Thursday, 9 April 2020

Whatever happened to the melodic, killer guitar riff?

As a guitarist, I’ve been using the lockdown to brush up on my technique. I started playing at 15, following Mark Perry’s ‘here’s three chords now form a band’ back in 1978. We did that. When Paul Marvin joined the band, I got an impromptu lesson from his Dad, Hank at his house in Radlett. I was rubbish, could barely play, but Hank gave me some really great advice. He said that if you make your riffs and solo’s melodic and catchy, the ordinary punter will think you are a better guitarist than someone who plays a million notes a second. I was also lucky to get advice from the great Alan Warner of the Foundations, when we recorded at Lane studios. Alan emphasised the importance of listening to the music and making sure what you play is sympathetic to the song. This was reinforced by BB. King who said of Joe Satriani ‘If I could play like him, I wouldn’t’. I originally posted a version of this blog on Facebook and it got a fascinating response. I thought I'd develop it a little bit further. In one of the comments,  I was reminded of the amazing performance by Carlos Santana at Woodstock, performing Soul sacrifice. This is a classic example of how a lead guitarist who appreciates melody can make amazing music. No overplaying, tasteful but technically brilliant.

As Soul Sacrifice is an instrumental track, it is one where the guitar really needs to be spot on. For years, as a guitarist, I wanted to make an epic instrumental guitar track. Back in 2008, working with Fil Ross, Paul Hircombe RIP and Tony Caveye of The False Dots, we recorded Paul Song. At the time, it was just a bit of self indulgent fun. When Paul passed away in 2012, it became his requiem. I hacked together a video of it for fun. The video is pretty dodgy, but I think the guitar work, most of which is Fil (I just mostly do the keyboards, rhythm and acoustic guitars), is excellent. I love playing in a band with Fil, as above all, he gets melody and his solo's and riffs are always sympathetic. What do you think?

It seems to me that there is a modern trend amongst guitarists to overplay, to not focus on melody and sympathy to the music. I can’t remember hearing a really amazing ear hook riff in a new song for ages. There’s lots of widdling but when was the last Apache, Satisfaction, Rebel Rebel, 20th Century Boy, Smoke on The Water, Pretty Vacant, Kinky Afro, etc style killer riff in a guitar based song? Hit records with simple, catchy riffs? I really think that we need tutorials need to emphasise that if you are a guitarist and you want to write a hit, learn to write catchy riffs.

Rant over. What’s your favourite guitarist and their best riff? My favourite guitarist is Steve Miller of the Steve Miller Band. I love his economical bluesy style and his ability to mix things up. I think Rockin Me is an almost perfect rock and roll single. A great guitarist playing economically, with a great riff (which was tastefully nicked from a Free track, another great band who extol melodic lead guitar). There are plenty of more technical, more accomplished guitarists, but for me simplicity and melody is king. Steve Miller's songs are all full of this.

As for best riff, this is a very tough one. I could have chosen a hundred, but I will go for Brian James  riff at the start of Fan club, by The Damned. I found a rare clip of the band playing in 1977 at Sussex Uni. Every time I play Damned Damned Damned and hear this riff, it sends shivers down my spine. It is evocative and transports me back to 1977, to buying the album at Mill Hill Televison, bringing it home, putting it on the turntable and letting the music wash over me. Many of the early punk bands were great live, but the debut albums didn't really catch the excitement. Damned Damned Damned was the first and it is a masterpiece. I wonder if the band really expected that people would still be listening to it 40 odd years later?

Fan Club starts with the lyric

Well, I'm craving for a cigarette, hey give me a light
Feeling kind of thirsty, give me something that bites
Sure been hanging 'round here for much too long
All you crazy people waiting for my song

Anyone who has ever been in a band will understand this, when you perform a gig, you arrive hours before, hang around, eventually you do a soundcheck, then you hang around for many more hours. It is the most boring experience imaginable. You are in a state of nervous anticipation, but there is really nothing to do. Often there is a bar, in the good old days, we all smoked like chimneys, not always combustables of an entirely legal nature,  in the changing rooms.  Even if you didn't smoke, you'd smell like a kipper by the time you went on stage. Then there is 30 minutes of raw excitement and energy. That is it. And to me, Fan club is perhaps the song that sums it all up. And that riff at the start. That is what a proper riff does. The song also reminds me of Paul Hircombe, who was the bass player in the False Dots for 28 years. We spent so long hanging around, waiting. If you are in a band, you really need to be with people who's company you like.

I saw the Damned a few years ago at The Roundhouse, performing the whole album in it's entirety. The show reminded me of why I fell in love with live music. Yeah, I know its personal.

Wednesday, 8 April 2020

The Wednesday Poem - A prayer for us all for believers and atheists alike

About a year ago, a friend of mine who is an atheist, said that when their are times of great crisis, he wanted to join in prayers for victims etc, as an act of solidarity, but felt a tad hypocritical as he did not believe in God and had deeply held reservations about organised religion. I set about writing a prayer for everyone, that we could all join in with. I got half way through and gave up. I thought I would finish it.

A prayer for the whole human family

In these strained times I want you to know 
that I stand with you always, wherever you go
The road may be rocky, the end may be near
But my love will be with you, of that have no fear

Regardless of whether you believe, we take comfort from expressing our solidarity, whether in private or in public, whether silently or out loud. What is important is that we feel able to tell ourselves that even though we are helpless, we can still love and care. If someone is going through a bad time, say their name and then say these words. If you are of faith, add  a prayer from your tradition.

Copyright 2020 Roger Tichborne (feel free to use this personally, publications please credit appropriately).

