Sunday 10 December 2023

The Sunday Reflection #2 - Tis the system to be jolly?

 In two weeks time, it will be Xmas eve. Like many people, we are making our plans for the festivities. Long time regular readers will know that I always stated that our Xmas starts with The Pogues Xmas gig. After the last one, in 2013, it has become a tradition to see former resident of this parish, Paul Evans in The Pogue Traders, a collective that pays tribute to the music of the Pogues (they are not a tribute band in the sense that they don't pretend to be the characters). There was always a little bit of me that dreamed that Shane would recover and we'd have a last reprise of the tradition. This year we are seeing the Pogue Traders at Dingwalls. I suspect that with the recent passing of Shane, it will be a rather different occasion. I suspect it will be like many Irish family wakes, which start in a mood of sombre reflection and end with raucous recollection and stories, as the Guinness and whiskey flows. Will there be a dry eye for the rendition of 'Fairytale' as we mourn both Shane and Kirsty. In some ways it is bizarre that it was Kirsty who went first. Don't get me wrong, I am not a moraliser, I wasn't one who was expecting the alcohol to do Shane in. I know too many drunks of Irish decent to know that it really doesn't work like that. Many people see me in that catagory! I went to a recent school reunion and I was amazed to note that those of us who, shall we say, have enjoyed life, seem to look ten years younger than the absteemers. Maybe the stress of life passed us by a bit more? 

The traditional view of Xmas is one of merryment, fun and frolics. For me, as every year passes, it becomes a little more melancholic. I miss my parents and in laws especially at this time of year. I miss my band mate Paul Hircombe, who spent 28 years in the band, sadly passing in 2012. I miss Ernie Ferebee, who helped my build the studios into what they are, but passed in 2001. I miss Clare's Aunty Jo who was a permanent fixture at our Xmas table, but passed many years ago. I could go on. I tend to have a dream around this time of year, where I am making dinner and my parents turn up unexpectedly. I get flustered and think, how could I have forgotten to include them. Then I remember they've passed on. Dad says something like, don't worry Rog, we've only popped in to have a drink and wish you Merry Christmas. I usually wake up feeling discombobulated for a few days and make sure I get some Guinness for Mum and decent Scotch for Dad, just in case. 

We have all sorts of little traditions we've built up over the years. We go to the earliest possible midnight mass, then out for dinner on Xmas Eve. Originally, this was to Leyla's Turkish restaurant. In recent years, this has varied between The Mill Hill Tandoori and Presso's. Not sure where it will be this year. The False Dots always do an Xmas gig, Pre covid, this was either at The Chandos Arms or the Midland Hotel. We'd hold the Barnet Eye Community Awards. As Emily and Are left the Chandos and the Midland has shut, that's not an option. We are not doing the awards anymore, but the gig will be on the 23rd at The Dublin Castle (Click here for tickets). It's a great chance for friends to get together and have a beer or two. 

They say, Xmas is a time to be Jolly. To me this is only half the picture. Like the Moon, the adverts we see at Xmas (apart from Charity appeals tugging at the heart strings) show us only one face. Like the dark side of the moon, Christmas for many is a difficult time, recalling times that will not return and loved ones. 

Try and remember this. Pick up the phone, nip in and see the lonely neighbour. Today, I attended the 11.30am mass at The Sacred Heart. I saw the most beautiful thing. There's an old lady who attends every week, who is bent over and hunched. She is of Irish descent. At communion, a little girl, maybe of African descent went up with her, holding her hand. One in there latter years, another in their early life, sharing a moment of companionship. When the elderly lady returned to her bench, the little girl returned to her parents a row behind. To me, that is the true spirit of Xmas. 

Saturday 9 December 2023

The Saturday List #424 - Ten things my father taught me, some of which are no use at all

 I grew up in awe of my Dad. I've always thought he was one of the greatest men who ever lived. I'm not entirely sure he was the greatest father, his views on parenting were, shall we say, not particularly modern. The last proper conversation I had with him, a loving conversation that spanned a curry, several pints and a game of snooker at The Mill Hill Services Club and half a bottle of scotch in the front room. I was 24 and the year was 1987. He explained several things that had troubled me, I don't really know if he convinced me. He told me that he believed that he had prepared us for a vicious, unforgiving world, given us (the boys in the family) the tools to survive as best he could. At the time, I was working for BT, setting up the network that supported the LINK ATM network. He told me that I had surprised him, he had always thought I was too indisciplined and argumentative to amount to anything. He also confided that he'd come to realise that my commitment to the band was a positive thing and that the band were actually very good. This surprised me. It was possibly the only affirmation he ever gave me. He told me that he thought people who didn't smack their kids were idiots, as the children would not realise that if you upset people, you might get a slap. He said this was a vital lesson when being a young adult in a pub. I've been thinking a lot about him recently, I often do at this time of the year. 

As I grew up, he taught me all manner of things, some of which were very useful, some of which were positively dangerous. Here's a list

1. How to make nitro glycerene and to fashion this into what we now call an IAD. He believed that being able to know how to blow things up was an essential life skill. I've never really used that skill. I did enjoy making bombs with him as a six year old though. He also taught me that if you put a sliver of nitro glycerene in a cigarette, it won't blow the ciggie up. It will just burn and give the person smoking the ciggie a really bad "nitro" headache. I've never been inclined to try this. I have to say there have been times when I've been tempted to use these skills, but Dad also taught me that if you plan to do something nefarious, the most important thing is plan how you can get away with it in both this life and the next. On balance, the $h1tbags I may use these skills on are not worth a stretch giving His Majesty pleasure or eternity in hell. 

