Monday, 31 December 2012

Happy New Year to All readers of the Barnet Eye

May I take this opportunity to wish all readers of the Barnet Eye a Happy New year

My new years resolution is to not drink in January and to write a new albums worth of songs.

If we can save Friern Library and pull a rabbit out of the fire to stop One Barnet that would be truly brilliant.

Whatever you do, have a safe and happy new year

Sunday, 30 December 2012

And now for something completely different ....

Long time friend and customer of Mill Hill Music Complex studios (my business), Captain Sensible has made a fascinating documentary about the Romney, Hythe and Dimchurch Railway for the Guardian. It is a great bit of very British nostalgia. Well worth a look.

The end piece about the village of Dungness is brilliant and the piece about artists Derek Jarman's endless garden is inspired. The Captain is a brilliant guitarist. It seems he'd make a fine presenter as well.  To make the desolate landscape around Dungness seem fascinating is a sign of a true talent. Maybe we should get him to narrate the post apocalyptic movie we'll make about the after effects of One Barnet ! He'd certainly do  a better job than the other famous Captain associated with Bunns Lane, Captain Useless AKA Matthew Offord MP, who has his offices in Churchill House.

Well Done Cap'n !!!

Saturday, 29 December 2012

Well done to the Hendon Times (only 14 months too late)

I was intrigued to see a whole load of hits on a story this blog ran 14 months ago - - as a result of google searches on Radlett Rail Freight terminal. It seems that sneaky old Eric Pickles decided to bury some bad news and give the go ahead for a massive increase in the number of overnight freight trains travelling on the Midland main Line through Mill Hill and Hendon in the middle of the night. These trains will carry up to 2,000 tons of freight, causing considerable disruption to local residents and adversely affecting property values.

Fourteen months after my original blog, the hendon Times actually decided to mention the story, in it's paper edition this week. Sadly the Hendon Times article this week doesn't mention the details or the effect on local people. It appears that no one at the paper bothered to read the impact assessment (or even my old blog on the subject). I believe that this is the sort of story local press should cover in detail.

I asked in September 2011 what our local MP Matthew Offord has done to mitigate the effects on his constituents. It seems that the answer is "not very much". If like me, your house backs onto the Midland main line, you will already know what effect rail freight has. A near doubling of the amount travelling through during the night is a big issue for hundreds of people in Barnet. Sadly I suspect the first many people will know about it is when they start getting woken up ten times a night by these monster trains rumbling through.


Perhaps the best present I received this Christmas was a new stylus for my turntable. I rather suspect Clare has been sorely regretting her act of kindness. Although our musical tastes collide in some places, she isn't a massive fan of the obscure punk rock which I'd spend my days listening to given half a chance. We all have strange indiosyncricies which drive our partners mad. Mine is that I love music which perhaps 99% of the population finds unfathomable. As I've run a studio for 33 years, played in a band for just as long and know a fair few people of note in the industry as friends, people assume I have an encyclopedic knowledge of all things musical. The sad truth is that nothing could be further from the truth. I am a total anorak for certain genres of music and an avid collector of vinyl, especially 70's punk rock and 60's psychedelic music. Sadly most other genres are of passing interest, if any. If I was spend a night spinning my favourite records to my friends I'd very quickly be in a room on my own. People assume I have a love for such acts as The Beatles, Queen and Foreigner. I find them all rather hard work. Give me the Fall, The Heartbreakers and the Lurkers anyday.

At school I had little interest in music at all until I was fourteen. Whilst mates were into heavy rock such as Led Zeppelin and rather dull concept album bands such as Pink Floyd (although I have always loved the Barratt era classics such as See Emily Play), the only bands I really liked were T Rex and Bowie. Most of my friends dismissed Bolan as "pop" and Bowie as a weirdo. Then on the 6th June 1977 I saw the Ramones, Talking Heads and the Saints. All of a sudden it all fell into place and I knew what I wanted to do with my life. Mark Perry published three chords on the front cover of "sniffin glue" magazine and urged everyone to go out and write songs. The Sex Pistols had been on the Bill Grundy show. I instantly associated with them, although I had no clue what their music was like. My schoolmates were still into all the old prog rock on the Old Grey Whistle Test. I discovered the John Peel show. All sorts of bizarre music was played. Peel would think nothing of following a track by the Sex Pistols with one by the Northern Dance Orchestra. I'll never forget when the Buzzcocks released another music in a different kitchen. Peel played eight songs in a row, then declared he'd play the other three tomorrow.

The thing we seem to forget about Punk is that it wasn't just a couple of bands playing a similar type of music. It was also a fashion style which was massively important. The bassplayer of my band, The False Dots had a punch up with the bassplayer of another local band, called the Mojes (by us) over who was the first person in Mill Hill to wear bondage trousers. Sadly for our bassplayer, the Mojes bassplayer was a bit of a hardnut, but he couldn't let the matter pass as a point of principle. Punk also gave birth to a whole crop of independently published magazines, and a new crop of journalists. The three "young turks" of the NME have become national figures. Danny Baker, Julie Burchill and Tony Parsons covered the punk scene and built huge reputations. Interestingly they often didn't even bother going to see the bands they had reviewed. I remember Burchill getting pulled up for slagging off a Souixsie & the Banshees performance at Leeds, when the band hadn't played. I personally never forgave Parsons for a dishonest review of the Ramones at the Rainbow at Xmas 1977. Interestingly the gig was captured on video for a film, proving Parsons claim that the audience were bored was rubbish.

What is interesting to me is the state of music in 1976. It was dire. I see many parallels with the current music scene. People had stopped making music for the sheer joy of playing. The whole scene had become bloated, lazy and dull. Over indulgence was the order of the day. There was nothing to get excited about. As I survey the current music scene, I see the same thing. Our studio has seen a big fall off in the number of young people forming bands. This has been compensated by a rise in pop acts aspiring to X factor. What scares me is that there is little creativity in much of the music. People seem to have given up trying to write good songs.