Tuesday, 7 April 2020

Today is our 25th Wedding Anniversary - It's my party and I'll cry if I want to!

Where were you on the 1st November 1969? Some of you won't even have been born. My beloved missus was three years old. I was seven. But I can vividly remember what I was doing. It was the Saturday following Tuesday the 28th October 1969, which was my parents 25th wedding anniversary. We spent the evening in the Church Hall at the Sacred Heart, Mill Hill having a party.

My parents had not really had a proper wedding party, they  married in wartime, there are no pictures of the day, my Dad's family were in Australia, he was serving as an officer in the RAF, working as a pilot instructor, based in Morecombe Lancashire, having returned from a short stint in Cairo following his escape from a Prisoner of War camp in Bucharest, Rumania. My parents married in a hurry. My mothers brothers were in the army, I'm not sure if they could attend. One of my Dad's mates from the RAF turned up and acted as best man. The reception was at the Hunters Lodge in Mill Hill, which is now the Good Earth. They were married by Fr Fred Smyth at The Annunciation Church in Burnt Oak. Mum told me that it was the first wedding at the Church with Fr Smyth, they remained lifelong friends.  My mum tThey then adjourned to Torquay for their honeymoon. The only story my Dad ever told was how they broke the bed and had to pinch a couple of books from the bookcase to prop it up. As my Dad was a very social guy, who loved a party, I suspect that he felt a bit cheated, but it was wartime and they wanted to make sure they got hitched. 

As their 25th approached, it became clear that Dad wanted to push the boat out and have the biggest party he could afford. To my mothers irritation, he found out that a mate of his also had his 25th around the same time. So they decided to have a joint do. It seemed that this was agreed over a beer with no discussion with my mum. I think she wanted a special, big day, all of her own. Dad's logic was that the Church Hall could accommodate everyone and by splitting the hire, they could spend more on catering and booze. They could invite everyone and it would be a great night. As kids, we always got swept along on my Dad's enthusiasm. When he was in the RAF, he was the entertainment officer for 40 Squadron of the RAF in Egypt and Italy. He would recount stories of raids on nearby army stores, to retrieve booze and grub, to fuel their high jinx. As he was a strict Catholic, I once pointed out that pinching things was wrong. He replied that the army were fair game and air crew were having a far worse time and at more risk, so they needed the respite. However like many of my Dad's  schemes, the 25th wedding party, once booked, fell on my Mum to do the heavy lifting of organising. Wheras Dad would spend any spare cash he had on enjoying himself, Mum came from a poor family of Irish descent and hated wasting money. I suspect that her resentfulness of the whole thing inspired her to penny pinch a bit, but rather than salting the money away, she spent the cash she'd saved on a hairdo and a new outfit for the party. Having three daughters meant that there was a willing workforce, to make sandwiches and vol au vants, as well as bring cheese and onion hedgehogs. All of this passed me by. It was only in the 1990's long after Dad passed away that she told me this over a Guinness. 

As was Dad's way, he ensured that there was ample booze and it was a great night. The friends they held the party with had a daughter in my class at School. We were put together at a table, which meant my sisters spent the night teasing me and getting me to try and dance with my schoolfriend. But it was fun. It was the first party we'd had that I can recall. It was a revelation. There was music and dancing. Sadly, being seven, I got sent home early. But it gave me a love of parties. A little switch went on in my head and it said I wanted my life to be one life long party. 

Back in 1995, it was my turn for a wedding. I wasn't someone who getting married was something in my life plan. We'd met in 1985, but had never really discussed marriage, until we found our daughter was on the way. For me, it was important that there was security. So we decided to have a fairly low key affair, with just close family. We selected The Belvedere in Holland Park. As we'd had a period living apart, where she was living in Weymouth Street, we had the option of the Marylebone registry office, which is a far grander building than the one in Burnt Oak. I suspect if it had to be at Burnt Oak, we'd never have got hitched. The 7th April 1995 was a glorious day. We had a fine lunch at The Belvedere, then made our way to Pevensey Bay to start our Honeymoon. We then continued to Rye, before crossing the channel for a tour of the Champagne regions, staying at various chateau's. We had a party for friends when we got back. 

As I write this, we are not having the anniversary we anticipated. We are in lockdown, with our now grown up children. We share our anniversary with our middle daughter's birthday, so we've just been out in the garden exchanging presents.  There are many things you can't do in a lockdown, having a party is one of them. At least it means we have time to bake a cake, rather than buy a factory produced effort. There is almost a bizarre mirror image of mine and my parents wedding and Silver wedding. Their wedding was in wartime and the Silver wedding was held at the height of the swinging sixties. 

The next party my folks had was their Ruby anniversary. This time, my Mum took charge. No shared party, just what she wanted and who she wanted to attend. My parents retook their vows, Fr Smyth said the mass, then we had a party in the Church Hall of the annunciation. It was a lovely affair. All of my mums siblings attended. My Dad had a good friend, a Czech war hero, who lead us in a chorus of Giveo, a traditional Czech song of celebration.  I love a party, I was looking forward to their Golden jubilee, but they never made it. Dad passed away in 1987. My mum was never quite the same. 

It made me wonder about what the future holds. Will we make our 40th, let alone 50th? I suspect that I'd have written a very different blog had we not been in lockdown. Would I have thought about the family history? As I write this, Boris is in intensive care. As I awoke 25 years ago, I had a terrible hangover. I have seldom felt so ill. I'd had a stag do the week before with mates, but for our wedding my brother had driven down from Bristol and my Brother in law from Florida. Tim, my brother in law, is an emergency doctor. He nearly put me in A&E as we sat up til 3am drinking shots. I felt like death when I woke up. When I turned up at the registry office a rather green colour, if looks could kill, I wouldn't be here. My mother insisted we went to the pub for a pint before, I didn't feel like it, but it helped get me through. 

