Thursday, 30 June 2022

Abortion and the hypocisy of the hard Christian Right

 Firstly, cards on the table. I'm a bloke, I'm a Roman Catholic and I have three kids and wish I had three more, because they have made my life immeasurably better. However, I have to say that at times I'm almost embarrassed to say this, due to the image that the Christian right has inflicted on our community. In the UK if you say the words Roman Catholic, you tend to think of the likes of Jacob Rees-Mogg, a man who I feel no empathy at all with. I wasn't going to write this blog today, I tend to feel that female issues are best left to females to discuss, however when I saw this story, I simply felt that there was no way that any sane decent person should ignore such hypocrisy

In short, Rees-Mogg is completely opposed to abortion for the highest of moral reasons until he sees an opportunity to make a quick buck from it. What did he say? “I don’t manage the funds and haven’t done so since I became an MP. But the funds have to be run in accordance with the requirements of the investors and not according to my religious beliefs". He lives in a strange world where morals don't matter when it comes to cash, but they do matter when you are telling other people what to do with their bodies.  We should call out the likes of Rees-Mogg when they behave in this way. We should do everything we possibly can to make the voters in his constituency aware that he is not a man of high principle and rigid morals. He is a man who is perfectly happy to profit from things which he's publicly said are wrong.

I'm not into lecturing anyone what they should do with their bodies. As a man,  I'll never be in a position where I have to make the difficult choice of whether to have an abortion, so how can I tell anyone else what to do. The Christian Right in the USA is evern more inconsistent and hypocrytical than Rees-Mogg. They would happily deny women the right to abortion on the grounds that every life is sacred, whilst supporting the death penalty and gun rights. In 2020 gun deaths became the biggest killer of young men in the USA, but the right to wander around with enough firepower to wipe out a class of children has recently been strengthened in the USA by so called Conservative judges. 

The worst hypocisy of all in relation to abortions is that is the same people who want to restrict abortions create the economic and social realities that make many see abortion as the solution to the problems caused by unplanned pregnancy. There are four main reasons women seek terminations.

1 - Medical reasons, their life is at risk from a continued pregnancy, such as an ectopic pregnancy

2 - Financial reasons, they simply cannot afford to have a child and give it a decent upbringing

3 - Social reasons, the pressures of our society, friends, family, partners makes them seek a termination which they may not necessarily want but feel they have no choice in. Often this is tied up with financial reasons, such as a partner or parents refuse to support a woman who wishes to have a baby.

4 - Personal choice.  They woman simply decides that she does not want to have the baby, for reasons of her own, that are none of our business.

The Hard Religious right would ban all terminations, from all four categories. This exposes more hypocrisy. In the case of medical reasons, and I include mental health, they are putting women at risk of death. Their case for the right to life, may result in the death of both mother and baby and there is no common sense or morality in this. It is a blinkered, absolutist view that is highly damaging.

As to financial reasons and social reasons. The hard right, with its views on personal financial responsibility, forces many women who would have babies to seek abortions, simply because they feel they have no option. In the UK we have child benefit to support children, but for many women, just being pregnant will incur costs. These do not start on the day the baby arrives, you need to be set up in accomodation long before the birth, have clothes, a cot, and all of the other things that a baby requires. For example, with the cost of living crisis, pregnant women may turn off their heating in winter, damaging their health. In the UK their are some benefits available, but to be honest many of these are a pittance pregnant women (from the 10th week) and children aged one to four get £4.25 a week children under one get £8.50 a week. How much healthy food would £4.25 buy? I am firmly of the opinion that if you want to stop women having abortions who are forced to by financial pressures, you remove the financial pressures that force them to. That to my mind gives women a real choice,f reed from social and financial pressures that the hard christian right are so keen to impose.

As to the personal choice that women make.  If you want to lessen the number of such terminations, the place you start is by scrapping another of the Holy Grail's of the Christian right and have proper sex education, access to contraception and good sexual counselling. If after you've done all of these things, a woman still decides she wants a termination, as far as a I am concerned that is a matter for her and her conscience. It's none of my business. What is my business is that if she cannot have one safe and legally, she may come to serious harm at a backstreet abortionist and as a human being, I cannot possibly be comfortable with this. I believe that in our society, we should provide the safest possible environment for every member of it.  

I was inspired to write this blog by the hypocrisy of Jacob Rees-Mogg, a man who lectures us on how abortion is immoral but is happy for his business to make a fortune from it for the "requirements of the investors". The world is full of men like Rees-Mogg who pretend to be pillars of society, but when it comes down to it, are just grubby profiteers, making a fortune from other peoples misery. I'd be more than happy if as a society, we moved to a point where no woman ever felt the need, as her own personal choice, to seek an abortion, but whilst the real world means women do, I do not see it as my business, or any other hypocrital, profiteering man to interfere with this. I don't feel at all comfortable pontificating on the subject, but if we sit on our hands when the likes of Rees Mogg is shown to be a hypocrite, then we are no better than him.

