Friday 30 September 2022

Online Trolls, Donkeys and Tigers

The online world is full of fools. In Mill Hill we have one who spends his life posting inanities and insanities, contradicting himself more frequently than most of us change our socks. One minute he supports Labour, the next he's a Tory. One minute he's a full on Fascist, attacking the local Jewish community, the next he's a full on Communist, suggesting that only a Jeremy Corbyn government would have prevented the crash or claiming that Vladimir Putin is the only Democratic leader on the planet. His only consistent view is that David Icke is the Messiah. The only thing that is consistent is the sheer unpleasantness and passive/aggressive tone of his tweeting. 

I long ago blocked him and gave up reading his inane comments, however every so often a follower of mine discovers him and when they see that the account pretends to be a community account for Mill Hill, get very upset and asks me what I can be done. 

Here is a parable that should inform you, if you find one such account. 

The donkey said to the tiger:

- "The grass is blue".

The tiger replied:

- "No, the grass is green."

The discussion heated up, and the two decided to submit him to arbitration, and for this they went before the lion, the King of the Jungle.

Already before reaching the forest clearing, where the lion was sitting on his throne, the donkey began to shout:

- "His Highness, is it true that the grass is blue?".

The lion replied:

- "True, the grass is blue."

The donkey hurried and continued:

- "The tiger disagrees with me and contradicts and annoys me, please punish him."

The king then declared:

- "The tiger will be punished with 5 years of silence."

The donkey jumped cheerfully and went on his way, content and repeating:

- "The Grass Is Blue"...

The tiger accepted his punishment, but before he asked the lion:

- "Your Majesty, why have you punished me?, after all, the grass is green."

The lion replied:

- "In fact, the grass is green."

The tiger asked:

- "So why are you punishing me?".

The lion replied:

- "That has nothing to do with the question of whether the grass is blue or green. 

The punishment is because you are a brave and intelligent creature,yet youwaste time arguing with a fool, and  worse come and bother me with that question."

The worst waste of time is arguing with the fool and fanatic who does not care about truth or reality, but only the victory of his beliefs and illusions. Never waste time on arguments that don't make sense... 

There are people who, no matter how much evidence and evidence we present to them, are not in the capacity to understand, and others are blinded by ego, hatred and resentment, and all they want is to be right even if they are not.

When ignorance screams, intelligence is silent. Your peace and quiet are worth more. ❤️

The Friday Joke - There can only be one - The Budget that wasn't a Budget!

 I don't do this normally, but can we really avoid it. On Monday, we had a budget that wasn't a budget, to lift us out of a recession, that it turns out wasn't actually a recession, that has given a huge tax cut to people on a million £ a year, as apparently they need help with their energy bills. It turns out that the Chancellor Kwasi Karteng didn't get a report on the likely effects of the budget from the office of budget responsibiliy, which to my mind, sounds a little bit irresponsible. He is now having a meeting with them today, presumably to discuss ways to shut the gate, now the horse has bolted. If like me, you listen to BBC local radio, you will be aware that the Prime Minister Liz Truss emerged from her hiding place to do a series of interviews with BBC local radio stations yesterday. Presumably, she assumed that hacks on local stations would be less well informed and aggressive than the likes of Peston. A big mistake. Local radio is largely made up of up and coming presenters, who want to make a name for themselves and get a shot at something bigger and better. They know that Truss wouldn't be coming back, so they had a free hit to try and get a few extra points on their CV. They took the opportunity with both hands and she got a series of right pastings and questions that even Peston would have been cautious of asking. 

The whole thing reminds me of a mate of mine who ended up in hospital after crashing a motorbike he'd spent two years building on his first ride out. When I went to see him, he was in plaster almost from head to toe, having broken almost every bone in his body. I asked him what went wrong. He replied that he'd got the bike's engine running and in his excitement to give it a spin, he'd forgotten to properly connect up the brakes. Kwarteng has done the same thing. The Office for Budget Responsibility is in effect the brakes for bad policies. When you are zooming down the road, you don't think about the brakes, but when a tree looms in front of you, as you need to go around the corner, you suddenly realise that checking that the brakes are properly working is a highly sensible measure before you open up to full throttle. 

For a moment, I thought to myself "How could we be so stupid as to elect a Prime Minister with a manifesto for such stupid policies". Then I remembered that we didn't. A small committee sacked the bloke we elected, who had completely different policies. 

Viva Democracy !

Tuesday 27 September 2022

The False Dots are back in Camden Town tomorrow after a twelve year absence with the Burnt Oak Boogie

 We are back! We never really went away, but 12 years after The False Dots last played in Camden Town at The Purple Turtle, we are back playing the Dublin Castle tomorrow. Why? You may ask. We've only really looked to do local (ish) to Mill Hill gigs over the last few years. Venturing to Finchley and Crouch End a few times.

So what's changed? Well the simple answer is that we've written a new albums worth of material and we want to share it with the whole wide world. It's not oput on vinyl yet, but it will be! In the meantime, you can check it out on Soundcloud. The album is provisionally entitled "A finger in the sun". It contains our smash hit single, that has already clocked up over 1,500 you tube views with almost no publicity at all. The song is called The Burnt Oak Boogie and it has gonve viral in the environs of Burnt Oak being shared over 50 times on various platforms. 

If you want to find out what all the fuss is about, comne on down to the Dublin Castle tomorrow night. We are on with two other amazing bands at an iconic London venue.