It is strange, we'd been planning a big do, but never actually got around to booking anything. Instead, we prevaricated. Now we will have a little celebration in the front room, the kids suggested we do a little tradition from when they were small. Clare has her band rehearsal on a Monday night, so I had a tradition of a midnight feast. We'd go to Marks and Spencers and they'd all buy three items of food they loved. This could be sweets, cakes or savoury. We'd draw the curtains, light candles, do colouring in, sit on my middle daughters special blanket and then eat the foods. When the album finished, they'd go off to bed, no arguments. I called it a midnight feast, even though it was around 7pm. I'd time it so they'd be in bed for the Monday night football.  Sadly this time, we can't do the mob handed shop and choose spontaneously, but we will sit around this evening and honour the tradition, with a special guest, my  Missus. She has previously been banned. As we discussed the shopping list of the three items, she had to be told off by the kids. The rule is no one is allowed to influence anyone else, and the foods all have to be pure indulgence. We had a discussion as to whether we should do colouring in. 

Maybe then, I'll shed a little tear for my Mum and Dad. I wish, more than anything that they could join us. But it was not meant to be.

Monday, 6 April 2020

Environment Monday - It only took us two weeks to get clean air in London when we had to

I had a look at the London air quality map this morning. It seems that at 10am today, the air quality across London is universally good.
Click to access latest readings
Had you clicked on this three weeks ago, it would have looked completely different. In January, The Evening Standard reported that 3,800 people a year in London were dying due to poor air quality. Theoretically, the lockdown will save over 220 people in three weeks, assuming all of these figures are true. However I suspect that this figure is actually horribly out of date. You see, one of the groups of people decimated by Corona virus is people with respiratory disorders. The years of pollution have meant tens, if not hundreds of thousands of Londoners are highly susceptible. The lungs of many people in London of 50 are metabolically up to 25 years older, due to this pollution. Hearing the terrible news of Boris Johnson being taken to hospital due to corona virus made me wonder whether all the years of cycling, breathing diesel fumes has taken a far heavier toll than any of us realised.

CNN reported
"The study found that for each additional 5 micrograms per cubic meter of particle pollution a person was exposed to on average annually, the lungs showed an equivalent of two years of aging, and a real reduction in lung function."

What does this mean. The Mail reported last year

Britain’s worst pollution hotspots was outside Earls Court tube station in Kensington and Chelsea borough in London where the annual average of 129.5 micrograms per cubic metre of air was triple that of the World Health Organization's 40 mcg limit.

As you can see, this is highly dangerous, even more so in these times.

But now, Earls Court is a completely safe location, should you fancy a stroll. Sadly, the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea have not chosen to participate in the London Air Quality map. Does it surprise you that the Borough that gave us the Grenfell Tower disaster shows such disdain for transparency and public health. Sadly, Barnet Council is another not participating. Mill Hill Broadway bus station has notoriously poor air quality. Clearly Barnet Council is none to keen on us being able to find this out easily.

We are now in different times. One TV announcement from Boris and air quality disappeared almost over night. Under the new rules, we can only use a car if we need to in London, for essential journeys. London has one of the worlds best public transport networks. Just suppose we took this onboard and only used cars for essential journeys. I wonder when all this is done, how many firms will see they can save money on office space by making working from home the norm? I worry about TFL's finances, but if more people are working from home, maybe we should be making more people leave the car at home?

When we emerge from our homes and try and get back to normal, many will be financially stretched. The money we spend on luxuries and leisure will be hard to come by for many. We desperately need to keep our city functioning, but I expect many businesses to fold and so normality may not be an option. Planning for the end of lockdown should include proactive plans to keep some of the gains in air quality we've made. My hope that this doesn't come by default as millions of jobs disappear. I hope that the govt and the Mayor will actively promote the message that pollution kills and so unnecessary journeys are not socially commendable or safe.

Public transport is the way forward. Sadly it is something that short sighted politicians have always seen as something that can be starved of cash when money is tight. That is why we have had such a problem with pollution. 3,800 deaths in London per year can never be acceptable. We now have seen that there is a way out of it, it's simple, don't drive, use public transport.

Saturday, 4 April 2020

The Saturday List #258 - Ten random thoughts about the lockdown

I had a Saturday list prepared. I thought, 'it's the weekend, so lets have a fun list'. Then I read my emails and messages. I realised that some of my friends are not going to be celebrating, kicking back and enjoying the sunshine. Some are grieving, some are worried sick about loved ones, some are trying to figure out how to cope with businesses under extreme stress and how the bills will be paid. Some are sick and don't know what the future holds. And then there are the non corona issues we all have. Today the Labour party will announce its new leader (You will probably know who it is by the time you read this). What will this mean? Then we are dealing with the loss of Bill Withers, a truly awesome artist. So I decided just to share a few thoughts with you.

1. Ring up your family and friends.
I have been ringing around, catching up, checking people are ok. It has been really nice. It's something we can do.