Wednesday, 29 June 2022

An open letter to Sean Doyle, British Airways CEO - You are failing people with special needs

 Dear Mr Doyle,

I am writing to you in total frustration on this public forum, because as CEO you are in a position to do something positive about the way your company interacts with people with special needs. As the owner of a successful business myself, I am aware of the positive impact of my customers calling me out when we get things wrong. Although your business employs tens of thousands of people and mine employs ten, the principle is the same. We only improve when our customers tell us that the people who work for us could do better. 

In August, I am travelling from Gatwick to Bordeaux as a primary carer, with a lady with significant special requirements, who has cerebal palsy and who uses an electric wheelchair. There are aspects of our journey which I urgently need to discuss with your special assistance team. I was advised by the charity HCPT, who made the arrangements, that I had to speak to you, as you would not allow them to act on my behalf without authorisation.  They provided me with the number of your special assistance team and I have repeatedly tried to contact them. I have either been left hanging on a line being told that they are extremely busy and someone will be with you soon until I have had to give up due to work requirements, one time over 30 minutes or more recently being told that call volumes are high and please call back later, by your automated switchboard. 

In frustration, I tried tweeting you and got the following response.

Although it took a week to get a response, I was pleased that eventually someone seemed to be taking an interest. So I did what was asked and here is the conversation

My final message was posted yesterday at 2.47pm. I am no nearer being able to sort this issue out and I am no nearer even speaking to anyone who can help me. If I am in this position, I can only assume that every other person in the UK who is travelling with someone on BA with special requirements is also in the same position. We chose BA as we beleived that using a premium airline would mean that we got better and more responsive customer service. It can be quite difficult and stressful making travel arrangements for someone who has significant care requirements during travel. Whilst no passenger should experience the shoddy customer care we have received, I am sure you will agree that passengers who have significant requirements should be able to get through to someone who will resolve them with the minimum of fuss and bother. 

I have travelled many times as a carer and I have first hand experience of how important it is to ensure a smooth transfer from a wheelchair to a seat is for a passenger using a wheelchair. If this is not properly organised, then it can impact other passengers and delay the departure of the flight, which sadly causes all manner of difficulties.

I am sure that you will be keen to ensure that BA is viewed as a responsible airline and one that customers can rely on and trust. I am aware that your company has various issues with staffing at the moment, however if you are accepting bookings, then you should be able to provide the service that customers are paying for.

Roger Tichborne

Tuesday, 28 June 2022

Make sure you get down to the East Barnet Festival this weekend at Oakhill Park

For me, this Summer is turning into a classic for the Borough of Barnet. We had an absolutely amazing week of the Mill Hill Music Festival and this weekend we've got another stellar line up for the East Barnet Festival and the even better news is that it's all free! The weather forecast is for good weather locally and there are some cracking bands on. The headliners on the Saturday are my old mates, The Foundations, who will be playing all of their hits such as Build me up Buttercup and Baby, Now that I found you. They are a wonderful band. On  the Sunday we have Lee Thompson of Madnesses other band, The Silencerz, who are also a very good evenings entertainment. The rest of the programme is also pretty good, with a few of my personal local favourite such as Dubvocalisa, Lydia Maddix and Talk in Code. The full music programme is here.  There's also a car show, a fun fair, food stalls etc and it should be a weekend of top class fun. 

Organised by the community, for the community, East Barnet Festival remains North London’s largest FREE summer festival. The event is entirely self-funded, with money being raised from our generous sponsors, advertisers and traders. All of our funds are used to ensure that we can continue to provide this fantastic event for the whole community. The only council funding comes from a grant that we must apply for each year. A percentage of any surplus funds is donated to Friends in Need, a support group based in East Barnet village to provide community activities and services. 

 Let’s celebrate the East Barnet community in style !

Monday, 27 June 2022

Rog T's Dyslexia Blog - Reflections on the teaching of dyslexics in the 1970's

Seven years ago, I wrote a blog detailing my experiences of education at Finchley Catholic High School in the 1970's. I don't often re-read my own blogs. However two things conspired to make me have a look at it. The first was that I went to see a band put together by an old classmate of mine from that period, a certain Mr Sam Sproule and his band the Midnite Crawlers at the Boogaloo Bar in Highgate last night. I've not seen Sam since I left the esteemed establishment aged 15. It got me thinking about the school. As if by magic, a random reader also left a comment on the blog. This inspired me to re-read it.

