the UK. 
I have many leave supporting friends, who feel let down. They are right to. They were mislead about the true nature of the referendum.

Oddly, they state that the lies such as the £350 million a week don't bother them and that despite the referendum having no legal standing, they believe it should be set in stone. Constitutionally, they have two options. The first is to accept that Parliament can do what it likes or ask for a second, legally binding referendum. The #Leave campaign's main argument was that Parliament should be sovereign, but this is then rejected in the matter of the referendum. 

Due to Cameron, we are now faced with a situation where the country is divided, two of the parts of the Union are likely to leave and our two party system is likely to fall apart. People like my son., who turned 19 yesterday, had no vote. the #Brexit vote was largely won by older voters. When my son is my age in 2050, I wonder what him and his peers will think of what we've done.

In a couple of weeks time, we have elections to the European parliament. This is the nearest thing we are likely to get to a referendum. The Parliament is elected by proportional representation. If you care about sorting this mess out, please voter for a party with a clear manifesto commitment to remain in the EU. This means The Lib Dems, The Greens, Change, The SNP,  or Plaid Cymru. If you are a #Leave voter, I strongly urge you not to vote for the #Brexit party. They have not published a manifesto and so you are writing Nigel Farage a blank cheque. To stand in an election without saying what you stand for should be illegal. Farage is no friend of the working class. He is no friend of the NHS. If you give him your vote, you may well find that you have enabled a very dangerous man. No intelligent person can possibly believe that his refusal to publish a manifesto is anything other than exceptionally dodgy. 
The bottom line is that whilst the people who voted #Brexit feel a sense of betrayal and are probably right about the way they were mislead as to what the result would mean, the people who have really been betrayed are those who were too young to vote, but who will have to live with the fall out. I asked a #Leave friend, during a heated conversation a couple of weeks ago, what his opinion was of people like my son, who had no vote and who had to live with the consequence. He replied "F*** them". 

That is the world that David Cameron built. History will be his judge. Sadly I suspect that by the time my son is reading those history books, he will be an English rather than a British citizen. 

Saturday, 11 May 2019

The Saturday List #217 - My Top Ten Cover versions of all times

I have long been of the opinion that BBC Radio London is blessed to have some excellent presenters. Of these Robert Elms, formerly of this parish, is perhaps my favourite. His show is a joy to behold. I probably go to ten things a year as a result of hearing about them on his show. Last night, we went to see the new Aretha Franklin documentary film at the Picturehouse, mainly because we heard an interview with one of the producers on his show. Robert has a slot on a friday called a Fourfer, and this featured four songs by Aretha. For me, Aretha Franklin is a very special artist, she is the primary reason that I developed a love of soul and gospel music. The reason? It wasn't a genre I payed much attention to growing up. To understand this, you need to understand the way we interacted with music as kids at the time. Our main introduction to music was Top of the Pops. Our main source of radio music was Radio One which was chart music. For more obscure stuff, as kids, it was our elder brothers and sister who would introduce us. My elder siblings liked Rock music.  Soul and Gospel wasn't really on the menu.

In 1978, bought Prehistoric Sounds by The Saints, an Aussie Punk band, who had been the first punk band I'd seen. My favourite track was Save Me. Further inspection revealed that this was a song by Aretha Franklin. I ventured out and located a well worn copy of I Never Loved a Man the Way I Love You in a second hand shop in Camden Town. I had no great expectation of liking it, but it blew me away. Inspired by this, I acquired a stack of ten records, including Marvin Gaye, Smokey Robinson and Otis Redding, on the recommendation  of a helpful chap in a specialist record shop (always the best way to explore a new genre of music).  I'd told him what I liked an didn't like.

Back to Robert Elms, he does a weekly slot called cover to cover. On this, he plays an original version followed by a classic cover. Listeners are asked to ring in and say which they prefer, then he gives a winner based on the listeners feedback. As we travelled back on the train, I mulled all of this and asked myself "What are my ten favourite covers of all time". The criteria is simple. The original must be a belter, but the cover must take it somewhere different and better. You will probably disagree with my selections but check them out. All of these are classics.