2. Where will we be next year?
This time last year, I was putting together a business plan for my studio. We saw record growth last year. More people than ever were using the studio and we were investing a large sum of money, ensuring we would be able to cope with and manage expansion. In the space of four weeks, we are now trying to put a plan together simply to get through. Will I have a business this time next year. When we emerge, will people have the inclination or the cash to pay to rehearse and record. When we open the doors, will there still be enough customers to support our business? I can see three different scenarios. One is that we don't survive, we go bust and that is that. I go back to what I was doing for many years to pay bills and do IT contract work, to pay the kids uni bills. The second is that we are surviving and getting by hand to mouth, no holidays and not much enjoying myself. The third is that we reopen and everyone has been so stir crazy, that we ae overrun and recover quickly. My best estimate is that if we get through, it will cost us three years to pay off the debts we've run up surviving. I've genuinely got no idea which of these scenarios is most likely, but I do know that the measures the Chancellor has announced will not get us through. We need to do something else and if we don't get creative soon, we will not get through.

3. I'm lucky to have my family around.
We are bunkered down with the three kids, my daughters boyfriend and the two dogs. We are all getting on well, so far and have adapted well to the routine. We are sitting at the table and eating together every night. I am blessed to have this. So many friends and family have children bunkered down elsewhere and I know that they are finding it really hard.

4. This time is a challenge to my religious beliefs.
I have always believed that I can see the actions of God in my life. I've always believed that the purpose of Church and religion is to provide a place where a local community meets and supports each other. I see scriptures, etc as a means to help us draw inner strength and make sense of what is happening around us. As such, a situation like this, where so many members of our community are pushed into isolation, some to die lonely and sad deaths is a challenge. I can make no sense of it. I have never seen death as anything other than the completion of a natural cycle, but  a situation where we cannot gather and be together as a community? That is a difficult one. Maybe, this is part of the way that God/The Universe/Mother Nature/ evolutionary pressures (delete as per your personal belief) educates us to live properly on this beautiful planet. I suspect that if I live long enough, I might see a higher purpose in what has happened, but I am struggling right now.

5. I find life without football and live music unbearable.
It's almost two weeks in. The two things that I am really missing are football and live music. With regard to football, I've realised that I don't care at all about the results, I just love the sense of being part of something. I'm a Manchester City FC fan. I was reflecting on this. There is no other team I can think of, with the possible exception of Wimbledon FC, who in m lifetime have had a more roller coaster ride. When I started supporting City, they were the best team in the country under Joe Mercer and Malcolm Allison. By the late 1990's they were a joke team in the third tier. The fans developed a certaion gallows humour. Now they are arguably the best team on the planet, they certainly were last year. But I love them no more because of the success. I was reminded by a tweet of a match I saw in 1989 at Maine Road.

As for live music. I just want to be in a grotty pub, with 40 other people watching a great band and drinking beer with friends. You either get it or you don't.

6. It's only at times like this that we realise how important key workers are.
I was in a local supermarket yesterday. A woman was behaving in a most appalling manner to staff. She was being rude, nasty and just plain obnoxious. Over the years, I've struggled to manage anger issues. One thing that has always been a trigger is when I witness bullying. Thirty years ago, I would have reacted badly and given her a volley of abuse for he rudeness. Instead, I just announced as loudly as I could "Excuse me. I'd just like to tell this young lady that you are being so rude to that I and I am sure every other customer who has witnessed this, that we are grateful for your efforts, we appreciate you turning up working in a situation where you may come into contact with the virus and can I assure you that everyone in Mill Hill wants you to carry on doing this in these times, because if you don't we are all in a really difficult situation". The rude woman just scowled at me and walked off in a huff. An old lady who had been standing in the queue said "Thank you for saying that". The poor young lady who had been getting the abuse gave me a rather embarrassed smile. Be nice, people have things on their mind. It won't take much for things to really fall apart and it is only the key workers, shelf stackers and checkout staff that are keeping us fed. Don't expect them to know when the next delivery of Foie Gras is arriving or why there isn't enough smoked eel on the shelf. Please say thank you to them. Right now, you need them more than they need you.

7. We need BBC radio and television.
We've had BBC Radio London on constantly, with presenters such as Robert Elms, Jo Good, Vanessa Feltz. I want to know what is happening in my City and they have been doing an amazing job keeping us informed. There are those on the right who snipe at the BBC, but when it comes down to it, the Corporation has made more great TV and radio than anything else in the history of the planet. Anyone who can't see that is quite plainly an idiot.

8. How many people who would have died will live because of the corona outbreak?
A very random though occurred to me. Air quality is at an all time high in our city. Thousands die every year due to pollution, many have asthma as a result. Whilst the toll from corona virus is terrible, how many people's lungs will recover? There is also much less traffic on the roads, it will be interesting to see what the number of deaths on the roads are compared to the same time last year. I've also seen so many more people walking and jogging as we've taken the dogs out. It could be that many will have better health than they would have otherwise. Lets hope so.

9. Will the internet die when the lockdown is over?
No of course it won't, but we are all bored to death and many of us are doing facebook and twitter in a way that we've never done before. When the lockdown finishes, will be so bored with the online world that we'll never look at it again? By the end of lockdown, we'll have caught up with everyone that we could ever possibly have wanted to. When the virtual affairs become real, football comes back, pubs open, will we be glad to be shot of the online world? That one for me will be fascinating.

10. What will happen next time a pandemic starts in China?
Will our governments actually learn anything? Will they get it right next time? Pandemics are nothing new, but our government seems to have been completely paralysed in ineptitude. I would have thought that of all the things we expect from our government, having a plan for things like this is pretty near the top of the list. New viruses emerge all time and it can be no excuse for not having plans and protocols in place. We live in a global society, what is the point of the United Nations and the World Health Authority if we have no plans in place for an entirely predictable situation.