2. How to sabotage the engine of your next door neighbours car. This was another essential skill. He said that if ever I needed to disable German tanks, this was the way. My Dad caught one of my mates trying to do this to the car of someone who had not paid him for a job. My Dad gave him a stiff lecture on how to do it properly and berated him for his amatuerism.

3. How to conceal a weapon, so that you could evade a search. When he was in the prisoner of war camp, he nicked a Mauser pistol from a German Officer. He had it in his possession the whole time and evaded numerous searches. He told me that if ever you carry a concealed weapon, the only time you ever show it to your enemy is when you actually kill them. He said if you wave it around, you will be  disarmed and your enemy will kill you. A friends brother became a policeman and did training in how to disarm a knifeman. My Dad said "Come on show me how its done". The policeman said "Right, pretend you have a knife and I'll disarm you". My Dad immediately put his hand on the policemans stomach and said "Your dead". The policeman said "You are meant to wave it around", my Dad laughed and said "When I was trained by the Australian Army, they taught us how to stay alive and that means to expect the unexpected".

4. How to build a Gudgeon trap. My Dad loved fishing for pike and used gudgeon, caught by Hunton Bridge in Watford, as live bait. I didn't really like decapitating small fish to catch big ones, much to his disgust.

5. How to disable and assailant with a baseball bat. Now this may sound like a stupid thing, but he said if ever you hear a burglar or other intruder in the house, get a baseball bat or a crowbar and hide crouched down. When you are in range, whack them as hard as you can on the knee, then break the other knee. You won't kill them but they will be in excruciating pain and unable to move. Any court would deem that you'd used reasonable force. Fortunately, touch wood, not had to use this either.

6. How to make Sloe Gin. My Dad told me that the only time he'd ever hallucinated on alcohol was after drinking Sloe Gin. It sounded horrific, he told me that he'd never touched the stuff again. He then took me out, got a load of sloe berries, made some and a couple of weeks later we tried it. Neither of us hallucinated and it was quite nice.

7. Never to trust people in authority. My Dad told me that when he was in the RAF, he soon realised that the 'top brass' were not your friends and not on your side. He said that you are expendeable to them and they simply can't ever give a stuff for you, if they did, they couldn't do their job. It is up to you to figure out how to do your duty and survive. He told me I'd never have made it in the RAF as I was too indisciplined and argumentative. He said you had to learn when to pick your fights and when to hold your tongue. I saw a bit of Boris Johnson on the COVID enquiry, I could feel may fathers words burning in my ears.

8. If you know a foreign language and are involved in business or in a prisoner of war camp, never let on that you do. He was fluent in German, but he never let on. That meant he could evesdrop on the guards in the POW camp. He knew that there were snitches in camp, he just pretended he had guessed right. When he was working in the Middle East, he learned Arabic. He told me that the Arab translators assigned to him would be saying the worst things, ripping him off etc. He never let on. He knew that if he did, then no business would get done. He just made sure they were only taking a reasonable cut when they ripped him off. Sadly, I don't have his aptitude for languages.

9. Never give a mug an even break. This was my Dad's motto when playing cards. He loved poker and three card brag. He was very good at them, He made a lot of money at it and was merciless. He said that if you take pity on your opponents, you are not doing them a fabvour as they will never learn. I recall one Xmas, one of the blokes who worked for him spent his Xmas wages at the bookies. The man's wife appeared on the doorstep as he told her he'd not been paid. My Dad realised what had happened. The poor woman and her family would have nothing for Xmas. Dad bought them a turkey and the rest. He told her that it was his present to her, but there was one condition. In future, he would pay her the wages and if she wanted to give the fella pocket money for the bookies, that was her business. After about three months, she told him that she genuinely hadn't realised how much her husband was earning. She'd paid off all the family debts and their marriage, which had been on the rocks, was back on track. Dad explained that people who have a problem with gambling will throw anyone under a bus for bet. The only way to stop them is to not give them cash in the first place. I told him that I thought he was generous giving her the Xmas shopping. He said "Not really, most weeks I'd been taking most of his wages off him at three card brag on a Friday afternoon after he'd been paid". Dad explained that he considered it better in his pocket than the bookies.

10. Tell your wife/girlfriend she is beautiful every single day and never tell her she's ugly. I, rather stupidly, asked what if she is ugly, then thats a lie. He said "If you get yourself a girlfriend you think is ugly, then you are a bigger mug than I thought you were". I'm lucky, I've never had to lie!

Wherever you are right now Dad, God bless you. Here's a little video I made about him

Friday 8 December 2023

Benjamin Zephaniah RIP

 Yesterday, I was listening to the Eddie Nestor show on BBC Radio London. I was getting rather fed up with Eddie, because all of the news seemed a bit grim. Talk was all about Rwanda, ministers quitting, Covid enquiries. I sent an email to him asking for a bit of light relief. Almost immediately after pressing send, Eddie announced that Benjamin Zephaniah had passed away. I was absolutely devastated. There are people who you sort of expect might pass away. Although the passing of Shane MacGowan was really sad for me, it was not unexpected and I was not shocked. Benjamin was different. He seemed to be at the height of his career. Eddie Nestor, who knew Benjamin was clearly shaken to the core. He got fellow presenter and friend of Benjamin, Dotun Adebayor on the show and they had a chat about him. It may be the finest piece of radio I've heard for a long time. I have a bit of a love/hate relationship with Eddie, I think the BBC London management force him to do a show that does not play to his strengths, but when he can throw the shackles off, he shines. He was the perfect presenter to break this news. He summed this up with his incredulity at the Daily Mirror's summing up of Benjamin in the Headline "Peaky Blinders star dies".  Sadly for many, that really was what he was. For Eddie and for me, he was far more, that was just a string on his bow, perhaps for us a not very important one. 

