Monday 27 February 2023

How many refugees and asylum seekers are there in the London Borough of Barnet?

 There has been plentty of lively discussions in the pubs and clubs of the Borough of Barnet about the issue of Asylum seekers, refugees etc. Barnet Council are debating this next week, and have published a report detailng exactly how many refugees and asylum seekers taxpayers are supporting in the Borough. I thought that the readers of the Barnet Eye may be interested in the various schemes which the Borough is participating in. I have to admit that I was unaware of much of this information. To give you some idea of the scale, there are  395,839 (2019 census) in Barnet. by my maths, this means that approx 0.25% of our population are refugees or asylum seekers being supported by the taxpayer. Not quite the 'overwhelming' number some people are claiming.

1. Why this report is needed 

1.1 Barnet is enhanced by the contribution of a range of diverse communities and this diversity has made Barnet a place of attraction for those who seek to settle in the UK. The council has worked to make sure that Barnet is a welcoming borough and so, over the last five years, we have co-ordinated several resettlement schemes to welcome and support those who have been displaced. 

1.2 This report will provide an update on the work that Barnet Council continues to do to support refugees and asylum seekers. In addition to this, following a council motion to become a Borough of Sanctuary on 24 January, this paper will outline the future of this work towards accreditation.

 1.3 Syrian Vulnerable Persons Resettlement Scheme 

1.3.1 This scheme has now ended but under the scheme, the council facilitated the resettlement of 50 individuals since 2017. During this time, the council commissioned Barnet Homes to source accommodation and provide wraparound support for the families through a Refugee Resettlement Coordinator. This support included healthcare, education, social network, and financial stability; both benefit entitlement, and support securing and sustaining employment. 

1.3.2 As part of this scheme, the council set up the VPRS Grant Scheme. Through this scheme families could apply for a grant of up to £5,000 to enable them to access the labour market or education, improve language skills or engage in activities that increased their sense belonging within the community. In October 2022, the council agreed to use this grant to cover the cost of citizenship for those on the scheme who wished to apply. So far, the council has received 10 applications for this and processed 8 of them. 

1.4 United Kingdom Resettlement Scheme 

1.4.1 The VPRS scheme was closed to new arrivals in February 2021, at which point it became the UK Resettlement Scheme (UKRS). Under this scheme, the UK will offer a safe and legal route to vulnerable refugees in need of protection globally. In June 2021, the council pledged to take on 12 individuals under this scheme, but the resettlement of Afghan refugees has taken precedence. 

1.5 Afghan Citizens Resettlement Scheme and Afghan Relocations and Assistance Policy 

1.5.1 There are two resettlement schemes for people who have fled Afghanistan: 

1. Afghan Relocations and Assistance Policy (ARAP) – an agreed scheme to make ex gratia offers to eligible locally employed staff (LES) who were made redundant as a direct consequence of the UK’s military withdrawal from Afghanistan. Those on this scheme have indefinite leave to remain and can apply for British citizenship after five years in the UK. 

2. Afghan Citizen Resettlement Scheme (ACRS) – this scheme provides a route to safety for those put at risk by events in Afghanistan and will resettle up to 20,000 people at risk because they are vulnerable (women, girls, LGBT) or assisted the UK efforts in Afghanistan. 

1.5.2 All those brought to the UK under ARAP and ACRS have the right to work, access to education and healthcare and will be able to apply for public funds. Funding for both schemes provides coverage for health, education and integration support costs up to £20,520 per person over a period of three years. 

1.5.3 The council made a pledge to resettle five families under this scheme and, to date, has supported the resettlement of two Afghan families under the ARAP scheme and two under the ACRS scheme. The council has a remaining pledge of one family. One of the key challenges of this scheme and fulfilling the pledge has been the lack of suitable accommodation for families on this scheme, who often require larger (4-5 bed) households. To address this, the council is one of several London boroughs that have signed up to the “Find Your Own Accommodation Pathway” which means that the council agrees in principle to provide wraparound support to individuals on the ACRS who find their own private rented accommodation in the borough. 

1.6 British National (Overseas) (BN(O)) visa 

1.6.1 The BN(O) via scheme is part of the UK government’s response to China’s failure to live up to its international obligations in with respect to Hong Kong and offers those ordinarily resident in Hong Kong a route to settle in the UK to live, work and study. The visa is being offered with a lower fee than other visas and provides a 5-year route to citizenship if they meet requirements and British Citizenship 12 months after settlement. With a Chinese population of 9,343 as of the 2021 census, Barnet has one of the largest Chinese populations of any London borough. It also has one of the highest rates of Cantonese speakers in the UK. It is reasonable to expect that this figure has continued to grow since the 2021 census was carried out. 

1.6.2 The council has worked closely with Barnet-based wellbeing charity Meridian Wellbeing and the New Citizens Gateway to support the integration of Hong Kongers. This has included supporting Hong Kongers through providing health and wellbeing advice and support, hosting monthly Welcome Parties, and providing socialising opportunities for newcomers. In January 2023, in partnership with Meridian Wellbeing, the council submitted a bid for £30,000 in funding from the Greater London Authority to support a 6- month project aimed at improving the health and wellbeing of Hong Kongers in Barnet. This includes a series of mental health workshops, fitness classes and socialising opportunities. In addition to working with Meridian Wellbeing to provide wellbeing support, the council has, in partnership with Barnet & Southgate College, facilitated the delivery of ESOL classes to 71 individuals on this visa so far. There will be another round of classes taking place in spring 2023. 

1.7 Homes for Ukraine 

1.7.1 The local authority is responsible for the administration of the Homes for Ukraine Scheme – this scheme enables Ukrainians to come to the UK and stay for a period of three years, being entitled to full benefits, and allowed to work. This scheme allows for individuals to ‘sponsor’ to gain approval to accommodate an individual or household from Ukraine. As part of this scheme, the council is responsible for data sharing, carrying out sponsor checks (accommodation, DBS verification and safeguarding), education provision, service referrals, support with work and benefits, homelessness assistance and community integration. 

1.7.2 Central government has provided local authorities with the following funding: • £200.00 “welcome” payment for each Ukrainian • £10,500 per person to councils on first year • £500.00 “thank you” payment to sponsors • Additional funding for education services

1.7.3 So far, Barnet has welcomed 988 Ukrainians through this scheme which is overseen and co-ordinated by the Strategy and Engagement Team with support from Environmental Health inspectors, Barnet Homes inspectors, HR, the Children's Safeguarding and MASH Team and Finance. The council is also co-ordinating several initiatives to support the integration and independence of Ukrainians settling in Barnet on this scheme: Housing: - Working with Barnet Homes to develop a package to incentivize landlords to consider renting applications from Ukrainians. This will prevent guests from presenting as homeless and reduce the pressure on temporary accommodation services - Currently procuring BEAM, an innovative project that supports refugees, to carry out a project to support Ukrainians into the private rented sector. Employment and Education: - Working with BOOST to look at how the council can work with Ukrainians to transfer their skills and qualifications so that they are able to work here - Working with Barnet and Southgate College to provide ESOL classes - Supporting employment via our dedicated Ukrainian employment officer who provides support with accessing employment and CV writing Integration: - Running a Facebook group to bring together guests and build social connections between them - Using financial reserves to create an integration grant that we can pay directly to families to support their journey to independence (for example, accessing a course) - Employing a Ukrainian welfare officer, located in Colindale, who provides a one stop shop to help with interpretation and accessing services

1.8 Asylum seekers 

1.8.1 Barnet is home to five hotels being used to accommodate asylum seekers before dispersing them into accommodation. These hotels are located across the borough and as of 18 November 2022, there were 1108 individuals across the four hotels – this is a rise from 901 the year before. 