First up are The Shoals, featuring Lee Thompson of Madness's son Daley, who is well known to locals for his other band, the Silencerz. Next up we have a rather cool soul singer called Amaya

The pub also serves a mean pint of Guinness. What more could you ask for. CLICK HERE FOR TICKETS.

Monday 26 September 2022

Time for real Conservatives to stand up and be counted

 What is a Conservative in the United Kingdom? I used to think I knew, but I am really not too sure anymore. I was raised in a house where my mother was a socialist of Irish heritage and my father was a Conservative of Australian heritage. I rarely discussed politics with my father. It usually ended in bad tempered arguments. However I had a clear idea of what he believed a Conservative to be. My father was a bomber pilot for the RAF. He was a highly principled man who despised fascism, having seen it at first hand as a prisoner of war in 1944. His view of Conservatism was one that was one of competent management, pragmatism, outward looking, seeking to build trading links and ensuring businesses and business owners could go about their business with minimal state interference. He believed in a welfare state, but believed that where possible the role of this should be to lift people out of poverty, so they could stand on their own two feet. 

He was a member of organisations such as the Rotary club, believing that business owners had a responsibility to be involved in the local community and also that it was incumbent on the better off to stick their hands in their pockets to support the less well off.

As someone who had fought in the armed forces, he believed that Labour could not be trusted with the security of the nation. He was not sympathetic to organisations such as CND that he believed were naive fools. He was a strong believer that technology would lift us all out of poverty and that innovations such as nuclear power were forces for the good. He loved cars, planes and travel. As it wasn't really on the radar before he passed away in 1987, I've no idea what his view would have been of climate change, but he trusted scientists, doctors and weathermen. He was a fab of Margaret Thatcher as he believed the Trades Unions were out of control in the 1970's and ruining the country. As an employer he believed in a fair deal for workers, but also felt that they did not understand the stresses and difficulties of running a business. When I was growing up, we had the three day week. It nearly bankrupted the family. We had all sorts of shortages and power cuts and he put the blame fairly and squarely on the Trades Unions. 

Whilst I did not agree with his views (my mother was quite vocal in her views of his opinions), I respected him and I understood where he was coming from. I have always assumed that the vast majority of sensible Conservative supporters took the same view as him. I never believed they were evil, malicious or greedy. They just wanted sensible, pragmatic government.

We spent the summer being bored to death by a seemingly never ending leadership battle between Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak. The membership of the Tory party chose Truss to lead us. She struck me as a pretty uninspiring choice, but she won and she's now Prime Minister. I genuinely didn't know what to expect. She hadn't really outlined any particular policies, other than a general view that she was more right wing than Rishi Sunak.

When Truss took the keys to no 10, she had a full in tray. What were her priorities? My assumption had been that her no 1 priority would be to address the nations energy security crisis. The second priority would be to ensure that those hit by the cost of living crisis would have enough money to eat and stay warm this winter. The third priority would be to address the appalling state of the UK's state finances. despite over a decade of austerity, our finances are in a mess. The fourth priority would be to address inflation, which is driving up mortgage bills and putting even more stress on the budgets of home owning families with mortgages.

When I heard that the new chancellor was enacting a mini budget, I assumed that this was a sensible measure to address the paralysis caused by the slow implosion of Boris Johnson's government over the last year.

With all of those issues in the in tray, what did we get? A massive tax cut for millionaires. Abolition of VAT for Tourists. The reversal of the National Insurance raise that a Conservative chancellor proposed at the last budget. What has she done to resolve the energy security crisis? Her cunning plan is to allow fracking. This is madness. No sane company would invest money in this at the moment. The Truss government is trailing Labour by ten percentage points in the polls and are likely to revoke any licences as soon as they take office. Most fracking sites are in areas controlled by Conservative Councils, who are not at all keen on the concept. The UK desperately needs an energy security strategy that gives a clear plane for the UK's energy requirements for the next ten years. My view is that the UK should be not only seeking to be self sufficient. We should be looking to have a surpluss of energy generation facilities, from a mixture of sources, with a big emphasis on renewable and sustainable energy sources. In the short term, we will still require CO2 producing energy and as a nation we can't have lights going out in winter. What we should be doing is having a plan for where we want to be in 20 years and start building the infrastructure we need now.

The second priority, helping those in food and energy poverty. No decent and compassionate human being should be prepared to stand by and let people freeze and starve. I don't think anyone Tory, Labour or monster raving looney would argue with a policy that guaranteed that everyone can keep their heating on and have a sensible basic diet. I am not keen on means tested benefits, but if Truss had said "We have an emergency, so anyone who's income falls below a level that pays their rent/mortgage, heating and food bills will get emergency financial assistance to make up the difference", I doubt anyone in her party would argue. Instead, we get a £50,000 tax cut for people earning a million quid a year. I know a few people in such a  bracket. I saw one at the weekend and asked whether getting an extra £50K a year would make him work harder. He just looked embarrassed and said "I've been looking to work less hard and this might help". Most of the people I know who have this sort of income worked extremely hard 20 years ago and are now reaping the benefits. I believe that the reason Truss did this was so that the extremely rich would donate to Tory coffers ahead of the election. As Labour are planning to reverse the cut, anyone on a million quid a year will lose £50K, so there is a damn good reason for them to help the Tories out. It's nbot exactly putting the nation first, but sadly human nature never likes the concept of the government taking lots of your cash.