I felt a strong affinity with Benjamins work. Like me, he was a dyslexic. His rise was enabled by the punk explosion of the late 1970's. There was a period where "punk poetry" was rather fashionable. John Cooper Clarke, Linton Kwesi Johnson and Benjamin Zephaniah emerged from this. I'd always previously thought of poets as Keates and Shelley, nice flowery words, not really for me. These poets, with their gritty language and relevant themes opened my eyes. As an artists they opened my eyes to the possibilities of what you can do with words. As a direct result of their work,  and at the urging of my Dad, who was a wartime veteran, I started to read the poems of the first world war poets. It inspired me to write a string of songs, including Action Shock, which my band still performs. 

Benjamin initially couldn't write, so he'd dictate his poems and they'd be transcribed. He realised that this was not feasable if he really wanted to succeed. He took himslef to college, learned to read and write, ending up winning 16 honoury doctorates. His work also ended up on the national curriculum. He was a regular panellist on BBC Question Time. His contributions were full of compassion, common sense and wisdom. He also regularly featured on the BBC Radio London Robert Elms show. When he was on, I'd make sure I listened to it. 

One of the strange things about Benjamin is that whenever I heard his poetry, I was inspired. I didn't want to copy his words, any such thing would end laughably, but he spoke in his own voice and about things he cared about. He made me think about the things that really matter to me and how I can address them. This may sound terribly po-faced, but the opposite is true. The things that really matter to us can be funny, tragic, despairing, sexy and sometimes all at the same time. He'd make me revisit my own work, where I'd been lazy, I'd improve the work. That is what a true genius does. 

RIP Benjamin and thank you. I struggled long and hard to work out what to end with. This seemed appropriate

Thursday 7 December 2023

The Thursday Album #4 - The Vibrators - Puremania

Up until this point, my musical journey and my rather small record collection had been pretty much defined by my Sister Valerie. At the start of  June 1977, I was fourteen years old, at Finchley Catholic High School, and struggling to cope with puberty and life. I felt very alone and isolated. I didn't realise it at the time, but I was about to blown away to a completely different dimension. On the 6th June, my sister Caroline took me to see The Ramones, The Talking Heads and The Saints at The Roundhouse. I documented what happened for The Roundhouse's 50th Birthday celebrations and one of my biggest kicks in life is to have my name on their wall and my tale on their website. In short, life would never be the same again. We all have moments in our life, when everything changes, For some it is losing their virginity, for others discovering religion, for some its is the first taste of alcohol or heroin. For me, it was seeing the Ramones. Much as I'd loved the albums previously mentioned, they were not made by people I could associate with. The sentiments involved in the songs were largely alien to me and they were musical geniuses, people with talent beyond my comprehension. I saw the Ramones and in front of me was a band that I could 100% associate with. The music was fast and loud. Their dress was not outlandish. The lyrics were furious and funny in equal measure. There was no fat on the Ramones performance. It was just 33 minutes of good bits. By the time they left the stage, my brain had been rewired.

So having been blown away by The Ramones live, the only sensible thing to do was buy the record. Next day I went down to the small record shop in Mill Hill and asked for a copy of The Ramones latest record. Neil, who was the manager replied that they didn't have it. The only punk record they had in stock was Puremania by The Vibrators. I'd never heard of The Vibrators, but I desperately needed some more punk rock. I simply couldn't wait. I loved the cover, I loved the smell of the album. I couldn't wait to get it home. I put it on the turntable, cranked up the volume and......

Side one

"Into the Future..." - The first track on the album, starts with a simple drum beat, then a bit of lead, then the words "I want a new world, I want it with you.. ." Not as fast and furious as The Ramones, a quite sparse sounding, song, but absolutely brilliant. It seemed to me that this was perfect track to start my record buying career as a punk rocker. 

"Yeah Yeah Yeah" - Just a pure, unadulterated slice of raw energy. In the middle, John Ellis shouts "Oi watch that guitar" which sums up the feeling of chaos.

"Sweet Sweet Heart" - Starts withe Melodic guitars riffing, to be overtaken by choppy thrashy chords. Knox on vocals makes the most of the rather sarcastic lyrics.

"Keep It Clean" For this John Ellis takes over on vocals. A bit of an oddity really, rather quirky. To this day I don't know if Ellis was being serious when he impores us to decry drugs and 'bad sex'. Ellis is a great guitarist and a good musician. The song shows that, but still sounds like perhaps the most punky of all on the album. Ellis went to the same school as me, a few years old. He was mates with my geography teacher, who is also an old boy.

"Baby Baby" - This was the slow, commercial one. To this day I don't know why it wasn't a hit as it was a great song. I guess it was just too good a pop song for the height of the summer of hate! In fact I always assumed it charted and was most surprised when I found out it hadn't.

