Friday 31 August 2018

The Friday Joke 31/8/2018

Vinnie was just arrested for murder and was sitting in jail.

His mom called and said,"Vinnie, your lawyer just called and said he has good news and bad news."

Vinnie said,  "OK, give me the bad news."

Mom,  "Well, your lawyer says your blood is all over the crime scene, and it doesn't look good. You are down for Murder one and that means the death penalty in Texas"

Vinnie,  "Oh no!  Well what is the good news?"

 Mom, "Good news is your lawyer told me his cat has recovered from its vasectomy"

Thursday 30 August 2018

Death - The final frontier

Talking is the key to dealing with bereavement
I have some bad news for you (or maybe, if you don't like me good news). I am going to die. The only thing I am not sure about is when. Maybe it will be today, maybe tomorrow. Maybe it will be in fifty years time. As someone living with cancer, but a non aggressive and controlled cancer, my sell by date is probably a little bit nearer than a few of my peers, but I am not greatly troubled by this.

Death is perhaps the biggest taboo subject in ourt society. If you get a phonecall from your best friend, your mum or your dad and they say "I've got some very bad news, I have cancer and I've been told its terminal and I only have a month to live", very few of us know what to say. Even if we've been worrying or thinking about this for a long time. I've been thinking about this for a while. What is the correct response? Most of us probably struggle to put anything coherent together. We may mumble "that's awful, I'm so sorry".

One of my biggest bugbears with ourt system of education is that it gives us no education at all in how to deal with such difficult moments. My sister is a hospice nurse. She's seen hundreds of people passing on this news. A few years ago, following a situation where a friend told me he had terminal cancer and I couldn't say anything, I asked her advice. Her response was absolutely brilliant. It amazed me that I'd never really thought about it. She explained that just about everyone finds it difficult to tell friends and family bad news. They may not have come to terms with it themselves. They may be scared and feeling very vulnerable. She said that she would say something along the lines of "I am here for you, whatever I can do to help just ask me". She advised me that she thought saying "There must be something they can do" or words to that ilk don't help. What people need is love and support.

The first consideration relaly should be to make sure that people get their affairs in order whilst they still can. From a practical point of view, this could mean making sure that they have their will in place. One of the biggest problems friends and family can have is actually working out what is in the estate. Putting together a file with details of all insurance policies, bank accounts, share certificates, email account passwords etc is worth doing.

The next thing to consider and this is a very difficult thing to get one's head around, is to ensure that friends and family are engaged to offer the maximum support. I sometimes think that it is actually harder for the partners to deal with than the person who is going through the transition from life to death. They need as much support as possible. Sometimes this may be in the middle of the night, sometimes it may be when they are at the shops. Make sure that they know they can call you at any time. Be there. Be prepared to drop everything and make time. If your working or life commitments won't allow this, then work with friends and family and have a rota so that there is always someone around.

There is also the issue of faith. When my mother died, there was a bit of a discussion about this. My mum was a devout Roman Catholic. One of my siblings is quite anti religious. He wanted a  service with the minimum of a religious element. My Mum hadn't left any specific wishes. It was pretty clear to me that she wanted a traditional Catholic funeral (we'd been together in Lourdes the week before she died). It had never really occurred to me that this would be a contentious issue, but it was to a certain degree. I would suggest that everyone leaves instructions as to their wishes (even if it seems obvious). If it is clear what someone would want, then there is no scope for arguments when emotions are high.  One of the areas that I feel that members of faith communities have an advantage over people with no attachment to such groups is that churches, mosques etc have good support networks. I was talking to a Catholc priest about this. He told me that over 50% of his ministry was supporting people through illness, death and bereavement. He said that although this was the hardest part of his ministry, it was also the most fulfilling. If such networks exist, don't feel embarrassed to use them. If you are not a member of a community that has such support, then it is worth finding local secular bereavement groups etc. There are plenty of humanist ministers that preside over funeral services and can put you in touch with support groups.

Another issue that can be difficult in such circumstances are the issue of family squabbles. Sometimes siblings fall out and haven't spoken in years. If a parent dies this can make for a tricky situation. When my friend, who I mentioned above was dying, it brought me back into contact with another friend who I hadn't spoken to for sixteen years. As we are both mature adults, we immediately agreed to put our differences aside and are now friends again as a result. It isn't always that easy though. My advice would be to try and seek a degree of reconciliation before the person passes away. I know this isn't always possible.

Another issue which may be worth considering is the issue of the wake. My friend who passed away had a complicated personal life. He'd been with one partner for 25 years, but left her two years before he died in very bitter circumstances. His ex was very popular with all of his friends, his new partner was not known by most. I had only got to know her in the final weeks as she nursed him to his death. Both made it clear that they would be attending the funeral. Given the acrimony between both, we decided that the only solution was to have an alcohol free wake.  As both were explosive characters, it meant that things were less likely to get out of hand. As a result it passed off relatively well.

As our friend was skint, it fell upon us, his friends, to organise and pay for the funeral and wake. We found that if you have the service at 9am, it is cheaper. We also found that shopping around and stating "The first consideration is that it must be as cheap as possible" certainly focussed the funeral directors minds. Of course, for most people there are other considerations. One of the things to consider is that for some people, getting to a funeral can be difficult. If peopleare coming from all over the country, then a funeral at Mid day is more convenient. Travelling across London or around the M25 in rush hour is a chore. Speak to friends and relatives and find what is the most suitable time.

For more casual friends, the funeral is when you mentally wrap up the whole sad business. For close family, it is just the start of the process of bereavement. When the wake is over and everyone has gone home, the partner returns to an empty home and life will never be the same again. Check in on them. Make sure they are OK. It is better not to say "I'm just calling to see if you are OK", because people will invariably say they are. if you can, have a drink,  tea or coffee. If you can get people out of the house and into a different environment it can help. If you have an automated calendar or a diary, put a note in for yourself to remind you to get in touch.

