Wednesday 31 May 2023

The Finger in the Sun sessions - Day 2

 Yesterday was day two of the False Dots recording sessions at Boz Boorer’s Sierra Vista studios. It was a long day, finishing at 1am. We polished off guitar tracks, vocals and started on the little bits that make track’s special. I rate Boz as a musical genius. I think his work with Morrissey, Adam Ant and The Polecats stands up. The gold discs on the wall confirm this.

The songs are taking shape and one aspect I love of recording is that you hear your ideas come to life. Making music is different to other art forms such as painting, writing and poetry. You finish a recording and it’s done, but the next time you play it live, it will be different again. We have very different arrangements for live and recorded versions. Being a three piece, we simply cannot put the parts in, we’d need at least 3 other members. When we play live though, we can put all the energy in that is that mysterious property that makes live music so amazing.

As a musician, I try and make music that stands up and sounds great. To me, songwriting is about catching and harnessing magic that is floating in the ether. If it says something that has to be said, then great. If it makes someone happy then amazing, if it gets people though hard times even better. When I make a recording, my dream is that one day, someone I’ll never know will listen to it and think ‘what a banging tune’. If they tell their mates, all the better.

That is our mission 

Tuesday 30 May 2023

The Finger in the Sun sessions - Day 1

 It had been my intention to give the blogging a break whilst we were in Monchique, Portugal, recording The False Dots new album, provisionally entitled ‘A finger in the Sun’ with musical genius Boz Boorer, at his Sierra Vista studios. We arrived at midnight on Sunday, ate, had a beer and crashed out. Boz has well adapted to life in Portugal, but I always wake up at 7.30, so I have some time on my hands, whilst the rest of the crew slumber, so I thought I’d share the fun.

It is glorious here, my troubles have been left at home. This is my view as I write this.

Yesterday we had a great big fry up to start the day. Then we launched into the job at hand. We recorded drums and bass at my studio in Mill Hill, brought the files, transferred them to Boz’s setup and launched into putting down guitars. This process was liberally lubricated with madronia (the local hooch) and beer. It was a full on day, we finished at 11pm.

I put my lead and rhythm guitar, then Boz added a few tracks. He is an amazing player and it really brought the tracks to life. It helps that Boz and I speak the same language musically. If I suggest a New York Dolls riff, he gets it. 

We made great progress and the three we did are sounding wicked. Our drummer Rambo joined us, but his percussion overdubs will be done tomorrow, so he’s been chilling out. 

His day job is on the maintenance team at Camden Council  so the mountains is a welcome change. I needed a break and I could not be in a better place.

See you tomorrow 


Sunday 28 May 2023

Reality bites, facing up to the future - Rog T's Cancer blog

 Today, I fly to Portugal to (hopefully) finish work on the new album by The False Dots. It is provisionally entitled "A finger in the Sun". We have recorded the backing tracks to five songs in our Mill Hill Music Complex studios, and are going to Boz Boorer's Seirra Vista studios in Monchique to puit the cherry on top. Boz is an amazing music producer and the environment at his studios is ideal for finishing off an album. When we work in Mill Hill, I am always being interrupted. Customers need help, friends drop in. I love it, but being isolated is great. What's this got to do with my recent cancer diagnosis? Well, I won't be writing any blogs till I get back, so I wanted make sure that everyone knew this is for good rather than bad reasons.

And how am I? Well that's an interesting question. .Following my diagnosis on Wednesday and the news that I will need 'further treatment', I think people expect me to be on deaths door, pale and gaunt, but nothing could be further from the truth. If it wasn't for the fact that I'd had an MRI and had samples snipped off my prostate gland I'd have no idea I had the bloody disease. They caught it early. Physically, I feel as fit and well as I ever have. My Fitbit tells me that my cardiac fitness is fine, I average 10,000 or more steps a day

Yesterday, I went on a London International Ska Festival River cruise and spent four hours drinking beer and bopping. I couldn't have been happier. 