1.8.2 Since November 2021, the council has used Covid emergency funds to commission New Citizens Gateway and Persian Advice Bureau to provide outreach support in hotels. This support includes access to a range of activities, drop-in advice sessions, advocacy support and ESOL classes. Family services also run an onsite Stay and Play session for under-fives in the Colindale site on a weekly basis. In March 2022, the Strategy and Engagement Team recruited an Asylum and Refugee coordinator to administrate this support and manage the VCS commission. 

1.8.3 There is currently no funding available from central government to provide support to asylum seekers in hotels, however the Home Office is currently carrying out a New Burdens Assessment which will look at the funding models for local authorities who support asylum seekers. This is a cost data-gathering exercise that will enable the Home Office to better understand the new burdens placed on local authorities because of the Full Dispersal Model and will be used to inform future funding arrangements. 

1.8.4 The Covid emergency funding used to commission the outreach support provided to asylum seekers in the hotels will run out at the end of financial year 2022-23. For the coming financial year, a review of existing service budgets will be undertaken, and services will be re-procured to reflect available funding. It is still the intention of government to decommission contingency hotels as soon as possible, so the need for ongoing funding beyond this is not certain. 

1.8.5 To support the council’s work in supporting asylum seekers in hotels, Barnet is also one of eleven local authorities taking part in a GLA funded initiative called the Asylum Welcome Programmes Design Lab. This programme brings together local authorities to develop and trial pilots in their borough to support asylum seekers. 

1.9 Unaccompanied Asylum-Seeking Children 

1.9.1 Young people aged under 18 who enter the country seeking asylum are classified as unaccompanied asylum-seeking children (UASC) and must be looked after by the children’s social care services. As of 1 January 2023, there were 55 UASC in our care. This compares with 72 UASC looked-after on 31 March 2021. Barnet is currently supporting 131 former UASC (18+), this is 41% of the current care leaver cohort. Between June 2022 and December 2022, the LA received 12 UASC via the National Transfer Scheme. Within this cohort, 2 children were accommodated by the LA with a family member. Since January 2022, the LA has received 4 referrals from the police in relation to UASC in police protection, of these one was a missing child returned to another LA. Three UASC also self-presented in the LA area. 

1.9.2 Barnet is currently participating in a pilot scheme which seeks to provide UASC with provision for their substantive asylum interview to take place in a safe, secure and young people focussed setting, avoiding the need for the child to travel to the HO, typically Lunar House. For Barnet UASC, where possible, interviews are now taking place at the O&U Leaving Care Hub in North Finchley.

Sunday 26 February 2023

The tweets of the week in the London Borough of Barnet 26th February 2023

 How has your week been? I've been busy! Been to a couple of gigs over the weekend, watched some footie on the telly (no Hadley FC this week), had a nice takeaway from the Mill Hill Tandoori last night.

Without further ado, here is what our local tweeters have been up to. Don't forget to follow any who tickle your fancy. I'd hate to think I've dug out all of these wonderful tweeters for you and you don't follow them!

1. Anyone remember Green Shield Stamps? Their head office was in Edgware!

2. We lost a local legend this week. This seemed the most appropriate tweet to mark his passing

3. Another wonderful talk from Barnet libraries

4. If you are wondering how the new Brent Cross West station is coming on, Anne Clark has kindly posted this

5. Good news should've been done years ago

6. A big shout out for our local community champions

7. Can you solve the mystery?

8. When you buy hooky musical instruments or tools, you are robbing someone of their livilyhood

9. I could say so much about this, but it says it all

10. We'll finish with some nice local music history

That's all folks!

Saturday 25 February 2023

The Saturday List #398 - My top ten jacket potato fillings!

 I'm not sure if every family who had people of my age were the same, but in ours, there were certain traditions. Some foods we''d only eat once a year. Obviously Turkey at Xmas, Easter Eggs at Easter and Pancakes on pancake day. I guess most people would have some sort of variation on these. The one day that I think was the most exciting was Fireworks night. My Dad was a pyromaniac, so it was spectacular. He'd chop down trees in our garden a couple of weeks before and we'd have a huge bonfire. He'd buy the biggest rockets he could find and he'd stock up on booze. When he lit the bonfire, he'd bring 40 gallons of industrial thinners back from his garage, just to make sure that it went with a bang. It always did, a huge mushroom cloud would light up the skies. The best bit of it was that he'd wrap up jacket potatoes in silver foil and bury them at the bottom of the bonfire. When it had burned down, we'd retreive them. The skins would be a bit burned. We'd smear them with Lurpak butter and salt and they were delicious. It was one of the few days of the year when my Mum allowed my Dad to go into full on Aussie nutter mode. Dad told me that the only way to eat Jacket potatoes was out of the bonfire. I didn't disagree.

At some point, I suspect around 1977, mum was away and Dad announced we were going out for a special treat. We jumped in his Capri and zoomed off, I know not where and we arrived at a Spud U Like restaurant. Dad was most excited, a restaurant which only sold jacket spuds with fillings. He wanted to know if they were up to standard. I recall going in and having a cheese and beans filling. It was delcious. I think he had a chicken curry, although I may be wrong. As we headed home, he gave his verdict. He was impressed with the fillings. It had never occurred to him to put more than salt and butter in them. He did, however, say that it confirmed his view that the only real proper way to do them was in the bonfire, as if they weren't a bit burned, they lacked the proper smokey flavour, but as a quick fix for a bit of Jacket potato action it was more than acceptable. For me, it became a bit of a guilty pleasure. None of my girlfriends ever considered a Spud U Like as a suitable food for a night out. For me, I'd nab one after football, if one was nearby. 

I was trying to work out when I last had a filled Jacket potato anywhere apart from at home. It may well have been in 2006/7. At the time I was doing some work on the Chip and Pin card roll out and I was despatched to McDonalds head office in East Finchley to validate their Chip and Pin system for the Streamline Card company. It was boring work, putting numerous transactions in and making sure that McD's didn't defraud cardholders. For lunch, we were given lunch in the in house McDonalds restaurant. I am not a fan of burgers and I almost never eat McDonalds. My hosts informed me that everything on sale in the restaurant was on sale in their branches. I noticed they did Jacket potatoes and so had one with a Chicken curry filling. It was delicious. I told my hosts that I didn't realise they did them. They rather sheepishly said "we don't, that's for people visitinmg who don't want burgers". I told them they should, but they didn't listen. 

In researching this, I found out that Spud U Like was owned by the British School of Motoring for many years. It seems a rather odd business partnership. Various owners have tried to make a go of the business, but despite the fact that everyone seems to love the product, no one really ever went there. I think they simply got their marketing strategy wrong. They should follow my Dad's example and have restaurants where they could have big firework parties every night and pull them out of the bonfire.

Anyway, I've been thinking about Dad a lot recently, so I thought I'd dedicate this list to him. God bless you Dad, wherever you are. Whenever I see a meteorite, I think it's him being a pyromaniac in the sky and I know I will be lucky that day!

I have spent a long time trying to figure out the best way to make Jacket potatoes without a bonfire. I get large baking potatoes, clean them, microwave them for about 7 minutes, then pierce the skin with a fork. I then make a solution of salt and water and soak the skin in it to salt the crusts. I then bake for 45 mins or until the crust is just about to burn. If I am being fancy, I slice garlic thin, stab the spud with a knife and then insert the thin slivers, but that is only really if I am doing a fancy filling. 

So here it is, my top ten fillings.