I am usually a good judge of such things. I anticipate a resurgence of creativity in the coming year. All of the factors are ripe. As in 1976, we had a recessive economy, a sudden realisation that "the system" won't deliver jobs and easy money. I believe bad economies are good for music and religion. I expect an upsurge in interest in both. With the Friern Barnet Library occupation, I have detected an awakining that amongst ordinary people that if you sit around and do nothing, you get shafted in such a climate.

I was trying to recall the last time a really top notch protest song got anywhere in the charts. I honestly couldn't remember. Our current crop of teenagers have borne the brunt of the assault by the Tory establishment. The government seems to have singled them out for a good going over. I believe that our Tory masters think that if young people are enslaved to debt, they can be controlled. I suspect that they will find something rather different happens. I alone of all my brothers and sisters did not do any post school education. There are several reasons for this, but one of the main considerations for me was the fact that as my parents were well off I would not receive a full grant. This meant I would have to rely on parents. Instead I left the country at 18 and went to live in Sweden for six months. When I returned, I had to work to pay off my debts. I realised that I'd had my fill of education. I worked as a painter and decorator for a while to pay the bills.

By the time my friends had left University, I had a wealth of work and life experience. I found that if you want something, the way to get it is to work hard. What did I want? I wanted a band, I wanted to play music. Strangely I didn't want to be a famous and rich pop star, I just wanted to play music. I have seen so many people who were talented lose their way because they want music to be a career. I believe that you should make music you like and if you get a career from it, then great. One of the shows I always listen to on the radio is Robert Elms on BBC 94.9. This week he's been playing the best interviews from his show this year. Stand out interviews were Tom Jones and Rod Stewart. Althoug I'm not a massive fan of either, the interviews were top notch. What stood out was the fact that both love the music they make.

I think the problem for many youngsters today is that their lives are racked with fear. Some of this is instilled by paranoid or pushy parents. There's fear of debt, fear of academic failure, fear of walking down the street, fear of "outsiders".  None of these things need to be feared. I've been in serious debt, failed academically, walked down the street and always felt like an outsider. I'm still here and doing ok. Life is only worth living when we take chances. A totally safe life is a totally sterile life. I'm not urging people to take stupid risks, but for heavens sake, we have moved too far towards a culture where we wrap people in cotton wool, both physically and intellectually.

I foresee a backlash against this. If there isn't the country will end up as a place where we all lock ourselves in after 5pm, and have no life at all.  I've been doing a lot of thinking recently. When I started writing this blog, I did it out of sheer frustration that nobody was covering important issues. I've never particularly enjoyed it. I can't see people being thrown to the wolves and stand by. Luckily, there are plenty of bloggers in Barnet now. All of them are better educated and more literary talented than I am. I am not going to "quit blogging", there is too much work to do. I am however going to dedicate less time to writing and researching blogs in 2013 and more time to the things I've neglected for the past four years and especially the last year.

I hope that the shortfall is met by my ever growing army of guest bloggers, who have lit the blog up. Expect more blogs on subjects such as music, local history and the environment in the coming year. I will still be covering One Barnet and all of the other issues, but it is time I delivered on the promise I made when I started writing a blog on the Hendon Times. That was to promote the local music scene. The political blog was an accident of fate, caused by the atrocious Stalinist reaction of the local Conservatives in Barnet Council to some justified criticism I made of their policies and behaviour.

Sadly in Barnet, I've seen some truly atrocious things happen to the way young people are treated by the council. Perhaps the most crass example was the way the Rythmic Project at Canada Villa has been dismembered. This gave local young people an opportunity to make music. A local Conservative councillor asked me what I thought of the project. I responded that I was overjoyed that the council was developing young musicians. He asked if it bothered me that the council were providing facilities for free, that my business charged for. I responded that it was a good thing as young people can't afford a commercial studio anyway, and when they start earning they will step up. He replied rather tersely, "if they knew you felt like that, they'd probably shut it down". When I heard that the staff were under threat last year, I immediately wrote to the council asking that they reconsider and listing reasons. Sadly this award winning project, that received Youth Music funding was not spared.

What frightens me is that if you give young people nothing positive to do, they do negative things. I expect to see vandalism, drug and alcohol abuse, anti social behaviour and petty theft to rise. Music offers a get out of jail card to many young people. That is why it is important. That is why we need to get young people involved. I've read the Mayors strategy. It talks about "elite music". This, in my opinion, is a mistake. Music and sports are the one thing everyone can participate in for little or no cost. Both are healthy and stimulating. Why would any sane person want to steer young people away from such things?

I am working on some new intitatives for the new year. If you notice a few changes here, that is why.

Friday, 28 December 2012

Zen and the art of Pick and Mix

Balance. That is what we all need in life. I was listening to Nicky Badi standing in for Vanessa Feltz this morning and there was a very illuminating call. It wasn't illuminating because it was interesting, quite the opposite. It was illuminating because it exemplified the mistake many of make when they approach life. We assume because we think and behave in a certain way, everyone else should think and behave in the same way. In an article in the Guardian a few days ago, George Monbiot recounted a chance conversation with a "traveller" in an A&E department. They struck up a conversation and as they talked, Mr Monbiot realised that the said individual was the same person who, with his brother, had terrorised an environmental protest camp some years before. How do you deal with such a situation? What do you say to someone who you have a deep seated and long standing loathing of? I was struck by Mr Monbiot admitting all of his middle class prejudice had come to the fore and won out over his liberal streak.

So the conversation is "at what point is it OK to stop being tolerant of other peoples lifestyle?" In Friern Barnet, we've had a very interesting situation. The occupation of Friern Library by the Occupy movement has forced many people into a rethink of some deeply held views. Many of us got our view of squatters from publications such as the Daily Mail, where coverage highlights extreme stories of unreasonable behaviour. When a group of squatters ride in to the rescue of a well loved local library and bring energy and hope to a local community, preconceptions are challenged. As we approach the new year, maybe we should all reappraise the way we approach life and our views of the way people live it.