Friday, 3 April 2020

Sleeping and dreams in times of crisis

Dreams (pic Steve Miller Band album cover Your Saving Grace)
How have you been sleeping? Have you been like me, and been sleeping like a baby, or like my wife, finding it hard to relax due to the uncertainty? Whilst I've slept like a log, I've had all manner of quite bizarre dreams. Last night was no exception.  Yesterday was my Fathers birthday. Had he not passed away in 1987, he would have been 103. I had been thinking about him all day. To counter the lockdown boredom, we watched Casablanca, the 1942 classic.  When the film finished, I went off to bed and had a very vivid dream that I was having a drink with him in the garden. It all seemed quite normal, and was  really pleasant. His passing did not seem to be an issue.

I mentioned to him that this covid19 thing was pretty grim. His response was that nothing was better than to have an excuse to lie in bed all day, have steak for dinner and wash it down with a beer. He said that if I’d been stuck in a POW camp, having just identified the body of your shot up best mate, you’d know what pretty grim was.

When I woke up, this was on my mind. Dreams intrigue me. I have long wondered whether they are simply figments of our imagination, or a glimpse to something above and beyond our existence on this plane. Clearly the vast majority of dreams are just our brain working out the stresses and strains of life. However occasionally, I have certainly had dreams that are more vivid and way beyond the norm. One of the most troubling examples of a dream having a deeper meaning was a story my father told me. I have thought about this many times and never really had a satisfactory answer.

As I've mentioned many times, my father was a bomber pilot. In Italy in 1944, he was part of the 205th bomber group, attacking targets in Italy, Germany, Yugoslavia and Rumania. His crew was experienced and on their final mission of the tour of duty. All were looking forward to a break. For an RAF crew to complete a tour was a big matter. The average crew undertook 5 missions before they met their fate. My father's crew had flown 37. The crew had bonded and were firm friends. One of the first  blogs I wrote was for Remembrance Sunday in 2008. I transcribed my fathers diary from 1944.  His squadron were busy supporting the Allied effort in Southern Europe. For remembrance day last year, I reproduced the story of his final mission, as kindly documented on the aircrew remembered website.

The website tells the story, but there was one aspect that it doesn't recount. On the morning of 2nd July 1944, as the crew assembled for breakfast. My fathers rear gunner, F/O John Charles Murphy, AKA Spud, took my father to one side and said "Laurie, I had a terrible dream, we were on a mission to Ploesti (a Rumanian oil field), an ME110 attacked us and I was dying as I'd been shot and the turret was engulfed in flames". My Dad was fairly dismissive and said "Spud, we all have nightmares like that". Later when they assembled for briefing, Spud turned white when the target was announced. It was the Ploesti oil fields. My father said to Spud that the crew couldn't opt out of missions every time someone had a nightmare, but Spud was not at all comfortable. Like many RAF heroes, he knew the risks, had seen a lot, was not superstitious, but this seemed very different.

Sadly, Spuds nightmare came to pass. My father carried the guilt for the rest of his life. He knew Spud was convinced he was going to die and his premonition had come true in the most awful fashion. During one of the last conversations I had with my Dad, the story came up. He felt he'd done the right and proper thing by airforce regulations, but had he trusted Spuds instincts, the war may have ended rather differently for Spud. I am not sure how a mission could be ducked, but my father was troubled enough for me to realise that he probably felt that there was some way.

I guess none of us will ever know whether Spuds premonition was anything more than a logical processing of information and his mind trying to give him a get out. What I do know is that it was something that my Father never came to terms with.

Perhaps the dream I had that could have changed my life, was one I cannot even remember. Back in 1991, we were watching final Score on Match of the Day. The presenter announced, to my great delight that Manchester City had beaten Crystal Palace 1-3 at Selhurst Park. Clare turned to me and said "How much did you win?". I was bemused and asked wat she meant. She said "You woke me up in the middle of the night and said 'I just dreamed that City beat Palace 3-1 today, remind me to put £20 on that score at the bookies' ". I was not happy. I had no recollection of this at all. I said "Why didn't you remind me?". She said "I thought you'd remember, you seemed quite excited about it".

Unlike the current team, City were certainly not a sure fire bet back then. I'd have got a very good price on that. If I'd stuck the house on it, who knows how the '90's might have been different, although it'd probably just given me a gambling habit!

What I am finding rather odd is that I am feeling more tired and have less energy than ever. This is nothing to do with feeling ill. I just seem to be rather demotivated. I have been getting up late, going for naps, dozing off watching the telly and going to bed early. As Mrs T is having the opposite problem, she is getting cross with me for not getting up at 7am to do the dishes. I've realised that I only really do stuff when I have to. I am no good at all at doing stuff without a deadline or a reason. I had dreamed of practicing guitar to death, becoming the next Jimi Hendrix and writing a stack of songs. The trouble is, as we are all in the house, there is no opportunity for practice without people yelling at me. Watching the dog lick its bum and tidying the fridge is uninspiring in the extreme. I have realised that my songwriting is inspired by external stimulus. There just isn't enough at the moment. I get inspired seeing dodgy dudes walking out of bookies, drunkards regaling bored pub punters with tall tales and the smell of hot dogs on the way to football. I've actually seen nothing interesting or inspiring for nearly two weeks. I think that is why I am dreaming so much!

As to last nights dream, strangely I remember it. It was magnificent, if truly bizarre. I dreamed that Woolworths in Mill Hill (now Iceland) had reopened specially to stage a Finchley Catholic High School reunion dinner. I found myself chatting to a schoolfriend, John Whelan. I last saw John when I was around eighteen and we had a form 5B reunion. As I recall he was a trainee nurse, although I may have imagined that. If he is still in the NHS, I hope he is safe. We had a great chat, then I realised that we were being highly irresponsible, going to a dinner when we should be socially isolating. Woolworths in Mill Hill used to be cinema. Although it is now Iceland, I realised that it would make an amazing music venue/community centre. So yes, maybe there is something in this dreaming business after all. Maybe we can get Iceland to move to new premises, then it might just happen!