The third priority, addressing the nations appalling finances. The Truss government has stated that this will be achieved through growth. She believes that huge tax cuts for the rich and abolishing bankers bonus caps will do the trick. I had an interesting conversation with a friend in banking. He reminded me that the bonuses were introduced as it was seen as a bit immoral that the bankers had caused the credit crunch, crashed the world economy, had a massive bale out to save their skins and so whilst the rest of us laboured under austerity, it was simply not right that the people who caused the mess were absolutely raking it in. What concerns me most is that the Truss government have produced no evidence to support their strategy. When we talk about growing the GDP there are only two ways this can be done. The first is to improve productivity of businesses. The second is to have mass immigration, so there are more people here working and spending money. It is interesting to read that the Tories are planning to reopen the doors for immigrants to fix the labour crisis. The truth is that by having mass immigration the GDP will rise and Truss will claim that her policy of giving bankers massive bonuses and tax cuts for the rich has worked. The reason she needs to open the taps to mass immigration is because Brexit has caused a labour crisis. I do wonder what will happen when the Tory masses twig what she's up to. Sadly, improving business efficiency, with tax breaks for firms investing is not something that they have considered. If I was truss, I'd give all small businesses a £20K allowance to offset investment in technology 100% against business taxes, in the form of tax credits. This would encourage firms to modernise. For medium sized firms, I'd raise this to £500,000 and for big firms £5 million. That would be a far better use of the cash than tax cuts for the mega rich.

As to the fourth priority. Rising interst rates. The pound is crashing this morning. The markets are spooked and think we are being governed by loonies. The Bank of England are most likely going to have to put interest rates up, meaning people with mortgages, young families etc are going to get clobbered. In short, it is a total mess.

As far as I can see, this mini budget is not just bad politics, it is doing massive damage to the UK. I honestly can't believe that any decent Tory can be happy with it. None of the policies that the Truss govt announced were sold to the membership during the contest. I wonder how many are having buyers regret? One person I spoke to over the weekend said "The majority of Tory members are old, have paid off their mortgages and are well off, so they don't give a stuff". I can't believe anyone will be thrilled to see their children and grandchildren struggling, the countries finances falling apart and the value of their savings eroded by inflation. I spoke last week to one Tory supporting friend. He has just sold up and moved from Mill Hill to Essex. He has a bigger property and has put £80k in cash in the bank. With inflation at 10%, his lump sum will lose £8,000 in value over the next year. If there is an election in two years, he'll have lost £16,000. Will such Tory voters really be putting their tick in the box of an adminstration that clearly doesn't give a stuff about them. 

The majority of Tory MP's didn't support Truss in the leadership contest. They have the option of stopping this madness. It would be hugely embarrassing for them to call a new leader to heel after a couple of weeks, but if you know someone is destroying the economy, surely any Tory who is a patriot would not simply sit on their hands out of loyalty to an unelected leader, enacting bonkers policies that were not in the manifesto. If Truss wants to follow this course, she should put it to the country. The only people who can save us from this madness are real Conservatives in the House of Commons. It is time for them to stand up. The Tories have a majority because the nation rejected a Jeremy Corbyn government, who they thought would wreck the economy. How on earth can they sit back and let Truss do the same? 

Sunday 25 September 2022

The Tweets of the Week in the London Borough of Barnet - 25 September 2022

We've not done this feature for a couple of weeks. TBH there was very little of interest being tweeted during the period of mourning for HM The Queen. Since Tuesday, normal tweeting services have been resumed. Just a reminder/explanation. Every week the Barnet Eye does a round up of the best tweets from in and around the Borough of Barnet. I always start with a brief resume of my week. I don't pick political or partisan tweets. This is a biot of weekend fun. I should add that I've found some amazing accounts putting this together, such as @Time_NW and @Soxgnasher this week is no exception. I rather like the look of the @Brutalust account (if you are a fan of the brutalist architecture style). 

OK, lets start with a reminder. The False Dots (my band) will be playing at the Dublin Castle in Camden Town on Wednesday night. If you want to say hi, and possibly feature in an instalment of my London Symphonies, come on down. The DC is one of Londons best grassroots music venues. If you've never been down, why not see what all of the fuss is about. Tickets here.

How's your week been? Mine has been good. I've not been able to play five a side football since July. I hurt my ankle, so running around at Powerleague didn't seem like a good idea. This week, it was just about OK enough to show up, do a stint in goal and a twenty minute run around. It felt good. On Friday night, we went for a curry with a friend from Yorkshire at the Mill Hill Tandoori, which was delicious, then we went down to the 229 club to see the rather amazing Brit Funk Association. The guitarist Paul McClean of Heatwave is an old mate.

So that's how my week's been, how has your week been? This is what the Tweeters of the Borough have been up to?

1. As we've focussed on Burnt Oak this week, I thought I'd start with this. Pete Scully's work is pretty good, well worth checking out

2. Cricklewood had a celebrity visitor this week. The oldest certified mainline diesel locomotive still running in general service and looking well buffed up. Still putting in stirling work after 65 years service.

3. Well done lads!

4. Nice bit of local history from Golders Green

5. Nice to see local kids learning of the sacrifices of our forefathers and paying their respects

6. A date for your diary

7. A sign of the times

8. Fancy a bit of exercise? Check this out

9. I don't understand why more pubs don't put on decent live music?

10. Two legends in Mill Hill!

That's all folks!