1. The classic. Lurpak butter and salt. When the spud is out of the bonfire, I'm not sure you can beat this.

2. With Cheese. It has to be a mature cheddar. I tend to put it in the spuds for the last 7 minutes, so it is properly gooey. I like it when a little bit is slightly burned and brown.

3. With curried baked beans. I have to put a caveat on this. Heinz have changed their recipe and are vile. The only ones that I like now are the cheap M&S own brand. A bit of curry sauce and chilli flakes are the perfect accompanyment.

4. With curried chicken. I was very taken with the McDonalds canteen version of this, which I'd have again eating out. What worked really well was when I over ordered from the Mill Hill Tandoori and had some chicken tikka balti left. That was wonderful!

5. Parmasan cheese. This is good. Grate up some Parmesan and about 5-10 minutes before the spuds are ready, cut in half and cover with the cheese and put back in the oven. 

6. Cheese and onion. This is very similar to 2, except you sprikle some fried onions on top before you serve. I buy a bag of dried fried onions from the Mill Hill Food Centre for just this purpose. it is wonderful.

7. Cheese and Bacon. This was one of my Dad's innovations. After our visit to Spud you like, he got thinking. Some nice streaky bacon, fried until crispy, stuck in and covered in cheese. Wonderful.

8. Humous and pepper. This works really well for a vegan option. Get good Humous though, the creamier the better. 

9. Smoked mackerel Pate. M&S do (or at least they used to) a wonderful Mackerel pate. It works well. I'm not generally a fan of fish or seafood with jackets. I tend to think that the fish taste overpowers the delicate taste of the spud. I also don't like anything with gunge such as Mayonaisse on, so I've excluded them. 

10. Kippers. I love kippers. As they are smoked, they go really well with Jacket spuds as per 1. If you wrap kippers up in Silver foil and cook them over the bonfire, it really is wonderful and is how both foods should be eaten together.


At this point, I will take a break from tradition and tell you why I haven't included a few of the 'loved' Spud U Like options. To me, cottage cheese is disgusting, even with chives which I quite like. Coleslaw suffers from the plague of gunge, what could be more horrible than raw cabbage with mayo? Ditto Egg mayo, I've never seen the point of egg mayo, so why ruin a decent old spud with it. Chilli Con Carne, I don't mind but I feel that the chilli is far better with pasta. Prawn cocktail is another that suffers from the plague of Mayo. 

Have a great weekend and if you have a Jacket spud, enjoy!

Friday 24 February 2023

The Friday Joke - Crossed lines! And a few rather disturbing thoughts on life and change

 It's Friday and if you've had the week I've had, then you really need a laugh. I have selected one that exemplifies the genius that was Ronnie Barker.  This clip, to me is a great example that you can hear a conversation and get the totally wrong end of the stick. I miss Ronnie Barker's wit. If you just want a laugh, skip the text and watch the video. I suspect that the next few paragraphs may not be the most cheerful things you'll read this year. 

In truth, I've had a stressful week. Nothing bad has happened, but I am going through a period of transition at the same time as the whole world is nervously eying one of the most dangerous conflicts of my life. I've always liked to believe that I'm someone who adapts to change well, but I've realised that adapting to positive change is a completely different thing to dealing with negative change. As the parent of three children in their 20's, I find myself ever more horrified at the world our generation is bequeathing to them. Of late, I've started to have a strange and disturbing recurrent dream. In it, I am tied to the bed in Friern Barnet psychiatric hospital, being forcibly administered medication and the year is around 1984. I am desperate to fall asleep so I can return to my relatively comfortable life in 2022, but the staff are telling me that this is the reality and everything in my life today is just a figment of my imagination and the sooner I realise that I am a useles deadbeat with no future, the better. 

I think the source of this is that I am working with a friend making a short film about his experiences within the mental health system and being sectioned. We are making it because we both believe that 99% of the population are completely unaware of the reality of severe mental health challenges. We have been discussing the issue for a very long time, maybe 30 years. What he went through was degrading and absolutely brutal, but he believe's it is better than the system today, where he would most likely have got no help at all. He can say this with authority because his son had similar challenges and despite clear cries for help received no help and ended up hanging himself. I have struggled with the whole thing. I passionately believe that what he has to say needs to be told. You need to hear it from the horses mouth. My only worry is that I won't do the job properly, despite my best efforts. What I would really like is a TV company that makes documentaries to get involved and once we have the rushes, that is an avenue I will persue. 

Last year I turned 60. I have only just realised this. I am 60 years old and living with prostate cancer. Unlike many of my friends, I still feel that I have stuff to do, I'm not looking to retire or step back, if anything I have more projects on the go than ever, but I am aware that the grim reaper is sneaking up on me. I wonder if all I'll end up leaving is a bunch of half baked, half completed projects. I don't really care if everyone forget me when I've gone, but the thought that my studios might be demolished and 'luxury flats' built on the site horrifies me. We've worked hard to keep an area of Mill Hill safe for creative people to make great music and art and for working people to earn a crust. It seems that the concept of running businesses for purposes other than solely making as quick a buck as possible is totally alien to 95% of the population. In truth it has served us rather well. We have an income and an asset, but sooner or later the decision will be totally out of my hands. If I had a penny for every arrogant property developer who has strode in and told me they could make me rich by selling up, I'd be able to buy a good few kebabs. They look quite bemused when I tell them I'm richer than they could possibly imagine already. I'm not sure they understand. In truth, I have enough cash to do all of the things I want to do. I don't lust after fast cars and younger model wives. I love playing music, I love listening to music and I love facilitating other people to make music. Nothing would be of greater value than that. Perhaps the biggest irony of all is that the decisions we've made to facilitate the continued existence of the studio have been the best financial decisions we could have made. My mother was keen to sell the site in 1988 after my Dad died and had seemingly 'generous' offers. If she'd taken them and not listened to the alternative plan myself and my siblings put to her, the whole thing and all of the proceeds would have been long gone. What is interesting is that developers always seem to take the view that we are complete idiots and talk to us as such, rather patronisingly saying "You are not recognising the true value of the site".  The truth is that we totally do, but what we do works extremely well for is and has done for all of my adult life. 

When the grim reaper comes, it will be someone elses problem. I just hope that they have the foresight to see the bigger picture. I'd say what we are doing is by far the best investment. We have an income and we have security. Over the last 20 years blue chip banks, investment funds, crypto schemes etc have gone bust. People have been transformed from millionaires to paupers overnight. You may receive a big cheque for your business, but that can disappear in a puff of smoke. I've no ambition to hang my boots up yet. Things like our mental health project drive me on and excite me. I just hope that some lunatic doesn't blow the world up before we finish it. 

Anyway, on that cheery note, if this doesn't cheer you up, nothing will!

Thursday 23 February 2023

All of Great Britains endemic problems today are down to a lack of available workers

 I rarely stray into the territory of national issues, but sometimes things have to be said. I could give you a list as long as your arm of endemic seissues that are affecting people's lives. Here's just a few

* Unreliable railways

* Crumbling roads

* Long hospital waiting lists

* Sewage in rivers

* Bad schools

* Crime

All of these have the same root cause. There are not enough people to do the vital jobs to sort these out. The endemic delays on the rail network are caused by lack of staff. The lack of road maintenance is the same as are long hospital waiting lists, enforcement of laws around sewage and pollution and poor educational standards and crime.

Even if the government shook down the magic money tree again, as they did to deal with the pandemic, there simply wouldn't be the workers on tap to fix the problems. Train drivers, nurses, teachers, digger drivers, nurses, doctors and police take time to train up and you need people in the first place. The reason we are suffering inflationary pressures is because there is a shortage of people to do jobs, forcing wages up, that feeds into prices. For a couple of decades, this was masked by immigration from the EU. The word Builder started to have Polish added to it due to the huge numbers working in the industry. We all got used to hard working, cheap workers fixing our homes up and painting our walls. 