One other thing that should be mentioned is that often people cope with bereavement by using drink or drugs to excess. For friends this can be worrying. Don't be judgemental about this. Generally people get over this stage, let them know that you are there to support them. If they are getting absolutely smashed, make sure they are safe. They are likley to know that it isn't doing them any good, but unless they have a better option to numb the pain, then they are not really very likely to be interested in changing their behaviour and will not take kindly to a lecture. If you need to talk to them, go for tea or coffee in the afternoon. They are less likely to be inebriated and more receptive to doing things.

Back in 2012, I wrote a blog on the subject of how to deal with watching someone die, called The Practical Guide to Watching Someone Die. The response to this has been extraordinary. It is the seventh most read blog on the site. Unlike most of the blogs on the site, the vast majority of the views are the result of organic searches. Once every two or three months, I receive an email from someone saying that it has really helped them and these have come from people all around the world.

A couple of these have suggested that the blog should be expanded and issued as a book. I am giving serious consideration to this. I am currently doing some reseach on the subject and there are many aspects of the what we go through that are seldom discussed. People feel very uncomfortable talking about mortality. If you have anything which you feel may be useful to include, either credited or uncredited please let me know. I was discussing this issue with some friends recently and one told me that they had not been aware of the blog when their mother died. They said that they read it retrospectively and were actually cross with me that I hadn't signposted it to them at the time. I could only point out that they hadn't actually told me their mum was dying. It seems that this is the biggest problem. We just don't want to discuss it. I hope that this starts some sort of conversation that helps a few people.

Wednesday 29 August 2018

Your chance to tell the Leader of Barnet Council what you think of him!

The Leader of Barnet Council would like residents to offer their views at one of three Engage Barnet events being held in September.
Residents are being strongly encouraged to sign up now for one of the sessions online.
Councillor Richard Cornelius, the Leader of Barnet Council, will inform residents about the council’s priorities for the borough, which have been laid out in the blueprint for its 2019-2024 corporate plan. People will then be able to give their feedback and influence the future direction of the plan.
Councillor Richard Cornelius, Leader of Barnet Council, said: “I want to listen to the concerns of our residents and take them on-board. I want our residents to feel involved in the future direction of their borough. This will ensure that we can get a better deal for everyone who lives here.”
The first Engage Barnet event will be at the Sangam Centre, 210 Burnt Oak Broadway, Edgware, HA8 0APfrom 7-9pm on Tuesday 4 September. The second will be at The Bull Theatre, 68 High Street, Barnet, EN5 5SJfrom 7-9pm on Tuesday 11 September. The third will be at Clayton Crown Hotel, 142-152 Cricklewood Broadway, Cricklewood, NW2 3EDfrom 7-9pm on Wednesday 12 September.
Residents can also view the blueprint for the 2019-2024 corporate plan online at Engage Barnet, where they are invited to complete an online survey to give the council their feedback.

I am sure that if you think Richard has done a marvellous job running the council, he'd love you to come along and tell him! He's a friendly chap and is quite approachable. If however, you are not happy with the way the council has been run, the only way you can change this is to come along and let Richard know. I am sure if you regularly read this blog and the other excellent Barnet blogs, then you will doubtless be aware of a few issues to discuss with Richard. I am a big believer in public engagement. I am pleased that Richard is doing this when there is not an election looming, as I am rather hoping that this means he actually wants a genuine conversation. 

Tuesday 28 August 2018

Mill Hill Jazz Club needs your support

The Save London Music Campaign is working to support hard pressed London Promoters. Good promoters have, over the years, defined the shape of the London Music scene. Generally the very best combine a love of music, a passion for a specific genre, a strong focused vision and a good degree of business acumen. Sadly it doesn't take much to upset the delicate balance of income and expenditure that promoters need to ensure the bills are paid and the music can continue.  Our campaign is rooted in local, grassroots music. A fine example of one such promoter is Valerie O'Donoghue, who has run the Mill Hill Jazz club for nearly a decade, taking over from founder Paul Amsterdam. Val has brought an amazing collection of the best Jazz acts to Mill Hill in North West London over the years.

Sunday 26 August 2018

The Tweets of the week in the London Borough of Barnet - 26/08/2018

It's Sunday, it's a bank holiday weekend, so it's raining. What better way to spend it than reading the Tweets of the Week! We have a few crackers and a few conundrums!

Don't forget to follow any tweeters who tickle you fancy

1. We start with a conundrum. Great to see the Police conducting crime prevention exercises in Burnt Oak, but why are Barnet Council not participating, when Brent are? Especially as the station is in Barnet?

2. Many locals will doubtless be saddened to see the sorry fate of The Saprrowhawk pub. For many years a great venue for live music and weddings. Thanks to the Mill Hill Historical Society for the story of how it was named

3. This is a story we've covered. It seems to me like the whole thing is being blown out of all proportion. I would suggest that the schook would be sensible to simply forget about it and move on.

4. More great work from Colindales litter pickers

5. A lovely picture of Edgware here from General Nostalgia

6. Another great tweet from Samuel Levy, our local wildlife tweet of the week. I often pass Samuel on my walks with the mutts in the Totteridge valley. Should really say hello!

7.Did you know that Windsor Open Space is actually in Finchley.

8. Who needs Hollywood when you have Cricklewood?

9. Some great sights from around and about in Mill Hill

10. What do musicians eat for breakfast?

That's all folks

Saturday 25 August 2018

Jeremy Corbyn's nemesis is a Mill Hill Lad!

I was quite surprised to see the name of a good old Mill Hill lad on the front page of The Times as I ate my bowl of porridge this morning. I know a few rather famous people, mostly from the world of music (as I was saying to Sir Elton last night, I simply hate name droppers), but I wasn't expecting to see this particular acquaintance on the front page of the Times. Ok, I'll put you out of your misery, who is this person and why are they famous?