Saturday 24 September 2022

The False Dots will be previewing The Burnt Oak Boogie on Wednesday night at The Dublin Castle, Camden Town.

 The response to yesterdays London Symphony, The Burnt Oak Boogie has been extraordinary. As I usually do on a Friday, we went for a curry in the Mill Hill Tandoori. As I walked in, one of the diners jumped up and congratulated me on the video and said it had caused a real stir, being shared far and wide. 

My whatsapp and facebook messenger was also ablaze with well wishers, people telling me that the video had really hit the spot. I was also complemented on the song. I wrote the music to try and catch the vibe of the area, with a ska feel and a North London style rap over the top. It seems to have worked. My band, The False Dots,  have a gig on Wednesday at The Dublin Castle, where we will be performing the song, which is also our new single.  Check this out and find out what all the fuss is about.

It would be great to see as many of the readers of the Barnet Eye as possible. Tickets are only £5.50 which is a real bargain. The Dublin Castle is one of London's iconic grassroots venues. The beer is reasonably priced and you get a chance to soak up the atmosphere of a pub that helped launch such bands as Madness, The Killers, The Libertines and Blur. Also playing is Amaya - Progressive soul searching pop with a fine vocal presence care of the titular Amaya herself, whilst Amaya the band make a dark, expressive sound of Floydian portent. Fans of Kate Bush take note.  

Why not come down and support one of Londons best venues and have a great night at the same time!

Tickets are available here -

You can follow the band on Facebook BY CLICKING HERE

Friday 23 September 2022

London Symphonies - The Burnt Oak Boogie

Time for another installment of London Symphonies.  Today the symphony is Burnt Oak and the Watling Estate. 

Where do all of the people live? I used to work down near The Tower of London and St Katherine's dock. I was having lunch at Dickens Inn once and I got chatting to an American Tourist. He told be of how he'd spent two days touring Buckingham Palace, the grand museums, Madame Tussards and the Tower of London. He was mightily impressed. He was a cab driver from New York. He then said "We've seen all of these grand palaces, but where do the ordinary people, who drive buses, sweep the floors and clear the drains live?" I explained to him that London is full of council estates, where the working people live. Our workers are, by and large, shuttled around by our wonderful buses and trains, provided by London Transport. He was mightily impressed when I told him that there were several less than a mile from where we were sitting. They were cheap, affordable and by and large well maintained. The only snag was that it is almost impossible to get one anymore. 

One of the largest of these estates was the Watling Estater in Burnt Oak. Join me now for a look at Burnt Oak and the Watling, past and present and then we'll dig into the story.

Built between the first and second world war as part of a scheme to provide "Homes fit for heroes". The initial tenants were selected by The London County Council.  Snobby residents of leafy surrounding areas such as Edgware and Mill Hill referred to it as 'Little Moscow' and looked down with disdain on the residents. Unlike many of the estates built in the 1960's and 1970's, the estate was built for people and with families in mind. Houses had gardens, there were communal green spaces in front of flats and a whole host of parks, ensuring children never had to walk too far. On any bus ride through the Watling in the 60's and 70's, you would see children kicking balls and riding bikes and scooters around these areas.

There were schools, churches, clubs for adults and children, shops and great transport links, with a tube station, a trolley bus and other buses (My son played for the Watling club, formerly the Watling Boys club (Sadly council duplicity saw the club lose it's clubhouse, despite some hollow promises). 

As the estate was planned in more puritanical times, no pubs were provided in the estate. Fortunately for thirsty drinkers, one of Englands oldest roads, the Edgware Road, originally built by the Romans, was at the top of Watling Avenue. As stage coaches, travellers and the workers that supported them needed rest and recuperation, Burnt Oak Broadway had a liberal selection of rather fine looking pubs, such as The Bald Faced Stag, The Broadway and the Prince of Wales.  None of these are pubs anymore. The only original building still standing is what was The Prince of Wales. The Bald Faced Stag was demolished, with only the facade remaining. The sole pub on Burnt Oak Broadway is a small, shop pub called Blarneys, which as you may have guessed is an Irish drinking den, suitably done out with a tasteful green frontage.


Until the turn of the century, the beating heart of Burnt Oak was the Watling Market. The market was itself a thriving community. It had butchers, fruiterers, green grocers, flowers, plants, gifts, records, trinkets and tools, all of which catered for those of us on a budget, the market was not one catering for the local Waitrose shoppers of the parish, but far more fun than a sterile shopping centre. Once you got to know the stallholders, they'd look after you and palm the rubbish off on those that they didn't like or didn't recognise. Back in 1983, when I was trying to get a proper job, I bought my first suit from the market and it didn't look too bad at all!

After the turn of the century, the market rapidly declined. It became derelict and is now a car sales lot. I find it sad that the council couldn't see a way to have transformed the market into a thriving hub for new entrepreneurs and give young people a chance to start a business. Running a market stall is a great way to learn how to run a business. 

