Tuesday 31 August 2021

Congratulations to local boy Michael Murphy for an amazing performance at the Tokyo Paralympics

This weekend, myself, my family and many of our friends were glued to the TV watching Michael Murphy, the son of friends of ours and a Mill Hill lad competing in the Tokyo Paralympics for Ireland. The Mill Hill Community has been backing Michael comepeting in the dressage, which is not a cheap sport. The achievements of Michael are truly awesome. 

This is Michael's story, taken from his website.

"I was born in London with a rare progressive disorder called Dejerine-Sottas. This is a peripheral neuropathy and means having no reflexes, little sensation, low muscle tone and lack of motor control and a double spinal fusion.

However, this has given me an amazing opportunity to represent my country, Ireland, in Para Dressage. I am aiming for the Paralympics, and I have two very talented horses Cleverboy (Charlie) owned by Bronte Watson and a younger horse owned by us, Dark Diamond (DD). Being able to ride and feel free when you cannot walk independently and being able to compete, never mind represent my country, is uplifting!

My family fought for me to go to mainstream school, working hard on exercise and therapy including horse riding, aged 4. I am so grateful to family and friends for all their support.

Riding has been a huge part of my life, physically and emotionally, and I have successfully competed at international level since the age of 10.

At 14, I became the youngest in the world to win a 2* International and have since gone onto win 3* Internationals. It was a privilege to be asked to carry the Olympic torch in 2012 - a day I will never forget.

Our lives as a family were rocked in 2015, when my older brother James died, aged 20, saving another life in New Zealand. He was the kindest and most giving young man I have ever known, and it hurts. I had an 8-hour operation on my back in 2011 for a double spinal fusion and it was James who was there when I came out of the anaesthetic.

In 2016, I studied Biology at Warwick University and graduated with a First-Class Honours in Biological Sciences. Studying at university in a wheelchair has worked surprisingly well. I am now working as an Environmental Advisor in London.

I found a lovely safe horse (Roo) and started competing Internationally again, with my Irish Citizenship for Ireland, and went onto win a 3*International for them in 2018.

In 2019, I enjoyed being part of the Irish Team at The European Championships in Rotterdam and I qualified for Tokyo 2020 Paralympics Games. In 2021, I won the CPEDI3* International in Munich with Cleverboy gaining his Mers for Tokyo Paralympics!

It costs £1,000 a month to keep one horse and two horses are necessary for competing at this level! So, it costs £24,000 just to keep the horses and considerable more to compete! I am so well supported by my sponsors listed below, in relation to equipment - please do check them out! The rest is self-funding! I now need to raise £30,000 to cover the expenses until Tokyo Paralympics 2021! Without some funding coming in I will, unfortunately, not be able to keep going!

I should have chosen a less expensive sport!

I am determined to make this dream a reality and so really do need your help financially or with fundraising. I would like to achieve this not only for myself, but for my parents and younger brother, my friends and friends of James who have been raising money, but most importantly for James, as he always believed I would make it to the Paralympics."

Michael put in an excellent performance, getting 75.179% in the team test. You can follow Michael on his Facebook page. I look forward to seeing him perform in the Paris Olympics. Hopefully we can all nip over to watch Michael in the arena. He is a shining example of what you can do if you believe in yourself. 

Monday 30 August 2021

Environment Monday - A quick look at sustainable supply chain delivery systems

 The UK is facing post Brexit shortages in supermarkets, as a result of the effect of #Brexit and Covid. One of the stated reasons is the shortage of HGV drivers. It got me to think whether there was an opportunity for the UK to have a look at the way we manage our supply chain. If there are not enough Lorry drivers, we have a choice. This is either to train up more drivers or alternatively to see if there is another way of organising how we get deliveries distributed around the UK. 

I recently watched a short video by Orion Logistics, demonstrating a new system of delivery using train and cargo bike pallets. I found this quite intriguing in light of the problems we are having. This solution means that 60-70 vans can be replaced  with a single train and a fleet of e-bikes.

This would massively reduce the number of van/lorry movements in the UK. It got me thinking about the new Google distribution depot that is being built on Pentavia Retail Park. It seems to me a real shame that this couldn't be sited somewhere with a direct rail link, as bulk deliveries by rail, with onward doorstep deliveries by ebike couriers would seem an absolute win win. Although the depot will be about 40 metres from the railway line, the M1 motorway runs between the two. The depot is not well sited for lorry deliveries. It is on the northbound carriageway of the A1, meaning that a huge number of lorries will have to go back on themselves either before or after collection/drop-offs. 