Let me give you and example. We allow our prejudices to prevent us from doing things we really want to do. My 15 year old daughter was with me at Morrisons on Christmas Eve. I said "It's christmas, you can have any chocolate bar you like". She wondered around and looked longingly at the Pick and Mix counter. I said "You can have pick and mix if you prefer". She looked and then said "Pick and mix are for kids". She then went and got a rather sophisticatedly packaged bar of chocolate. Now of course I'm not psychic, maybe she really wanted the choccy bar, but I don't think so. I believe she realised I had noticed her yearning for the pick and mix, and it was a reaction to my perception of her having an immature taste in sweeties.

In some ways, I am convinced we see the same process regularly in all walks of life. The Friern Barnet library case is rather like my daughter and the pick and mix. It is clear to anyone who isn't a complete imbecile that the Friern Peoples library is a hugely popular local resource. In times of great economic hardship, it offers many lessons for preservation of a library system. The reuse of space, lessons, music are all things which could be built on and developed. Donation of books is also a great idea. It is also clear that volunteers will play a bigger role in library provision until public finances improve. I believe all libraries need properly trained librarians, but we also need to keep the libraries open.

It is completely ridiculous that Barnet Libraries chief, Councillor Robert Rams has not visited the library, to see if any lessons can be learned. He is like my daughter in foolishly denying the existence of something which may actually be just what is needed. No one could possible deny that there is a demand for the services supplied by the peoples library. All that is needed is a way forward so that everyone benefits.

It strikes me that if we have a cabinet member who refuses to listen and refuses to learn, then maybe what we need is a different cabinet member.

Thursday, 27 December 2012

Kick Out The Jams - A resolution for 2013

So Christmas is done, 2013 is nearly upon us. every other year I would do a retrospective around this time and look back on the highlights. This year I'm not going to. For the subjects the Barnet eye covers there have been no highlights, just crass stupidity from the Leaders of Barnet Council. Sure  there have been many effective protests, many events of note, but these mean nothing as the the juggernaut of idiocy rolls on relentlessly towards the edge of the cliff. You may say "what about the defeat of Brian Coleman at the GLA, surely that made a difference". Well yes it did, it resulted in Labour being able to prevent the outsourcing of the command and control centre for the Fire Brigade. Barnet did London a favour. In turth, Coleman has become a tragic figure. Despite all of his boorish behaviour, trousering of allowances and expenses and the damage he has caused to the governance of London and the fire brigade in particular, I am not a bully. I don't kick a vulnerable man when he is down and defenceless. I take no joy in the fact he will be in court for an alleged assault on Helen Michael, who is a friend of mine. I think it is sad and tragic that he seems unable to recognise the fact that the game is up and no one cares anymore, The year started with Brian lording it over Barnet, ignoring public opinion on parking and launching an all out war on Barnet traders. At the time Coleman derided bloggers. Now blogging is his only release and he's not very good at it. Since he started in August, he's had 13,000 odd hits. The Barnet Eye gets that every nine days. His turgid prose harks back to the good old days, but it is mere sad nostalgia.

Whilst Coleman was on the scene, Barnet had a Bogeyman. When he departed, Councillor Robert Rams did his very best to step up to the job, but he is just not a Brian Coleman. He may shut libraries, he may mislead local residents on a regular basis, but at the end of the day, everyone knows he's a thin skinned wuss, who simply can't take it. This tweet is a classic example - - Can you imagine Brian Coleman tweeting such a message? If you attack public services, you will not endear yourself to the local populace. If you don't like a Christmas card, sling it in the bin. Of course what Robert is trying to do is paint the library campaigners as "nasty people" and get public sympathy. Sadly he fails to reaslise that such tweets have the reverse effect. His mates will ask "Robert, why did they do this?" and if he tells the truth, they will probably think "you had that coming". If he tells a porkie and they bother to google him at any point, they will probably think "you had that coming and you are a bit shifty". If Robert had said "I got an obscene Christmas card from the Friern Library supporters, Oh how I laughed", he would be seen as man enough for the job, and they probably wouldn't bother sending any more. Given that Robert is a senior member of the Tory GLA office, you'd think he'd have twigged this. 

Then we have Richard Cornelius, the leader of Barnet Council. The more I see Richard, the more he reminds me of the current Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams. Both are in the drivers seat, but neither are driving the car. Richard never ever gives the impression of being in control, but he is a nice chap and no one wants to kick him. I don't for a minute believe he is stupid enopugh to really believe the figures which have been quoted as savings for One Barnet. I just believe that he lacks the gumption to face down the Officers and Consultants. I suspect he knows that the Tories will lose in 2014, so he's quite happy to enjoy the status as Leader and all the pomp which goes with it. I suspect he also knows that One Barnet will unravel under a Labour administration when they get in. The Tories no doubt hope that they can blame Labour locally for the nightmare they have created and get back in come 2018. I suspect that following the Brunswick Park byelection, they know the game is up. They may as well leave the most poison chalice they can for the incoming Labour regime. 

The only flaw in the cunning plan is that as most of them are local residents, they will pay through the teeth for this. As their laisse fair attitude to governance is a matter of public record, thanks to bloggers, I doubt  they will get away with it. 

So as we roll into 2013, we get ever nearer the election. 2013 is the year when we need to build the momentum to demonstrate that the local Conservatives cannot get away with what they are doing. I stood for council in 2010. I gave myself six months, this was not long enough. To kick out this administration, the work must start now.  Many people have asked me if I will stand in 2014 for council. I am undecided. If  I believe I could make a difference, I may put my name in the frame in some way. I am not convinced.  I cannot stand for the Lib Dems, given their part in the coalition. The local Conservatives are off the scale and I am banned from being a member of Labour. As such, I'd have to stand as an Independent. This would mean that even if I was elected I would be marginalised and ignored by whoever was in power. That doesn't really bother me, but unless someone could demonstrate that I could actually earn my keep in the role, what is the point? I've had about 25 offers of support from people who would come out and help and I feel bad ruling the concept out completely. It is a quandry.

Whatever happens I will play a role, even if it is only as an independent blogger. My slogan for 2013 is the old MC5 refrain "Kick Out The Jams" 

Wednesday, 26 December 2012

Rog T's Cancer Blog - You know what they say about Honey Bears?