The demographics of Burnt Oak have completely changed. As recently as the 1970's and 80's, the estate was a white, working class community, this was reflected in the music life. In the late 1960's the original skinhead culture took hold. For many years, the bridge over the Underground was adorned with the legend "Burnt Oak Boot Boys". The sound of the era was the Ska music of the Pioneers and Desmond Dekker and the groove, look and feel of the music infused itself deep into the youth culture of Burnt Oak. Music was central to everyone growing up in the 60's and 70's. For many, the disco nightspot of choice was Jingles, behind the Old White Lion, down the Edgware Road in Edgware. For the Metallers, a short ride on the 52 to Kingsbury and the Bandwagon and the Punks would jump on the Northern Line to Camden Town for the Roundhouse and Tottenham Court Road for the Marquee Club.  A sharp hair cut was always required. Many would nip up to Park Way, behind Burnt Oak Broadway saw Syd's barbers,  the cheapest place for a decent haircut in the Borough of Barnet (no pun intended). 

Until he became a teenager, I'd take my son there for a haircut and then down to the Pound Shop for a treat. I explained that if we went to Syd's there was cash left to buy sweets. If we went to a Mill Hill Barber it would cost twice as much!

The community was drawn from working class English, Irish, Italian and Greek families, moved to the Estate by the LCC. Each community set up businesses locally. The English and Irish tended to work in the building and motor trade. The Italians and Greeks in the food and hospitality sector. There were some amazing cafe's such at The Betta Cafe on the Watling, as well as great chippies and Tonibell Ice Creams. Burnt Oak also boasted a wonderful old school Chinese restaurant opposite Woolworths and a nice Indian opposite Tesco's. There were wonderful fishmongers, butchers, fruiterers and greengrocers. In the early 1980's, the Salvage shop opened. It provided great bargains (if you didn't mind the smell of smoke from the fire damage). I bought my first stereo there and still use the speakers. 

There are still a few of the old Burnt Oak business around. Aspens flower shop is wonderful and the prices beat everyone else in the Borough. Sydney Hurry's undertakers are another survivor, as are Lloyds motor spares over the road and Dan's carpet shop over the road from where Tesco's used to be. 

These days, Burnt Oak is known as Little Romania. For me this is quite ironic. My Dad was a bomber pilot and in a letter he sent my mother from a prisoner of war camp in Buchaest, Romaina in 1944, it said "It's very pleasant here, the conditions are good, it reminds me of Burnt Oak on a misty Novembers evening in the rain". If you've not tried them, the cafe's are worth a visit. The food is good and you get a friendly welcome. There are all manner of shops and if you are making authentic curries, you can source everything you need. There are also a couple of wonderful fish mongers and a great Irish butcher. If you are looking to save a few pennies, or like fresh ingredients it is well worth at trip 

As for my connections, my family have long standing ties. My maternal Grandparents moved to Burnt Oak in 1941, from Kentish Town. Being of Irish heritage, they became members of the Parish of the Annunciation. When a new curate, Fr Fred Smythe arrived at the Parish, he was sent out to meet the congregation. He turned up at the O'Neill household (who became my Uncle Jimmy's in-laws) at 8pm. He turned up at the first house on the list, a good Catholic family. He knocked and the occupant Mrs O'Neill shouted "Who is it" through the door. He replied "It's Father Smythe from the Annunciation". She replied "All good people are in bed now, go away". Fr Smythe replied "Are there any Catholics who aren't in bed?". She replied "Go around to The Fannings (my grandparents) at 56 Milling Road, they never go to bed". Fr Smythe did and became a firm family friend. He conducted my parents wedding at the Annunciation, on 28th October 1944, after my Dad escaped from the POW camp and made it home. The last big family do we had with my Dad was at the Annunciation, when my parents celebrated their 40th wedding anniversary at the Annunciation, 1984. Fr Smythe gave a blessing as they retook their vows. We adjourned to the club after for a celebration meal. The Annunciation Catholic club was legendary. My eldest brother even met his wife in there! We didn't realise it would be the last big do that all the family attended as my Dad passed away in 1987.

Sadly, my grandparents died long before I was born. However I had a surrogate Grandma, Mrs Annie O'Keefe of Homefield Road. She lived in one of the metal houses, familiar to all locals. 

When I was born, my mother was very ill. She took on a lady to help with the cleaning. Mrs O'Keefe turned up. She was a lovely, little old lady from Kerry. Her husband Joe was a caretaker at the local public loo's. He got around on an old black bicycle. They had a lovely old mutt called Beauty. We didn't have a dog, so I'd always be nipping around for a cup of tea and a piece of cake and to play with Beauty. I think that's where I got my love of dogs from. Joe also bred budgies, that he he kept in a structure attached to his shed, made of chicken wire and wood. I'd go around and watch World of Sport with Joe, he'd advise me on the horses. HE always loved a grey filly.  Annie O'Keefe was the kindest person I've ever met. All of my brothers and sisters are geniuses, when I turned up, the family would relentlessly tease me and wind me up.  I would dream of when I could grow up and thump them. Sadly when you grow up, thumping your siblings is not socially acceptable. At school I was always compared unfavourably to my brothers and sisters. I was dyslexic and pretty useless at everything. 

Annie was probaby the only person that was kind, didn't tease or judge me and made me feel special, welcome and loved. Annie was a person of deep faith. Her form of Catholicism was kind, open, accepting and loving. Not the horrible, judgemental form that we see so much of.  After my Dad fell out with the Parish Priest at the Sacred Heart in Mill Hill when he shut the parish drinking club, we went back to attending the Annunciation. He always said that he preferred Burnt Oak's Catholicism, with it's drinking club. Being an Aussie he despised snobbery, which he said was rife in some areas of the Sacred Heart parish. 