Well the answer is that it is none other than Richard Millett! Who you may ask? Well Richard is has the inauspicious title of being the last Conservative to be beaten by a Lib Dem in Mill Hill. Back in 2006, the Lib Dems were the main party in Mill Hill

Mill Hill Ward - 2006 results

Mill Hill (3 seats)
Party Candidate Votes % ±
Liberal Democrat Wayne Casey 2,108
Liberal Democrat Jeremy Davies 2,082
Conservative John Hart 1,964
Conservative Matthew Dreisin 1,923
Conservative Richard Millett 1,909
Liberal Democrat Sean Hooker 1,749
Labour Will Parnaby 600
Labour Agnes Macauley 587
Labour Daniel Mbala-Appoh 487
Green David Williams 472

I got to know Richard during the campaign. You may wonder what he's famous for? Jeremy Corbyn described him as not understanding history and having no sense of irony. The experience of local politics seemed to put Richard off. Being a rather sensible chap, he decided that blogging was far more fun. I am sure that he sees the irony that he gave up on local politics in Mill Hill, just as it got good for the Tories. I've got to confess that I rarely read Richards blog, I'm not overly fascinated by the issues he covers. I have a look from time to time, if there is a current issue and I want a local perspective and it is a useful resourse. It is mainly about Israel and issues associated with the London Jewish community. I suppose given the serious nature of the topic Richard has chosen, there may not be much scope for ironic wit, but I'd have to argue with Jeremy Corbyn's assertion that Richard doesn't understand history. I believe he's got acedemic qualifications in the subject. I would say that anyone who objectively has followed Richards blog would conclude that he is familiar with the historical issues. He may have formed a different conclusion than Jeremy Corbyn, but Richard is on top of his brief.

I am rather puzzled by Jeremy Corbyns comments about "Zionists lacking a sense of irony". Whilst I have never attended the "Zionist open mic comedy night" at the Dog and Duck so I can't really say whether it's full of ironic gems, I know plenty of people who identify themselves as Zionists or sympathetic to Zionism. I've never noticed a particular lack of ironic humour. What I will say is that I'd really expect better from Jeremy Corbyn than to use such broad brush descriptions. Richard Millett and his family have been in the UK for decades. Richard was born here and is part of our community. I find it quite objectionable to try and separate him off from the rest of us "Britishers". As the son of immigrant families, I would resist any labelling of UK born children of immigrant families as anything other than valued members of our society. I may not agree with everything Richard writes, but I will defend his right to be considered as British as the rest of us to the death. If Jeremy Corbyn aspires to be Prime Minister, he has to realise that such statements are divisive and irresponsible. This is demostrated by tweets from the BNP and the KKK in support.

Whether you think Richard Millett is right or wrong, a genius or a plonker, he's one of us, a local. He may have stood on the opposite side of the ballot box to me in the past, but I'm jolly glad he's there. As a fellow blogger who has been insulted by ignorant politicians, all I can say to Richard is "Well done mate, if you are winding them up this much, you must be doing something right". Richard confesses that he is worried about the situation in regards to his personal safety. The one thing I would say is that we'd all be far less safe without tireless bloggers with our "poisonous obsessions" (that was how Brian Coleman described me whilst Mayor).

One final observation. Richard is a Leeds United fan. I suspect that a good sense of irony is the only thing that has sustained him.

You can follow Richard Millett on Twitter buy clicking here.

The Saturday List #185 - The Top Ten Parks and public green spaces in NW7

So how well do you know Mill Hill? Don't cheat, can you name ten parks and green spaces in Mill Hill? I hadn't really thought about it, until I realised we'd walked our mutts over nine of them in the last week.  Here is a little list I've put together of the ten, with a few notes and reminiscenses. CAn you guess which one I didn't visit? (not too hard).

1. Mill Hill Park. I guess most Mill Hillians know this. My old football team, Old Hendonians played their home matches there for a few years and used the Hendon and Edgware Cricket Club clubhouse as our base. Sadly that got burned down, the council stopped looking after the pitches and we ended up at Cannons Park for my last couple of seasons. The Park has several distinct areas, a segregated kiddies park, a Pavillion and base for Mill Bowls club, Tennis courts, A small crazy golf putting range in poor repair, A cafe, a nature reserve (used to be a pitch and put course), some cricket and football pitches and the rather nice Bunns Lane annex, which is great for chilling and dog walking. There are a friends of Mill Hill Park group who work to improve the park.

Simmonds Mead circa 1950 (Pic by MHPS)
2. Simmonds Mead AKA Mill Hill Village Green. This is a small triangle of land between the A41, Lawrence Street and Uphill Road. It has a picturesque brook and some nice trees and flower beds. There have been sporadic events held on the site. I think most Mill Hillians love the site, but never really spend any time on it. Back in the 1960's the stream had a lilly pond with goldfish, which I used to love. Sadly that is long gone. In 2007 it was officially designated the Mill Hill Village Green.

3. Lyndhurst Park. This is on the Mill Hill/Burnt Oak border, next to the disused rail line between Mill Hill and Edgware. It has a small play area and is used by residents of the Deansbrook estate mainly. The railway arch under thr bridge was a popular spot for glue sniffers and teenage pot smokers in the late 1970's, which resulted in the Council bricking it up. It is quite a pretty park.

4. Woodcroft Park. This is by the Junction where Bunns Lane turns into Grahame Park Way. About half way down, on the Mill Hill/Burnt Oak border, it becomes Blundell Park. The Mill Hill section has a football pitch and a nature reserve, planted by the the councilto mark the Millenium. Parents of babies born in the year 2000 were invited to a planting. There is a Hornbeam tree planted by us for our son Matthew growing, it is now quite a fine specimen!