Wednesday, 1 April 2020

Where I got my love of dirt, noise and the hustle bustle of London

Through the heart of our city, we have a deadly river. If you fall in, you will die and they won't find your body for a month and that's if you're lucky. My mother told me this once, as I crossed the river on the top of a Routemaster double decker bus.

My mother loved London double decker buses. She worked for Barclays Bank at their Lombard Street head office during the war, on the telephone switchboard. It is interesting to think that until the day she died, she got an enhanced pension, as she'd worked in a key industry during the war (I wonder if todays front line workers will receive the same recognition?).

Every day, going to work was a risk, as a plane, a V1 or a V2 might end your life. When she got married and left Barclays, to have my twin brothers, she got  a gift and a card from the chairman, thanking her for her efforts during the blitz. I recall her telling me this in around 1998, over a Guinness. She told me how she'd walked past the famous blown up bus, that is one of the most powerful images of the war. I asked if she was ever scared, her response was instructive, she said she probably had been on many occasions, but couldn't really remember it. Her memories were largely of the good times, the fun, the coming together of people. The boundaries of society were more rigid, so the present from the chair of the bank was the biggest surprise for her.

We are now living through the nearest thing I've experienced to those times. The deaths are not caused by bombs, the fear isn't of aeroplanes and rockets. There are no sirens to alert us to any impending death. It is a far lonelier sort of war. We don't huddle together in tube stations, quite the opposite. From what my mother told me, the war was an amazing, if perilous time in central London for a young woman. The city was full of handsome men from every corner of the planet. She was an attractive woman, so clearly got much attention. My father was a handsome officer of the Royal Air Force. As well as being good looking, he was  full of charm and fun. He was scared of nothing and no one.  He was a  bomber pilot, he put his life on the line 38 times, embarking on bombing missions over enemy territory. On the 38th, the last of his tour, he was shot down over Ploesti, in Rumania. My mother received  a telegram stating that he was missing presumed dead. Another crew had seen his plane go down in flames. She said that she knew he'd survived. My father had promised her that nothing would happen to him, he'd survive his tour and marry her. Furthermore, he'd never leave her.

When he finally died in 1987, of a heart attack, she told me her abiding emotion was anger, for breaking his word to always be by her side. It took her a long time to get over that. The way she got through the grief was to use her pensioners bus pass to tour London. She would get the 113 bus to the West End, then simply go around, visiting spots from her youth. She would religiously do this every Tuesday. In truth, I didn't understand this at all at the time. I always hated buses. I preferred the tube and the Thameslink trains from Mill Hill. Mum would say 'you don't see London from a train'.

I had never really understood her love of buses until now. I love London, my London. My London is different to my mothers. I wish I'd asked her the bars, clubs, pubs that she loved, but I didn't. My London is different. My London is The Roundhouse, Bar Italia, Ronnie Scotts, The 100 Club, The Jazz Cafe, The Great Nepalese restaurant, The Globe pub in Borough Market, The Rake (around the corner from there), The Artillery Arms near Royal Artillery Court, Whitecross Street and Borough food markets, The pubs and Indian restaurants around Euston and Victoria. Perhaps my favourite areas are Fitzrovia (I worked around there for a couple of years) and Soho. I love Won Keys, The Coach and Horses, Gerard Street, but it is ever changing. Whilst my mum's teenage fun was to the backdrop of the war and ended when she was nineteen with the birth of my twin brothers, mine was the summer when two sevens clashed and punk took over London. I was fourteen when I saw the Ramones at The Roundhouse, within a year, the Marquee, The Music Machine, The Nashville, The Moonight Club, Dingwalls, etc were my stomping ground. In those days, ID was not required. My life would have been very different had I been asked to prove I was eighteen to get in. I was lucky, my sister was also a fan and she was old enough. As she was short and had ID, it was never a problem for me.

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My favourite club was the Marquee in Wardour Street. It was full of liggers (google it if you don't know what it means), industry types, wannabees and herberts like me. It was smelly and sweaty. The girls had thick, badly applied make up and smelled of cheap perfume or bath salts. Their hair was badly bleached, but they seemed as divine goddesses to me. Until I was fourteen, I hadn't had a great deal of interest in girls, but these punk goddesses would fascinate me. One night, my rather clumsy attempts to interest them took a very lucky turn. I was out with Pete Conway, we were chatting to a couple of these beauties, who seemed rather bored and and disinterested, hoping to catch the eye of slightly older boys. I said "Me and Pete have a band". They suddenly became enraptured. This wasn't a complete lie. We'd spent the last four years saying we would put a band together, but neither of us could play, or had an instrument. This moment was a pivotal moment in our lives. We realised that we needed to put the band together as a matter of urgency. The prettier of the girls asked if we had any songs. On the spot, I wrote "The Mill Hill Song". It comprised of two verses.

Nothing to do, nothing to see
Nothing for you, nothing for me
Mill Hill, Mill Hill, It's lovely.

No nightspots, no dayspots,
no fun, just shops
Mill Hill, Mill Hill, it's lovely

To my amazement, they were even more impressed. One lived in Colindale and said "That is true of all the suburbs". In actual fact, I was slightly jealous of Colindale. They had pubs and a cinema. Compared to Mill Hill, it was like Las Vegas!