When Annie finally retired from working for my Mum, she was given a large cash gift. A week later, the Annunciaton newsletter had a line in saying "Thank you to the anonymous donor for the generous gift". The amount specified was exactly what my Mum had given her. if I learned one thing from Annie, it was that money doesn't make you happy, people do. I've always had an open door and I've always tried to make people feel welcome. To me, Annie exemplified the best of the working class culture of Burnt Oak.

I went to school just up the road from Annie at Orange Hill School on Abbotts Road. It was handy as, when it was raining on the walk home, I could nip in for a cuppa. At Orange Hill, I met a whole bunch of talented musicians, such as Boz Boorer and Phil Bloomberg of the Polecats. They were an inspiration. When you see your mates and peers doing things well, that you aspire to do, it is a great motivation. Orange Hill was a school thay did its best to inspire you. BBC Radio London presenter Robert Elms often mentions this and also credits several of the teachers for opening his eyes to what a boy from Burnt Oak could be. Myself, Boz and Phil would sneak out and nip into the Betta Cafe on the Watling, for a tea and to do the NME crossword and discuss the latest punk rock releases. In the video above, there are a few pictures of the early False Dots, taken before a gig in the school hall. We would plan to be Rock and Roll stars and Boz always carried a cassette player around, with tapes of punk and rockabilly tracks. One day it would beRockabilly such as  Ugly and Slouchy by Rose and the Maddox Brothers, the next day punk like Boredom by The Buzzcocks. 

When our band finally got it's act together, we didn't quite make it to the USA and Japan like the Polecats. We did however do  a residency of gigs at The Bald Faced Stag between 1983-4. The pub had a bit of a reputation as a den of scalliwaggery. It almost lost it's licence in 1983, largely due to the efforts of my ex girlfriends step father, who would take her younger brother to the pub rather than send him to school when he was 10 years old. A new landlord was brought in and part of his remit was to save the license and bring in music. We were well paid and well looked after. When the licensing issue was resolved, he was despatched to another failing pub and the well paid gigs ceased (we did make it to Dingwalls, Belgium and Scandinavia so we didn't do too bad in all honesty). 

And today? With my bus pass, I took a trip to the top of the hil, got off at the Coop and walked back via a winding route, passing all of the places that had some interest for me. The Coop used to be a magnificent department store, with carefully dressed windows. It is now a Poundstretcher with boarded up windows with pictures.The cinema where my mind was blown by the original Planet of the Apes is now an Iceland, the old cinema long being bulldozed. Tesco's started in Burnt Oak, but the site of the store I know has been bulldozed and there is a block of flats going up. The fishmongers have no live eels outside, my old branch of Natwest is now a slot machine emporium. The Betta Cafe is now Lekki's cafe. It is easy enough to mourn the passing of the old, but Burnt Oak was always about more than a few buildings. It is the people that matter.

I walked around the rather wonderful Silkstream Park. It is one of Barnet's most attractive. I also visited Watling Park, where I spent many a wonderful time watching my son play for the Boys team. It is still wonderful on a sunny Autumn day. Burnt Oak was always about providing homes for people who do the work and the shops and services reflect this. I play five  aside football with a bunch of guys, many of who are from Eastern Europe. They are mostly in the building game. They don't want smoky old pubs or greasy bacon sandwiches, of the type I love so much. Times change and we must embrace the change. The London of my youth did not have the amazing range of food, drink, music and culture we now see. In Burnt Oak they now boogie to a different tune, but it is still a fascinating place and I for one still love it. 

Wednesday 21 September 2022

The "running a business guide for the local village idiot"

I've been running my studios now for 43 years. In that time, I've had a lot of ups and downs. We are now London's oldest independent music rehearsal studios, to the best of my knowledge., if anyone else has been doing it longer, please let me know and I'll big you up, as I know how hard it really is.

 I've never seen other studios as competition. I see them as a sign that the industry is healthy and I see their innovations as a challenge for us to improve. Why have we survived when so many have fallen by the wayside? Well one answer is that I started the business when I was 16, all of the other studio owners were older at the time, so most have retired. Another reason is luck, my family own the freehold of the site and support me. Many sucessful studios have been on leases, which the owners have cashed in for development and thrown out the studios. 

Perhaps the biggest reason is that I've put together a team that has managed the business and the finances properly. I've always believed that with the right team around them, the village idiot could run a successful business, so long as they listened to the team. Sadly, we get a lot of village idiots pontificating on how to run businesses, who don't have teams and don't listen to anyone. Such people simply don't understand what you need to do to run a business. So here are a few tips.

1. If there are no customers, there is no business. There is a huge difference between having a great idea and transforming it into a business. For small businesses, you need to be sure that you actually have a market. When I started the studios, I didn't understand this principle. We didn't open as a business, we opened as a collective, to provide rehearsal space for our own music. We soon became inundated with other bands, who had nowhere to rehearse. Initially, we didn't advertise and have only advertised since when we needed to grow, such as when we opened our new studio block in 2012. Make sure that there is a core business that is on your doorstep. 

2.The best advertising is free advertising. There is not a week goes by without half a dozen people contacting me to offer services advertising our business. These range from local guides, internet SEO marketers, leafletting services and trade publications. Currently the only paid advertising we have is in the local post office. We've done all of the above, but we do it when we need it, not when we are offered a great deal. We have a 'business development budget'  and we try and think creatively. If we have £5,000 to spend, what will bring most business in? Some new equipment? An advert? Toilet refurbishment? Artwork on the walls? During lockdown, we employed a local artist to paint some murals on our studio walls. These have been a hit. Our customers are doing our advertising for us for free! Here's an example.