5. Bittacy Hill Park. This is located between Bittacy Hill and Bittacy Rise and is well used by people from the Mill Hill East area. There is a decent childrens play area, tennis courts and it is a well kept park. I'm not that familiar with the park as it's not really in my part of Mill Hill.

6. Arrendene Open Space. A favourite with dog walkers and also used by various people jogging, riding mountain bikes and riding horses, which sometimes causes a touch of conflict. The trees have been colonised by many green parakeets, which can regularly be both seen and heard. The spot is also popular for various people who enjoy late night liaisons in Mill Hill. Unlike some of the other areas these activities are largely nocturnal (possibly due to the large groups of slobbering hounds which frequent the park during daylight hours).
Picture courtesy of
7. Scratchwoods Open Space. This has a rather nice Shisha lounge, is well frequented in the summer by family groups having picnics and barbeques (currently banned due to the drought), teenagers holding illicit raves, teenagers practicing trail bike riding, dog owners who have shy or problematical dogs (as it is less busy than other open spaces) and men seeking encounters to brighten their lives up. The front area by the A1 is where the Shisha Lounge and families congregate. The woodlands to the back are where the other activities largely take place, although there are always a few chaps parked up staring out of their windscreens. There is a more or less dried up pond in the middle and a seemingly ever growing number of burnt out scooters and motor bikes. There is a massive littering problem and the park often gets closed for Iranian festivals as you are not allowed to enjoy yourself in Barnet (Iranians familes view Scratchwoods as their park of choice for festivities).

8. Moat Mount Open Space. Moat Mount is just across the A1 from Scrtchwoods. The council shut the carpark to deter the type of activities which occur at Scratchwoods and are viewed in some quarters as anti social. It has certainly deterred me from walking the dogs there. There is a lovely pond with large carp in. There are extensive woodlands and an outdoor centre offering camping, archery and other outdoor activities.

9. Darlands Lake nature reserve. Sadly Darlands Lake is now Darlands swamp, being a mudpit. it is a beautiful area between Burtonhole Lane and The Totteridge Valley. Folly Brook runs through. Until the early 1960's this was a boating lake. According to the London Ecology Unit's Nature Conservation in Barnet, published in 1997, Darland's Lake was one of seven sites identified by Barnet Council as meeting the criteria for designation as a Local Nature Reserve, and it is the only one of the seven which the Council has not designated. As we walk the reserve walk regularly, it is upsetting to see the neglect.

10. Copthall Nature reserve. Formed of the old Mill Hill East to Edgware railway and the Copthall Old Common, it is popular with walkers and enthusiats of disused railway infrastructure. There are regular railway walks and it has been listed as one of Londons top walks by the Londonist.

Click here for more info on parks and open spaces in the London Borough of Barnet.

Thursday 23 August 2018

Mill Hill School and the hypocrisy of the press

Imagine my surprise to get a message from a mate in Australia telling me that Mill Hill is the number one news story in Adelaide! It seems the Aussies are rather tickled by the huge "scandal" that has blown up after a rapper hired Mill Hill School to make a pop video.  It seems that the Head of the school has resigned following the backlash following the release of the video.

What is all the fuss about? Well here is the video.

I rather enjoyed it. I always enjoy videos shot around Mill Hill, I've made a few myself. As you may have expected, the faux outrage was lead by the Daily Mail. There headline announced
"Top private school is forced to apologise after allowing rapper Stefflon Don to film sexual and drug-filled music video in its grounds" The article continues "The video storyline is about a new girl arriving in school. Stefflon Don’s character wins over classmates after playing in a football match where she swears at an opponent she suspects of diving."

It also quoted Chris McGovern, chairman of the Campaign for Real Education, said: ‘The message being sent by this video popularises everything which good schools should be against – drug-taking, swearing, and overt sexuality. These are all things which schools should be trying to guide pupils away from, not promoting them. Parents who are paying the fees for their children to go there will be appalled'. I was intrigued who this guardian of educational standards was. What is the Campaign for Real Education? I had a look at their website. I was amused to see that on the front page there was a basic typo. I do think that such organisations that lecture others, should at least do a bit of checking of their own websites. The link to their summer 2018 newsletter says Summer 2019!

 I clicked through and I was saddened to see the sort of lazy rehashing of half truths and opinions presented as facts.  There is a long article about Drill music. Here is just a snatch of their rather intellectually lazy rant

In the form of ‘drill’ the purpose of the music is gang-related. Often it is generated by a desire to challenge or threaten rival groups. It has its roots in the gangland and murder culture of Chicago but, as UK drill, is now firmly rooted in our cities, especially London.
Highly discordant and alarming the sound of ‘drill’ is the sound of innercity boys and it is getting ever louder!  This is payback time for alienated and the marginalised young males, for the under-educated and the politically-uncorrected outlaws of our society. Drill has become their theme music.
Putting into action boasts of violence expressed in drill has become expected behaviour for its adherents. The father of one ‘drill’ musician’s murder victim described the music as having ‘a demonic mindset’.
It is almost impossible knowing where to start, but lets have a go. Firstly, as to Drill music getting even louder, the height of earbusting decibels is nothing to do with Drill. It would be heavy rock and metal bands with Manowar holding the record with 139 decibels. The Rock genre was also often accused of having Satanic or demonic overtones. There are many Satanic top tens for artists and bands and Drill music does not feature in any.  The article talks of Drill being the payback time for alienated and marginalised young males. To me it is rather imbecilic to see Drill as anything other than a symptom of the dysfunctional nature of our society. It is of course awful that some Drill artists are using their music to incite people into violence. I believe that in such cases, we have laws that already cover this. If you signpost someone for violence, the you really should get a visit from the law.