For those of you who are regular readers and have read the previous posts on Cancer, you can skip this first paragraph.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 50 years old and I last year 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 gives me a 3+3 on the Gleason scale. I'm now on a program of active monitoring.  In early February, I got the results of the latest PSA test - down to 3.5 and an MRI scan which found absolutely nothing. My latest PSA test in August was not quite so promising, back up to 3.9, in other words the downward trend has stopped. I've no symptoms and sadly for a few people, if I'm gonna die soon, it won't be from Prostate cancer. Got the picture?

Christmas number 2 with cancer for poor old Rog T. What am I looking forward to in the new year?  A biopsy and an MRI scan. The MRI scan is on the 12th January. The biopsy is yet to be scheduled. The MRI I don't really mind, but the biposy is something I'm not looking forward to. The procedure is unpleasant and the side effects are revolting. I have opted for sedation this time. I could live with the pain etc, but it was just so unpleasant. The doctor was singularly unimpressed when I asked for sedation. He gave me a "you are a big wuss" look, as if I was singularly responsible for depriving thousands of children cancer treatments by my selfish decision to avoid a teeny weeny bit of discomfort. Of course, he never said that. It was the look.

Christmas is a time of over indulgence. I have been trying to follow an anti cancer diet for the last year, and in the most part succeeding. I am avoiding dairy products. Despite my wife invoking me to have a bit of cheese, I didn't, Will one bit of cheese kill me? Nope, of course it won't but I'm scared of the rocky road. I find it hard to refrain from things I love. I am an all or nothing sort of person. Total abstinence is easier than "just a little bit". Besides I've also discovered a strange thing. Since I cut out the dairy, I don't get the awful hangovers of old. I have a theory that fats clog up the liver and reduce it's function. I believe (although I can't prove) that having a healthy, organic diet improves the bodies ability to process alcohol. Now I know, it is a bit stupid, drinking to excess when trying to beat a life threatening disease, but hey, "it's our contradictions which are keeping us human", to quote my good friend Allen Ashley.

I am positive about everything I do. When I lose a battle, I see it as a setback rather than a defeat. I analyse everything and see what I can learn. When my PSA went down, I saw it as a victory and a vindication. When it went back up, I saw it as a setback and sought to analyse where I've slipped into bad habits.

The biggest changes I've made are

1. Drinking pomegranite juice every day
2. Drinking green tea without milk
3. Where possible cooking with olive oil (high in Omega 3)
4. Eating organic vegetables & fruit (Abel and Cole fruit & veg boxes)
5. Trying to eat foods high in antoxidants (Tomatoes (especially cooked), berries,  watercress)
6. Eating other beneficial foods (watercress, shitake mushrooms, pulses)
7. Using herbs & spices with beneficial effects (Tumeric, ginger, garlic, peppers)
8. Using natural beneficial sweetners (Manuka Honey, Lemon)

I've cut out where possible the following

1. Dairy
2. Eggs
3. Processed foods
4. Cooking oils high in Omega 6 oils
5.Trying to avoid salt & fatty foods

So how I've done. In the first list, very well. All of these things have been easy changes. On the second list, I find it harder. My lifestyle means I am not always at home for dinner. Meals often get skipped. At midnight, it is hard to get a meal that isn't fried chicken and chips in Mill Hill.

I find that I can tell my body objects to this. I can feel it fighting the ingestion of these things. I am also partial to crisps and salty nuts. I wish I could find some better alternative. I'd die for roasted organic cashew nuts with natural sea salt!

Then there is the boozing.  I try and have at least two alcohol free days a week. I am pretty good at this, although Christmas has torpedoed this. I plan a "dry" January as a new years resolution. I do need a break as December has been a little too boozy.

One of the interesting debates I have followed it the value of "detox" diets. As my diet is "detoxed" much of the time (especially on non boozing days), I have a degree of sympathy for these, but I think the idea that you can have a few days eating carrots and drinking water and see long term benefits is bonkers. Drinks like green tea have high caffeine content, but are good for you.

I have read that diabetes can actually be reveresed by low fat, extreme low calorie diets. To me this makes sense. I believe with a passion that a low saturated fat diet would slash NHS bills. The government are cowards to not bite this bullet and have the debate.

So all in all, a new year and a new challenge awaits. We'll see how it goes

The ghosts of Christmas past

Good things happen at Christmas. Sadly bad things also happen at Christmas. Yesterday, we were due to have a visit from friends, but one of them couldn't make it because their mother had been taken ill. It reminded me of a familiar refrain of my mother "Someone always gets ill at Christmas". When I say ill, I don't mean a bit ill. I mean a lot ill. Usually it was my Dad or my Mum. In the end they gave up on Christmas and used to go to Florida (my big sister lives there). When my Dad died in 1987, my mum carried on the tradition. She'd always be away for Christmas. She'd go off on a  cruise, off to America or to Austrailia. This changed in around 1996 when she met a new partner. They'd be around for Christmas and we'd have big family christmas meals, our parents, my sister & her children, my in laws, our children. Happily no one got ill. In 2000 we had a great meal. I remember thinking that we'd put the curse of Christmas behind us.We had a party for the millenium. It was a happy event, sadly I had to leave at 10pm as I was working, but the house was packed with family and friends.

Sadly that was the last happy Christmas. Out of the blue in December 2000, my mother had a stroke. She spent Christmas in the geriatric ward, unable to speak, unable to walk and twenty years older than she'd beeen the week before. We faced the awful truth that she may not be able to live independently again. My mother was a fighter.She didn't want to live her days out in a geriatric ward. She learned to walk, she did her best to communicate. Within three months, she was back at home. Sadly her relationship didn't survive. Her partner was a diabetic and she couldn't cope with the problems this caused. She lived on her own and was quite happy living quietly and reading. Her one big pleasure was a trip to the library.