We'd suggest that anyone considering advertising in an on line guide or other such service do your homework. Check out their Twitter, Instagram and Facebook feeds. We know of one such service that sells advertising, but also uses their business Twitter feed to propogate anti semitism, Islamaphobia and anti vax conspiracy theories. Do you really want to be associated with such things? We've found such on line services to be very uneconomical. Advertising in local churches, shuls, mosques, school fete's programmes is a far more cost effective way of doing local advertising and you help good causes.

Our most important form of advertising is free. It's word of mouth from satisfied customers, so keep them happy. If you are on a high st, make sure you've got good signage and your shop front is attractive. That will bring more people in than just about anything else.

3. Only borrow money when you have to, and only on investment to increase your turnover. I'm lucky, I come from a family steeped in running small businesses. I was raised learning how to read a spreadsheet and how to understand a profit and loss account. My chosen business is a very investment intensive operation. We probably have around £150,000 worth of equipment and the new studio complex cost over a million pounds to put up. Much as I'd love to have that as spare cash in my pocket, I haven't. What I did have was a rock solid business case and a proven customer base. When you borrow large sums, you end up with a charge on the business, so you have to be certain that the cash will increase the business. There have recently been some nasty comments from a local twitter troll about a local business that has "charges on their business". The troll had clearly spent hours searching for mud to fling, from the companies house website. 

 This betrays a complete lack of understanding of how business works. The company being attacked is a limited liability company, therefore the charge is on the assetts of the company. Generally large cash loans are taken as charges on individual directors assets for small businesses.

When a company supplies expensive equipment on finance, it is quite normal to put a charge on the company. It means that if there is an issue, the supplier or finance company can get their equipment or money back. We took a charge on our company when we borrowed money to erect the new building. We did this in the knowledge that the building is worth far more than the charge and it has easily generated enough to repay the mortgage and generate a profit. My businesses now have no charges on them.

I would never normally borrow money to subsidise poor cash flow in a failing business to stay afloat. By all means attract investors, who bring cash and expertise, but simply going into debt to prop up a failing business is suicidal. Of course the lockdown blew a lot of these rules out of the water and many took "bounce back loans" to stay afloat. We were lucky enough to have cash to ride out the crisis, but may well have broken my own rule, as it was an extreme situation. 

4. Follow your competitors on social media and see what they are up to. I follow as many studios and other music businesses on social media as I possibly can. I like to see what they are doing. Sometimes, it is as simple as they buy a new amp or mixing desk and think it's great and we can check it out. Sometimes they have great innovations. During lockdown, we saw a few in distress and we offered advice to our competitors on getting government support. You may think "Why does he want to help the opposition? What is the benefit?". The truth is that we have more customers than we can service in good times and if there is not a healthy supply of studios this will damage the London music scene. It also means that we have goodwill and friends if we ever need them. This was exemplified when Survival Studios in Acton closed. They gave us over £10,000 worth of equipment for free, as they would have had to pay to dispose of it and didn't want to pay for storage. We offered to pay and they simply said "you can have it for free". If people think you are OK, they will do such things. A follow on social media is the best way to start a dialog.

5. Make sure you are properly insured. This is a basic. Our studio was burgled twice in the 1980's. Without proper insurance, we'd have died. After the first burglary, we learned a bitter lesson. We got a payout that got us back on our feet, but it was nowhere near what we needed. The second time, we got an independent loss adjuster, who ensured that we got what we were entitled to. Even with his fee, we got a much better deal. As the insurance company knew they were dealing with a professional who understood the industry, we were not screwed as we had been. He pointed out all manner of basics, such as that we could claim for loss of earnings and a new door and a repair to the alarm system. Make sure you are clear what you are paying for.

6. Listen to your customers. The best feedback you can possibly get is from your customers. If someone complains, they are not being awkward, they are doing you a favour, telling you what 20 other people who just don't come back didn't tell you. One rather dodgy local advertising company has conducted a war against a former customer of theirs for over 2 years in Mill Hill, which happens to be a well loved restaurant. Rather than simply return the money for a badly performed service, they've continually bad mouthed the business. As a result, no sane business would not touch their services as they know if there is a dispute they will get a public vendetta. Sadly the individual who runs this advertising company is to dim to realise that the only thing he's damaged is his own business. Take it on the chin and learn.

7. Take early settlement discounts from suppliers. We buy and sell musical instruments. Some of our suppliers offer discounts for early settlement. This is usually between 2-5%. Not all do. Whilst £2 - £5 on a £100 bill may not seem a huge amount, if you spend £100,000 a year that's £2-5,000. We have a rule that if a company gives an early settlement discount, we take it. If they don't we pay within the date, but not as quickly. 

8. Understand your business costs. When you set your prices, you need to factor everything in and pass this on to your customers.  Note every single expense. Add this up and then add up your total sales. Work out how much you are making, then review the items you are selling, be it services or items. When we started planning our new studio block, our initial plan was to have a couple of large, presitigious studios. I then did some number crunching and found that the smaller the space and the cheaper, the more money we made from it. We ended up putting seven studios in the space we'd originally planned to put two. We may not get the big touring bands we orignally hoped to attracted, but we have dozens of customers and the space is getting ever more popular.