That very much summed up my view of the West End. It was where it all happened. Us suburban types couldn't get enough of the dirt, noise and hustle bustle. As my journey continued, I discovered the book shops. Whilst my interest was then more or less exclusively sci fi, in a vain attempt to impress young ladies, I found that knowing that you could get good left wing books at Colletts was a quick pass to intellectual acceptance. By mid 1978, I was very caught up in Rock against Racism and The Anti Nazi League. Knowing a few things about political though and history was rather useful. I'd procure information, and sit reading it in the cafe's and bars. It was a violent time. I was once having a bacon sarnie in a Soho cafe, when a bunch of National Front Skinheads piled in. They saw me on my own, a couple of years younger, reading the Communist manifesto. I realised that I was going to get rather badly duffed up. Without time to prepare for this, I was cornered and realised that this would end badly, when the Italian owner and his kitchen staff came flying out and chased off the Fascists. I was amazed, it never occurred to me that anyone would stand up for me. It turned out that they were Italian socialists, who hated Franco. They insisted I had the tea and the sandwich for free.
Dads war record

When I went home, I spoke to my Dad. His squadron had been stationed in Foggia in Southern Italy in 1944. He loved the Italians and their culture. The next day, on his insistence, we drove to the West End, found the cafe and he gave the owner a large bottle of wine for looking after me. In return, we were given some tasty treats. Dad spent a couple of hours chatting about Italy. We left with three bottles of their home made wine and cakes for my mum. For a couple of years, I was treated like royalty there. Like much of Soho, it has long gone.

A couple of weeks later, my Dad drove me down to Bar Italia, which he told me was the best Italian cafe in London. We had a beer and a custard tart. My dad then took me on a tour of the places he liked in London. He just liked a good excuse to drive around. Sadly, I wasn't overly interested, although it was a fun day out. Stories of long gone clubs and pubs, staging tea dances etc, seemed terribly dull to me. But he was equally bemused by my tastes. We saw a group of young punk girls on a corner. He said "you can't find that attractive, they all look like they need a bath". And told me to check out Hedi Lamarr and Ingrid Bergmann, who were real women!

We had a discussion, agreeing to disagree. A few days later, Casablanca was shown on TV. My Dad insisted I watch it. He said that as I was interested in music and bars, it was the nearest I'd get to understanding what real life was like in times of war. He was right, it was a brilliant film.  Shortly after, we were watching Top of The Pops and Debbie Harry appeared. My Dad was duly impressed and said that maybe not all punk women were unattractive. I never ventured into the West End with my Dad again. Unlike myself and my mum, as an Aussie outbacker, he didn't like cities. I'm sorry to say that my mum only passed her love of London on to me. Of my five sinblings, only my eldest Brother still has a London post code. He doesn't really venture into town much.
For most of my working career, I worked in London offices. My mum would regularly get the bus down and we'd have lunch. She'd tell me stories of the war. She briefly had a job in a shop in Bond Street, selling ladies clothes. She took a day off, and a bomb struck the shop killing all of her co-workers. She told me how the Fitzroy pub, where we met, had been a haunt for 'artistic types'. I asked her if that bothered her. She replied that it was a nice pub, but for her a young girl, there was little of interest there. I think that being raised in the suburbs, the city has a strange magnetic attraction for me. People don't say "we are going up the West End" any more. Camden seems to have displaced this for young people. But for me, Soho will always be where my heart lies.

You may wonder the point of this rather long, rambling blog. Today, my Dad would be 103. I miss him, there is nothing I'd love more than to be able to take him out for a drive around London. Sadly at the moment, we can only reminsce about all of these things. As soon as the curfew is listed, I will be back into town. It has already been too long.

Happy Birthday Dad

Tuesday, 31 March 2020

Ten things we've learned as a result of the Corona virus epidemic

I've been writing this blog for twelve years now. As I lay in bed, slurping tea and reading the papers (I get the Guardian and Daily Express for some sort of dystopian balance), I idly tried to visualise how we might look back on these times in twelve years time. It is interesting to note that in 2008, when I started, the credit crunch hit. That seemed at the time like the big thing that would happen in my middle aged years. Little did I know that it would be as nothing, compared to what we are seeing now. We are learning some harsh lessons. I do hope that if this blog is still going in twelve years, I remember to revisit this and see how things work out. Will Boris call off the lockdown and we'll all simply pick up where we were on the 18th of March (remember those heady days when we could go for a curry, watch a band and go for a pint?). Will we forget the lessons? I sat down and thought what are the lessons?

1. The homelessness crisis in London is fixable.
2. The knife crime epidemic is fixable
3. The climate crisis and greenhouse effect is fixable
4. There is a magic money tree when we need one
5. Countries with a plan do better than ones that don't in times of crisis
6. When you say people are expendable, that person may just be you
7. The NHS is worth its weight in gold
8. Key workers are people who do jobs that matter
9. People die when politicians dither in the face of a crisis
10. We need our friends and family

We don't want to live under lockdown for a moment longer than necessary, but this has shown that we can cope without the daily hustle and bustle. It seems to me likely that the earthquake that will hit the economy when the tab needs to be picked up will change the shape of the next decade in a far more significant way than the credit crunch changed the teenies. Then, the bankers who caused the crisis were bailed out. The rest of us had a decade of stagnant pay and rising prices. This crisis, we've in effect bailed ourselves out. We have mortgaged the present to pay for the future. Boris has learned a harsh truth that having an NHS is the best way to mitigate such a crisis. If we had a private health system in the UK, I doubt we'd have the organisational capacity, the goodwill and the ex-staff prepared to step straight up. People will do it in a socialised system of medicine, but would they do it, if it meant corporations were making a killing? I suspect that the NHS will be the one institution that comes out of this whole sorry mess in better shape.