Eventually she was confident enough to walk down to the shops. She would go every day to Marks and Spencers or Costcutter. I'd visit every night and share a couple of Guinness. For a few years, she was slowly climbing the ladder back to normality. Then a series of events undermined her and broke her will to live. The first of these was when a drunk assaulted her in Costcutter, grabbing her behind and making lewd suggestions. Bear in mind my mother was 80 years old and very frail.It undermind her confidence. The trips down the road stopped. She felt vulnerable. Then she broke her hip. Although she survived, she again had a lengthy period of recuperation. In her fraility, she couldn't even cook. As we live down the road, we would supply evening meals. My sister would visit from Northampton and stay for two nights. We also arranged for meals on wheels for lunches. Again my mother started to rally. She enjoyed the meals on wheels and had a good rapport with the delivery lady. Then in April 2007, she was informed that the "service was changing". It was "being improved" and she would get "more choice". She was sent a full pack of details, including an order sheet. This confused her. Whilst she had no problem reading, filling in forms and making decisions was a diificult process. "What if I order a salad and it's a cold day?". Under the old system, you got what you were given and it was delivered. As she became so anxious about the change (an anxiety I felt was ridiculous at the time) my sister agreed to visit from Florida and stay with her. This was fortuitous. The new service was a shambles. On the day of the change, no food arrived. The next day it arrived at 5pm. As my sister was there she could cook, but my mother was bereft. She didn't want uncertainty. She didn't want "new people" delivering the dinner. I wrote my first ever email to a Barnet Councillor. It turned out that Sodexho, the new supplier, had put in a totally unrealistic proposal. Each delivery driver had to deliver 40 meals in three hours. That is less than three minutes per meal. Some old ladies take three minutes to answer the door. The quality of the new meals was far inferior. My mother realised that her independence was an illusion. She took to her bed and became depressed. She also suffered from Osteoperosis and had stress fractures in her back. To deal with these she had to take opiates. She was losing the will to live. Then we found out that there was a new treatment. They can be filled with cement. The only snag was the operation cost £3,000. There was a question mark over whether she would survive the anaesthetic. She insisted and signed a disclaimer. The operation was a success. In November 2007, she suffered another stress fratcure. Her doctor informed her that she should be entitled to the operation on the NHS as her need was acute. She was booked in for February 2008. Christmas 2007 was a bit stressful. My Father in law was suffering from dementia, my mother was in severe pain. It was a difficult afternoon, although everyone enjoyed the meal. The one hope my mother had was that she new her back would be fixed in february.

Arrangements were made, my sister came from Florida to stay with her for the op. Two days before, she was informed it was cancelled. A private patient had bumped her. I was not prepared to stand by and see this happen. My sister couldn't rearrange her holiday. I got hold of the CEO of the hospital trusts email and we made a massive fuss. My mother was distraught. Although the procedure was done a week later and went well, her spirit was broken. In May, my father in law passed away. My wife was distraught. Although he'd had demential, it is a shock to lose a parent. My mother had started lose her eyesight. She could no longer read. She was losing the will to live. In July, I took her to Lourdes with HCPT. This had been a her regular summer holiday following her stroke. She had previously enjoyed it. in 2008, she was different. She complained the whole time. She said that this would "be the last time".

She was right. I returned and went to San Francisco with my wife and children. On the 7th August, I was awoken to the news, she'd had a stroke and had died. I was completely numbed. The year got worse. In November, my mother in law (who was 14 years younger than my father in law) had a heart attack. Fortunately, it wasn't serious. She also had a bad cough. She was worried, but the hospital informed her it was nothing serious. She came out in time for Christmas. She had decided to give up smoking and was in good spirits. We were hoping we'd  put a bad year behind us. Christmas was tinged with sadness, butw e had hopes for the future. My mother in law had had a bad time caring for her husband. We hoped she'd have a bit of a life. Sadly in January, the cough, which she'd been told not to worry about, was diagnosed as stage 4 lung cancer. She lasted until March.

In amongst all of that, in May 2008, I started writing a blog on the Hendon Times. In August 2008, I wrote a tribute to my mother following her death. Two days later, Mike Freer MP, who was then Leader of Barnet Council, wrote a blog on the Hendon Times, where he criticised "armchair critics, cossetted by inherited family wealth". At the time, there was only my blog and that of David Miller (who's mother, Baroness Miller of Hendon) is a Tory peer and happily very much alive, that covered Barnet Council. I was incensed. I wrote to Freer demanding an explaination. His excuse? He wasn't referring to anyone in particular.

In actual fact, my mother left all of her considerable personal wealth to charities. She didn't specify which ones. She left instructions that her six children should decide between us who got the dosh. We decided that we'd allocate 1/6th each and give it accordingly. I gave my slice to the following charities

Noah's Ark Childrens Hospice (it was the Mayor of Barnet's charity that year)
HCPT - (Charity which takes disabled people to Lourdes - my mother visited with them four times)
SHARE foundation - Charity running community nursing projects in Sri Lanka
Mill Hill Missionary Society - My cousin is a priest working in the Congo with them, setting up a school
The Sacred Heart Parish - Our local Church that my mum attended for 40 years

I chose small charities where I felt there were specific projects. We all chose different things, close to our own interests. For instance, my brother chose a cystic fibrosis charity as his wifes niece had passed away from this horrible disease.

Christmas is a time of giving. The point I sought to make was that hopefully out of all the horrible things that happened to our family, maybe some chink of good came. I applaud my mother for her decision to give the money away.  It is funny, some people have said "oh, it's terrible when they do that". Actually I think it is life affirming. Tomorrow, I'll go down to do my shift at "The Passage", a homeless day centre. I have to get up at 6am, which never sits well. Thing is, if I decide to lie in bed, then someone may not get a breakfast who needs it.

If you have a friend who is having a hard time this year, don't forget them. Christmas can be a sad and lonely time. If nothing else, pick up the phone. Last night, I was dwelling on all of this when I went to bed. I awoke at about 4pm and thought about it all again. I am lucky, we have a strong family bond and good friends. It doesn't take the pain away, but it helps. Who helps the people who don't have that support network?

That was what was troubling me last night. It still is.

Tuesday, 25 December 2012

Merry Christmas from the Barnet Eye

We wish all our readers a very Merry Christmas. For all of us, there have been ups and downs. As I sit here writing this, I'm listening to Londons Burning by the Clash. Let us give thanks for the the fact that the opposite is true. London, for all it's faults, is the greatest city on the planet. We all get on. We all tolerate each others peculiarities and we don't care what God our next door neighbour worships, just so long as he doesn't mind us.