Oddly the article also objects to the fact that Rapper Dizzee Rascal's lyrics have been used in the A Level syllabus. As Rascal is not a Drill artist, I found this comment slightly strange.

‘Drill’ is an adaptation of so-called ‘rap music’ that already has a place in the music teaching of many schools. Indeed, the lyrics of one notable rapartist, Dizzee Rascal, now appear on the A-Level English syllabus.

For the record, RAP stands for Rhythm and Poetry. I would have thought that any legitimate campaign for real education would be delighted that disaffected young men were getting into writing poetry. So can Rascal write decent poetry. Here is an extract from Space

Babylon's calling me, nobody's fooling me
I do not roll with the masses, but big up the Junglist massive
I am not timid and I am not passive, messing with me? You must be on some acid
Done with the racket, I will get erratic, all of my problems disappear like it's magic
It'll be tragic

It's not my style but it is pretty good. It is hard to read it without rapping as it's got an amazing natural rhythm. If you are going to criticise an artist or poet, at least do your homework.

Having trawled the CRE's website I'm not surprised that they are the first stop for the Daily Mail when trying to whip up some hysteria. They object to the promotion of drug taking, swearing and overt sexuality. I must admit that having seen their comments before I watched the video I was a bit disappointed. As the Mail noted, the key incident in the video is a ladies football match with some excellent ball skills on display. Oddly the CRE do not mention that the video is promoting sport and healthy lifestyles. The swearing is in the context of one of the players cheating. As someone who has played football all my life, it may not surprise you to know I've heard the odd swear word uttered when a player has been suspected of cheating. The storyboard is that a new girl arrives at the school and is being bullied. She is a strong character and fights back, stands up for herself and wins over new friends. I don't think that is a bad message to send. The drug use, sexually provocative posing and swearing is all rather comic.

I don't know if it is because I've got daughters around the same age, but the sexual content is not what I'd consider to be particularly exciting, it was more like teenage girls showing off with each other. The video ends with a scene in a bedroom of a few teenage girls passing around what is presumably meant to be a spliff. On my regular walks around Mill Hill and its parks and green spaces, I have regularly seen small groups of Mill Hill School pupils drinking, smoking and even having crafty spliffs. Whilst some work themselves into a froth over such videos, I simply see it as a reflection of our society. Should schools rent themselves out to feature in videos etc? I don't see why not. If it generates a few quid, then what is the harm. It is absolutely clear that the school should not want to associate its brand with drug taking etc, but they should simply say "We rented the site and were not properly informed of the content. We do not condone drug use and we will be tightening up the criteria for hiring the school in future". In a sane world that should be the end of the matter.

If the Campaign for Real Education have nothing better to do than act as some sort of cultural police, deciding what Genre of music is ok for the nation and what should appear in videos, then I doubt that there is much need for a campaign for real education. I don't actually know what a real education is. Did I get one? I've no idea. I can read, write and add up numbers. My kids can also do that, probably a lot better than I can. Did they get a real education? My youngest son just got his A Level grades. He did his GCSE's at Finchley Catholic High School and his A levels at Woodhouse College. As far as I can see he had an excellent education. I personally would actively encourage young people to write music, to RAP, to play instruments and to make videos. Should swearing and taking drugs be a part of this. I think that swearing is OK in context. I have records by artists as diverse as The Sex Pistols and The Steve Miller band that have swearing on them. As for drug taking, in the context of RAP and Drill videos, I think it is just a fact of life that this will be portrayed. If you want to see s film with some fairly hardcore sexual activity and drug taking, watch Cocksucker Blues, a documentary about the Rolling Stones.  Maybe I'm just too old and world weary, but I cannot get worked up over a video that is really just a bunch of kids trying to look a bit naughty.

In fact the only thing which really annoys me is the hypocrisy of the Daily Mail, who rail against such videos, whilst staunchly defending a government that has chopped Police budgets, abolished youth programs and lost control of a generation of young people from deprived backgrounds. Artists mirror society. I doubt too many people will remember this video by Stefflon Don in a decades time, apart from a few kids at Mill Hill School who will probably be successful merchant bankers then and will snigger over it as they tell there friends about their experiences at a boarding school.


Sunday 19 August 2018

Tweets of the week in the London Borough of Barnet 19/8/2018

So here it is again. The local roundup through the eyes of our local Tweeters

Don't forget to follow any who tickle your fancy

1. First up, lets start with the solving of the mystery of the performing seals at Apex Corner, courtesy of the Mill Hill Historical Society

2. Did I ever tell you that Tom Robinson's drummer used to Jam with us in Mill Hill back in the day. I was reminded of this when I saw this post. I used to organise benefit gigs for the ANL at Harwood Hall in Mill Hill

3. Our favourite Rugby teams season started with a friendly yesterday. Well done lads!

4. Dramatic scenes on the Broadway on Friday as a van caught fire

5. Great pics from the Finchley Horticulturalist!

6. I can't find the words to adequately describe my feelings about this

7. We support the amazing work of our fantastic local litter pickers

8.This is well worth checking out

9. It really is criminal that there are houses empty and rotting as people are sleeping rough

10.Want a nice dance studio in Mill Hill

That's all folks

Saturday 18 August 2018

The Saturday List #184 Ten things I didn't expect to still be doing at 56!

This week I turn 56. My Dad was that age in 1973, which seemed very old to me at the time. I was thirteen then. I was think about this last night as I made my way to Powerleague to play five a side football. My father was a far better sportsman than me. As an Aussie he was an excellent cricketer and told me that if it hadn't been for the war, he'd have loved to have been a professional fast bowler. That was his passion. He gave up completely when he was 32 as he realised his performance was declining. He played for Finchley Cricket Club after the war and had some excellent bowling figures. I assumed that my life would follow a similar path and I'd never be playing sport in my 50's. I thought I'd make a list to celebrate my birthday of all the things I didn't dream I'd be doing at fifty six when I was a teenager

1. Playing football. I assumed that like my Dad, you got to your mid thirties and just stopped. whilst some of those I play with probably wish I would, I love it and it keeps me fit. When I see friends who do no sport and are my age, I have noticed many have aged more than those who are still active.