The advent of Brexit has stopped this in its tracks. The UK has suffered from bad productivity levels for decades. The reason? We were addicted to cheap labour, so didn't bother investing in automation and efficiency. Interestingly, in the 1980's we were leaders in factory automation. I worked for a software company called SPL International, which had a subsidiary called British Robotics, which installed systems for companies such as British Leyland, making automated assembly lines. SPL thought such business was the way of the future. Sadly, the UK never really took to automation in the way that the Japanese and the Germans did, which is why they still have homegrown car industries and we don't. 

I sometimes wonder where all of the people went? The population is far bigger now than in the 1970's' but then we had bus conductors, train guards, police on the beat, people to slice cheese for you in Sainsburys in Mill Hill, fishmongers to chop the guts out of your kippers etc. Now such things are rare. 

A friend was tellling me that his daughter phoned in a panic. She'd invited friends around for dinner, found a wonderful recipe for sea bass, bought some from the fish monger, as she wanted the highest quality, and got home to find it had a head still on and the guts in. My friend had to zoom around and fillet it (he's not a fishmonger BTW). He told us, over a pint, that she'd been traumatised by the whole episode and was seeking therapy (Although I suspect this was a mild exxageration). 

A couple of years ago, my house drains were blocked, so I dug the rods from the shed and unblocked them. As I was finishing, a lady from up the road stopped. She explained that her drains too were blocked and she couldn't get anyone to do them as they were too busy. Without thinking, I offered to lend her the rods. She looked horrified. She replied "I was rather hoping you could do them for me". Seeing the look of bemusement on my face, she said "I'll pay you". As I had them out, I said "Ok, I'll see what I can do". I walked up, opened the manhole cover, put the rod down and within about five seconds, there was a strange gurgling and the drain cleared.  She stared and said "They wanted £300 to do that". She then said "How much do you want?". I replied that I didn't want any cash, but if she wanted to, she could donate some grub to the Colindale Foodbank. To be honest, it was no trouble at all. A day later, an M&S receipt for £100 groceries was posted through the letter box, with her name and phone number on the back and a note saying "Thanks, donation to the foodbank". It seemed like a fair quid pro quo. 

It made me think about where all of the jobs have gone. I suspect that we've stopped people doing useful jobs, such as beat police, bus conductors and train guards, which make vulnerable people feel safe on public transport and got the doing all of the jobs we are too lazy to do, such as saving us walk down the road for a pint of milk or a takeaway. There are apparently 112,000 people working in delivery now. The reason it costs £300 for someone to spend five minutes unblocking your drains is because no one wants to do it. It's far nicer taking a McDonalds around to Mrs Beans, even if you only earn a tenth of the cash. 

As a business owner, we have a constant requirement for staff. What is amazing is how everyone wants to work in a studio, but so few people actually think of getting qualifications. The sad truth is that the UK is a nation that is getting fatter by the day, as we'd rather pay someone else to walk around the corner for us to get our ready made takeaway dinners. I had a beer with a mate a couple of weeks ago, who works in IT at home. He told me that the drink was the first time he'd left the house for a fortnight, he'd had all of his meals via deliveroo etc. I was quite shocked and realised he'd put on weight and developed an unhealthy colour since our last drink six months ago. In many ways, delivering fast food is the perfect job for the UK in 2023. No skill required and no job security. It amazes me to see people ranting about train drivers being paid decent wages to do a skilled job that requires a lengthy apprenticeship and constant retraining. 

Perhaps the oddest thing about the UK labour market is the law forbidding asylum seekers from working. This means that they have to sit around being a drain on the tax paying public, whilst vegetating. Personally, I'd rather that anyone who was able bodied and seeking asylum had to pay their way. It can take years for asylum seekers to have their cases determined and work would keep them healthy and add to the economy. The reason that we have such a backloig is, rather ironically a lack of workers to process applications. 

What the UK needs is a plan to address all of this. We need an economy that is built on productivity, education and hard work. We should want able bodied people seeking asylum to know that if they come to the UK, they will have to work hard and will not be automatically entitled to never ending benefits. I personally would fast track those who contribute needed skills to the country through the system. 

The sad truth is that thirteen years of Conservative government has caused a huge imbalance in the UK labour market, that has lead to bad productivity, a semi collapse of many industries and a vulnerability to inflationary pressures. I read Sir Keir Starmers proposals for a reboot of the EU economy. I see nothing concrete. Until we have a proper plan, we will not move forward. When Brexit was first promoted, the one benefit I thought we may have would be a move towards better productivity and more labour efficiency. Sadly there was no plan, so we simply cut off the supply of cheap labour and watched the economy start to collapse. It is really quite ridiculous. 

Wednesday 22 February 2023

Is Andrew Tate the end product of a lack of decent male role models

 Much as I try, it seems impossible to escape the Andrew Tate saga. Just in case, unlike me, you've not heard of Mr Tate, he's become a star of sorts and earned a load of money by becoming a sort of social media superstar and earned loads of money by being a bit misogynistic and blingy. He's used his fame and dosh to be even more misogynistic and blingy and apparently millions of boys and young men see him as a role model. He's being held in Romania, where he lives, on various charges. I asked Google who he was, and this was the reply

A self-described misogynist, Tate's controversial commentary has resulted in his suspension from several social media platforms. On December 29, 2022, Tate and his brother, Tristan, were arrested in Romania along with two women; all four are suspected of human trafficking and forming an organized crime group.

As best I can tell, Tate's philosophy is sort of based on the lines that if you are an 'alpha male', you more or less do what you like, when you like with women and their consent is not necessarily a big component in the equation. In one video he suiggests that accusations of cheating are dealt with by the following method  “It’s bang out the machete, boom in her face and grip her by the neck. Shut up bitch,”  whilst such ideas may make you a few quid in revenue from dodgy videos, I am not sure that in the real world, they will give you any sort of life worth living. I had a look at some of his content and it is sort of like Carry on Movies on crystal meth and with slightly better production values. 

As I watched it, I got to thinking about the whole Alpha male thing. I started to draw parallels with my own Father, who was, to my mind, the archetypal alpha male. He was a great sportsman (Tate was a Kickboxer), both ended up in Romanian prisons. My Dad was a prisoner of war, after being shot down on a bombing raid with the RAF, having baled out of a burning plane. Both were very successful in their chosen business ventures, although Dad's were not curtailed by the law at any point. He loved big cars, with large engines and loved the ability to enjoy the money he spent. 

Then there are the differences. My Dad, who was as tough a nut as they come, was always respectful to women. He despised people who were course or uncouth around them. He loathed people who were overly flashy in their lifestyles, stating that they must be very insecure to need to show off. Whilst he loved fast cars, his interest was in what was under the bonnet and the performance. His time in the airforce made him aware that unnecessary bling inhibits performance. The pride and joy of his life was a 3 litre Capri, which had been modified for the Pan African Rally. It had a nitrus burner fitted and could burn off any car on the road if the mood took him. He had it painted black. It was a beast but a very understated one. Tates cars are all about bling and saying "I'm rich". As to women, I've no idea whether Tate has a happy home life, butI doubt that he will emulate my Dad, passing away after 43 years of happy marriage to one person, who he was as crazy about on the day he died as the day he met. The thing about my father that I remember most was that he was fun to be around. He'd not make people feel uncomfortable for the sake of it. If he had money he'd want to share it around and enjoy it. 