"No Heart" - A rather good up tempo track which I have always thoroughly enjoyed.

"She's Bringing You Down" - Side one finishes with a bang. A very nihilistic pece of raw energy, an observation on a good for nothing girlfriend, who clearly isn't paying Knox the attention he deserves. I think this is another very underrated track, should've been the 2nd single.  I love the last line of the chorus, "Don't you cry when you see her going by, of no no no no no no". Nice guitar work on this.

Side two

"Petrol" - Petrol features bassist Pat Collier on vocals. It is noisy and energetic and I am rather keen on it. A great way to open side two. Collier to mind actually has the best, raspy voice for punk in the band. Sadly he left just after the album was finished.

"London Girls" The second single off the album. At the time I loved it but I'm less keen these days. Not really sure why it was the single. It's OK, but not one of the best tracks.

"You Broke My Heart" - The band clearly wanted a track that sounded a bit different in the middle of the album. Slower paced, a bit too ploddy for me. This is the one I normally make the tea during, not awful but the weakest track on the album. 

"Whips & Furs" - This one is a belter, a dark celebration of S&M. I didn't really get that when I was fourteen, but it is a very good track and I've always loved it. Some nice John Ellis guitar in there.

"Stiff Little Fingers"  - This track is perhaps the most famous of all on Puremania, not because it is a particularly great track, but because it is the track that gave Northern Irish Punks  of the same name their monika. Another one John Ellis wrote and sung

"Wrecked on You" - And now for the fnal three tracks, all belters.  The band really get going towards the end of the album, so much so that I often would just stick the album straight back on when it finshed. Nice punky thrash chords at the beginging. The punkiest song on the album.

"I Need a Slave" - My missus reckons that this is the reason I like the band, although I suspect the lyrics are not really the kind of slave she means. I don't think she's listened too carefully. Another belter

"Bad Time" - And so it finished. The second verse really summed up how I was feeling at the time

Well, I've been having a bad timeSince you found out how to be cruelI never had a chance at allSince I've been hangin' round with you
But now things are differentAin't it funny how it can change?I've been having a good timeSince I've become deranged

Although I've not becomed deranged, for me that was a metaphor for discovering Punk Rock and not being prepared to take any $h1t anymore. It was actually very important for me. Up until this point, I'd been quite a passive person, I changed almost overnight. I became quite confrontational. In an environment such as FCHS at the time, where discipline was enforced with the cane, this meant that I had a difficult year or so, culminating in expulsion. For me though, this was important. This music sustained me and gave me strength. 

I've often wondered if I'd bought Damned Damned Damned instead, whether I'd have subsequently thought Puremania the masterpiece that I see it as, and no one else seems to? I like to think so, but I'll never really know. The Vibrators were quite an unfashionable band in punk circles. Many said they'd jumped on the punk bandwagon. Would I have thought that if things had been different. There are plenty of bands that I took an irrational dislike to. As for the charge of bandwagon jumpers, they are still on it today! In hindsight, I am glad this was the first punk album I bought and it was probably the most important. 

Wednesday 6 December 2023

The truth Rishi Sunak, James Cleverly and Suella Braverman will not tell you about immigration

The Tory Party has been ripping itself to shreds over its Rwanda policy and the issue of small boats. The Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, the Home Secretary James Cleverly and former Home Secretary Suella Braverman seem committed to trying to make this dogs breakfast of a policy 'work' (whatever that may mean). There is this notion that once the first plane takes off for Rwanda, all illegal immigration will instantly cease. Cleverly also this week announced a new policy to make it harder for the people we need to keep the economy running, to enter the UK. He's upped the salary threshold for legal economic migrants from £26,000 to £38,000 as he seems to believe that the only part of the economy that needs skilled workers. He's also making it harder for immigrant workers in the NHS to bring families and dependents, depsite acute staff shortages in the NHS.

It caused me to wonder how we managed to end up with a government that understands so little about how the economy works and what drives migration. The truth of the matter, that none of these characters want to mention, is the fact that illegal immigration happens because there is an economic necessity for it, both for the migrants and the people who employ them on the black market. The government very foolishly, in my opinion, made it illegal for immigrants who have not entered with the correct papework to work legally. Just about everyone crossing on small boats are able bodied men, who are coming here as they think they can earn some cash and have a better quality of life. The vast majority of them did not stick a pin in a map and come to the UK on the off chance that things may be better. They know people here and they know they have a prospect of employment. As the government has cut off the legal employment route, they work illegally. This means that not only are they in receipt of benefits, but they are also not paying taxes. For dodgy employers, it means that they can make significant savings. Many work on small scale construction projects, where home owners are quite happy to pay cash for a cheaper job, with no questions asked. Walk past any household being renovated in our part of London and tell me how many of the workers are English born? When I was growing up, the building game was largely run by Irish immigrants in London. As they assimilated and became more affluent and their kids went to University, the trade has been staffed by workers from further afield. It is funny how many right wing Tories, who despise "small boats", that seem only to happy to have their house done up by people who only take cash (no questions asked) and employ cleaners that have a pile of tenners left on the table for them at the end of the shift. 

Other areas of the economy that see a lot of non legal workers are drivers for delivery firms, where one person is paid but several people are doing the work. The legal member of the team then doles out cash and takes a cut. There are those that are in detention centres, awaiting judgement/deportation, but many that are deported, will simply just have another go when they are back in France. They know sooner or later, they'll get through.