Christmas symbolises birth and change. Whatever you think of the story of the birth of Jesus, there are a few lessons anyone can take (even if you don't believe the story).

1. Jesus was born out of wedlock. Joseph was not his biological father, but he accepted him and treated him as his son. He comes out of the story with a lot of credit. We should all show a bit of his tolerence and forgiveness. Did he doubt Marys story? He clearly loved her and that was enough.

2. Jesus had to flee Bethlehem for fear of persecution. When we criticise "ASYLUM SEEKERS" maybe we should consider the beginnings of the man who founded the state religion in the UK. Every time you slag off an asylum seeker, you are slagging off Jesus Christ as well (and for you atheists, that doesn't let you off the hook, we all need to be decent people).

3. Three wise men travelled "from the east" to visit the scene of the birth. We all have to "follow our star". If we have to do something, even if the journey is perilous, we must see it through.

4. The Sheperds on the hill also bore witness to the birth. I draw great consolation that the man who many believe to be the messiah was born witness to by ordinary blokes as well as Kings from the east. We all matter.

5. And perhaps the biggest one. Mary and Joseph were given shelter in a barn, where Mary gave birth. An act of small kindness by an innkeeper. Do we have a barn in our hearts, where we can give someone a little bit of shelter to someone who needs it? For the last year I've volunteered at a homeless centre. Is it right that 2,000 years after the birth in a barn of the man who founded our state religion, that people still have to sleep in barns, parks and doorways.

Last night I attended a very nice childrens service at our local church, which was packed to bursting. Christmas is a time when we should remember children. They are the future. They deserve better from us. What sort of a world are we building. Here is a song which always touches me at this time of the year

I wish you all a peaceful, restfull and loving Christmas. For those of you who believe, may God bless you and for those who don't, seasons greetings.

Monday, 24 December 2012

Dimly lit, Reality Ballroom - what lurks in the shadows

Have you ever woken up with a strange feeling of unease, for no reason at all? You have a feeling of impending danger or doom. You stop, listen, look around. You check your pulse to make sure you are still alive. You check the mobile phone to ensure it is on and there are no missed messages. And then you realise that everything seems OK. The world hasn't ended, your heart is still beating, you decide that your concerns were unfounded and you get on with your life.

And everything does seem OK. Because there is no mad axeman in the house, because no one has texted to say there has been a tragedy, because all the children are tucked up snugly in bed, because the dog is asleep in her basket, everything is OK.

So you settle down, have a cup of coffee and a bowl of coco pops and get on with your life. And then all of a sudden you have a moment of realisation. Despite a four and a half years of writing a blog, producing two films, writing countless emails to councillors etc, this is the year that the One Barnet outsourcing contract with Capita has been signed. Barnet Council have put their chips on the roulette wheel for the billion pound gamble. Barnet Council has become Barnet Capita Services Ltd. We are now customers of the council rather than residents and council tax payers.

Barnet Council is run by a cabinet. These eleven people have dragooned through the process with no consultation and no debate. Internal critics in the Conservative group have been slapped down and allowances have been used as a tool to whip errant councillors into line.

Council leader Richard Cornelius believes the project will deliver £120 million pounds worth of savings, despite the fact that Barnet bloggers detailed around 20 major Capita public sector projects that have gone wrong and not delivered what has been promised. Mr Cornelius believes that because they have a "watertight contract" Barnet will avoid the problems elsewhere. How silly these other organisations are, not having watertight contracts?

As I sit scoffing my smoked salmon bagel and quaffing my green tea, I realised that, like my irrational fear when I awoke, the problem with One Barnet is not what we know. It is what lurks in the shadows. It is not what the contract has specified and covered, it is what it hasn't specified and hasn't covered. Imagine life is like a grand Ballroom and Richard Cornelius is dancing in the spotlight with his beautiful partner Ms Capita. All eyes are on Richard and Ms Capita as they twist and turn and pirouette. The oohs and ahhhs as they perform are a joy to behold. Sadly for poor old Mr Cornelius, Ms Capita is not all she seems. Whilst he's distracted by her pale blue eyes and her sensual moves, Ms Capitas devious partner has taken his credit card from wallet and is emptying his bank account. Ms Capita will sit down with Mr Cornelius, gaze into his eyes and say "Richard, I've never met a man with such moves before", as she pours him another glass of champagne. Silly old Richard hadn't noticed that her pale blue eyes had carefully noted his pin number as he paid his bill.  He will go home a happy man. It is only when he wakes up in the morning, with a hangover and  a silly grin and goes to buy a pound of sausages from tescos that he realises something is wrong. Oh dear, all the money is gone. How could that happen ! He didn't tell anyone his pin number?

Now of course Capita have not stolen Barnet Council's pin number. They have not plied Richard with Champagne. The seduction was far loner and more subtle. But what they do have is a contract which Barnet cannot get out of without handing over tens of millions and even then only when they have suffered a massively catastrophic failure.

And that is Reality Ballroom. We do stupid things, not because we think they are stupid, but because we think we are more clever than we really are. They say a fool and his money are easily parted. What about when that fool is spending our money?

Saturday, 22 December 2012

Barnet Council cocks it up again on the High Streets !

Today was the single concession Barnet Council made to hard pressed businesses and traders in the run up to Christmas. There was a two hour free parking period between 3pm and 5pm. I nipped up to Cafe Buzz to give Helen Michael a christmas card and have a mince pie and was shocked to find that there were no posters or any other information publicising the parking amnesty. Most drivers were simply pulling up and paying by phone as usual. The parking system run by NSL accepted their payments and some were livid to be informed that they should have been able to park for free.

It seems that Barnet Council cannot organise anuthing properly. I bumped into a Tory Councillor, who rather lamely stated "There is information on the Council website". Do you check the council website for notices every time you park?

Traders said some people even had come down because they had been told of the amnesty and then seen no signs and so had paid. One customer told me that they had been caught out before by parking wardens when they thought parking restrictions have been relaxed, so wasn't prepared to take the chance.