1. Ed Kuepper  - If I were a carpenter. From Kueppers classic album Today Wonder. A much covered song, but I think Kuepper nails the song in a way no one else has. Dark and moody. To really appreciate it, I'd recommend listening to the whole album. Amazingly Kuepper takes a classic song and makes it the pivotal track on the album, the crescendo. On the album, the way Eternally Yours dovetails into it is immense and awesome. I sort of think that if people don't get this record, they don't really get music.

2. Spirit  - Like a Rolling Stone. From Spirit of '76. To me, Spirit are one of the most criminally underrated bands of all time. I saw them a few times, have most of their albums and could never figure out why they weren't massive. Spirit of 76 is there greatest album and Like A Rolling Stone is the stand out track. I think many Bob Dylan songs have made better covers. Dylan is a great songwriter, but to me none compare with Spirits version of Like a Rolling Stone.

3. Knox - Gigolo Aunt. When Knox quit the Vibrators, he launched a solo career and this was his first single. A cover of the rather weird and wonderful Gigolo Aunt by Syd Barrett. I love Barratts version, but Knox tranformed it into a perfect Pop song. Knox had a great band and the set was weird, wacky and wonderful. Had he done this fifteen years later, when Indie was at its peak, I'm convinced it would have been massive, but it was just not right for the post punk 1980's

4. Soft Cell - Tainted Love. The original was by Gloria Jones and is a Northern Soul Classic. It's a decent enough song, but MarcAlmond transforms it into a monster. The song sounds as if it was written for Almond. The song works so well when it is about a young man coming to terms with his own sexuality.

5. Sid Vicious - My Way. How could anyone take Frank Sinatra's theme tune and make it there own? I was never a Sid Vicious fan. I felt the Sex Pistols musically lost it when Glen Matlock left. Vicious seemed to me to bring nothing to the party. When we trotted along to the cinema to watch The Great Rock and Roll Swindle, I expected nothing from  Vicious. My views were pretty much confirmed until he performed My Way. It is stunning. I think in many ways, it is the finest version. It begs the question whether Vicious was in the wrong job as the bassist in the Pistols. He was clearly an amazing performer, if a lousy musician. It is just a shame that no one really realised this until he was dead.

6. Aretha Franklin - Respect. Any list of great covers which doesn't include this is simply a rubbish list. The original by Otis Redding is fine, but this is a whirlwind.

7. Patti Smith - Gloria. Maybe this is the best cover of them all. Van  Morrison is an icon, but Patti Smith transforms the song into something way above the nice little pop song that Van recorded. Patti Smith shows just what an amazing artist she is. I've often wondered what Van Morrison made of this.

8. Elvis Presley - Blue Suede Shoes. Originally recorded by Carl Perkins, Presley owns it. For me, the early period Elvis recordings are simply awesome. This is the best of them

9. Amy Winehouse - Someone to watch over me. There are many Amy tracks that could be picked. When I first started thinking about this, I was drawn to Valerie. I then listened to a whole stack of other Amy covers. I stumbled across this which is a demo version. I heard Amy sing a snatch of this before she was famous when she was rehearsing at Mill Hill Music Complex studio 9. When she emerged, I asked if she was covering an Ella Fitzgerald song. She said, rather embarrassedly, "Yes, was it Ok?" I told her it sounded great. It was about the third time I'd heard her sing at the studios, but I realised that if she could do Ella Fitzgerald properly she was some talent. Maybe I'm biased but I think this is awesome.

10. The Dickies - Banana Split Song. There are a few gigs that I've seen that were simply mindblowing. The Dickies at The Marquee Club in the late 1970's was one such night. At the time they were in the charts with The Banana Split song. The Dickies were not cool and got no recognition. I was at the gig with a group of people, including Steve Ignorant of Crass, who left in disgust at the comic antics of The Dickies. I loved it. There is space in everyones life for fun. I recently saw the Dickies on a UK Tour and it was hilarious watching 60 year old bald punks pogoing to this. As a kid I'd loved the Banana Splits and this was a real gulity pleasure

Have a great weekend

Friday, 10 May 2019

Rog T's Cancer Blog - When sex = death what would you do?