The only way we will get more sustainable delivery mechanisms such as the Orion system to be adopted will be to make it more financially amenable to the companies to have rail connections and to use E-bikes and other sustainable solutions. I would like to see an overhaul of the planning process, so that companies involved in distrubution have a strong incentive to develop sustainable solutions. Planning depots with rail connections and an investment in local cycling/e-bike infrastructure should be made a prerequisite when planning any depot, unless this was geographically unfeasable. Suitable sites with good rail connections should be protected from housing developments, so that rail distribution is able to grow. 

As to more local deliveries, I have long been an advocate of E-bikes and scooters. We are pleased to note that three years after we advocated it, Domino's pizza in Mill Hill have finally adopted the idea. When they applied for planning permission for the Mill Hill outlet, these were our comments

1. All deliveries under 1 mile must be made using bicycle deliveries, as most environmentally responsible delivery services are seeking to do, unless the size of order precludes this.

2. All deliveries which are of a size, distance or volume too large for a cycle courier, should be delivered by couriers using electric cargo bikes.

3. If there is a requirement for car or moped deliveries, these vehicles should be electric to minimise noise and pollution.

4. Delivery drivers in cars must not play music at any time when parked or waiting in Mill Hill Broadway. This will be a written into contracts as a breach of terms of emplyment and any driver caught breaking these rules will be dismissed.

5. All local residents affected by noise will be given a hotline number to senior Dominos Pizza representatives so that any breaches can be reported easily and dealt with immediately.

As ever we seem to be a bit ahead of the game. We ascertained that Barnet Council did not even try and get Domino's to go electric at the time.  I believe that sustainable, low carbon supply chains are achieveable, but they need political will. When motoring advocates moan about cycle lanes etc, they are ignoring the fact that it takes time for new infrastructure to be adopted. You need a proper joined up network and you need people to overcome their fear of traffic to adopt it. If we could move cargo to these lanes on cargo bikes, that will remove a lot of traffic from the roads, freeing up space for those motorists who can't or won't cycle. It's all really a question of how long we want to take to get there. When we deal with private companies in a Capitalist society, they change only when it is in the interests of their profitability to do so. Tax breaks for sustainable options and penalties for pollution and congestion has to be the way to go. 

I am a big fan of the idea of starting this at the planning stage. That way you don't suddenly impose huge costs on companies, they simply build it into their plans as they submit them. The only way London will work in 50 years time is if we have far more sustainable transport systems. We need to build this in to the planning process. The last five years has seen an explosion of on line delivery companies. This has added a huge number of car, van and courier journeys. This has happened in a chaotic manner and the government has no policies on how to make it work for a sustainable community. The sad thing is that with a bit of foresight, it could actually work quite well. I am sure that the fledgling Orion model needs a lot of work, but surely a bike courier working from a train station doing short run deliveries is cheaper and more sustainable than a van, if it can be made to work. It is far easier to recruit/train cycle couriers than HGV drivers, so it musts surely be a way out of our problems. We have to start thinking about these issues. Working as a cycle courier is an ideal part time job for students etc, which would also help them with their hard pressed finances. In all a win/win. 

Sunday 29 August 2021

The Tweets of the week in the London Borough of Barnet - 29/08/2021

 Here is this weeks selection

1. This Tweet resulted in a whole swathe of twitchers descending on the Totteridge Valley earlier in the week to see this celebrity! We chatted to a few on our daily doggie walk

2. I was run over at this very spot in 1988. Been suffering the consequences ever since

3. It's nice when people have a good gig and say so!

4. What a marvellous picture

5. This is a nice tweet

6. Classic Tweeting

7. Art and history

8. Can you help?

9. Great work by the Rev Roy. A proper community chaplain

10. Want to book a music exam?

That's all folks!

Saturday 28 August 2021

The Saturday List #319 - My top ten guitar accessories

 I thought I'd list my top ten guitar accessories that give me my unique sound. I play with a 1984 blond US Strat through a Peavely Valve amp. These are the bits and pieces that make it sound how I like it! I  have quite retro tastes in what I like to hear. The best sound I've ever got was when Hank Marvin let me have a go on his Fender Reverb twin that had been specially set up by Fender guitars for him. He wrote a little riff for me for a song we do called Not All She Seems. It has never sounded better than played on his Strat through his amp. His son Paul was our drummer for a while in 1979. It made me realised how you need good gear. I've had three different Fender Twin Reverbs but none sounded a patch on Hanks. Sadly when Paul left the band, the invites to the Marvin's for a jam stopped.

I think I've found my own sound now. I'm happy with it.

1. Ernie Ball Regular Slinky strings. I always used to play with Super Slinky's but have found that the regulars have a better tone for my style of play. 