It is quite a hard read for me. My views on my education have evolved. When I was 14, I felt trapped and forced to go to school. If I could have possibly escaped the experience I would have. I didn't enjoy the almost ritualistic belittlement that we faced as students at the hands of the teachers. As someone who was bottom of the class most of the time, I got far more than my fair share of it. Was there any upside to it? I've come to realise that there was, but not the one that the Teachers who indulged in the bullying intended. It gave me a complete lack of respect for people in positions of authority and a hatred of bullies. I'd probably not have started this blog, to moan about injustice if I didn't carry a deep felt anger. But.....

The more I think about it, the more I feel aggrevied. You see these teachers were paid a decent wage and held a position of some respect in society. My parents would attend evenings with them, where they were told all manner of things about me that were a) rather bad and b) completely true. What they didn't tell them, the key matter, was that I was dyslexic and my relatively poor performance at school and my bad behaviour was very likely a result of having a learning difficulty. I accept that teachers now have far better training in such matters, but if they were doing their job, they most certainly should have recognised this. My parents were told I was lazy. I believed I was lazy to the core of my soul. I believed all of my problems were down to being lazy. The thing is, I wasn't. I never have been. I've always been an incredibly busy and hard working person. If I have something to do, I throw myself into it heart and soul. The reason that I didn't throw myself into schoolwork is because whenever I did, I completely failed. For my getting a pass (usually a C grade) was a victory. It happened rarely before I reached the age of 14. I can remember teachers setting us school projects, where I'd be inspired, work my nuts off, do what I thought was really brilliant work, only to get it back with red ink all over it, corrections to spelling and grammar, with not a word on the actual content. I recall one science project that had a big prize, a record token if my memory serves me right. I did what I thought was a brilliant piece of work. I knew what my classmates were doing and I knew mine was better. When the marking was done, I got a C. Why? Because my project was littered with spelling mistakes etc. I asked the teacher whether it was a science class or an English class as I was so pissed off. He replied that no one who was unable to spell could become a scientist. I just wished I'd known Albert Einstein was a dyslexic at that moment.

The whole educational experience was telling me that I should do a job like being a gardener or a decorator. I was lucky. I had a stable home life and parents who cared. They supported me in what I tried to do and encouraged me. That is why I now run one of London's most successful music studios. It has taken a very long time, but I now can say with complete confidence, I'm not and never have been lazy. I can also say that those teachers who would belittle my class mates and I were the epitomy of laziness. If I could, I'd love to sue them to get the money back that they were paid, as they were paid to be teachers but let me and my classmates down. They took money under false pretences. Sure some of the brighter kids did OK, but they would have if the class was taught by a donkey. I shudder to think what my youth would have been like had I not had a home that I felt safe and comfortable in. Re-reading the blog I was taken back to those times and it is very hard not to feel angry about it. As I mentioned in the blog a few of the teachers were decent folk who cared and our class was notoriously difficult, but they were grown ups and they had a job to do. The fact that I was in my 30's before I even realised I was dyslexic, let alone identified by people marking my work is a complete disgrace. I'm only moderately dyslexic and I've developed coping mechanisms to get through. What happens to those who's dyslexia is worse? Those who don't have the stable home life? Sadly, if you look at studies of the prison population, the answers are all too evident. I'm coming to the opinion that every prisoner in jail for minor offences (clearly not murder and sex crimes), should be given an assessment and a plan to deal with their issues. They should be given another chance. They have been failed by society. 

Some people may read this and think "Another soft minded liberal seeking to blame society for their ills". I see every day that there is a complete lack of understanding of the subject. Even my wife, who has been with me for 37 years doesn't really get it. But I talk to other dyslexics and when I say I am, they open up and so many experiences were similar. I've always said I could walk into a classroom and tell who the dyslexics were just by where they were sitting. The one thing you learn early is not to be in the teachers eyeline and to be close to the door. You don't sit too near the front as then you are in the firing line when they pace up and down. About three rows back, as near to the door as possible is the perfect seat. I used to deliberately get thrown out of class, as standing on my own in the corridor was less stressful than sitting in some teachers lessons. I'm not alone in this. No teacher ever took me to one side and said "This is the tenth time I've sent you out, is there something you want to discuss, do you not feel comfortable in class?". A very basic question which may have made a big difference. It's too late for me. Only the nightmares about school remain. I guess they always will. 