I do wonder if Tate's existence really is joyful? My own experience of relationships with women is that they are best when you are both happy and relaxed in each others company. I doubt that waving machette's round makes anyone happy.

The real problem with Tate is not him or his lifestyle, it is the fact that impressionable people see his cars, cash and bling and think it is something to aspire to. I don't. I was raised in a home with a strong and admirable male role model. There are many times when I mis my father and would like to discuss things with him, but when I see Tate, I know what he'd say. In North London, we knew all manner of people who exhibited many of Tate's behaviours. Blingy, boorish, rude, tasteless and vulgar. I have a natural revulsion at such things and such people, especially when they have no sense of irony. Sadly, I suspect that many young men don't have a strong, decent role model in their life to show them the pitfalls of such behaviour. They end up not seeing it for what it is, a cartoon image, and believe that it is the way to go. Sadly, I suspect that those who seriously try and imitate Tate's modus operandi will end up a little bit sad and lonely at best. If you don't treat partners with respect, at best you'll end up with no partner. If you act in a coercive manner, you may end up in prison, and you may find that there are far more 'alpha male' cell partners than you. 

Over the last few years, I've thought more and more about the relationship between money and happiness in our lives. I suspect that when we get to the point where we are lighting cigars with £50 notes, we are no longer enjoying it. It is simply a way of saying to everyone else "I have lots of money".  In my experience, friends will soon bore of anyone who carries on in such a manner. You may end up with a bunch of like minded friends, but who really wants to spend their lives surrounded by rich bores, who all sane people avoid like the plague. I couldn't help but think back to the 1970's and the Confessions of a window cleaner films.  For a short period, every teenage boy wanted to be a window cleaner, as they thought they'd get lots of sex. It didn't take us long to recognise the fact that the films rather over glamourised the profession. I suspect that in about 45 years, someone, somewhere will be writing a blog, or whatever the equivalent is, stating that it is hard to believe that anyone took Andrew Tate seriously. 

The best antidote to such silliness is for young men is to have happy successful male role models who are not tied up in such silliness. Having said that, the likes of Tate should not be taken too seriously as they have a habit of sinking just as fast as they rise. Harvey Weinstein is a good example of what happens when they don't grow up. Sadly, they make a lot of people unhappy on the way. 

Monday 20 February 2023

Environment Monday - In Mill Hill, we already live in a fifteen minute city and it is great

The nutterati have a new bogie subject to rant about. It is the concept of 15 minute cities. One of our favourite local loonies has been ranting about it for a couple of weeks. Rather amusingly, he doesn't seem to realise that in Mill Hill, we already live in a fifteen minute City. Wikipedia defines a fifteen minute city as "The 15-minute city is an urban concept in which most daily necessities and services, such as work, shopping, education, healthcare, and leisure, should be located within an easily reachable 15-minute walk or bike ride from any point in the city."

So how does Mill Hill compare? 

Work - I walk to work every day. My studios are 10 minutes walk from my house. I'd estimate that probably 30% of the people I know these days work locally, or work from home. As Mill Hill is a suburb of London, many work in Central London. They commute on Thameslink, which is an electric mass transport system. Although not astrictly speaking part of the 15 minute City concept, I worked in Central London for many years and with Thameslink was never more than a train ride and a 15 minute walk from work. I think that non polluting mass transport systems should be included as part of the definition.

Shopping - We do 90% of our shopping in Mill Hill. With M&S, Iceland and Tesco's, it is well served. We also have a great butcher in Boucherie Gerard and a brilliant wine shop with Mill Hill Wines. 

Sadly, the cheese shop that Matthew Offord promised Mill Hill when he was elected in 2010 has never materialised, which would be a real bonus.

Education - There are some great schools in Mill Hill. My kiods went to St Vincents, which is about 20 minutes walk, but as we have dogs, that was always part of their walkies. It is a beautiful walk. We also have Mill Hill County High as a secondary school. Sadly, my eldest didn't get in as we were 0.98 of a mile from the school, and the limit was 0.75 when she wanted to go, so had to get a bus to Finchley. My middle daughter made it in.

Healthcare -  I belong to Millway Surgery, which is just down the road and most people I are signed up to the practice, which has grown massively since it was based across the road from me in Millway. There is also a dentist on Millway and an oseopath. When I go for specialist cancer treatment, it is at UCH, which is a short journey away on Thameslink. World class centres of excellence are not part of the concept.

Leisure - Mill Hill is well served with restaurants (last August I listed 38 on the Broadway and that doesn't include our El Vaquerra or excellent local chippy, the King Neptune at The Green Man) , parks, and a few decent drinking establishments. We have a biannual music festival and Pubs such as the Adam and Eve have regular music and comedy. I'd love to see a boutique cinema. We also have Powerleague football pitches and Saracens which are at the limit of a quick 15 minute stroll.

Sadly, many of the newer development sites in Barnet are not so well designed and well sited. At the far end of the Inglis Barracks development, there is far less within easy access. I believe Barnet Council is failing miserably to plan proper infrastructure around new developments. If you look at the Watling Estate, build between the wars, when town planning was taken seriously. Tube lines were built, shopping parades, surgeries, dental practices, libraries, churches etc. It is beyond my comprehension why people are ranting about good planning and good civic design. There is a very misinformed campaign to terrify people into beleiving that you won't be allowed out if you live in a fifteen minute city. For some reason, it seems that some people simply can't understand the concept that if you have good services within walking distance, you might just use your car a bit less. The reason I've stayed in Mill Hill is because I'm living the fifteen minute dream already!


Sunday 19 February 2023

The tweets of the week in the London Borough of Barnet 19th February 2023

I have to be honest. I've not done this feature for a couple of weeks. The reason? I genuinely couldn't find ten tweets of the quality to justify it and I was not going to do it for the sake of it.  I'm pleased to say that this week, we've had a good selection of decent tweeting locally. So enjoy!

1. Well we've mentioned this before, but both of these are well worth another plug, in case you missed them

2. A date for your diary. This should be good

3. This sounds spooky!

4. These guys do great work

5. Nice pic of Edgware from one of our fave accounts!

6. A date for your diary. This will be fun

7. I'm pretty sure that Mark Amies, who writes @Time_NW and is very keen on aviation history will love this pic from Colindale!

8. Great memories from when Spurs training ground was at Copthall Playing fields from Ben Harris. Nice pic!

9. A great idea! A mill Hill Picture of the week. Maybe every neighbourhood in Barnet should do this

10. and finally, an interesting post on why it's worth using a professional music studio for your band rehearsals

That's all folks.

Saturday 18 February 2023

The Saturday List #397 - Every job I've ever done!

 I am quite surprised that it took me until list #397 to list these. I've been working hard since the age of four, so there are quite a few. I enjoy working and can't foresee a time when I don't, although the pattern of what I do may well change. Writing (and I include song writing) is the biggest joy of my life (well that I'd mention on a family blog!). My definition of a job is something that someone pays you to do and you keep the money, so charity collecting doesn't count. 

1. 1966 - Child model and actor. I got into this by accident. My eldest sister Cath was a model and was asked to attend an audition for a Tizer advert. My mum, being a skinflint, didn't want to pay for child care, so she took me and all my sisters along. As they were looking for a family, they cast us all on the spot. I got signed up to Norrie Carr agency as a model/actor aged four. I was extremely busy doing TV commercials, including Heinz Beans, Lucozade, Galaxy chocolate and Dairy milk, until my Mum was struck with Cancer in 1970. I earned enough to but a guitar and amp when I got access to the cash aged 16 (my sister bought a house with her dosh, maybe I should have 'checked the accounts'). I loved it as it meant time off school.