2. Playing punk rock guitar in a band. I sort of assumed that when you got old, you suddenly morphed into a Chris De Burgh fan and your sole association with music would be watching the Val Doonican show on TV as my Dad would do. Strangely I enjoy playing in a band more now than ever. Maybe it is the lack of egos.

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Grandad is the baldy behind the Babe in arms

3. Going to the barber. I assumed I'd be like my maternal grandfather and be as bald as a coot. Everyone told me that "baldness skips a generation".

I can't say that the idea of baldness ever filled me with glee, in some ways I'm quite vain. In the 80's I saw Mr Leonard Poutney on TV, he was a hair expert and said that eating excess salt made you go bald. I have avoided it ever since. I don't know if it is true, but I still have to visit the barber

4. Going to gigs with my mates. My Dad would occasionaly go to a show with my mum. The only activity he did with his mates was boozing and playing snooker on a Thursday night at Mill Hill Services club. He told me "When you reach my age, you can't be bothered with all that" when I asked why he didn't go to more shows. He said he only went because it kept my mum happy. Both myslef and my missus regularly go out with friends, without each other. I think it keeps us sane (and together).

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5. Reading comics. I've always read comics. My mum encouraged me to, as she felt it would help me read. I was a bit thick as a child (a condition now called dyslexia). I had a massive collection that my mum unilaterally slung out when I was sixteen. I was furious. She told me I was "too old for that rubbish". In 1997 I showed her an article that stated comics had proved a better investment than gold. She rather irritatedly said "You never let go do you, that's the Irish in the family". I still enjoy them. My comic of choice is 2000AD, which is dark and written for adults (immature ones Mrs T would say).

6. Be interested in UFO's and the paranormal. I am fascinated by UFO's and the paranormal. I know quite a few people who have seen all manner of unexplainable phenomina and have seen several things myself. I think it is the height of imbecility to believe that in the whole universe we are the only life form or the only one to have reached a level of technological sophistication to have the capacity to leave our planet. I discussed the issue with my Dad, who as an ex WWII pilot had seem some very strange things. His advice was "keep all that to yourself son, everyone will think you are a nutcase". Sound advice, but I am not ashamed to say I still have an interest.

7. Still be going to Lourdes with my family. One thing I really didn't expect to be doing when I was in my late teens was to be an active member of the Catholic church and still be going to Lourdes. My Dad was very religious and from the age of six until eleven, my annual holiday was with my Dad (mum stayed home to run the business) to Lourdes. This was a blast. My Dad would do a religious thing in the day, then in the evening go out on the razzle around the bars, taking me in tow. I was allowed a shandy. I loved the vibe, the people from all different nationalities and the banter and cameradarie. Sometimes Dad would get into card schools and pay for me to drink pop all night. By the time I was 18 I was identifying myself as an atheist. In my mid 30's I had a long hard look at myself and started attending church again. After my Mum had a stroke in 2000, I went as a helper with a group of disabled adults in 2001. This gave me the strength and the understanding to deal with my mum's condition. I took her four times until her death in 2008. I've taken all my kids, who although very unreligious get the vibe and love helping people. I am not a holy Joe, but I love being with a mixture of people and I get to play a lot of guitar, drink, eat french cooking and have great friends in the group. I'd never have predicted that as a teenager.

8. Married. To be honest, I never expected to get married. At school, my former headmaster took great delight in trying his hardest to belittle me and undermine me. On one occasion he told me that I was an idiot and I'd never manage to have a girlfriend, let alone get married. This was truly shocking to me at the age of 13. I assumed he was right. He told me that "no suitable gorl would ever look at you!". I analysed this and realised he was right. I decided that the best strategy was to find rather more unsuitable girls. I found that unsuitable girls were far more fun, so I guess I owe him a big debt of gratitude. Somehow I managed to think my extremely pretty and lovely wife was one such unsuitable candidate, like most things, I was wrong and we are approaching 33 years together and married.

9. Be taken seriously as a writer. I'm dyslexic. As well as my headmaster undermining my belief in my sexual prowess, my English teacher, Miss Amy Walsh at FCHS told me I was completely illiterate. If it hadn't been for a whole series of strange and rather lucky coincidences, I would never have written a word. The first of these was when my sister Caroline asked me, aged 14 to go to the The Roundhouse to watch NYC punks The Ramones. This changed my life. I changed school, I formed a band and I started writing songs. I also became politically active and started writing letters to papers. I had letters published in the Guardian and The Express. Then I was asked to write a blog on the Barnet Times website. This soon developed a huge readership. When Barnet Council forced the paper to drop me, I set up the Barnet Eye and have subsequently had over 2.5 million page views. I've also written articles for The Guardian, The Londonist and a series of other publications. The one I am proudest of is a blog back where it stated, on the Roundhouse website! That is probably all the acclaim I need in life.

10. Be alive. Seriously. As a teenager, I didn't really take care of myself and was incredibly reckless. I did all manner of things, any of which could have resulted in instant death. When I was 22, I had serious health problems, resulting in a long spell in hospital. I didn't have a Eureka moment, but oer a period of time adjusted my lifestyle. I seem to have some sort of health scare every ten or so years.  I was born a "blue baby" (no not a City fan).In my early teens I was seriously depressed and self harming, in my 20's I had stomach issues. In my 30's it was ear problems and mastoids, in my late 1940's I was diagnosed with Prostate Cancer. My mother once told me that my ill health was a blessing. She was similarly afflicted with a lifetime of bad health. She said "You are used to being ill, you'll last forever, it's those who never have a days illness that get a cold and drop dead". I'm not really convinced. If nothing else, it's made me appreciate the NHS.