For those of you who haven't read my dyslexia blogs before, here is a little preamble and introduction, so you know who I am and what I do and why I write this stuff. For those of you who know the story, skip to the end of the paragraph for todays installment. Let me give you a bit of Background so you know who I am and what I do. I was born in 1962. I didn't start talking until I was 4 years old (at all, not a single word). My parents thought I was deaf. My reading age at eleven was 5. When I was fifteen I started a rock and roll band called the False Dots, the band is still going strong. When I was 16 I started a business called Mill Hill Music Complex (although then it was simply called the studio), a rehearsal studio, as we had nowhere to rehearse. The business has grown into a very successful enterprise, one of Londons biggest and most well respected independent studios. We now have 16 studios and a music shop and also have a photography/video studio and a dance studio. I also have done IT work, mostly on a freelance basis since 1983. In 2012 I also moved into film production, producing two highly acclaimed documentary films, both of which had screenings at the House of Commons. When I was 31, a friend suggested I had a dyslexia test. To my surprise I was told I was moderately dyslexic. This made me interested in the subject. To my amazement, what I have learned over the years is that my lack of educational aptitude, my feelings of anger and injustice and the core of my personality have been formed by the fact I cannot read words in a linear fashion. In 2013, I have set one of my objectives to use this blog to let dyslexics know they are not alone, to suggest that people who think they may be dyslexic to get an assessment and toget people who have dyslexic children or siblings to understand the issues that they face.

Sunday, 26 June 2022

The Tweets of the week in the London Borough of Barnet - 26th June 2022

 I missed this column last week. I was simply too busy with the Mill Hill Music Festival and so I apologise if I missed your tweet. This week has been a relatively quiet week, after 7 days of live gigs. So without further ado, here is my picks of the week

1. Lets start with a big shout out to local lad Jon Klaff for his stirling work for the MND Association charity and for proving #Greenlogistic works. I didn't believe it was feasable, but am always happy to be proven wrong!

2. These guys do amazing work. Why not nip along today and support them

3. Just think how great this would look with a decent lick of paint

4. For locals, this is an interesting thread

5. This looks like it should be checked out

6. The King of Cricklewood

7. And while we are in Cricklewood

8. As we didnt do a TOTW last week, I feel this really should be included. I love this video

9. And this is another. I remember this place fondly. Always rely on @time_nw for great tweets.

10. Nice to have your work appeciated

That's all folks

Saturday, 25 June 2022

The Saturday List #351 - My ten personal strike memories

 Today is yet another rail strike. It is really starting to feel like we are rushing back into the 1970's. For some reason, Boris Johnson has decided that annoying workers to the point they go on strike is a great way to win elections. The Byelections on Thursday may indicate the public disagree and understand that with rampaging inflation, workers need to pay bills. To celebrate the Rail strike, The False Dots have released a video called "The Greatest British Fail" to tell the story of how Privatisation transformed a railway that was under invested and falling to bits into a railway that was under invested and a goldmine for private companies, with gold lined deals guaranteed by the taxpayer. It's also quite a good little dittie. 

I thought I'd list my memories of important strikes and what they meant to me.

1. The miners strike 1974. This was a momentous occasion. A three day week, power cuts, the telly finishing at 10pm. What do I remember? Funnily enough, I remember buying a transistor radio and listening to "The Crisis Programme", a special phone in programme hosted by Robbie Vincent. It morphed into Robbie Vincents late night London. It was damn good fun.

2. The Teachers strike 1975(???). I was at Finchley Catholic High School. I hated school so when we heard the NUT (National Union of Teachers) was going on strike, we were ecstatic. Sadly, Ned Kelly, the Headmaster told us that we had to come into school anyway. We all turned up and sat in classes, with a few strike breaking teachers wondering around, telling us to shut up. Just after lunchtime, we were told to go home. We all walked up to Totteridge and had a punch up with kids from Ravenscroft School who were also lurking around. For the next strike, the police told Ned to make us stay at home. I always disliked Ravenscroft School after that, until they bought a load of music gear from my shop!

3.  The BT workers strike 1986(?). I was working at BT in 1986. I was in the IT department. Our union was the NCU/C. The engineers from the NCU/E went on strike. We were based at Baynard House in Blackfriars. There was a lot of bad feeling between the two branches of the NCU. The previous year the NCU/E had not supported the NCU/C on a strike. As a result the NCU/C was not supporting the NCU/E and were crossing picket lines. I did not want to cross the picket line, but as a matter of principle, they had crossed ours. I was confronted by an aggressive picket line. I told them in no uncertain terms that they'd crossed our picket lines, they'd broken our strike and as far as they were a bunch of scabs and I would not be supporting them. After that they didn't bother me. There were a couple of other guys who were not so forthright and there were physical altercations. After a few days one of the Union convenors approached me. He apologised for the NCU/E not supporting us and said he understood how I felt. He said that they should never have done that. Trades Union action only works when members stick together. It was a lesson for me. I've never felt good about it.

4. The Print workers strike.The print unions ruled the roost in the 70's. Newspaper plants were strongly unionised. Rupert Murdoch opened a print plant in Wapping. It was the beginning of the end. A friends Uncle was a Printer at the Daily Mirror. Within a couple of years, he was out of a job and then had his pension nicked by Robert Maxwell. Can't say I've been a fan of Press Barons since then.