It strikes me as perverse that the government does not seek to make people who are perfectly able to work and support themselves do just that and pay taxes on it. It strikes me that a far more sensible way to go would be to give people legal work whilst their case is being determined, and make them pay their way. What Sunak, Cleverly and Braverman will not say is that after 13 years of Conservative governments, is that the UK is unable to function without a high level of immigration. After Enoch Powell's infamous "Rivers of Blood" speech, the cry from those on the far right was "Send 'em home". If we did that now, the country would simply fall to bits. If you had a plan to send people living here legally back to a home that in many places has been wiped off the face of the earth, there would be no doctors, nurses, cleaners, or indeed anyone to do the dirty and low payed jobs that we've convinced ourselves are beneath the indigenous population. I was in hospital in August and it was clear to me that the place only functioned due to the efforts of a multi national and multi ethic work force. 

Whilst the UK economy is 100% dependent on immigrants to function, the concept that we can accept only those who conform to some arbitary set of criteria, that seems to change from month to month, is ridiculous. It is not the idea of arriving in the UK that attracts illegal immigrants. It is the fact that they have family, friends and contacts here and they have a very good chance of a significantly better quality of life. The reason that we hear many illegal immigrants "simply disappear" is because they have family, friends and jobs waiting for them and they can quite easily disengage from the official process.

A number of years ago, I was given a lift by an Iranian cab driver. We got chatting and he told me that he'd had to leave Iran at very short notice as he'd been a senior official and had fallen foul of President Rafsnajani. He'd arrived in the UK and claimed political asylum. The rules meant that a very well eductated and highly qualified man had ended up working as a cab driver. I was intrigued that, with the UK having significant economic interests in the region, he hadn't been given an advisory job, given his knowledge and contacts. He told me that the way the system works, he gets the same uninterested treatment from officials as people arriving in the UK with no skills at all. Even though his case appeared fairly cut and dried, as he would stand a very strong chance of being murdered if her returned, the whole thing still dragged on for years. 

Although his case was no means typical, it made me realise that the whole system is a painfully slow bureacracy. Cases that are clear and cut and dried go on for months and years. Clearly a lot of lawyers are making a lot of money out of all of this. I sincerely believe that the legal industry do not let such lucrative cash cows go quietly. 

Immigration will remain high, regardless of planes going to Rwanda, salary cap raises or anything else, until such time as the economy no longer has a desperate need for labour, both skilled and unskilled in the UK. I happen to believe that the vested interests that support the Tory party are far more pro immigration than Labour's Trades Union backers, who traditionally see that cheap labour damages their members terms and conditions. One of the reasons Margaret Thatcher was so pro signing the Single European Act, when she was PM was because she knew it would give the UK access to cheap immigrant labour. When the UK voted for Brexit, I stated that immigration would go up, not down and people would simply come from further afield. This has proven to be 100% correct. I thought more people would come, because they would be even cheaper to employ. That is a very simple trend to understand. 

What Sunak, Cleverly and Braverman will not say publicly, is that until such time as the UK has a proper plan for ensuring we are developing the right skills for the economy in the UK, we will have high immigration. Even if we set up a plan to sort things out, it would take a generation to get the economy to a point where it didn't require immigration to function. But the sad truth is that any politician brave enough to say that will be committing political suicide, especially if they are a Tory, as none of their backers want it sorted out and none of the party faithful want to hear it. 

Barnet Council's embarrassing lack of commitment to addressing climate change

Barnet Councils new recycling supremo

 Barnet Council put a press release out on the 29th November detailing the 'progress' it has made since declaring a climate emergency 18 months ago. Lets start by seeing what they've said (Click here to read the original release)

Ahead of COP28, Thursday 30 November to 12 December 2023, Cllr Alan Schneiderman Barnet Cabinet member for the Environment and Climate Change, has taken some time to reflect on the changes that the council has made and the challenges to come.

Cllr Schneiderman said:

“The world’s leaders will soon convene in Dubai for COP28, the international summit on climate change. International cooperation is needed to tackle the climate crisis, but so too is local action. Eighteen months ago, Barnet Council declared a climate and biodiversity emergency and we have placed sustainability at the heart of our plans in caring for people, our places and the planet.   

“We have set ourselves the target of being a net zero council by 2030 and borough by 2042 - which we can only do if we all work together.

“In January, we launched our ‘BarNET ZERO’ campaign, to raise awareness of the issues, enable people to contribute ideas, and to give people the know-how to reduce carbon emissions at home and at work.

“An important step forward has been our citizens’ and young people’s assemblies on climate change, which explored the question ‘What more can we do together to make Barnet more sustainable, now and in the future?

“The assemblies have given their recommendations and we have responded to these. This is the first step in setting the agenda and the plans for the coming years, as we collaborate with communities, residents, businesses and organisations to become one of London’s most sustainable boroughs.

“The programme of practical changes to things like infrastructure has already made rapid progress.

“We have installed over 700 electric vehicle charge points with another 1,300 to be installed by April 2024 to help residents reduce their carbon footprint while also improving the air we breathe.

“We have installed heat pumps and solar panels in 17 buildings across the borough, including the council’s main office building in Colindale and five libraries.

“We are continuing work on the £8bn Brent Cross Town development - one of the largest regeneration projects in Europe - which will have an on-site energy centre and the largest air source heat pump installation in Europe.