I suppose it will serve me right if I drop dead before Wednesday.

Friday 17 August 2018

Aretha Franklin RIP

I seem to be writing far too many obituaries  for musical greats these days. I don't think that any compare with Aretha Franklin in terms of sheer talent. When writing these obituaries, I always write about my personal relationship with the artist and their music and how it has affected me. It is fair to say that Aretha Franklin was one of my greatest musical influences. I first got into music in 1977 as a 14 year old punk rocker. The very first band I saw were the iconic Aussie punks The Saints, who were supporting The Ramones at The Roundhouse. I loved their raw, powerful sound. In October 1978, they released Prehistoric Sounds. I excitedly pre ordered it and when it arrived stuck it on the turntable. My first impression was really negative, I hated it and didn't even bother listening to the second side. It languished in my collection, unplayed and unloved until around late 1981 . I have always regularly pulled a random album from the collection and spun it. When I saw the album, I groaned. But then I thought "No, I'll give it a go". As I'd listened to some of the A Side, I thought I'd try the B side. I put it on and I thought "hey, this is OK". Then the final track came on. I'd never heard it before, but it was awesome. It started like a standard punk song with a guitar riff, but as the vocals came in, so did a barrage of brass. The song was Save Me. I was obsessed with it. It had never occurred to me that brass could work in a punk environment. I loved everything about it. I was just recovering from breaing up with someone who I thought was special. Two lines really struck home.

Love leaves you cold and hurt inside
These tears of mine, they are justified

As  a comic book nut, I was also transfixed by the references to "the caped crusader" and "the Green Hornet". I listened to it three times on the bounce. I thought "Kuepper and Bailey are geniuses" having put together such a great track. Then I looked at the label and was gobsmacked to see that it was written by Aretha and Caroline Franklin with Curtis Ousley. I was vaguely aware that Aretha was a good singer, but I'd never listened to her.

I thought it was worth taking a trip down town and getting one of her albums. The logical choice was "I never loved a man the way I loved you", the album which had Save Me on it.

In truth, I probably only bought it to be able to show off to my mates when we were having debates about obscure punk rock tracks. I rather sceptically went home, almost writing the narrative in my head as to why the Saints version was superior to Aretha's. I got in, made a cup of tea and put it on the turntable. I thought I'd start with side 2, as this had Save Me on it. It starts with Dr Feelgood. I was totally transfixed by this track. I was a bit of a fan of Dr Feelgood, the Canvey Island blues combo. I sort of expected a Feelgood style blast.

What I got was this


This was a totally different style of music to anything I'd ever listened to before and it was absolutely awesome. I think my jaw hit the floor. I'd sort of formed an ill informed opinion that Soul music was fairly trite and not for me. It opened my eyes. By the time it got to Save me, I was hooked. Given the other songs, I was amazed when the track started with the same guitar riff as The Saints. It became clear to me that if you have a singer like Aretha Franklin, you can do anything in your band. I was inspired. At the time my band had a girl singing, but she was vocally on a par with Madonna, I wanted Aretha. Of course, there is only one Aretha. I also wanted brass and better arrangements. Aretha made me see what was wrong with the music we were writing.

The album finishes with the old Sam Cooke Song "A change is gonna come".

I developed a mild obsession with this song. On the first listen, after Save Me, the first few bars really didn't do it for me. I didn't like the tinkly piano at all (I'm a guitarist). But I stuck with it. The song is an absolute masterclass in how to build a track. It also has a poweful message. I was determined to find out a bit more about Aretha. Her story was incredible. Daughter of a preacher, a mum at 12. A complicated personal life, drugs, drink. An amazing catalog of music, without peer.

I got to thinking about what I liked about Aretha and why I've always loved her but found the likes of Whitney Houston harder to get into. The thing about Aretha is that she's economical when she has to be and goes for it like a train when it is right. There is no showing off or pointless noodling. She always hits the spot and gets it right.

Perhaps the most recent thing I've listened to featuring Aretha was a remix of A deeper love. It just shows that her voice is completely timeless.
I always thought that calling Aretha "The Queen of Soul" was doing her a total injustice. She was so, so much more. I thought I'd pull together a little Spotify playlist. It finishes with her cover of Let it Be by The Beatles. Quite a fitting way to finish a playlist by a preachers daughter. Thanks Aretha, I can honestly say that you've enriched all our lives.

I hope you enjoy these

Thursday 16 August 2018

A Level Results - Our education system is not fit for purpose

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Exam stress
Today my youngest child received his A level results. We've been through this three times. Each time the pattern is similar. A levels are done over two years, during this time each of my children selected a University of their choice and then had to buckle down to get the results. The exams are done in May and June and then there is a 'phoney war' as they finish and the results are awaited. For all involved, the whole process is highly stressful. We are lucky in as much as all of ours acheived the grades to get their preference. For those who don't there are three options, clearing, resits or get a job. This year, students have had the pleasure of a complete overhaul of the way the exams are marked, with coursework no longer playing a role.

As I won't have to endure this process again as a parent, this is really my last opportunity to give my views on the whole system from the coal face. I also have the added perspective of being an employer, running a small business. As our company is a music studio, we are somewhere that many would like to work. We get to see first hand what the educational system produces. Of the twelve people we currently employ, 1 is recently graduated, one has just done A Levels, One has just done GCSE's and one is at Uni. Another did a degree in Sound Engineering and joined us last year. Most have worked for us through the process of education (apart from the lad who has just done GCSE's who is a new recruit). For them the studio is an ideal part time job. There are a fixed number of shifts and they have organised themselves into a WhatsApp group to cover each other. They have to deal with the public, take bookings and deal with equipment issues. Evening shifts are usually 6pm-12pm (although staff can leave earlier as studios shut at 11pm and when close down is done they can go).