5. The Miners strike. Margaret Thatcher in the 1980's decided to break the Miners Union, many believe it was as payback for the miners bringing down The Tory Government of Ted Heath. It was a horrible dispute and some communities have not recovered. I recall being at a punk rock gig, raising money for the miners. I can't remember the bands, I went to a few. A few miners were there as guests of honour. I ended up at the bar with a couple of old guys from somewhere up north, who were lifelong miners and were seriously financially strapped. We were chatting away and one said to me "You know I don't really like this sort of music, but I respect the support you guys have given us. When I saw the Sex Pistols on the Bill Grundy show, I thought they were disgusting, but they supported the striking firemen in 1977 and I realise I'd been wrong. The real threat to this country are the greedy bastards who want to rob the working man". He was not wrong.

6. The Grunwick Dispute. This was a horrible dispute. I was just a kid and I just saw the news images, that weren't sympathetic to the workers. Our local MP, Sir John Gorst, a Conservative was a staunch supporter of Grunwick bosses. A few years later, I was chatting with a friend who was an active trades unionst and he put me right about the dispute. It made me realise just how misleading press coverage can be.

7. The Gdansk Shipyard strike. This was a really important moment. Workers striking against a Communist government. The Leader, Lech Walesa became a global figure. My Dad, a stauch Conservative said it showed that Communism didn't represent working men. It was hard to argue with him at the time. When I went to the USSR and Eastern Europe, I realised that what they had there was not any form of Communism Karl Marx would recognised, in many ways it was legalised gangsterism. Travel certainly broadens the mind, but the Polish strikers were the people who pulled the wool from them.

8. The winter of discontent - 1979. Council workers on strike. Rubbish piling up in the streets, Bunns Lane Carpark tranformed into a rubbish dump. The local cemeteries shut. It was horrible, but what was even more horrible was that it lead to Thatcherism. The one aspect of strikes that's always worried me is the law of unintended consequences. We are now seeing a summer of discontent. Maybe it will herald the end of the Tory decade? 

9. The firemens strike 2002. The Army was brought out, with their green goddess fire engines to break the strike. Once again the media gave the strikers a good kicking. It's always struck me as the height of hypocrisy watching TV News Presenters and commentators who get massive salaries criticising working people risking their lives for pretty crap wages for being greedy. We get told that 'there is no magic money tree' then wonder why we have labour shortages doing dangerous or unpleasant jobs. 

10. Rail Strike 2022 - I must say a few words about the rail strike. I wrote a blog on the subject on Monday, where I laid out why I support the strike. Since then, Mick Lynch seems to have embarked on a mission to show how to run a Trades Union. I wasn't a fan of the Arthur Scargill school of media relations. Mick Lynch simply tells the truth and doesn't get irate. It works. He calls out lying minister and ridicules stupid commenators. It made me wonder why Union Leaders didn't twig that making your case in a calm rational way and calling out bullshitters with a degree of sarcastic humour many moons ago. Here's his greatest hits


Friday, 24 June 2022

Roe vs Wade - The simple question that I do not understand

 I'm not American, so I don't understand their legal system. I've just been watching the coverage of protests from America about the overturning of the 50 year old decision by the Supreme Court to grant the right to Abortion. I don't want to get too deeply into the rights and wrongs of the issue, for the simple reason that I'm a man and it's not something I'd ever have to make a personal decision about. 

But what I don't understand is that I thought the law was the law and it rose above politics. As I understand it, Donald Trump appointed several very right wing judges, who cannot be sacked, who have re-interpreted a ruling that was made 50 years ago, by the highest court in the land. Now I am not a constitutional expert, but isn't this subverting the concept of an independent judiciary, which is not politcally motivated? Since the law was passed, we've had Republican Presidents such as Nixon, Ford, Reagan, Bush and Bush. Yet now, under a Democrat president, we get a decision made by a Supreme Court that due to a series of deaths of Judges, under a one term president, who was  unceremoniously booted out by voters in record numbers, a highly controversial decision has been made and due to the fact that Judges can only be replaced when they die, it is unlikely to be overturned any time soon. 

Regardless of what side of the argument you are on, any sane person would stand back and see the risks of this. I'm not saying the Supreme Court Judges are right or wrong, I'm not legally qualified in US law to pass an opinion. What I can say though, is if this ruling has stood for 50 years, and has only been overturned on the whim of a Judge appointed by an insurrectionalist president, to me it fails the 'sniff test' in a big way. Feel free to tell me why I'm wrong, but please don't say "It's the will of Jesus". I'm a Roman Catholic and if this were true, then we'd never have had the Roe vs Wade decision in the first place. I thought the whole basis of the law of the land in the US is that State and Religion are separated. It is hard to square that premis with the decision

Wednesday, 22 June 2022

Why is it so difficult to organise a music festival in the London Borough of Barnet

 On Sunday, we had the grand finale of the Mill Hill Music Festival. This was the 14th Festival and as it is normally bi-annual, it has been running for 29 years. The committee has also organised other events over the years, such as a Jazz weekend and a mini festival with Paul Young at Mill Hill Rugby club. I've been involved in eleven of them and been a committee member on ten festivals. Lets just say I have a little bit of experience in the matter. The festival was originally set up by former Conservative Councillor Jane Ellison and long time resident, who sadly recently passed away Marion Dewing. Initially it was mostly classical and choral events at local churches and in parks. It has morphed into a different beast, with Opera from a professional company, a party night with a Funk supergroup with 30 to 30 hits between them, Jazz legends whilst still having a classical element at a local church. 