“We cannot underestimate the scale of the task ahead of us, but nor should we see it as insurmountable. Working together, we have already achieved a great deal. I hope COP28 will provide the world with the direction it needs, but locally we have a plan in place and the will to make it happen."

Forgive me if I am totally underwhelmed and unimpressed by this. Firstly, there are 17 libraries in the Borough. Only five have panels/ heat pumps. Getting these installed is an absolute no brainer. With current energy prices, this should pay for itself within five years. The council could have been over a third of the way to recouping if they'd installed this straight away. It would be a visible demonstration to all of our communities. What about all of the Council owned schools etc?

The council reports that they've installed 700car charging points with 1,300 more on the way. This is the only mention of transport. The biggest change we can make is modal shift, away from cars. Much of the electricity used to charge these cars is still produced by fossil fuels. Barnet has the worst cycling provision of just about any Borough. To the best of my knowledge, Barnet Labour has made no commitment to any improvements in public transport. Croydon built a Tram system to improve cross Borough transport. Barnet has more people than Croydon, we have disused rail lines that would be ideal for conversion.

I hardly think that trumpeting a massive development using hundreds of thousands of tons of building materials, such as concrete, which produces huge amounts of CO2 is the cleverest affirmation of their green credentials. 

Where are the schemes to properly insulate homes, especially those of low income families? Where are the recycling schemes? Where is the commitment to 15 minute cities?

They've had eighteen months and to be quite honest, this is an appalling failure. Like most politicians, it seems that Barnet Labours response to a crisis is to employ a few PR consultants to try and polish the turds they deliver. 

Of course th Barnet Tories were fast worse, but they've been gone 18 months now, so we need to see real change

Monday 4 December 2023

McDonalds for Mill Hill Broadway?

The proposed signage changes
Over the last few days, I've been looking with increasing incredulity at the near hysteria on local Mill Hill Facebook pages over a planning request to change the signage on the former Prezzo site, to an illuminated sign for a branch of McDonalds. I find myself in the rather strange position of feeling compelled to write a blog defending McDonalds. This is not because I ever eat the stuff, I don't and I doubt this will be changed by the opening of a McDonalds in Mill Hill, but because of just how ridiculous many of the comments are. There have been claims such as that it will be the end of Mill Hill Broadway, that it will lead to a rise in anti social behaviour and that marauding gangs of drug dealers will set up checkpoints to ensure only scalliwags can enter Mill Hill (actually I made the last one up, but you get my drift). So far there have been 143 comments, 138 objecting and five supporting

The site in question

So what will the problems be? I suspect that McDonalds primarily see the outlet as a hub for Deliveroo etc, so we will see even more scooters in and around the spot, which already has rather a lot for the two Pizza outlets. These are annoying and cause nuisance, I would love to see the Council put some sort of restrictions on these, to make them less of a problem, but that is nothing to do with a planning permission for a change of signage. 

It seems to me very likely that the main source of income from the sit in side will be local teenagers, the kids, grandkids, nephews and neices of the very people writing these comments. The sort of kids who currently have nowhere to go in Mill Hill to meet their mates that doesn't cost an arm and a leg. But is this a problem? I run a business that has  lot of teenage customers and to be honest, often they are nicer than some of the adults, who have forgotten that the words 'please' and 'thank you exist. Personally, I have to wonder what sort of person really sees teenagers meeting their mates as a problem, I daresay they've forgotten they were teenagers once.

I daresay that there will be more litter in the Broadway. I'd love to see Barnet Council have the powers to make such outlets clean up the mess they generate, but that is not the job of the planning committee. In fact it is really the job of the parents of the kids to instill in their kids that litter is not acceptable. 

And the positives?

Whilst the food served by McDonalds is hardly healthy, it is cheap and when household budgets are in crisis, maybe it will provide an option to get out of the house and have a coffee with friends for people who simply cannot afford the prices in some more upmarket cafe's on the Broadway.

In truth, I happen to think a lot of people objecting are simply complete snobs, who look down their noses at people they consider less well to do, without realising that largely the customers will be the younger members of their own families. I well recall the excitement when the first McDonalds opened in Golders Green. Then there were queues and traffic chaos, until everyone got over the novelty. 

To summarise, the vast majority of objections have nothing to do with what is actually being applied for. As such they will have no impact on anything. The new restaurant serves a section of the Mill Hill population that is chronically underserved (teenagers and people on low budgets). McDonalds may not be the most tasteful of companies when it comes to signage, but will be no worse than the chicken shop up the road. It will be a big improvement on a derelict looking empty space.

I was thinking about when I personally would ever use such a place. When I used to work in the City, finish late, get stuck on a non moving Thamesllink train and get back home, wanting to grab a bite to eat and a coffee on the way. There will be a fair few commuters, who it will be a quite handy place to warm up, if the bus is running late. There really is nowhere that is cheap and cheerful that you can grab a quick bite on the way home currently.

The truth is that Mill Hill had a cheapo burger joint for decades, first Wimpy, then Jennys. Since that closed a whole section of people in Mill Hill have had nowhere to go. There are many things in Mill Hill that we need to work together to improve. Sadly initiatives like the litter pickers died the death during the pandemic. The most that this campaign against McDonanlds planning application will achieve is to change the signage they put up. The building already has planning permission as a restaurant. McDonalds will still come even if they have to put different signage up. 