Barnet Council should immediately apologise and declare Christmas Eve a parking amnesty day.

If I wake up and hell has frozen over, I guess we'll know they have.

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Christmas Saturday Special Joke

Last night, I met an old friend up in a favoured London haunt. After several sherbets, I pointed to two old drunks across the bar from us
and told my mate, "That'll be us in another 10 years."

He said, "That's a mirror, you dickhead."

Capita Week - The Summary

So Capita week draws to a close. There are some nice pictures of the Thursday protest Capita offices on Vicki Morris Flickr stream -

All of the Barnet bloggers have participated and there have been thousands of tweets & retweets. My blog has had hundreds of hits from Capita computers, so it is fair to say that the company have "taken an interest" in the week.

We are now working on a follow up Capita week in the new year. I have also had some tentative conversations with film Director Charles Honderick and backers about the idea of making "CAPITA! - The Movie". It seems that there are so many stories and so much ignorance about outsourcing that there really is a story to be told. Unlike the two Barnet films we've made this year, this would be a major undertaking. If nothing else, because of the geographical location of all of the problems. We have worked out a tentative budget and if we can raise the necessary cash, we will start production ASAP.

We've learned much from the two films we produced this year. Both received a good reception and much media coverage. As the Capita film would have a national audience, I suspect that we'd have to go for a West End Premiere, which might be fun.

When we started making "A Tale of Two Barnets" I originally thought it would be a ten minute Youtube piece that three or four hundred people would watch. I never expected it to get a premiere in the Phoenix or a showing in the House of Commons. We see "Capita - The Movie" as the next logical project. if we can find people who have the faith to back us financially, then we can make it. We will start fundraising in January, but if you have ten grand in your pocket for a vanity project and a credit in the title, get in touch and we can start today ! If you've read the blogs this week, you will surely know that the story should be told.

I wish I'd been smoking what Richard Dawkins has been smoking !

Every so often, someone makes a stupid comment that completely destroys years of hard work building a reputation. An example of this was Ex Prime Minister Jim Callaghan, who responded to a question about the winter of discontent with the comment "Crisis, what crisis?". With that one comment, his whole career was redifined. No discussion of Callaghan ever happens without some reference to the comment.

I suspect Professor Richard Dawkins has just made a similarly damaging statement. In an interview with Al-Jazeera, Dawkins claimed that being raised as a Roman Catholic was worse than being abused as a child. There are many levels on which Dawkins has got it wrong ( As someone who was born and raised in the Catholic faith, who has many friends who were also raised as Catholics, some of whom still are and some who aren't, it is clear to me that such talk is offensive nonsense. Sadly the paedophile priest scandal colours our perception of the church, and this has been handled appallingly. If Dawkins had attacked the church for his handling of the scandal, I would have agreed with him. This wasn't his point. His point was that raising children within the faith was worse than child abuse. He specifically seperated the two issues. I have friends of many religions and no religion at all. If you were to analyse any of the beliefs and traditions, they all have good points and bad points. Some faiths and creeds do have some traditions that  I find repulsive, such as female circumcision. Some faiths have practices I find incompehensible and dangerous, such as cults who commit suicide in anticipation of the end of the world. All of these things should be highlighted and criticised. Efforts should be made to argue the case for ending such things, however the arguments must be made with honesty, integrity and logic.To persuade someone that a deeply held belief or tradition is wrong can only be done respectfully and with calm logic. If you want to persuade a family that they shouldn't circumcise their daughter, which approach do you think would be more likely to succeed, one where you engage in a calm debate and explain that the practice should be avoid because it is not a religious requirement, but a tradition and one which will immeasurably damage a woman. If instead of taking a calm, reasoned approach you say "you belong to a barbaric religion and you are a savage", all you will do is alienate and damage your own argument.

Mr Dawkins uses as an example, the fact that a woman was told that a childhood friend who died aged seven, would go to hell because she was a Protestant. Dawkins said the woman found this more traumatic than sexual abuse received at the hands of a Priest. A casual reader, unfamiliar with the Roman Catholic religion may well conclude that children at Catholic Schools or attending mass would be told the same thing.  Whilst individuals involved in the Church may say stupid things such as this, it is not in any way a reflection of the view Roman Catholics have of other faiths.  I would have assumed that Dawkins would have done his homework. Following the Vatican II conference in the early 1960's, the teaching of the Church is that anyone can go to heaven, regardless of which faith they belong to. None of us know who will go and why. The position of the Church is that if you follow the teachings and do good things, then that will make your case, but we shouldn't judge those who follow different paths. That is between them and God. If anyone ever uses the argument that "you should become a Roman Catholic because the only alternative is Hell when you die" they are being dishonest and ignorant.

I generally welcome the interventions of commentators such as Richard Dawkins. Anyone who has genuine criticisms of any religion or creed, should be listened to and if there is weight in their arguments, then it is up to the faith to adapt. We are seeing such a process with the Gay marriage debate. Where Dawkins has gone wrong on this case is a) he's belittled the damage caused by sexual abuse and b) he's not been honest about how the teachings of a faith deals with other religions. I worry that his comments may upset and inflame tensions between Protestants and Catholics in places such as Norther Ireland. In Mill Hill and Barnet generally, there are excellent relationships between all of the faiths. One of my friends, Romal Miah, who runs the Day of the Raj restaurant in Mill Hill is a Muslim who attended a Roman Catholic secondary school. We have discussed this and he tells me it was a positive experience. His religious beliefs were respected and he gained from an insight into another faith.

I have a friend who is a Church of England vicar. She has an unusual story because she was raised in a militant communist home and went to secular schools. She initially started "hanging around" churches as she enjoyed the peace and tranquility. She decided to become a vicar as she saw this as a way where she could dedicate her life to helping people in a practical and gentle way. She has a calm and dignified manner and is a classic example of why the Roman Catholic faith should ordain women. A few years ago we discussed the views of Dawkins and she explained that what attracted her to the ministry was the fact that a vicar helps people who need it and brings communities together. She took the view that Dawkins had some good arguments but was divisive in how he presented his arguments, which was not in her opinion good for anyone.