But sadly, life isn't all drinking beer and boppping in the sun. There are things to be faced up to, decisions to be made. There are a few stark facts about the disease

In England

  • More than 47,000 men are diagnosed with prostate cancer every year in England.
  • More than 10,000 men die from prostate cancer every year in England.
  • Every hour, one man dies from prostate cancer in England.
  • More than 410,000 men are living with and after prostate cancer in England.

I was diagnosed in 2011. I am currently one of the 410,000 men mentioned. You can find out more here if you are worried. I'd urge every man aged 50 and over to get checked out. Whilst I have some difficult decisions, none are likely to involve booking an appointment with COOP funeral services (other companies are available) due to this any time soon. 

But it's not happy days. I think for most men like me, the biggest fear of any treatment is that you will become unable to have sexual relations as a result of any treatment. I love my wife and I still fancy her like mad. I am really relaxed about the prospect of death, I have few fears, but the thought of not being able to have a sexual relationship terrifies me. Maybe some of this is irrational, but there is a part of my mind that tells me that no sane woman would want to be with a man who is impotent. I am sure that it won't surprise you to learn that she tells me that this will make no difference to her feelings for me, but I cannot escape the fear that maybe I'll only be half a man. There is a part of me that tells me I should refuse all treatments, until I really do have no choice and the cancer has made the decision for me. When I mentioned this in 2016, she was horrified that I could even think this. What is even more horrififying is most sexually functioning men I know, who have a diagnosis, tell me that this is something they have seriously considered. I am still seriously considering this as an option. I know it is a stupid option, but there is a voice telling me to squeeze every ounce out of a full life whilst I still can. 

Having said that, it is only an option to be considered and it is probably not one that I will choose, although I will ask the doctors what that would mean. It is a Russian roulette option. It could blow my head off. I had a beer with a mate who has been through the radiotherapy option. He was very positive about it. I must confess, it scares me less than surgery. The down side is that the treatment will take a very long time. Six months of hormone therapy, six weeks of radio therapy for five days a week, then maybe 2 years of hormone therapy after. Then there is surgery. As I had HiFu this is a far more complicated procedure than if I hadn't. When I had HiFu, this was not properly explained. I am a bit annoyed at this, although in all honesty, I'd probably have gone for HiFu still. With surgery, it is highly likely I'll have the three dreaded I's - Impotence, Infertility and Incontinence. The upside? It should be the end of the matter and when I get used to it, I won't have to worry too much. 

Are there any other options, radical treatments? I really don't know. The other complication is that I need a PET scan before any decision is made. If the cancer has spread, then the surgical option becomes irrelevent. It will be hormone therapy. I am told that with the MRI and biopsy results, this is unlikely. At the moment, I am in limbo.

So how am I doing mentally? Well, I had a couple of dark days, but as I noted on Friday, my band rehearsal lifted my spirits. I am now mostly OK, although I have short episodes of feeling completely overhwhelmed by it all, when I feel like screaming. These have mostly been when I've been alone or walking the dogs. I can cope with things when I know what will happen, but it is all up in the air. I worry about my wife, the kids, the studio. I reflect on my life and all the bad decisions I've made, all the people I've upset, all of the things I should have done but didn't. All of the people who I let down. All of the people I should have apologised to, but I was too cowardly.  I guess it is only natural to be intraspective at such times and also rather self critical. I've always had a mild dose of imposter syndrome and find it hard to comprehend that I've achieved anything. I've always felt this was only because I have managed to surround myself with wonderful people and surfed the wave of their talents. There is a part of me that is scared by this cancer struggle as in many ways it is not something I can rely on anyone else to deal with. I have great friends who are supportive, I am blessed, but when I go into treatment, much of it will be how my own body reacts and responds. Does my body like me? Clearly I've upset it to be where I am. 

But all of that aside, I'm off to Portugal, I have work to do and I intend to do it to the best of my ability and have a damn good time in the process. See you at the end of next week. Hopefully with a suntan and a finished album.