9. Be prepared to work hard. Between 1979 and 2017, for most of the time I had two or three jobs, to keep the business afloat. I worked as a freelance IT consultant for much of the time, as well as doing some building work and property development. This allowed me to have nice holidays, invest in the studio and build financial resilience. At many points, I tried to step back from the non studio business interests. With the IT work, I simply kept getting offers I couldn't refuse and I have a great team at the studio who do most of the work, so I only needed to nip in for an hour or two every few days. In 2017, I finally stood back, so we could take our studio up to the next level, something that needed me full time. We had a plan for a new studio block and finance in place. Sadly the pandemic scuppered this. The good thing was that the hard work I'd put in had given us a cushon. There is a business in our estate that has just opened. They do car crash repairs. In the evening, the owner is a Pizza Delivery driver. This keeps the family cash going and he gets cheap pizzas for the family. If you want to put your feet up and be lazy, don't start a business. Always have a plan B.

10. Build a great team and keep them happy. Almost byy default, I have built a great team. Many small business owners do not appreciate good staff until they leave, when it is too late. It is also worth saying that bad staff can destroy your business, so be very careful who you employ. 

11. Build resilience into your business. One of my last IT jobs was on a large resilience project for Lloyds Bank's payments team. I had overall responsibility for technical delivery of the project. I was involved in the banks resilienbce committee. It was a real eye opener. It taught me many things that were applicable to small businesses, but that many owners simply don't think of. The expertise served me very well during lockdown. For our new development, we'd seriously looked at building new income streams. Some of these were vital as we bounced back. A good example was hosting Rock School Exams. We'd become a venue in 2018, as we looked to build our presence in the music education market. When the strictest conditions of lockdown were lifted, we could host exams, that gave us some vital cash flow when we most needed it. The question should always be "Is there any way we can diversify our business and generate cash from areas we've not considered or find savings and economies which we've missed. It is also worth making a plan of all of the vital things you need to keep your business running. Ask questions like "How do we manage if we lose my phones/Internet/Electricity/Gas/card payments", "How will local road closures etc affect us", "what do I do if we lose key staff", "what do we do if we lose our key customer or customers"  and "Are we ready for another lockdown?". 

Business resilience means having plans in place or developing alternative ways of doing things. For many of these things, there is little you can do in the short term, but if you regularly review what you do, there are options. The guys who provide our solar panels told me that many large organisations are supplying work from home staff withsolar panels and battery back up systems, so key staff can work at home if there are power cuts. These are the type of creative solutions that we can all think about. It may be that the solar panels and batteries would save you money as well.

In our business, we have mailing lists, social media and a website that we have extensively used to communicate with customers when we have problems, such as road closures. This doesn't solve the problems, but it does mitigate it. 

Tuesday 20 September 2022

What went wrong for Mill Hill's favourite restaurant?

Back in 2018, I ran a poll on Facebook asking residents what Mill Hil's favourite restaurants were (takeaway only services were not counted). The poll had a huge response with over 300 comments. Collating them all was a huge task. The winner was clear with over 30% more votes than the second place. The full results were as follows:-

1. Hudsons - Closed
2. BAW
6. Kiyoto 
7. Leyla - Closed
=8. The Delisserie - Closed
=8.  Lias Organics - Closed
=8. Zushi - Closed

A long time Mill Hill resident, with a long memory,  reminded me of this blog at the weekend and commented how sad it was that the no 1 restaurant on the list is gone. They also noted that five of the top ten had closed. Given the huge popularity of Hudsons what went wrong?  It is worth noting that Hudsons was the only one in the top six to go. 

The easy answer is that the pandemic. It is worth noting of course that some of the list had gone before the pandemic (Leyla's went shortly after the blog was published), and some are still thriving. Hudsons was one that survived the pandemic, but after a period of considerable uncertainty where it opened and shut a few times, finally packed up. The survival of  the rest of the Top Six shows that closure was not inevitable. Hospitality businesses had a significant amount of help from the government. (BTW It appears from the signs in the window that the food is still available on line). 

Some of these Mill Hill restaurants, such as Kiyoto seem busier than ever. Those that were able to do takeaways during lockdown and keep a degree of cashflow going were definitely at an advantage, this allowed them to retain staff. Also those that have a strong identity such as the Good Earth seem to have ridden the storm and have retained their trade. The market Hudsons were competing in has seen increased competition. They were especially loved for their burgers and with the arrival of Mani and Nick and Numa, the market was quite split, with several establishments selling great burgers.

Quite a few establishments lost the good staff they previously had and in the current climate have been unable to replace them. Running a small business can be difficult business even in good times. When you find yourself laden with debt, difficulties attracting staff of the calibre you need, increased competitions and no clear proof that things will improve, many people are choosing to cut their losses.

Image result for baw mill hill
Baw Mill Hil
Last month, shortly after Hudsons closed, we published a list of all of the eating establishments in Mill Hill. To many people's surprise the total is 29! I guess from this, two things are clear. One is that a lot of people in Mill Hill enjoy eating out. The second is that not only do you have to be on top of your game, you have to keep the standard up to stay there and have a formula that has kept their loyal customer bases happy. Restaurants like The Good Earth, Mill Hill Tandoori and El Vaquerra have managed this over a good few years. We also have some wonderful take aways such as The Day of The Raj, Fridays and Tangs. We should celebrate that!

And congratulations to BAW who have inherited the title as Mill Hill's most popular restaurant until we run the poll again!