This year, we held the festival we planned for last year, but couldn't stage due to covid. It is fair to say that the pandemic caused serious challenges. When we started planning last June, we didn't even know if it would be feasable or sensible to hold the festival. Fortunately the pandemic subsided and Mill Hill came out to play. We scaled it back from the 2019 programme, with 2 less events, both which appealled to older audeinces primarily. These were relatively expensive to hold and we weren't sure the audience would turn out. 

Despite the success of this years festival, I have to say that over the years organising a music festival in Barnet has become increasingly difficult. At one point, the council were quite supportive and removed obstacles that their bureacracy placed in our way. The Mill Hill Music Festival is run by volunteers on a not for profit basis and any surplus funds are reinvested in future programmes. We've never sought council funds. This year we had a whole string of petty inconveniences. It took us dozens of phone calls etc to get agreement to put banners up on railings by the public highway. Some that have not been an issue before, we simply couldn't get permission to place. In previous years, we've put a "book tickets here" sign on the pavement outside Mill Hill Wines. This year we were told we'd need a licence that would cost hundreds of pounds. We have been doing this a long time and we know the ropes. I did the Temporary Event Notices for drinks and entertainment licences, which cost the festival nearly £100, the equivalent of five ticket sales.  The Mill Hill Postcode (NW7) is represented by a total of  eight councillors. Not one attended. In previous years, former Edgware Councillor Joan Scannell was a committee member and a few would turn up to support a non political community event. Now it seems they can't be bothered. 

This year, more than ever, the festival was needed. The music was almost secondary to the joy of people meeting up with friends, some of whom they'd not seen since the pandemic started. Dozens of people told us that it was nice to have the shackles removed and to be able to go out again. People were telling us they'd "got out of the habit of going out". I believe that the festival (and the others in Barnet) serve a useful social need. To my mind, the Council should be as supportive as possible and have a designated, trained officer who can assist with all of the aspects of organising festivals and can step in when there are problems. The Borough should be encouraging local people to set up small events, not putting roadblocks in the way. The council have seemed keener on developing parks as a revenue source than as an amenity used by local people and for local events. I've no objection to funfairs and commercial events occasionally being staged in local parks, but the council should be encouraging local people to stage their own events and not treating them as a cash cow. Although the money we spent on licenses is a drop in the ocean for the council, for the Festival we could have paid another artist to do a stint at one of the shows with the money. 

There is a new adminstration in Barnet. We'd like to see a new approach to community events to be a top priority for them.

Tuesday, 21 June 2022

A few home truths about the Rail strikes

Today the UK has virtually ground to a halt due to a national train strike. As a business owner, this is yet another kick in the teeth and yet another blow to our cashflow. If customers can't get to a studio to rehearse, then we make no money. However, as a citizen of the UK, you have to take a view of the bigger picture. What is the bigger picture?

Make no mistake, this dispute is not about money, working conditions or pensions. It is an entirely political action, by both the UK government and the rail unions. The public are completely stuck in the middle of this bunfight and as ever will ultimately pay the consequences. The government bankrolls the rail industry, using a string of operators as proxy's to run the service. Lets dispel a few myths.

1. The Private Operators and their shareholders are setting the policies that caused the problems

These companies have virtually guaranteed profits and their shareholders have continued to receive dividends, despite the pandemic. Now you may hold your hands up and say "why should greedy shareholders get the money?". This is a bit of a fallacy, as many of the shareholders of these firms are actually the pension funds that pay our pensions. Of course there are private investors and speculators who also hold such stocks, but the large funds are usually the biggest shareholders. I'd be surprised if any speculators have become millionaires investing in rail companies through the period of the epidemic. Network Rail is a government owned company, so the government gets any profits.  The bottom line is that these firms have to toe the line set by the government minister and the Transport Secretary Grant Shapps. This is not being driven by Shareholders demanding bigger profits. The DoT set the terms and conditions of the Franchises and the companies deliver the services.

2. Grant Shapps doesn't want a strike

The transport secretary Grant Shapps has been repeatedly appearing on TV and Radio blaming the RMT for the problems. His stance is 'nothing to do with me guv'nor'. This public stance could not be further from the truth. It is a political stunt to deflect attention from the failings of Boris Johnson and to paint Labour as a hard left, pro strike party. There is a very cynical political calculation that the public will swing behind the Conservatives if they decide that Labour is backing an unreasonable strike. 