Saturday 2 December 2023

The Saturday List #423 - My top ten musical influences

 In my job, running a studio, I come across many up and coming artists. For some reason, they seem to value my opinions of their music. They will often play me a track and ask my opinion. I'll listen and give a considered opinion. One of the questions I ask is "what are your musical influences". What surprises me is how often they give a long list of artists that they think sound cool, but clearly have no relation to the music they've just played me. Of course I get why bands may want to seem cool, but in fact they are doing themselves a disservice as if they actually listed the people who influenced their sound, it would make it far easier for them to connect with an audience. In some ways I made the same mistake myself when we started out. We'd list bands we liked rather than artists who had directly influenced our music. 

Over the last two years, the False Dots have changed considerably. When Allen Ashley was singing with the band, the style was a mash up of both his and my infuences, but now the sound is very much mine. I think my musical influences can easily be identified in our music. In the early days, it was probably true to say that our influences were the 1977 punk bands that myself and Pete Conway listened to. Over the 44 years of the band, we've considerably widened our influnces. I thought it might be fun to look at these and link them to some of our material, so maybe you can see the links. The passing of Shane MacGowan seems an ideal time to do this, given the huge influence of the Pogues.

1. Ian Dury. Of all the artists that you can hear a direct thread to the Dots, Dury is perhaps the most obvious. I met Mr Dury once, in 1977/8 in Camden. When Allen left the band, I wanted to acknowldge this and wrote a song called Channelling Ian Dury. It 'borrows' the riff from Sex and Drugs and Rock and Roll and tells the story of this meeting. It is a tribute to the great man. I hope, up on his cloud in the sky he likes it. Ian Dury made a lot of people like me think, for the first time, that maybe they could be in a band and do someting creative. 

2. The Specials. I first saw The Specials at The Lyceum in 1979. They were bottom of the bill at The Lyceum, supporting The Damned and The UK Subs. I loved the Damned and The Subs, I'd vaguley heard of them at the time, but I wasn't prepared for what I saw. I always say that as they walked on, I was about to take a sip of a pint of beer. They were so engrossing that the pint stopped in it's tracks, and 30 minutes later, I took that sip. It is possible that I have seen the Specials more than any other band over the years. We saw them for the final time at a festival at Rochester Castle last year, shortly before Terry Hall passed away. As soon as I saw them, I wanted to incorporate some of the elements of their music in our set. In our cuirrent set, perhaps this is best demonstrated by "Oh No Sharon", which in some ways is reminscent of Too much to young, both lyrically and in its mashing up of punk and ska.

3. Marc Bolan. I set up The False Dots with Pete Conway in 1979, but we'd been at school together since we were four years old. We'd often sing T Rex songs in the playground, changing the words to our own versions. Pete Conways Dad was so worried with our T Rex infatuation that he told us Bolan had fleas and didn't wash. I asked my sister Valerie about this. She said that he wouldn't have all of the lovely girlfriends he'd had if it was true. That was when I realised some adults don't always tell you the truth. I love the sound of Bolans voice and his guitar. I wanted to write a proper sounding Glam Rock song for the new album. I've learned after many years, that I have to sing my own way, but I tried to get a bit of Bolan's sound on the guitar, although people say it sounds more like Sweet (which is no bad thing really!). This song tries to catch the spirit of St Vincents Playground in 1972, with me & Pete talking about Dr Who, UFO and Bolan.

4. The Cramps. The band that relly defined the psychobilly sound. I loved the wild, scratchy sort of lead style of the band. They really didn't sound like anything else when they emerged. A big, sparce drum sound pounding away. The False Dots would never be a psychobilly band, but there's a fair few licks in my guitar that borrow directly from the band. This is perhaps most noticeable in "Buy me a bottle of Jack". This was produced by Boz Boorer and he really got the references in it

5. Scientist. I developed a love of the heavy dub sound of the Jamaican remixers such as Scientist. The use of echo and pulling things apart and putting them back together is something that fascinates me. I played one of our songs to Boz Boorer, Wacky Races and he did the "Dub and Marriage remix" which is amazing. I was so chuffed when I heard this. The band have always tried to do a few songs with a Regggae influence over the years, with varying amounts of success!

6. Madness. Coming from North London, it would be hard not to be influenced by Madness. It's fair to say that Suggs style of singing is not entirely dissimilar to my own. The band also have a love of whimsy and many of their songs are a commentary on life in North London. Anyone who attended a comprehensive school in the 70's totally gets Baggy Trousers. Driving in my car is a song that always makes me smile, as I was raised in the motor trade, with Dad running a garage. I wrote Men and Motors as tribute to the blokes who worked for him and the shenanigans they got up to. I think that lyrically it is perhaps the most Madnessy of our songs

7. The Pogues. Another Iconic North London band. I love the lyrics of Shane MacGowan and his observational style. I think he really makes you feel that you are with him when you listen to the lyrics. Although everyone thinks of 'Fairytale' when you mention the Pogues, I think that Rainy Night in Soho is the true classic from the band. Although the False Dots don't really sound like the Pogues at all,  I think that I try and capture some of the joy and melancholy of his lyrical style. In "Intermission in the Ship", I was trying to capture the vibe of sneaking a pint in The Ship pub in Wardour Street, when the Marquee was down the road in the 1970's and 80's. I love catching a cheeky pint on my own, reading the Evening Standard, eating a bag of peanuts and watching the world go by. A pair of brown eye's is a great example of this style. 