Friday 26 May 2023

The Friday Joke - The Aliens and Jesus - and some thoughts on a rather tough week

Without further ado, here is the Friday joke, heaven only know, we all need a good laugh! Thanks to my mate Iain Begg for sharing this, it's a cracker

Some aliens landed on Earth and ended up in an audience with the Pope to discuss their respective religious beliefs.

To their mutual astonishment they were both familiar with Jesus.

"Oh yes," said the aliens. "He's a really great guy, and he swings by us quite regularly. We see him most years ..."

"Really?" said the Pope in astonishment. "He has only visited us once, and that was 2,000 years ago!"

"Weird!" replied the aliens. "We always have a massive party when he visits us - food, music, dancing ... it goes on for days and is the highlight of our year - he's such a cool guy! What did you do when he visited you?" ;)

Regular readers will know that I've had a difficult week. I had the results of my latest biopsy and the results have not been good. I am facing a few months of treatment and some of the effects may well have a lasting impact on my quality of life, something I've struggled to deal with, if I am completely honest. I am lucky. I have some great friends and a great band who have been really supportive. It makes a difference. I am putting my troubles behind me for a week and going to Portugal for a week to finish recording the False Dots new album with Boz Boorer on Sunday. Boz lives in Monchique and a week in the mountains is literally just what the doctor ordered. Wednesday and yesterday were quite difficult days. As sometimes happens when I have a lot of stress, my tinnitus was literally screaming in my ears. I took the dogs around Arrendene, which was beautiful, but only really sought to lower my spirits. I looked at all of the beauty, my dogs, the fields and I thought to myself of all the people in the world and the fact that in no time at all, this will all be washed away and no one will remember us. The universe is four and a half billion years old and we are less than a blink of an eyelid. 

We'd scheduled a False Dots rehearsal for last night and I found it quite an effort to haul my sorry ass down to Bunns Lane. I felt lacking in energy and enthusiasm. We set up, had a quick chat and a cup of tea and then launched into a full blown rendition of our current set. We played it as we played a gig. I had made the decision that I'd put everything into it. I needed to make some noise with the band. When you play music, your problems melt away. My band mates Fil Ross and Graham Ramsey are quite exceptional musicians. They musically take no prisoners. We have worked exceptionally hard to make a set of songs that we feel are wonderful. After maybe the first four bars of Bubble Car, our first number, I was no longer the sad. miserable, morose 'c\ancer victim' that I'd felt like all week. I was the lead singer/guitarist of the False Dots and we were rocking. The songs sounded exceptional. Full of life and energy. Whilst nothing may last for ever, when you make Rock and Roll music, it sends vibes out into the ether. Music is generated by the excitement of molucules by loud noise, in rythmic patterns. Those vibrations may fade, but maybe there will be some of those molecules vibrating to the music of the False Dots forever. 

I always enjoy playing, but for me last night was a boost I really needed. I video'd our last two numbers for posterity. The songs are Not all she seems, which I co wrote with Pete Conway in 1979 and Action Shock which I wrote in 1982. I was sixteen when I wrote Not all she seems. We'd been listening to a bit of The Velvet Underground at the suggestion of my eldest brother Laurie, who suggested that it was where the roots of Punk Rock lay. We wanted to write a song to shock people, so these two sixteen year old suburban kids, with no life experience, wrote a song about a transvestite prostitute, on the run from a violent pimp, who has a Tory MP as a client, who is madly in love with her, but who is too scared to admit it. The song was written before I knew what a pronoun was. The song ends when her pimp hunts her down. She packs her bags, disappears, never to be seen again. I always wondered what happened to her? Action Shock was inspired by The Falklands war. As it unfolded and the professional and well equipped British Army triumphed over a rag bag of ill equipped Argentine conscripts, I became fascinated by the concept of two soldiers meeting on a battle field in the middle of the night. One will not survive. In 1982, my Dad was still alive. He told me stories of loved ones at home waking up in the night, knowing that their loved one had died, at the exact moment they perished. Two men, face to face, enemies, who don't know each other, face to face. Only one will come home, one will be a red stain in the mud. Scared, cold and alone. What for? Because some old men (and women), thousands of miles away, couldn't get their act together to sort the problem out in a civilised manner. Although the story was inspired by the Falklands, it could be Eastern Ukraine, it could be Sudan, it could be anywhere, any time. Young men thrown to the wolves by politicians who couldn't give a shit. 