3. The Rail Unions are stuck in the past and don't want progress

The first time I travelled from Mill Hill on a train, it was a steam engine in 1966. There was a crew of four people driving it and a guard. At St Pancras, there were uniformed porters, helping ladies with luggage. The signals and points were all manually operated with signal boxes every mile or two on the line. Mill Hill had a stationmaster, with his own house on site and a team of men working for him. Flags were waved and whistles blown when trains were ready to go, once all doors had been closed and checked.

Now, if I go to St Pancras, I touch in with a debit card, often the station is unmanned. There is one person driving the train and no guard. There is one signal box in West Hampstead that controls the route for miles in every direction. All signals and points are electronic and controlled from this. The whole idea of a porter is long gone. The stationmasters house at Mill Hill is now a car park. Trains don't have guards, the nearest you get is a 'revenue protection officer' who's sole role is to fine you if you have the wrong ticket. The concept that there has been no progress because of the Unions is a myth touted by people who have a vested interest in misleading the public. 

Many of the changes that Unions oppose are related to safety. Cutting back on maintenance puts passengers at risk. The Conservatives did this once before. They created Railtrack, which chopped maintenance, there was s series of devastating crashes as result and the companyt was effectively renationalised as Network Rail. 

4. Train drivers are 'overpaid'

Apparently train drivers are paid £59,000 a year on average. I've no idea where the concept that key workers who are needed to keep the country running should be badly paid has come from, but it is a classic example of wrong thinking. Train drivers are well paid to ensure they stay with the companies that they are working for. It costs a fortune to train a driver. They have to know the equipment, the safety regs, where all of the signals are, what the speed limits on a route are. If a driver is unfamiliar with a route, they have to be accompanied by someone who does. Good pay ensures that drivers stay with companies, meaning the companies don't have to continually pay huge sums to train new drivers. Routes are learned by new drivers going out in trains and continually familiarising themselves. A train can have up to 1,500 people on. Drivers are not allowed to have alcohol or drugs in their blood and may be tested.  I don't know about you but I want a driver who knows what he's doing and is competent. Decent wages ensure that happens. I believe people in key jobs should be properly renumerated. 

5. The RMT is run by overpaid union barons who don't care about the public

Union bosses are generally paid between £100,000 and £150,000. Of course this is a large amount of money, but it is not out of line for leading an organisation representing tens of thousands of people. Rail disputes are generally based on highly technical issues, that only someone with decades of experience can understand. When new equipment is introduced, this has generally been sold to companies by equipment suppliers who promise the earth. The Union's role is to play devils advocate to ensure that it is fully safe for members to operate. This system works. Travelling by train is the safest way of travelling in the UK. Pay disputes are also highly complex. There are many roles and often pay rises are linked to productivity increases. When guards were removed from Thameslink, drivers got more money for taking in the responsibility for the work of former guards. Unions also represent staff  in disputes, so have to have a strong legal team. Lawyers are not cheap. Union bosses do not sit around all day planning strikes. They have to know their subject. Their job is to represent members, but their work ensures the public is safe.  Personally I appreciate this. 

6. The Unions are holding the country to ransome. 

This is an old trope that Conservative governments regularly roll out when there are industrial disputes. As union members lose pay, they never do it unless they have a genuine grievance. Unions leaders run the Union by consent of their members. The membership of the rail unions see that the government is seeking to erode their terms and conditions and impose job cuts. Many of these involve staff involved in rail safety. If you are driving trains on the railway that can do up to 200Kmh, you want the infrastructure to be properly maintained. The government line is that the Unions are standing in the way of automating safety inspections. The Unions are saying that the technology has not been tried and tested properly on UK railways and should not be rushed into service. I am quite sure that regardless of the outcome of this strike, many safety checks now done will ultimately be performed by machines, with agreement by unions, but this will happen when all sides are agreed on the safety. If the Unions were asking for a 50% increase and a four day week, with a strike to ensure they got it, that would be unreasonable. I don't think it's unreasonable for staff at companies that we rely on to keep the country moving should not see their pensions degraded as a result of government mismanagement of the economy. The reason that Railway workers have good terms and conditions is because they have been prepared to take industrial action, but we are the beneficiaries of what is largely a safe and reliable railway. The major problems with our rail network have not been caused by unions but by bad government policies over several generations, such as the the Beeching closures, chronic under investment, high prices, uncomfortable seats, chaotic timetables and incomprehensible fares. The government spent £38 billion on a failed track and trace system from mates of the government. This would have paid for another two Crossrail lines. There is never a lack of money for pet projects of Boris Johnson. When it comes to paying key workers a decent wage, it is a different matter. We were all legally compelled to conform with legal restrictions of a failed track and trace system, on pain of huge fines, a system paid for by taxpayers which the friends of Boris provided. That is a far better example of holding the nation to ransome, but somehow that is never mentioned. 