2. A Yellow Dunlop Tortex plectrum.

3. An Ibanez TS9 Tube Screamer

4. A Mooer Optical Compressor pedal

5. An Ibanez Phaser pedal

6. An Ibanez Digital Delay pedal.

7. A Fender guitar stand (if your guitar falls over it don't sound too good).

8. A Snark clip on Chromatic tuner

9. Stagg patch leads to link the pedals up

10. A Rotosound clip on tuner.

This little clip is the sound it makes

Friday 27 August 2021

Please sign this petition to save the Robert Elms and Jo Good show on BBC Radio London daytime weekday slot

Yesterday I was shocked to hear the news that BBC Radio London's management are planning changes to their schedule and are dropping the Robert Elms show from Monday to Thursday and moving Jo Good to a graveyard night shift. Robert has been an amazing friend to the Save London Music Campaign that I am involved with. His show is a vital part of London's cultural landscape. He is often the first radio presenter to play artists and is a confirmed music lover. Moving his show will damage the cultural life of London. It appears to me that the management at BBC London simply do not understand how important Robert's show is. The list of gigs I've seen, CD's I've bought, tracks I've downloaded, artists I've discovered through the show is endless. I've also been to restaurants, exhibitions and other cultural events. It's not just that Robert discusses these, he has an insatiable apetite to share them with the rest of us. 

The Jo Good show is also a gem. Her Thursday 'Barking hour' is a one off. Dog owners from across the world tune in. She covers all manner of topics that no other presenter would even think of. A huge number of people, like me, who listen at work, will be absolutely gutted to lose her.

Please sign this petition - https://chng.it/NFMHpq5ZyL - we simply cannot, as a City, lose these radio icons. 

Thursday 26 August 2021

Update from Barnet Council on my blog "How Capita are running Hendon Cemetery into the ground"

Every so often, a blog gets an absolutely massive response. On the 29th July, I posted the below blog. I cannot recall a similar response, since we launched Friern Barnet People's Library back in April 2012, following the closure by Barnet Council. That brought 400 people out to support us and the end result was that the Library is still there. When I posted the Hendon Cemetery blog, I had people stopping me in M&S, the bar staff and members of the Services club querying it what is going on. I had emails, DM's etc. I wrote to the council. I've been told that if you actually want a sensible response, the best Conservative Councillor to contact is Peter Zinkin. As this is a matter of great importance to me (see below), I contacted Councillor Zinkin.

This is the response I received. I can only commend Councillor Zinkin and the council officers who he worked with on a very thorough response.

This response was comprehensive and displayed a degree of common sense I have not seen too often in replies from members of the administration of Barnet Council. I'm rather hoping that we are seeing a new approach to dealing with the public and local bloggers. An acknowledgement that sensible questions need sensible answers is a big step in the right direction.  

Note from Barnet officers

We have carefully considered the concerns you raise in your blog and we recognise there is justification for these concerns and would wish to apologise to any residents who have been affected on a visit to the Cemetery by the issues which you have raised. The Cemetery service recognises there are a number of actions which need to be taken to improve matters.  


Some actions have already been taken and some are planned over the next few months, please be assured that with staffing levels now back to full complement, colleagues are working to address issues and it is expected that the grass cutting and grounds maintenance regime will be complete by week commencing 16th August 2021.


In relation to the roadway, there are three main areas which have been prioritised for attention. Whilst the service has undertaken reactive repairs to sections of the route, we have been informed by the gas utility company, Cadent, that the large gas main to the crematorium requires replacing. We believe this may require 5 key excavations around the roadway. Consequently, this has required us to review the repairs programme to ensure that there is minimal disruption to Cemetery operations. The work is currently scheduled to take place during the autumn / winter and advance notice will be communicated to all relevant parties.  


In addition, there is a forthcoming project to replace the grounds maintenance sheds. These two projects are likely to impact the road surfaces, which once  both are completed will be assessed to deliver a more permanent repair for affected areas. 


The unsightly trench in area D11 (north east of the Chapel) was necessary due to flooding in this area, this has now been backfilled and made good over the weekend of 1st/2ndAugust 2021.


The grounds maintenance regime is closely managed to rectify outstanding landscaping problems. Unfortunately during the peak grass growing time a significant proportion of the grounds workforce was lost through illness and the legal requirement to isolate under the Covid legislation. 


Additional external resources were identified to support delivery; however due to the specialist nature of the work required and to avoid damage to headstones and memorials, only a limited number of contractors were available. Regretfully timescales were further compounded due to an incident resulting in stolen contractor equipment and the unpredictable weather conditions which has meant that grass has grown at a faster rate than normal.


Sadly, due to the impact of Covid-19 the service has supported an a significantly increased number of burials since March 2020, which has altered the existing appearance of the Cemetery. We appreciate the patience and understanding of all users whilst we work to resolve concerns and restore presentation.


If you would like to discuss any information further please do not hesitate to contact me. 