2. 1973 - Cleaning cars and making tea at MacMetals. When I was eleven, my Dad asked me to help him clean a few cars at his business. I loved MacMetals in Bunns Lane and I loved being around my Dad at that time. He got me washing cars, hoovering them out and making the tea. On Saturdays, we'd play cards and have bacon rolls at morning tea break. I loved it. 

3. 1976 - Paper round at Glaziers/Vernons news agents. When I was fourteen and legally old enough to work, I got a job as a paperboy, delivering papers. According to Paul Vernon, I was the worst paper boy he'd ever had. I was constantly late. I used to walk my beagle Bruce on the round. Once I was out of bed, I enjoyed it. I used to get chatting to people and end up rolling into school at 10am. Id id it for a couple of years. 

3. 1977 -  Painter and decorator. As I had what we now call learning difficulties (dyslexia), I ended up doing building studies at Finchley Catholic school. It was great, we had a day out of school and could wear steel toe capped DM's, which were banned normally. I took on summer jobs doing painting and papering jobs at peoples homes and did it full time for a couple of years when I left school.

4. 1979 - Cashier in Texaco garage Mill Hil. I did this for one night. It was well paid. I was useless and couldn't get my head around the system. A bloke at school that I didn't like then got the job. I got my revenge by nicking his girlfriend. 

5. 1979 - Running a rehearsal studio.  Mill Hill Music Complex opened in 1979, although it wasn't called that back then. I'd make pocket money by renting it out to mates bands. I rented the space off my Dad's business, used it for my band and earned extra money renting it out to mates.

6. 1980 - Being a musician in a band. In 1980, The False Dots got the first of very many paid gigs. It never quite made me the millionaire that I dreamed of, but I got to play at many of my favourite venues, toured in Europe, played with some amazing musicians and even wrote a song that was the Manchester City FC goal of the month show theme tune, getting over 11 million views. I'm still doing it. Earned the odd penny from passing on my musical knowledge as well.

7. 1982 - Assembling mini bat detectors for a company called Physiological instrumentation for Queen Mary College, as part of a global project to monitor the worlds bat population. The firm was based in Delancy Passage in Camden. I loved working there but was let go when the contract was fulfilled.

8. 1983 - Warehouse packer. I worked for Academic Press in Oval Road Camden, putting books in boxes. It was mindnumbingly boring work, but there were some wonderful charactersworking there, including Dave London, a professional middleweight boxer, who became a good mate whilst I worked there. We'd skive off and play pool. Needless to say I got the boot for being lazy. 

9. 1983 - Computer Operator for SPL International. Having realised that I needed money urgently, I signed up for a computer course and to my complete surprise, got a wonderful job working for one of the UK's top software suppliers.

10. 1986 - Computer Systems manager for BT. SPL were taken over by Systems Designers, who informed me that they didn't employ non graduates in technical roles. After a Mexican standoff, I decided to take a job at BT as systems manager for the Link ATM network, that BT had the contract to run. I was earning a packet, which was good, buThe project was a stunning success and a big feather in my bow.

11. 1987 - Computer programmer at TSB Bank. After my Dad died in January 1987, my manager was so obnoxious to me that I left. Fortunately a mate got me a job as a programmer at TSB Bank. I found, much to my surprise, that I was very good at this. I got a payrise and a subsidised mortgage. 

12. 1989 - Computer Programmer at BACS in Burnt Oak. I wanted a local job, one which was near the studio, which we were working on building up. BACS were around the corner and it was well paid, with a subsidised mortgage. I rather enjoyed it. Nice people and very convenient.

13. 1990 - Property management. When my Dad died, my Mum was keen to sell the family property business. I got together with a brother and a sister and persuaded her to let us assist her in the running. Within two years, we'd trebled the income. I've been involved in property ever since. Unlike some people, I've always tried to be ethical and fair and I get on very well with just about everyone I've had dealings with. 

14. 1991 -  Freelance Computer Consultant. BACS decided to have a round of voluntary redundancies. They were offering me £16,000 to do nothing. As we needed cash to sort out the studio, it was a no brainer. I could also keep the Mortgage subsidy for five years. So I became a freelance consultant, working on systems for firms such as Lloyds Bank, Centrefile, Nat West and JP Morgan. It was well paid and rather interesting. Idipped in and out of this until 2017, when I decided the studio was robust enough to pay my wages full time. 

15. 1998 - Shop owner. As we expended the studios, we opened a music shop on site.It is still running. Owning a business buying and selling guitars is wonderful!

16. 2008 - Blogger/Writer. In 2008, I started up The Barnet Eye. To make it look more professional, I signed up for an Adwords account. This has paid for a fair few curries and beers for me an the Mrs over the years. It's not a fortune, but it makes me feel good. As a result of the blog, I've been commissioned to write articles for The Guardian and contributed to a book published by Auroro Metro publishers. Writing has become an abiding love.

17. 2011 - Film maker. John Burgess of Unison asked me to help him make a film about Barnet Council and the One Barnet outsourcing project. It was something I wanted to do. It cost me a large amount of money to put together, but we ended up making two films. Although that was not an earner, the experience gave me a whole new skill set that has come in very useful and has since then generated a few pennies, mostly just helping out and casting an eye over peoples projects and making sure their films and videos work properly. It is also nice to be able to knock up your own promo's

18. 2014 - Technical consultant for Lloyds Bank plc. In 2014, I took a job at Lloyds Bank. I had finished an IT contract in 2012 and had decided to step away from IT completely to concentrate on the studio. Sadly, the costs of our rebuild had massively overrun, so I needed some cash. A mate offered me a job as they needed to beef up a project team. I did it for a couple of years. I'd have to fly up to Edinburgh once a month and was the technical lead on a major project with nearly 400 people working on it. After a couple of years, a mate offered me 'the perfect job' back working as a freelancer. It was anything but. I bitterly regret leaving Lloyds, as it was a wonderful time. After 18 months back as a freelancer, that was it. 

19. 2017 - Business improvement consultant. Over the years, I've helped a stack of people who are friends to sort out their business finance problems. I'd never dreamed of charging them, but in 2017 a mate needed some help to sort out a few problems within his book publishing business. After a discussion up at the pub, he agreed to pay me to assist his business. It has worked rather welll for both of us. 

You may get the idea that I have made a pretty penny. Most of what I've earned has been reinvested back into the business. I love music and I think musicians deserve the best facilities. The pandemic devastated the finances of just about everyone associated with music. Our business is just about back to breaking even, having had a massive chunk taken out. In 2019, we were planning expansion and a new studio block. Now we are simply trying to ensure the business survives. It will take us five good years to be back where we were in 2019. If it wasn't for the fact that I play in a band and have been having a blast, maybe I'd be downhearted about it, but if you love what you do, you find a way. My advice is to try and do things you love. If an environment isn't working for you, find something else. 

I'm always open to new opportunities. 

Here is a nice little video I made last year, that I think sums up the musical aspects of my career.


Friday 17 February 2023

The Friday Joke - A Cracker and a brilliant 1970's novelty record

 It's Friday, I don't know about you, but after the week I've had, I need a laugh or two. I must say I thoroughly enjoyed putting this together, it cheered me up no end. 

Hat tip to Robert Wilkinson for yet another cracker (or should that be 2n'd hand cracker joke? ) - This made me chuckle.

I miss the 1970's and novelty records that would grace the charts. This is one of the best.

Thursday 16 February 2023

Air quality - Will the ULEZ really make any difference?