As for the falling rates of violent crime. Will this persist when we are allowed back on the streets? Or will the robbers, muggers and gangs feel they have lost time to make up? I hope that the break has given a few young people in despair a time for reflection. I hope the Mayor of London is trying t figure out a way to flatten that curve as well.

The big plans for Boris were for better infrastructure. The two big projects were HS2 and Heathrow expansion. I suspect that these two schemes will have vastly different trajectories. I suspect that Boris will see HS2 as a way to provide employment for tradesmen as the country seeks to get back to work. I suspect that many building schemes will simply not happen, as the finance needed won't be there. HS2 will provide something to keep people in work. Heathrow is a very different matter. The airlines have been dealt a massive blow. Without huge a huge financial injection, many will struggle to survive. There will be less ready cash for holidays, so I can foresee a situation where it might take decades to just get back to where we were.

And then there are changes to society. Many people are working from home. Firms will recognise that this is cheaper and more efficient for many. Why pay for expensive offices, when people do more at home? I can see a sea change in the UK's working culture. I can see a situation where many offices are re-purposed as flats for workers. Many firms (mine is just one) will be in survival mode for the next few months or even years. We are running up debts with no income at all. The leisure sector  is always the first to be hit in a recession. I have no idea what will happen when we reopen our doors. Will people come flocking back or will they have got used to staying in, eating takeaways and drinking beer? Of course I am hoping that they will be sick to death of confinement and will be keen to get playing music again. But the big tours and the other projects we make the real money on? This will be a different matter. The lesson I need to learn will not be clear until the doors reopen.

There is one other lesson, an eleventh, that for me is perhaps the most upsetting. That is that without football, Saturday is just another day. Of all the things I miss, the fact that the week has ceased to exist is perhaps the most disorientating. My weekend has for many years been dominitated by live music and football. Thursday night - Five a side at Powerleague, Friday live music and/or drinks out, Saturday is football, Sunday is hangover day. That has all gone out of the window. Even the radio presenters have forgotten what day it is.

Monday, 30 March 2020

Memories of the M1 coming to Mill Hill - A Guest blog by Chris The Millhillian

Bunns Lane station car park site 1968
I was informed that you had recently posted pictures of Mill Hill and made reference to the days when the motorway came to town, I remember it well. It certainly changed our small town for ever and that peace that went with it at the time when the six lanes suddenly started appearing aloft on huge concrete pillars and beams constructed at the end of the Broadway. This certainly marked a noticeable change in the character of the town.

The old Midland Railway Cottages. Hunt’s boilers Merchants, the florist shop and several small shops in station Road were demolished very quickly as well as the railway bridge to make way for a huge hole which was dug in the ground. The best thing about it was that there was no more flooding under the old circular arch Victorian railway bridge and double decker buses could then travel on to Edgware, rather than turning around at Mill Hill.

I played on the motorway site with the other local boys who lived up a few doors from you in Millway. We accessed the site from the end of their garden and watched as the old allotments disappeared. I remember when the lanes were just laid with a gravel surface waiting for the concrete road surface to be poured. There was a huge pile of sand by Lilley Lane Foot Bridge and I was told that some kids jumped off the bridge onto it and sustained injury for their efforts.

My brother and I used to look at the futuristic picture placed under the emerging motorway bridge showing the modernistic bus station and supermarket soon coming to town in what is now the M&S supermarket car park. Your Dad’s MacMetals yard was also affected by the new motorway as it ran alongside and the old coal depot was used to house motorway construction workers in big grey sheds.

My brother took quite a few cine pictures of Bunns Lane and the Broadway and filmed a journey he made with in a truck travelling along the new motor ay,  passing behind your house whilst riding on the gravel surface,  proceeding to tip hard core for free as all local builders were invited to do that.

I attach a picture taken around 1968 of Fanning builders yard with its Thames Trader lorry parked outside. I hope that the Hendon Times will  at some point upload the picture of your family in January 1963 building an igloo in the back garden.
Guest blogs are always welcome at The Barnet Eye. Chris the Millhillian was born and raised in Mill Hill.

Sunday, 29 March 2020

The tweets of the week in the London Borough of Barnet - 29/03/2020

Last week, Twitter was alive with pictures of empty shelves. Now we afe in lockdown, so the opportunities for interesting Tweets in our Borough are pretty limited. But there are still some of us doing our bit! Here is my selection and without wishing to sound immodest, I think it is a rather good one

1. We'll start with a regular, who has been out in his garden. A bit of a change of subject from his normal material, but I found it interesting.

2. Another regular with a great picture of Apex Corner Roundabout/subway being constructed

3. This is a nice touch. I really couldn't leave this one out, could I. Heroes all!

4. I post this as it's snowing. Funny to think that Totteridge looked like it was in Florida on Friday!

5. This is worrying. Booba's are a truly wonderful establishment. Hope all are OK and that the damage isn't too severe

6. I love this tweet, I hope you do as well. The architecture of the Underground is amazing

7. The Phoenix cinema is shut at the moment. When it reopens, lets hope that more special memories will be made.

8. Please drop in some donations. I spoke to them and they especially want UHT milk and jams etc

9. This is regrettable and sad. I look forward to when the Hadley family and the wider football family can get back together. Saturdays do not feel right, in any way shape or form

10. Music is one of the few things we can still enjoy during the lockdown. Why not check out some of the Mill Hill Music Complex playlists, compiled of music with strong Mill Hill connections. You might be surprised at just how many great songs have local connections

That's all folks