A meeting was arranged between myself, Councillor Zinkin and Andy Milne, the manager of the service. Andy works for RE which is the Capita/Barnet Council venture that runs cemeteries. We met last Wednesday. We had a half hour chat about the problems and I was given a guided tour. Councillor Zinkin informed me that he was responsible for building a cemetery, in his role as a senior member of a local charity. He agreed what had happened was unacceptable and the council needed to do better. It is clear to me that if the management of the cemetery was not on the coincil radar before, it was now. The harsh political reality is that Conservative administration may well get a bloody nose at next years council election if this is not sorted ASAP.  This affects residents in at least six wards, so it is in the interests of the Council to get it right. Of course we shouldn't need bloggers to write blogs to get things done, but that is the world we live in. 

So how is it looking?

Firstly, from a purely selfish perspective, the worst of the overgrown grass by my parents grave has been strimmed back.

Other graves have also had the overgrown grass cut back and are looking much better.

Although there are still rather unkempt looking areas. I've been assurred that these will get some TLC.

And my biggest concern was the Potholes. This one was huge and was a danger to elderly people who may not have great eyesight. Nearly all have been repaired. Andy explained that a couple hadn't been due to works being done as detailed above

I discussed ways to improve the cemetery. I suggested a friend of the cemetery group be formed. This would ensure that such a mess never happened again. Councillor Zinkin was not averse to this idea. He asked if I'd be prepared to chair this and I'd be more than happy. A subscription to a friends group could fund minor works, such as restoring some of the older graves by public places, who clearly have no one to mind them. No one likes seeing fallen over stones, next to the chapel etc. They could also possibly help with upkeep of graves of children, where parents are struggling to cope. 

Councillor Zinkin also suggested a plot maintenance charge, as an option, where relatives could at least pay to have the grave tended for a period, maybe 25 years. This is an option in the cemetery he is associated with and seems to work well. 

None of this is perfect. Many locals have noted that Westminster Council doesn't have the same problems, Andy Milne explained that they've had far fewer recent burials and smaller site is easier to manage.

So to summarise, the cemetery is not looking as bad as it did in late July. There are some major works that are holding up some maintenance, but it is no longer completely overgrown. The one bit of news that cheered me up was the suggestion that Capita will no longer be responsible for the administration of the Cemetery  and  the staff will TUPE back to an organisation under direct control of the Council. This is not a done deal, but I get the distinct feeling it is seen as the most pragmatic option. We should never have got to this point, but things are improving. I will be keeping a regular eye on the site. As a blogger and as the son of two amazing people buried in the cemetery, it is the least I can do. 

--------------------------------- Here is the original blog -------------------

Yesterday, I went to visit the graves of my parents and grandparenst at Hendon Cemetery. I am sorry t to say that what I saw broke my heart.  The cemetery is in an appalling state. Large swathes have been let run to rack and ruin. As you can see from this picture a large number of graves are completely overgrown.

Trees and vegetation who's roots knock over gravestones as they grow are popping up everywhere.

As for the state of the road which  you need is used to access graves, especially for elderly visitors seeing loved ones, this is absolutely rutted with deep pot holes that can damage a car suspension and tyres. It has become an obstacle course. 

Some of these are deep and botched repairs have lead to rocks being strewn across the whole carriageway. 

Even areas by the side of the road that should be easy to access are completely overgrown.

And large areas have simply been dug up with unsightly mounds of earth left. This is not a freshly dug grave, it is on one of the small roundabouts.

My Father was a war hero, a WWII Bomber pilot, who had been shot down, held POW and excaped.  He died in 1987. I've been visiting the cemetery for four decades to pay my respects. I can no longer bear to do this. Many of his friends, also war heroes are also buried in the cemetery. My maternal Grandfather who served in the trenches of the first world war is also buried here as is my mother, my grandmother, several uncles and aunts. In February, we buried my beloved cousin Theresa, who is six months younger than me and who died of covid. I had to leave as I was too upset at the sight of this awful neglect.

The cemetery used to be lovingly maintanied and visits brough calm and solace. Now I feel enraged to see how badly Barnet Council are treating our deceased loved ones, people who built the City we live in, fought for our freedom and raised us. There is a reason for this neglect. Barnet Council have contracted the running of the cemetery to Capita several years ago. These diabolical contractors see the cemetery only as a cash cow to make money. How do you make money running a cemetery? Raise charges and don't do any maintenance. The disgusting evidence is there for all to see. This is what happens when you put profits before caring for the community. 

If you care about this neglect, please write to your local councillor and tell them. You can find their details here - https://barnet.moderngov.co.uk/mgMemberIndex.aspx?bcr=1

Tuesday 24 August 2021

Have the pandemic and the lockdowns really gone away?