For those of you who are regular readers and have read the previous posts on Cancer, you can skip this first paragraph. I write this blog because knowledge is power and if you know what you are dealing with, you have more weapons in the locker to fight it. It is a personal view, I'm not medically qualified. This is for the sole purpose of information for those who are interested.This is the latest installment in my occasional series about how I'm adjusting to living with a big C in my life.  For those of you who aren't, here's a quick summary. I'm 54years old and in October 2011 I  had a prostate biopsy following two "slightly high" PSA tests - 2.8 & 4.1. The biopsy took ten tissue samples and one of these showed a "low grade cancer" which gave me a 3+3 on the Gleason scale. I was put on a program of active monitoring.  In early February, I got the results of the a PSA test - down to 3.5 and an MRI scan which found absolutely nothing, two more tests in 2012 were at 3.5 and 3.9, in 2013 my test was 4.0, Jan 2014 was 3.8, August 2014 was 4.0,  February 2015 it was  up to 5.5  and my latest in August 2015 was down again at 4.6. In October 2015 I had a transperinial Prostate biopsy, that revealed higher grade cancer and my Gleason score was raised to 3+4 (Small mass + more aggressive cancer). On 22nd Jan 2016 I had HIFU (Hi Intensity Focused Ultrasound) treatment at UCHL). My post procedure PSA in May was 4.0 which was down, followed by 3.7 in August, and 3.5 in October  which means that the direction is positive . However in January the follow up MRI revealed "something unusual which requires investigation" After a follow up biopsy, it appeared this was nothing to worry about. My two most recent PSA tests were Ok (3.7 and 4.6) and an MRI scan in March was very positive.  I've no symptoms apart from needing to wee quite regularly and sadly for a few people, if I'm gonna die soon, it won't be from Prostate cancer. Got the picture? 

Back in April, I wrote a blog detailing my latest MRI scan. Since then I also had a PSA test, which was stable at 4.7. On Wednesday, I made way with Clare to UCH to see professor Emberton, my consultant, for my annual review. Anyone who had had treatment for cancer will know the feeling of dread in the the pit of your stomach as this date approaches. All manner of thoughts pass through your mind, most of them are fearful and dark.

When I had treatment in 2016, I had three options. The first was a radical prostatectomy. The upside of this was that if it was successful, for my condition it would be a complete cure. The downside was that there is a strong likelyhood of impotence, incontinence and infertility associated with this. The second option was to do nothing and take a chance. The cancer was still reasonably small and had not started to spread beyond the prostate. No one could advise on when it may spread, when it may start to have symptoms and when it may kill me. The upside was that there would be no impact on my lifestyle and something else may kill me long before the prostate cancer. The downside was that no on could advise and I realised that it as I was 53 at the time, then unless I started drinking a bottle of scotch a day, the hope something else kills me first was very much a lap of the Gods issue. The thought of having my sex life ended at age 53 horrified me. I discussed it with my wife who assured me that as far as she was concerned, she'd rather have me around and not fully functional than dead. I've got to confess that I wasn't 100% sure I believed her. The concept of being less than a full man was horrific. 

After much soul searching, I opted for option one. After a further discussion and some research, I became aware of a third option, This was HIFU treatment. This is an experimental procedure, performed at UCH by professor Emberton and his team. I had been advised by the team at Barnet that HIFU was not suitable for my condition, but as Clare said, there is nothing to lose by having a conversation. We went to see Prof Emberton and he explained the procedure and the risks and benefits. The biggest risk in my case was that what was being proposed was not a cure. There would still be low grade, non aggressive cancer present. The treatment would address the aggressive cancer. I would have to be continually monitored following the procedure. At some point in the future, further treatment may be required. The upside? The risks of impotence, incontinence and infertility are far lower. In effect, the treatment pushed the problem into the long grass. The way I saw it, with the advances in medical technology, if it pushed the decision ten years down the line, then the options may bother me less and also treatment options may have progressed. Professor Emberton also suggested that as I'd be monitored, further HIFU would be an option if the aggressive cancer returned. 