8. Big Audio Dynamite. Although I loved the work of the Clash, especially their first album, I actually prefer the work of Mick Jones with Big Audio Dynamite after he left the band. Although people always put Joe Strummer first in the pecking order, I think Jones is a better song writer. As soon as I heard the band, I wanted to incorporate some of their ideas into the bands work. When we recorded Shake Your Bones with Boz Boorer, we deliberately referenced the band and put a few very Big Audio Dynamite touches in, especially in the backing vocals. There are quite a few things in The Bottom Line that we've borrowed to a certain extent over the years. This song was used by Channel 4 as the theme tune for it's American Football coverage in the 1980's and a professional songrwriter explained why it is ideal for such use, something I tok heed of.

9. The Pioneers. I've picked the Pioneers, I probably should have picked the whole Trojan catalogue. I absolutely love the Ska genre, it is perhaps the most joyful of all musical genre's. If I ever get asked to DJ, I always play Ska music. It is almost guaranteed to get people up and dancing.  One of my favourite tracks is Longshot Kick Da Bucket. A sorry tale of losing your money on a horse that is winning and drops down dead. Back in 2018, I thought it would be fun to write an alternative version, where Longshot didn't die. It was when Allen was still in the band and he co wrote the lyrics. I believe this was the last song we collaborated on and the only one we wrote together that we currently play. Allen was keen to expand the song into a bit of a rant about the dangers of gambling. I think it works pretty well. I think that to some extent, you can hear all of our infliuences in some small way in this song,


10. The Leyton Buzzards. Now I guess that of all of the artists mentioned, these are the ones that I guess are the most obscure, however in the terms of what the band are doing now, perhaps one of the most important. During lockdown, when we literally had nothing to do, I dug out a whole a stack of old records and listened to them. One of them was "Saturday night beneath the plastic palm trees". It is a brilliant track, it encapsulates many of the elements that I felt the band should be doing. It captures a moment in time brilliantly. It has a bit of a reggae meets north London vibe. Perhaps most importantly Geoff Dean's vocal style was very much something I felt I could do. Prior to 2021, every song I'd written had been done with the intention of having a 'proper singer' singing it. When the country emerged from lockdown, Allen was unable to rehearse, so I started to work on new material that I could sing and do justice to. At first, I had no idea whether I could, but in the back of my mind, was the fact that the Leyton Buzzards had a hit doing just this. The first song I wrote, in our new incarnation, for myself to sing was Sunday in the 70's. The lyrics were very inspired by our drummer Gray Ramsey (AKA Rambo) and his reminiscences of the period. The first draft of the song was rubbish. Very pompous and up itself. When I played it to the band, Gray started talking about his family's Sunday dinners and traditions. I pulled it apart and started again, it is much better for it. I guess I owe Geoff Dean a beer if I ever see him again!

I should add that there are a lot of other bands, I will add these to the playlist over time, these are mostly punk bands, such as Wire, The Ramones, The Fall, The Buzzcocks, The Heartbreakers and The Dickies, as well as a few West Coast 60's psychedelic bands such as The Steve Miller Band, Moby Grape and Quicksilver Messenger Servic, as well as a few Indie bands such as Blur and The Happy Mondays. These weren't in the top ten as I feel that whilst the influence was big at certain times in the bands development, they are not really where we are at so much today. 

Here's the list in a playlist! 

Friday 1 December 2023

Friday Fun and the local music round up!

 Let's start with a decent old Dad joke from our Twitter friend Robert Wilkinson

My week has been relatively quiet. Early night on Monday, watched footie on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday we've been recording some new material. Four songs, starting to sound rather spiffing. A busy weekend coming up. Black Grape tonight at The Electric Ballroom, Incognito on Sunday night at the O2, Madness on Monday in Brighton and The BBC Elstree Band at Allum Hall in Borehamwood playing their Xmas concert (Details here)

The BBC Elstree concert band are stalwarts of the Mill Hill Music Festival and always put on an amazing show. This will be well worth checking out.

As to other gigs coming up in the Barnet area this weekend

City Limits gig at Ahir Lorenzo's
City Limits (Covers 50s - present, 5 piece) at Ahir Lorenzo's, Finchley Central 3.7 miles
info icon8.30pm - 11pm

Horizon gig at Butchers Arms
Horizon (Rock Covers & Original, 4 piece) at Butchers Arms, Barnet

Paparazzi gig at The Builders Arms
Paparazzi (Covers - various, 5 piece) at The Builders Arms, New Barnet 1.3 miles

Martin & Lisa gig at The Three Wishes
NewMartin & Lisa (Covers) at The Three Wishes, Edgware 4.5 miles
info icon9.30pm - 11.30pm


Shadowman & The Silhouettes gig at The Kings Head
Shadowman & The Silhouettes (50s, 60s and 70s classic gold, 3 piece) at The Kings Head, Barnet 0.2 miles
info icon1pm - 4pm

Tim Leffman & Danny Janeway gig at The Kings Head
Tim Leffman & Danny Janeway (Covers) at The Kings Head, Barnet 0.2 miles
info icon5pm - 8pm

The Looters gig at The White Horse
The Looters (60s / 70s covers, 5 piece) at The White Horse, London Colney 6.2 miles
info icon5.30pm - 7.30pm