 So where are we as a nation following the lifting of the vast majority of covid restrictions? In the last month or so, I've been to Wembley Stadium, Tottenham Stadium and the Albert Hall. We've had several meals in London and I've met up with friends a few times in town for drinks. The one remaining area where there are a degree of restrictions and barriers is Foreign travel. A nephew of mine flew to Mexico for a long holiday, only to have to return more or less straight away, as it went onto the Red List. Many friends who love foreign holidays are simply not bothering.

The pandemic has had definite winners and losers. Anyone with a regular job, for a large, stable company, has continued earning money, had no travel costs, spent virtually nothing on lunches, drinks with friends, going out etc, for almost 18 months. Many are awash with cash. In Mill Hill, it seems every other house has scaffolding up and is having major renevations. The story is far less amenable for those who work for themselves, are in service or hospitality or music. The music industry in London has had it's heart ripped out. What we are now seeing is a major bounce back. The following are a few comments off a music industry chat group I belong to (these are not my comments)  "We're currently experiencing our busiest ever month." "The word on the street is that the industry has reached capacity in terms of resource and infrastructure. Studios are full. PA Hire companies have empty warehouses.", " The current consensus is that spring is going to be possibly the busiest ever time in live music in this country." This is all great news, because if the live music sector is bouyant, the London economy sector is bouyant. 

However, there is a huge elephant in the room. No one really knows if we are done with lockdowns and restrictions. Last summer we saw the virus retreat, only for it to roar back. The UK is seeing rates of infections edging up, but due to the vaccinations, we are not seeing hospitals overrun. The are two key issues. The first is, how long does the vaccine based immunity last and the second is what effect will the return of cold, dark nights, winter colds and flu and new variants have on all of this. None of us know. The NHS seemed to have a crisis every winter and with perhaps an additional 6-7,000 beds required for covid patients (assuming things stay where they are), is the NHS able to cope?

My guess is that if no vaccine resistant strains appear in the UK, we should be in an OK place to ride it through. The government is planning a booster jab for the most clinically vulnerable. We are not where we were a year ago, when Rishi Sunak launched the dangerous 'Eat out to Help Out' scheme. We actually have a proven, working vaccine. This does not provide 100% immunity and it does not stop every death. Nothing will. What it does, is mean that the danger posed by covid is massive;y reduced to the general population. With new treatments coming on line all of the time, we are getting to an ever better place.

But.... Would I bet my house on Boris not ruining Xmas again with another 'circuit breaker lockdown'? No I wouldn't. A new set of lockdowns would spell disaster for many areas of the economy that are just about starting to recover. Venues, promoters, crew and artists are just about getting to the point where they feel comfortable leaving the back up jobs they've taken. If real, well paid work has returned, then I'd be confident that any music business that has survived this far will be OK. If we are it by more restrictions, it would be a crushing blow to confidence. I am not quite sure that anyone will gamble quickly a third time on the industry recovering quickly. We must always balance the needs of society as a whole. It would be morally wrong to put anyone at undue risk. If we return to a point where the daily deaths are in the thousands and rising steeply, we would be faced with no alternative. I wouldn't envy Boris Johnson if those statistics started to appear, but we are clearly not there right now. 

The question we are all too afraid to ask is "Have the pandemic and the lockdowns really gone away?". None of us know. I've come to the conclusion that looking too long at social media will do nothing for good mental health and well being. There are people who genuinely believe we should still be in lockdown and those who believe we should never have been. Then there is every shade in the middle. It seems to me that British Government followed a long standing tradition when faced with a crisis. We completely balls it up at the start, but get our act together eventually and do just about OK. The likes of Dominic Cummings at Barnard Castle and Matt Hancock in his broom cupboard with the secretary are likely to be the abiding memories. The clapping for carers, the long nights for the scientists and researchers, the covid relief food parcels and all of the good things get sneered at, ignored or forgotten as the dust settles. It strikes me that this is how humans deal with bad things. We only really remember the trivial, unless we are totally traumatised. 

To summarise. My view is that you'd have to be very brave to bet against some sort of return to restrictions, but they are not inevitable. If we are reasonably sensible, wear masks on crowded public transport, meet outside if we can, wash our hands etc, we are less likely to see a a return, so why would you not do that? If we were all just a bit more careful than we had been before the pandemic, that would not really be much of a burden and it may be the difference between a good Xmas and a very miserable one. I lost two beloved family members, several friends and a few long standing customers. Whilst I am naturally a risk taker, I would not put others at risk, which is why I'll wear a mask for the foreseeable in crowded public places. 