 Science is a funny old thing. My old physics teacher at FCHS, John Shuttler, the best teacher in the school, explained how science works. On a basic level it is really simple. You measure stuff. Then you change things and you measure it again. If you have a theory, you make the changes that your theory suggests and see if the measurements change accordingly. If they do and they do repeatedly, then your theory is most probably sound. But you can only call something science when you have sturdy data. 

Which brings us to the ULEZ. Mayor Khan was on the radio yesterday. A figure of 4,000 children dying in London due to bad air quality was mentioned. Only the most selfish soul on  the planet could possibly disagree with measures that would save them, wouldn't they? 

But then we keep hearing about one poor girl, who had air pollution listed on her death certificate as a contributory factor in her death. There is a huge difference between 4,000 and 1. This is where I start to have a problem. There are only two possible reasons for this. The first is that hospitals and coroners are being negligent in the recording of causes of death, or the 4,000 deaths a year are not due to pollution, in which case, the case for ULEZ is completely false. 

I have no doubt that air pollution has a role in poor health. What I haven't seen is any science that definitively proves that this measure will save 4,000 lives. When Mayor Khan speaks about seeing children in hospitals, he doesn't mention the Edmonton incinerator, which will cause huge air pollution. Little is said about the pollution from wood burning stoves and aviation. 

When Ken Livingstone brought in Congestion charging, he improved public transport. Khan has done almost nothing. The crossrail project, the one big improvement in London predated his reign. There are all manner of schemes that he could push for, such as the West London Orbital Rail Scheme. This will make a huge difference, but guess what? This scheme, which has TFL backing will use diesel trains to move people around. I am 100% behind the scheme, but surely it should be done properly. I think the UK must be the only developed country planning major rail projects that rely on diesel and for Khan to be lecturing us and then planning this is, shall we say, a tad odd.

The point that I am trying to make is that Mayor Khan is proposing a massive change that will have a huge impact on many Londoners, without any proper data monitoring being in place to demonstrate that it has worked. He has ignored many other sources of air pollution, which may or may not have an impact and he's even promoting schemes that will add diesel based transport in London. He's done nothing to improve public transport in London, that would dramatically reduce the number of car journeys and fares have gone up, pushing people away from Public transport. 

For me, the crux of the matter is that we need proper science to back up such changes. I want to see every pollution related death recorded as such on death certificates. I want to see if there are hotspots, especially near incinerators and other major sources of pollution. Should we be extending the ULEZ zone on the lines that Mayor Khan wants? I don't think this freedom of information request on the Mayors own website supports this,2%20of%20the%20death%20certificate.

To quote Mayor Khan's own response

There was 1 death registered in London in the period 2001 to 2021 which had exposure to air pollution recorded on the death certificate in either part 1 or part 2 of the death certificate. This death was attributed to environmental air pollution, however we are unable to determine whether this involved car emissions.

You may wish to read this study - It has this graphic. I'm really not sure this has any convincing evidence that Mayor Khan is really dealing with the matter.

I'm all for better air quality for everyone, but surely this should be aimed at the biggest pollutors and should be done in such a way that specific sectors have proper support to transition to low pollution solutions. Generally people who have older diesel vehicles are not particularly well off and need the vehicles for work. I'd like to see such people either be given a lot more financial help to change to low pollution vehicles, or given exemptions from the rules for a period. 

Wednesday 15 February 2023

Rediscovering my love of Rock and Roll

So I had a busy weekend, as I am sure you gathered, from the relative lack of blogging. The band were up at the Bacon Lane Club, performing the Burnt Oak Boogie in Burnt Oak! It was a blast!

I've always enjoyed playing with The False Dots and I go to gigs all the time, so it may sound strange to say that I'd sort of fallen out of love with Rock and Roll music. I didn't suddenly start hating it and turning off the radio when I heard it, I didn't give the vinyl to Oxfam, but I realised that nothing much new was inspiring me. The bands I was enjoying all seemed to be a legacy of 1977 and Punk/New Wave or were different genre's such as soul, ska and reggae. Even my songwriting has very much moved towards Ska over the last five years. 

Running a music studio, I hear all manner of new, up and coming bands. I found that the ones I stopped and had a crafty listen to were not rock bands. They just didn't interest me. Was this because the music wasn't great or just because my tastes had changed. Of course there are some that are great and I admired the technical ability or songwriting of, but none were exciting me enough to actually buy a ticket and check them out, something I do all of the time. 

My taste in Rock and Roll music has always been very much skewed towards punk, 60's psychedelia and 50's rock and roll. I never got metal or prog and I doubt I ever will. I suppose by definition, that explained the fact that newer exponents didn't excite me, but over the years, I've always discovered interesting new sounds to get into. It wasn't a conscious thing, but I guess that from around the mid 1990's, I was finding less and less new rock and roll music to get into.

I can hear you saying "Well Rog, that's just getting old and becoming a boring old fart". Well, something has happend over the last year. I've started to find new bands and sounds that I though "You know what, that is pretty good". The first sign of this rock and roll renaissance was when I discovered a band called Voodoo Radio. The singer is brilliant and she turned up at the studio, where we had a chat. She mentioned her band and I checked them out and was blown away. Musically they remind me of a mash up of the sound of The Ramones, with the attitude of Bondie and the vibe of the Cramps. They really are very good. Even my missus who has never really done rock and roll liked them. Check em out

Last November, we played a gig at The Dublin Castle. One of the support bands was a young band called Divided Compass. They were absolutely brilliant. Here is a taster, although I have to say that some of their more rocky numbers are the one's I'd have chosen for a live video. The guitarist is a real dynamo and worth the price of admission to see them. They play pretty good and put on an excellent show. Everyone who came down to see us told me they were pretty blown away by them.

We are playing at the Dublin Castle again, on Wednesday 15th March (Tickets in advance here As I always do, I checked out the sound of the other bands. I was delighted to see that Tony at the Castle had rebooked Divided Compass. I was intrigued by the write up for one of the other bands "The Harlem Racket - ever attended Karl Lagerfeld's Vampire Club? Well tonight's the night...and expect some grinding garage rock with your bloody neck bizniz too. That's just one of the marvellously monikered Harlem Racket's spiky little vignettes of joy...enjoy them all." . As one does, I did a quick google of them and this was what came up. It is brilliant. I must say that I'm really looking forward to the gig. The only thing better, in my view, than going to see great bands is to be on the same bill at a gig as them. 

I've realised that there is plenty of stuff out there, you just have to look and when you do, you find all manner of great new music. It is easy to stay in your comfort zone, listening to music recorded decades ago. I'm lucky, I play in a band and run a studio so I get to hear this. I really feel I should share it with you!


Tuesday 14 February 2023

What is going wrong with Football?


How was your weekend? On Saturday I went to watch Hadley FC in a wonderful game against Biggleswade in the Southern Central League Division one. I'm a season ticket holder at Hadley FC and have recently become a shareholder. On Sunday I watched Manchester City, the love of my football life, demolish Aston Villa. This was the first game since City were charged with breaking the rules of financial misconduct. 

As you can imagine, I've had quite a few conversations about football over the last week. My view on the situation with City? If they have broken the rules, then they should be punished proportionately. Whatever this turns out to be will mean little to me. I remember when City were in the third tier and the fans would wave inflatable banana's at the players to help ease the pain of the dire football being served up. I can't lie, it's more fun when your team is winning trophies, but like most long suffering City fans, it wouldn't suprise me to find us in the Conference next year, stripped of every vestige of success of the last few years. A similar thing happened to Rangers in Scotland and the club and it's supporters came through it. I am sure most committed City fans would simply say "We start again" and a lot of Non League clubs would have their best season ever. There is even the slim possibility that City may play Hadley in the FA trophy. Of course, whilst that wouldn't surprise me, I would be absolutely gutted. As a City fan, and yes I am biased, I've long felt that the club have had a raw deal from the football authorities. The owners of City have invested huge amounts in City, making it in many ways a model club. They've invested hugely in the academy, with some amazing young players emerging. They've invested in the Stadium and in Manchester. They have been key players in much of the regeneration of Manchester. I'm not blind to the problems with the ownership, in many ways I'd love to see foreign ownership banned, but if that came to pass, would football in the UK be better for it? 