I was reminded of this conversation by Dawkins comments today.  I really don't think he's done anyone a service by putting his arguments in such a manner, least of all himself and his credibility. If I was Mr Dawkins, I'd announce that I'd had a heavy session on the skunk weed before I made the statement and what I really meant was ....

The Saturday List #28 - Gigs this year

Well as it's nearly Christmas, I thought I'd put together a list of the gigs I can remember going to or playing at this year.

The Pogues - 02 Arena
The Damned / The Dickies - The Roundhouse
The False Dots / The Hamptons - Friern Barnet Library
Squeeze - The Forum
The Steve Miller Band - The Roundhouse
The False Dots / The Hamptons - Cafe Buzz
The Buzzcocks - The Round House
Paul Weller - The Roundhouse

It's been a very busy year for me, too much work and not enough music. My new years resolution is to put that right

Friday, 21 December 2012

The Friday Joke - 21/12/2012

There is a great little bar, just round the corner from the North Pole. It is called "The Imaginary Friend". T'was Christmas Eve and Father Christmas, as is way, was nipping in for a quick livener, before going out on his rounds to deliver the presents to all the good children (not that I'm implying father Xmas is ever drunk in charge of a Sleigh and a team of reindeer). He walked in and at the bar was standing his good friend the Tooth Fairy. She looked at Father Christmas and said

"Have you seen this, it is hilarious" and showed Father Christmas this video clip -

After rolling about on the floor, Father Christmas turns to the tooth fairy and says "He really believes Capita will deliver savings of £120 million with their record! Some people will believe absolutely anything!"

This week this blog and all of the other blogs in Barnet have been highlighting the record of  Capita in delivering savings and services. Who would you trust about whether this will work? Richard Cornelius? The Tooth Fairy? Father Christmas? Personally, I just tend to go on the record of someone. If a mechanic screws up my neighbours car, I don't take my car their. If a cafe gives my aunty food poisoning, I don't eat there. If my wife orders a copy of War and Peace from an ebay seller and they send her My Little Pony instead, I wouldn't buy a book from them. When the bloggers of Barnet proposed Capita week, I was aware of three of four major problems with contracts they've delivered. As a result of all the tweets, other bloggers and the emails I've had from up and down the country, it seems there is an almost unendings tream of cock ups.

And the biggest joke of all is that Richard Cornelius and his colleagues in the Barnet Council cabinet actually think they are clever signing up to this nonsense and yes they really do believe that it will all be tickety boo !

(Thanks to the Barnet Bugle for the clip - Happy Christmas Dan and Frank)

Capita Week - Capita loses its lucrative CRB contract after a decade

This week is “CAPITA WEEK” in the London Borough of Barnet. Following the decision of the cabinet of Barnet Council to award CAPITA a £750 million outsourcing contract, which will destroy 300 jobs in the Borough, the local blogs are spending a week investigating the record of Capita at other local authorites.
Barnet residents protesting at the offices of Capita to mark Capita week  (photo courtesy Vicki Morris)
We are highlighting issues with outsourcing projects run by Capita, Barnet Councils chosen supplier for the One Barnet project. We are asking councillors to ensure that they are fully aware of all of the likely issues, before they put pen to paper with this massive contract.
Today the issue we look at is value for the taxpayer.
The Contract in question is Capita’s flagship CRB system.  Capita recently lost the contract. The Times reports that Kevin Lapwood, at the brokers Seymour Pierce, said: “There’s a suspicion that Capita has been earning too high a margin on certain central government contracts.”  One has to ask whether Barnet is geared up to avoid the pitfalls which Central Government seemingly couldn’t  avoid?

Computer weekly reported about the contract “The Criminal Records Bureau contract was also beset by problems. Capita proved itself unable to administer the completion of criminal records checks for teachers on time, which caused problems for schools in the autumn of 2002. The contract was once again revised and revenues renegotiated. Capita incurred penalty charges for that one.”

Last night, the Barnet Alliance for Public Services held a protest at the offices of Capita. Whilst the Barnet Conservatives seem not to care about the issues raised, the ordinary residents and bloggers of Barnet do. Capita are now in the media spotlight.  Wheras previously these blunders and cock ups could be quietly swept under the carpet, Barnet is a completely different case. We have more journalists, TV executives and other media people living locally than anywhere else in the Country. Should a scandal break in Barnet, Capita run the risk of huge reputational damage. If they think that the protests will quietly die away, they are gravely mistaken. I'd suggest they'd better start getting used to protests at their offices.

Thursday, 20 December 2012

Capita Week - Government urged to ditch Capita after ILA failure

This week is “CAPITA WEEK” in the London Borough of Barnet. Following the decision of the cabinet of Barnet Council to award CAPITA a £750 million outsourcing contract, which will destroy 300 jobs in the Borough, the local blogs are spending a week investigating the record of Capita at other local authorites.

We are highlighting issues with outsourcing projects run by Capita, Barnet Councils chosen supplier for the One Barnet project. We are asking councillors to ensure that they are fully aware of all of the likely issues, before they put pen to paper with this massive contract.
Today we look at implementation. Have Capita implemented  the systems that were promised? We look at the Individual Learning Accounts system How did the implementation of this program by Capita work out?

Capita won a £50 million contract to run the ill-fated programme, which collapsed amid mounting allegations of fraud among learning providers and concern over costs that went £93 million over budget.

A report on an inquiry by the education and skills select committee criticised Capita, which boasts in its annual reports of experience in handling government projects requiring tight anti-fraud measures, for failing to point out that a lack of safeguards in the ILA system made it "a disaster waiting to happen".

Barry Sheerman, who chaired the committee, said the contract between the government and Capita "did not spell out the balance of risk and responsibility". 
Barnet bloggers have continually raised the issues of risk and responsibility. Our concerns have been completely ignored.

If you are worried, join the Barnet Alliance for Public Services , who are  holding a demonstration against One Barnet at Capita HQ on Tonight,  5-7pm, 71 Victoria Street,