Monday 23 August 2021

The illusion of freedom in the UK

If there is one thing we've learned in the UK over the period of the pandemic, it is that freedom is illusory.  I am not a conspiracy theorist, but we really need to take a long, hard look at what has happened. Boris Johnson was elected as Prime Minister on 12th December 2019. If anyone had told me that within 120 days of taking office, I'd be forbidden from leaving my house for all but 'essential purposes' and '1 hours exercise', I'd have said you were bonkers. I am not criticising the decison of the government to pass the lockdown legislation. The vast majority of citizens of the UK recognised the need for the legislation. But we now have to look what happened and ensure that we update our laws so that a less benign administration couldn't pass such draconian legislation without proper checks and balances.

What really concerns me is that it brought home to me just how delicate the freedoms we had come to take for granted really are. Of course governments should be able to take drastic action if faced with an existential crisis. But once governments get a taste for sweeping powers, we need to ensure that these are fully relinquished once the crisis has passed. My view is that any such draconian powers should be time limited and after a period of 90 days, parliamentary approval should be sought for any extension, for another 90 days. These should require a 2/3rds majority of Parliament to renew. Any action that puts limits on our freedoms should be covered by this legislation. 

I am not saying this as a criticism of this government. Although I am not a fan, I do not think the limits on freedom brought in to cope with Covid were anything other than sensible. I simply believe that the pandemic has shown us just how fragile our civil liberty is and how quickly it can dissolve. In many ways the freedoms we all enjoy are an illusion, which can be snatched from us at any time. We need to write some proper protections of our freedoms into law. A system where the consent of the opposition to renew draconian powers would be a good first step. I have no sympathy with anti maskers and anti vaxxers, who misguidedly claim that such things are an assualt on personal freedom. What I do believe is that the UK needs to beef up our constitution so that a government can't cook up a crisis to use a slim majority to lock us all up again, for more nefarious reasons. You may say "What sort of reasons?". My answer is "I don't know, but if you'd asked me two years ago, I'd never have predicted the covid crisis".

Sunday 22 August 2021

Happy Birthday to me!

 It's my birthday today. The last one with a five in front of it unless I happen to live for another 451 years, which seems pretty unlikely right now. I made myself a little playlist of some of my favourite music, which I thought I'd share for your delectation.

I've also been having a look at a few old videos of  the False Dots. This is one of my favourites from when The False Dots played at The Purple Turtle in Camden Town.

A very live, full of energy rendition of a night when the band were really on great form. Music has been a massive part of my life. I had the honour to be associated with the Edgware Community Festival yesterday, there was some awesome live music. In truth, the weather could have been kinder, but after the skies cleared yesterday, there was a nice crowd for the end of the festival. It was great to hear some great live music from local artists.

Small community festivals are not and should not try and be Glastonbury. They are an opportunity for locals to enjoy the day with their friends and their community. It is good that Barnet Council are trying to do something. There are plenty of great local festivals and community events, which hopefully will benefit from this new approach. We hope to stage the Mill Hill Music Festival next year, I'm already looking forward to it.

As you get older, birthdays are times of reflection, of times gone by and people who are no longer around. The first birthday I can recall was my 4th. I wasn't at school. Various cousins and kids from up the road turned up. I can remember that the highlight was when mum dished out the trifle. I sort of recall a game of pass the parcel and that at the end my mum said "Never again". She was true to her word. The next birthday party I had, I organised myself when I was 18. It was a slightly more raucous event at the studios.

Another birthday that comes to mind is 2008. I was in San Francisco. Three weeks before, I'd been in Lourdes with my mum, who was 85 and in poor health. It was nice to spend time together and during the week, she visibly perked up. We returned and I headed out to the USA with my wife and children. A week later, we got a phonecall to say she'd had a massive stroke. I was debating whether to fly back in the morning, it was the middle of the night, when the call came saying that she'd died. My family urged me to stay, they made the arrangements for the funeral later in August. We had a rather muted celebration. I wasn't in the mood, I realised that I'd never share another birthday with my Mum. Despite the fact that she was frail, unhappy and ready to move on to whatever follows, my thoughts often turn to her on this day, with sadness. I do miss her, I'd nip up most nights and have a Guinness with her after work. 

The last year and a half has been strange, I've never felt less like celebrating and less sociable on my Birthday. I've always loved a big birthday party or a trip abroad. This year, I'd have a can of IPA in the shed with the dog if I had my way, but it seems that is not acceptable behaviour, according to the powers that be in our house. I hope I get my party mojo back for next year, the 'big one'. I'm tempted to hire an open top bus and get it to drive around London with all my friends and family, whilst playing False Dots numbers on the top at key locations. Either that or do a Sex Pistols and hire a river boat to play on. This year though. 