The likes of City and Chelsea have brought some of the best footballers in the world to England. The Premier League is the place to be. If you had the choice between watching the very best players or watching less able players, what would you really prefer? As someone who watches Hadley, I do enjoy watching football at all levels, but having seen Kevin DeBruyne, David Silva and Sergio Aguero at their best, I've seen some stunning performances that at times took your breath away. Before the current era of rich foreign investors, we had a long period where the League was only won by Arsenal or Manchester City. Since City were taken over, we've had City, Man Utd, Chelsea, Leicester and Liverpool winning. The last four seasons have seen monumental battles between City and Liverpool, going down to the last match. Is this really bad for football?

As a passionate fan, there are plenty of things that I hate about football. What we saw with the last two wordl cups and the dodgy processs of awarding world cups, to my mind, makes any shenanigans by clubs wishing to improve their squads, pale into insignificance. The FA is a part of that process and is tainted by it. I wonder "who are they to judge". People who criticise the human rights record of the owners of City turn a blind eye to the exploitation and child labour deployed in making their own replica kits.These are produced for a pittance and sold for a fortune, often to parents struggling to make ends meet. Clubs produce several kits a year, to squeeze every penny out of their fanbase.

 If you look at the sponsors of clubs, you have gambling companies, Oil Companies, drinks companies, etc. There are almost no ethics in who clubs sign up as sponsors. The Russian energy company Gazprom were Champions League sponsors until the invasion of Ukraine last year. Football is run for TV companies and I can't recall the last time I saw a game without bookies ads in the break. I even wrote a song about the subject - CLICK HERE FOR A LISTEN. Bookies don't run the adverts out of the goodness of their hearts to help make football a better sport. They run ads during matches to get you to part with your hard earned cash. I can only wonder how many kids won't be getting their Man Utd top for Xmas because Daddy spent all his money with on line bets.  As far as the bookies are concerned, they fund football purely to ensure we part with as much cash as possible, in their direction. I must add that TV advertising of bookies is a relatively new phenominum. The British government used to recognise that gambling is a danger to society and so banned it. To me, this is the real scandal in British football. I wouldn't stop gambling,  I occasionally have a punt, but I would ban TV advertising, especially during sporting events. 

My son used to play for Watling Boys Football club. Whilst there was all this money sloshing around at the top level, some boys in my sons team couldn't afford boots. Parents had to have a whip around. Probably half of the football pitches I used to play on as  a kid have been built on. At Hadley on Saturday, their was a crowd of over 150 and a great atmosphere, which reassures me that there is a market for grassroots football, but I don't see too many 'trickle down' benefits in football, from the Premier League. 

We now have more football on TV than ever, we have better players than ever, we have more money sloshing around than ever, but at the top level, it has become so expensive, that a whole layer of the social strata of society is excluded. How many times do you hear rich, right wing commenators taking pot shots at 'single mothers on benefits who can still afford Sky TV", clearly begrudging kids with little in their lives access to watching footie. When it comes down to it, ultimately all I can really conclude is that it's not football that has the problem. It is wider. Personally, I have less problems with foreign owners of football clubs than I do with foreign owners of railways and energy companies. I have far less problem with bookies names on team shirts, than I do with bookies advertising on TV, aggressively trying to making us think that gambling is a cool thing to do. I have far less problem with dodgy owners of football clubs, than I have with us being reliant on those same owners for our enegry supplies. 

The biggest hypocisy of it all are then fans who call out clubs like City as cheats, whilst wishing deep in their hearts that they had such owners. In some ways, the stand off between City and the football authorities is as much a game as what happens on the pitch. Just as they have with Premiership titles, City have been here before. They know the game.They will have the best lawyers and they have already won a monumental battle with UEFA. If I was putting a bet on, I'd put my money on City's team. It strikes me as unlikely that City would have been so stupid as to have broken 115 regulations, especially as they were under investigation for much of that period. My prediction is that they will win, but every fan of every other club will think they 'got away with it'. People forget that Financial Fair Play (FFP) rules were not brought in to stop rich people buying success. They were brought in to stop clubs from living above their means, which resulted in some spectacular collapses. If the FA and Premier League were serious about levelling up the playing field, they could do this very simply, with salary caps for players, splitting the home ground take as was done prior to the inception of the Premier League and limits on squad sizes. The only problem would be that the best players would move abroad to La Liga etc. Given that football is one industry that we actually lead the world in, would that really be the best thing to do?

Saturday 11 February 2023

The Saturday List #396 - The Top Ten Tweets by the NW London TimeMachine @time_nw local history twitter feed

 This week, the North West London Time Machine account passed 5,000 views! If you don't follow it you should. It has spent four years publishing some of the most amazing historical pictures of North West London and has rightly become an account that anyone who has even a passing interest in our North West London community follows. It doesn't do stunts, boast or promote itself. It simply posts interesting content about our area. It epitomises what a local Twitter account should be. 

 This account has become an amazing resource. Although I take no credit for it's success, this is 100% down to the hard work of Mr Mark Amies, the BBC Radio London Industrial Historian, I think I can claim a small tad of credit with regards to the creation of the site. I was having a conversation about what local Twitter accounts should do if they want to be genuinely successful. Myself and Mark both believe that an account should primarily post interesting content. Mark said that he was convinced that an account that simply posted good content on a regular basis would soon gain a large following, just based on word of mouth. He set up @Time_NW to prove this. 

Within a very short period of time, it exceeded both his and my expectations. This genesis has almost been forgotten as the account has developed into a brilliant example of what's good about Twitter. Now as regular readers will know, the account regularly features in our tweets of the week. This is not because Mark is a mate, or because I have a stake (I don't). It is because it is wonderful. So I thought, as the account passed 5,000, which was a milestone we discussed in the early days, I'd have a look at the best tweets that the account has published. I must add that on many of Marks posts, the discussion they spark are even better than the original tweet and even better pictures pop up. 

What is not to like? So here we go. In chronological order.

1. So lets start at the beginning. The very first post to appear in the Tweets of the week back in April 2019. I did wonder what it would be like and it's pretty damn good!

2. By June, the account was getting great traction and engagement. This tweet about the Expresss Dairys bottling plant in Cricklewood is a good example

3. One theme that Mark is keen on is ariel pictures, which again spark wonderful debates. This is a great example from November 2019

4. Mark has a fascination with the history of aviation in NW London. This is one of many great tweets. A great example of the work put into his tweeting

5. On feature of Mark's work is threads of several tweets. This is a great example


7. One theme Mark likes to develop is to clear up little local puzzles, often using drawings from the pre-photography period.

8. Sometimes Mark finds wonderful pictures of buildings that you'd forgotten. This is one such example from August 2021. I can remember going there with my Dad as a nipper. Have to be honest, this isn't how I recall it!

9. Another great theme in Mark's tweeting is local film locations. This is a rather good one from July 2022, as he pulls in the local film studios as well. STirling work!

10. And finally, the most recent tweet to feature. This is the first in a long chain, which is well worth a look

And finally, thanks to Mark. I hope that if you haven't done so already, you have been persuaded to follow his account! He puts in a lot of work and I don't think you'll find a better local account to keep an eye on.

That's all folks!