I recently wrote a song about the decades long failure of British governments in running the railways. I hope you enjoy it

Monday, 20 June 2022

The Mill Hill Music Festival 2022 - Rog's Festival Diary Day 4, 5, 6, 7 - 16-19 June

I've been a bit busy for the last couple of days with the festival, hence the lack of blogs!

Anyway, here's my Diary to catch up, for all of you fascinated with what goes on if you are a festival organiser!

Thursday 16th - Joe Stilgoe at Frith Manor Primary School

9am. The first task of the day was to pick up 90 chairs from another primary school in North Finchley. We had to do this early to fit in with the schools day. I borrowed a van from my good friends Mary and Paul Dawson, who run Kitchens with Elegance. Fellow committee member Dan came with me.

Having got the chairs, we then went to get a chair mover from Hartley Hall and collect some gazebos we'd lent to Mill Hill Library for an event. Having got all of that out of the way, I went to work at around 11.30am at the studios.

I got our tech crew to knock up some black drapes for the gig, as we wanted to dress the school so it didn't look like a primary school hall. When people come to the festival, we want the experience to be as good as possible./

3pm. I loaded the van with a PA system, drapes and lights for the show, then drove to the school. By 4.30pm, it was all rigged, thanks to Dan who helped me. The rest of the crew also arrived with the bar. 

4.30pm. Joe Stilgoe arrived, he was delighted to see the piano and the system we'd rigged. He said that it was always a bit hit and miss doing local festivals but he soon settled in.

After a very straightforward soundcheck, it was a question of waiting for the hordes to arrive, which they duly did. The gig was a sell out and everyone had a wonderful evening. The efforts we made dressing the hall certainly paid off

 Joe did two sets and we finished by 9.30. We then had to pack up the chairs, dismantle the PA and lights and we were out by 10.30. I got back to Mill Hill, put some diesel in the van and managed to get a Kebab from Cobans. I was safely tucked up in bed, for an early start on 

Friday 17th.

An early start as the chairs had to be back in North Finchley for 8am, so the school could use them in assembly. Dan joined me and we were back in Mill Hill by 9am after unloading a van full of chairs. Back home, have a swift breakfast, walk the dogs then back to the studio to load a stage, sound equipment and gazebos. I arrived ath the venue at Mill Hill Golf Club at 11.30 am.

We then spent the day on the hottest day of the year building a stage, putting up the lighting rigs, etc. The golf club kindly laid on lunch.

At around 3.30pm the band and our amazing sound guy Vince Cooper arrived. The band set up, Vince put the PA togather and the soundcheck was done and dusted by around 6.30

The Brit Funk Association are a wonderful band and truly lovely guys to boot. The support band was my old mate Gerry Keane's Recollection. I've known Gerry since I was 4 and we were at St Vincents together. He was the first mate to put a band together and I think it's fair to say his current band are the best of the lot! Both bands did super sets and got the audience on their feet. 

The music finished at 11pm and we then had to break the whole thing down and pack into the van. This was done by 2am. I had a few beers, so I had to do the walk of shame back to our house. When I got home, I then walked the dogs, so it was 3am to bed. It was a fantastic night with an excellent crowd.

Saturday 18th

I had an early start at 9am at the studios. We had Rockschool exams booked, which I always am present for the set up for. I then got the van unloaded into our store rooms. The event was the BBC Elstree Concert band at Hartley Hall. The stage and plinth was required, so this had to be taken and set up. We also had to do some work on the Hall lighting to ensure that the band could be seen and could see their sheet music. Another successful night, sell out crowd and amazing music from the 1920's with George Gershwin. It looked and sounded wonderful. 

I had the task of being MC for the night. After the band finished, we did a super quick load out and we were in the Mill Hill Tandoori for 9.45, with friends and family who'd come for the show (my wife plays in the band as well as being Festival treasurer). Mr Lemon at the Mill Hill Tandoori, who is a good friend kindly let us stay until midnight. All in all a very pleasant evening.

Sunday 19th.

The final day of the festival and a Jazz lunch at Finchley Nurseries. The first task of the day was to unload the van from the previous night. Then we put the PA system Gazebo's and staging to the Nurseries. We were up there at 10.30am, erected the Gazebo's set up the PA system. The band arrived at 1pm, for a 2pm start. We had been worried about the weather but it turned out to be a wonderful day. 

Around 300 people attended which was a great success. The Nurseries were most chuffed.

When the band finished, we had our final packdown and back to the studio. By 6pm, we were done. As we'd done no shopping, we nipped down to BAW in the Broadway for some tasty Thai food. After that it was home for a nice bath and an early night!