Thursday 19 August 2021

Afghanistan - A few thoughts

 I've always taken a bit of an interest in Afghanistan. Back in 1979, I was planning a visit. One of my friends, Emil Brydon ran Budget Bus, an overland travel company which ran a coach service from Totteridge Station to New Delhi. Another friend was one of the drivers, Ernie Ferebee. They both fascinated me with tales of  their exploits on the overland trail, travelling passing through Afghanistan on the way. Both told me of villages in the middle of the nation, where all of the citizens were blond haired and blue eyed, a legacy of the conquest of Afghanistan by Alexander the Great. Emil's great uncle, William Brydon was the sole survivor of the British force of 12,000 massacred by the Afghans in 1842. As Emil had a familial interest, he studied the region and would take passengers on detours to check details. Ernie also developed an interest in the culture and history of the region. Ernie was in Kabul when the Soviets invaded. He told us stories of being told by the hotel staff to get his passengers out and head for the border as quickly as possible, being advised to pay whatever bribes were necessary to escape.

Emil and Ernie predicted that the Soviet Union would be vanquished. They said that history was not on the side of foreign powers intervening in the country. Soon the western papers were full of news of the brave Mujahadin. Emil and Ernie were both staunch supporters of the Afghan resistance to the Soviet occupation. They would rub shoulders with the likes of Sandy Gall, the ITN newsman, at events for the resistance. The US backed the Mujahadin, with such figures as Osama Bin Laden being on the CIA payroll. After a long struggle, that decimated the country, the Soviets were forced out. The scenario unfolded exactly as Emil and Ernie predicted on their return from the region in 1980. Sadly for my plans, the Soviet invasion marked the end of the overland Hippy Trail and my plans to join the boys on a journey.

Both Emil and Ernie ended up working for me. Emil as a tour manager for a band I was managing and Ernie as my studio manager and partner in our retail business. I'd spend many hours discussing the world situation with both. Sadly Ernie passed away in 2001, before the current situation unfolded. Emil however took a keen interest. He soon flagged up the mistakes we were making.

I just had a quick catch up. His view? This moment was inevitable from the moment the first US and UK soldiers arrived on the ground. His question? Trillions have been spent by the USA on the country, what have they to show for that? His knowledge of Afghan traditions, clan ties etc, was that long before the US left, the deals were in place for when they left. As soon as the wages of govt soldiers stopped being paid by the US, they had no reason to support the government. The relatively orderly change in Kabul does not so far look like the victorious end of a bitter civil war. 

As to the other cities, each of these has it's own local power structure. None of these areas are particularly wealthy or desirable.  For many areas, the only real asset is the opium trade. Local warlords trade allegiance for the right to hold the local franchise to produce narcotics. Will the Taliban stop this when they have no tangible source of wealth in the nation? It seems unlikely to me. 

The biggest losers in all of this will be the educated, city dwelling middle classes, especially the females. But afghanistan is not just Kabul. There is a side that most of us never see, this is the side that Ernie and Emil were fascinated by. So what is this Afghanistan? Whilst not all Afghans are Taliban, apart from Kabul, most areas have a fairly fundamentalist population.  Generally, whilst they are welcoming of guests and visitors, this soon disappears when they start getting told how to live their life or interpret the Koran. The West often forgets that as in most major religions, there are different flavours of Islam and different varieties of fundamentalism. Having got rid of the western influence, many will want to juts get on with their lives. The trillions have had little impact on the lives of the ordinary people in outlying areas. Without a war to fight, many men will have to find something else to do. Only one thing is for certain, there will be far less cash flowing into the country and far fewer corrupt officials etc siphoning it off. If nothing else, we've comprehensively proven the Afghans right about what happens when foreign powers stick their nose into Afghan affairs. The argument has been made in some quarters that at least we've prevented Afghanistan being used as a terrorist hub for 20 years. The truth is that threat has long since evolved. When Bin Laden launched the 911 attacks, the internet as we know it did not exist. There was no Dark Web, Whatsapp, Facebook, etc.  Terrorists now understand that information is power in a way few understood when they were living in caves in Afghanistan. The Taliban in 2001 were a shadowy organisation. Now they hold live press conferences. The beast has evolved.

But what about us and the Americans? 456 British soldiers have died. If one of them was my child, I'd feel sick to the pit of my stomach. It will be very interesting in 25 years time, when the papers are released, to see the truth about what our government knew about the situation and what drove the decisions. I somehow suspect that in five years when the papers detailing the decisions to go in are due to be released, they will be withheld. Did we ever really have a plan? Did we learn any lessons from the Soviets? Was there ever a possibility that we'd succeed? I don't know the answer to any of these questions, but if the answer is no, then we really need to take a long look at our foreign policy. One thing I do know is that the reason we lost hundreds of British soldiers is because they were not properly kitted out with the right equipment. It is bad enough embarking on doomed military adventures, but sending soldiers in without decent kit is criminal. But for some reason, no one is talking about that.