Back in 1981, when I moved to Stockholm, I attended an exhibition promoting breast cancer awareness. There was a long wall full of pictures of bear breasts. They were groups of three picture and there were dozens of them. The first one was a normal picture of breasts. The second was a picture of mutilated looking breasts, and the third was a picture of normal looking breasts, that on inspection had a few scars. I have to confess that as a naive 18 year old, I thought it was some sort of punk art. The curator of the gallery came up and started chatting to me. She explained that the exhibition was designed to persuade women that breast reconstruction surgery following a mastectomy was a straightforward procedure and women shouldn't refuse a mastectomy through fear of not being a proper woman anymore. I hadn't known at the time, but it was explained that women were dying due to the fear of cosmetic damage. I thought that they must be rather silly to have such fears and the exhibition made the point rather well.

Fast forward to 2016, I had come to realise that such fears are far less trivial. My greatest fear, and I have no reason to suspect that it was anything other than irrational was that I'd end up impotent, my wife would lose interest in me and I'd end up on my own with no prospect of a partner. Although I am handsome and have a sparkling wit (said with irony), I simply couldn't see why any woman would be interested in an impotent fool who was incontinent and smelled of wee. Having children, I felt that it would be unfair to put them through the stress of refusing treatment. HIFU was a way to deal with my fears and also deal with my immediate problems.

Of course, even with HIFU there is still a prospect of the dreaded side effects,, it is just lower. Fear eats the soul. The whole process was stressful, uncomfortable and an episode that I was keen to put behind me. Wearing a catheter for a week was far from pleasant. It took two months before it was clear how successful the procedure was. Fast forward to today, everything is normal, but the annual review is always a time of stress. So in we went. Professor Emberton is a brilliant man and talks to you as an adult with respect. The latest PSA was 4.7, which for someone with my age with a large prostate, was normal. We agreed that I'd manage my PSA tests as I have been. This means a twice yearly check. He said that if it went above 5.5, get another test and then contact him.

The MRI showed nothing to be concerned about, although as he said there were 'subtle changes'. I asked what these meant. He said "there are cells we worry about, cells we don't worry about and ones we are just not sure about". So I'd be back in a years time for another MRI and hopefully a similar conversation.

That's the problem with cancer, you never really know, but the fear has been kicked into the long grass for another year. Afterwards, we made our way to Marylebone High St and had an excellent late lunch in Fishworks. Two courses for £18, excellent chips and really fresh fish. A pleasant way to turn the page on this years chapter. I am lucky. One thing to mention. The NHS no longer does routine PSA tests. If I was getting my "NHS MOT" today, I wouldn't have known that I had prostate cancer. Three years on from my HIFU treatment, it occurs to me that I may have now been in the position where the cancer had spread and I was starting to display symptoms. My options would have been very different. The PSA tests were abolished as NICE deemed that too many men were having too many unnecessary procedures. I am one of the one in five men who's treatment was not unnecessary.

All in all I am blessed in many ways. I have a great consultant and great support. My cancer was detected by a test that is no longer routinely supported. I think men deserve better.

Thursday, 9 May 2019

Statement from the Leader of the Council, Cllr Richard Cornelius

The Leader of Barnet Council today sent the following message to all council Staff

Dear all,

I have loved being Leader of the Council, but the time has come for someone else to have a turn. I have lived in Barnet all my life, and I am extremely proud of everything that we have achieved together in the last eight years. I have enjoyed the challenge of making the money go further. This has not always been easy and we have had to make some difficult decisions, but the borough is now in a better place. We kept general Council Tax frozen for 9 years until 2019, while resident satisfaction with the council has remained high. I am pleased with the progress that we have made in children’s services, and proud of the developments taking place in parts of Barnet, such as Stonegrove, Colindale and Dollis Valley. I am stepping down at an exciting time for Barnet. We have two brand new leisure centres opening later in the year, and a new Youth Zone for local children and young people opens its doors next month. I want to thank everyone for your hard work and support in delivering for the people of Barnet. I will continue as a Councillor and look forward to working with the new Leader. Cllr Dan Thomas is now Leader of the Conservative Group, and is expected to be appointed as Leader of the Council on Tuesday 21 May. I am confident he will be successful and hope he enjoys his time as much as I have. Best wishes

Leader of the Council, Cllr Richard Cornelius

I guess that we won't have much use for this video in future!