So I get to chat with them, see how they deal with the public, see how quickly they learn. As we have a requirement that staff have experience of music, we probably get a higher than aaverage intelligence and commitment level than you might find piling up tins of beans in TESCOS. What is abundently clear is that the school and university system does not prepare people who are fit for purpose in the workplace. The GCSE and A Level system is totally geared to producing results that look good in school league tables. Interpersonal skills needed for dealing with customers are not developed. Problem solving is not a valued skill, as pupils are slavishly pushed to follow the syllabus. I suspect that teachers don't really relish being challenged and it is easier to get results simply by using a follow the herd mentality.  What we notice is that the young people who work for us develop hugely over the first few months. They become confident talking to people and we try and build problem solving skills. When you are dealing with customers, you can't simply shrug your shoulders and say "not my problem mate".

I also participate in the NCS - The Challenge scheme, where young people build citizenship skills and are mentored to deliver community related projects. We get groups of young people come down to the studio for mentoring and to receive feedback on presentations. We've been participating in the scheme for maybe five or six years. I have noticed that over the period, the young people have become more shy and reserved. The first year I participated in the scheme, there was lively banter from the group and a bit of friendly heckling (which I encouraged) as I try and make my sessions interactive. This has become markedly less so. The young people still prepare excellent pitches and have a passion, but seem far more reluctant to interact with adults. At one recent session, they told me that one team, working on a charity project supporting a community garden project found it difficult interacting with some of the people who were volunteers at the site (although they were very inspired by the leader of the scheme).

It is clear to me, as  a father, an employer and a mentor that the results based system is causing a huge dam of social problems to build up. We see this in the ever increasing number of young people on medication for stress and anxiety. Yesterday there was an illumiating article in the Guardian on obesity by George Monbiot, who is one of my favourite writers in the paper. As I was reading this, a very interesting thing struck me. At our studios, we see between 1,500 and 2,000 musicians a week pass through. When I thought about it, very few of these are what I'd call obese. By definition, being a musician requires a higher level of mental stimulation than someone who spends their life in front of the TV. To play in a band requires a greater degree of social interaction. Could it be that isolation is another contributory factor to obesity? I am not a scientist, but I'd be fascinated to see if there is any correlatuon between being in a band and being a healthy weight. What has this got to do with education? Well music is one aspect of education and self improvement that people have to be self motivated to achieve in. Unlike GCSE's and A Levels, the end game is creative and productive. It is also achieved in collaboration rather than by being locked in a bedroom for months on end.

The UK is at a major crossroads. When we leave the EU we will see the end of a huge saftey blanket. We will have to compete in the world, often with people in countries who are far more motivated than the average UK citizen. Our only real assets are the rule of law and the inventiveness of our population. As someone who works in creative industries and who understands their contribution, it is vital that our young people develop problem solving skills, interpersonal skills and are motivated to do great things. The exam factory schools so prevalent in Barnet are not doing this. When it comes to my own experience, all of the most useful things I learned have been from teachers, but not teachers at schools I went to. I was totally put off English at Finchley Catholic High School doing O Levels. I thought I had no aptitude. As I got into music, I started writing songs. At the time I had a friend who was an elderly Jamaican poet. He was reading my lyrics and said "Man, what is this?" I said "It's a some lyrics". He replied "Who would want to listen to that, it sounds like someone is shouting at you. Do you really like people shouting at you? You have to make the song start a conversation with them". He then carried on "In life you will find one day that you will need a weapon to defend yourself. The best weapon you can have is your language. It will save you when a gun or a knife can't. So learn to use the English language properly. One day it will save your life". As I had great respect for him, I didn't argue, but I didn't really understand what he was saying. I did however think about what he was saying about my lyrics. Over the years, It was the best lesson I ever received. I just wish I'd had a teacher who could have given me the passion when I was at school. As it was I had five wasted years staring out of the window. My personal view is that the most dangerous word in the English langauge is "Syllabus". It means that learning is restricted. It is dangerous and wrong. It puts people off and discriminates against creative people.

As for Universities, I've yet to meet a graduate of a college that teaches sound engineering that can run a full band recording session, despite doing a three year course. In contrast, all of our past and present chief engineers have been intelligent and self motivated learners, who have put the hard work in to develop their skills. What particularly irks me is that there is a training provider I use who does a three day course that gives all the skills necessary to run a band recording session. Why on earth can't this be covered in degree courses. Friends in other businesses tell me exactly the same thing.

One example of this, was on BBC London this week. An etiquette specialist on the Vanessa Feltz show explained that HSBC bank were teaching graduates to eat with knives and forks, as many couldn't and this would reflect badly on the bank when staff entertained clients. I'd assume that a blue chip company such as HSBC would get the pick of graduates, so what does it say if they can't even eat with a knife and fork?

We have to end the obsession with grades. We need more preparation for life. We need a totally different approach to the we put together the "syllabus" focussing on making people love English, solve problems in engineering subjects and lean life skills in practical subjects. We need more people to mentor, especially from minority groups. I'd like to see every pupil have to study "life skills". Making mortgage applications, counselling the bereaved, organising funerals, learning how to compare electicity bill prices, etc. I'd like to see a proper appreciation of culture. I'd like to see every student have to prepare a thesis on what they love most about music and culture in our amazing country. At Orange Hill School, I was forced to do a General Studies O Level. I had to do a project and I chose Punk Rock. It was one of only two subjects I got a B in. It was a revealation having to study a subject I loved. I don't know if my teacher, Mr Phillips reads this blog, but if he does, I think he is the man who really deserves the credit. That, to me, was a proper education. I suspect it is why I run one of London's top studios.