Wednesday 18 August 2021

The #SaveLondonMusic Campaign calls for urgent action from the Mayor of London to protect our night time economy

There are few sectors that have suffered more than live music in London. It is not just venues closing their doors with no notice that is an issue. The staff that earned their livelihoods working in the music sector, especially freelancers, have had no income for the best part of eighteen months.

Many have had to take other jobs just to pay bills. Without skilled staff, it is impossible for venues to function. There were many venues that were just about surviving in London prior to Covid. It seemed to many of us that live music had turned the corner, venues were busier than they had been for many years, but for many businesses there were huge challenges. These have only become more difficult.

The policies of Mayor of London has not been helpful to the live music industry. Whilst we understand the need for policies to address poor air quality, few musicians working grassroots venues are well off. They need to shift large amounts of equipment. Public transport is not a realsitic option for many. Many have old vans or estate cars, often with diesel engines, that are non compliant with the legislation. The ULEZ means these attract huge charges. As musicians often have to arrive early for soundchecks and can’t get out until the show is over and the club is cleared, they can find that they need to pay two days ULEZ simply to do a gig. The Mayor needs to, as a matter of urgency, update his culture strategy so it can properly respond to the challenges facing the night-time economy, the live music scene and the creative sector in general in the aftermath of the pandemic.

For musicians who have had zero income from music for the last eighteen months, this means that playing is not viable. They have no cash in the bank to buy newer compliant vehicles. No one comes to London for its beaches or its sunshine. People come to see our music and theatre shows. A policy that makes this unviable is not a policy that will work for London.

There are a myriad of other problems for performers at grassroots venues. Parking is another huge issue. When you need to unload amps, drumkits, etc you need to park close to the venue. I’ve done this a thousand times and know just how difficult it can be in central London. It has never been a concern of the powers that be. They have just taken it for granted that musicians will take it on the chin. Covid has changed all of this. As musicians have been forced to find other jobs, many working in completely different sectors, they will think long and hard about returning to a business where they simply cannot make a living.

If the Mayor of London is serious about seeing London get back on its feet, he needs to take the issue of getting musicians back into London and getting clubs and pubs back to pulling in the punters with live music.

If we are going to address these issues as a City, we need the Mayor of London to lead the charge. There are so many issues to address and such a diverse collection of live music venues and people working in them, that no one size fits all policy will address all of the issues. Venues in outer London boroughs face a completely different set of issues to the ones in the West End and City. For many there is an opportunity as people may be reluctant to take public transport into town. As a Londoner living in a suburb (Barnet), this is a mixed blessing. I’d love to see more music on my doorstep, but if we lose our music scene in the West End, that will be the end of London as a major music hub. No one should want that.

What the Mayor needs to do is commission an audit of London venues. This should be done with the express purpose of identifying which venues have survived, which can be reopened, what are the challenges facing the venues and how these can be addressed and miigated. We need an emergency fund to support venues and a fund to assist musicians get ULEZ compliant vehicles. A buy back scheme for non compliant diesel vehicles owned by musicians, with assistance for leasing or finance for new vehices would be a good step towards addressing the issues raised by ULEZ.

This is not simply asking for a handout. Every band playing in Central London at grassroots venues generates anywhere between 75 and 1,000 tube and bus fares for the Mayor. Often TFL will make more money from a show than the musician performing. Many of these punters will have meals in West End Restaurants, meet for drinks in pubs and bars before and after shows and spend money in shops on the way.

We need this benefit to be quantified. The Mayor has a major challenge with TFL finances. It is very much in his interest to understand how live music can help him fix the hole in his budget. Of course he could just sit back and let the live music sector try and muddle through. This would be nothing short of criminal negligence of a part of the economy that has generated billions for UK PLC.

Although the Mayor of London is the primary player in this, as the night time economy falls under his powers, national government, the Prime Minister Boris Johnson and the culture secretary Oliver Dowden need to put aside their differences with the Mayor and work to put London back on its feet. The same is true of our regional cities who have their own issues.

Any audit should be based on identifying practical solutions to the problems faced by the live music sector. These can only be properly identified by talking to venue owners, promoters, musicians, crew and ancillary staff. It should also encompass music studios, support companies (equipment hire etc). These are all part of the pot that makes the London music scene tick.

We formally invite the London Mayor, Amy Lame (the London nightlife Tsar), The London Assembly, our London Boroughs and our London MPs to support this process as a matter of urgency. The Save London Music Campaign will be writing to all of these to get this process in motion. We call on all the industry organisations to back this. We also encourage our friends in the other regions of the UK to do the same with their local Mayors and authorities. We simply cannot afford to wait. This needs to be kick started today.


This blog was originally posted on the Save London Music website