At the time of the Falklands war, I had a chat with my Dad, a former World War II bomber pilot about the nature of war. I was 20. He said "If ever you get called up son, remember two things. The top brass are not your friend, you are just cannon fodder, but if you don't do your duty, the people you love and the things you believe in will pass away". He told me of the tricks that experienced bomber pilots would pull, to ensure that they had a better chance of getting home safely. He'd always replot his course and try to get to the target first, as he believed that night fighters would let the first bomber through, so as to not give their presence away. He survived a tour of duty of 38 missions, although he was shot down on the last op of the tour. 

These days, the False Dots write more cheery songs. I've mellowed. Our new songs have a dancy, ska feel, but we always finish with these two as we can really rock out. It may amuse you to know that Hank Marvin of the Shadows gets a songwriting credit on Not all she seems. His son Paul was in the band when we wrote it. We rehearsed it at Hank's private studio in his home in Radlett. Hank suggested the riff that makes the song. He told me "You don't need to be able to play well to play a good, catchy riff". As far as I know, it is the only punk rock song Hank ever wrote!

If you like a bit of raucous punk rock, which celebrates life at it's grittiest, I hope you enjoy these two numbers, mistakes and all! It's now Friday morning. The dark clouds have lifted. I feel in a far more positive frame of mind. After our rehearsal, we had a beer and a chat. I thank God that I have good friends and I am not facing this alone. And yes, I really am alright now. Maybe, when I come through all of this, I will start a charity to get people with cancer playing Rock and Roll music. It may not cure your broken body, but it may just mend your broken heart! Have a great weekend and enjoy the music. 

I know that this is a  bit of a long ramble, but to me at least, I needed to share the simple fact that if you want to get through difficult times, take pride in what you have done in your life, do the the things you enjoy and don't be scared to see your friends. They will pull you through

Thursday 25 May 2023

Does the Pot Hole plague mean that Labour failed Barnet's taxpayers

 Last year, Labour promised to get to grips with Pot Holes in the Borough, as part of their manifesto. The Barnet Tories have picked on the fact that there seems to be more pot holes than ever after a year of Labour. They recently posted this tweet

But is this fair? Is this a new phenominum, or is it just "business as usual" in Barnet? Well back in April 2018, I posted the following tweets. I counted every pot hole on the 1/4 mile walk between my house on Millway and the polling station in Hartley Avenue. I called it Pothole bingo. How many do you reckon I counted?

Between 2002 and 2022, the Conservatives ran the council. I have lived in the Borough all of my life and before this time, pot holes were a rare occurrance. Roads were properly maintained and issues were dealt with. When the Tories got in, one of their flagship policies was to remove the road humps that Labour had installed between 1994 and 2002. A huge swathe of the roads maintenance budget was gobbled up removing road humps. It seems Ironic that their plan to increase road speeds has ended with even lower speeds as drivers weave through the dangers. My road, Millway, was resurfaced in 2011 when they took the humps out. 

According to the Precision Civils website, an asphalt surface should last 13 years. The Surface in Millway lasted around six years before it started to fall apart. As far as I can see, this means that the work was not done properly. You can see this from the 7th tweet in the series of tweets above. It has got far worse. 

Once a road surface starts to deteriorate like this, the only proper solution is to resurface the road. The hump removal programme wrecked many of the Borough's roads and is the reason we are where we are. Potholes are caused by water and ice. The water freezes and damages and cracks the surface and substrate. This allows more water to get in. Once the substrate is damaged, then the only real fix is to start again. The Barnet Tories left a skint council with wrecked roads. The problems are 100% down to them. 

However, Labour did come in with a pledge to fix the roads. I sympathise with their situation, but they now need a plan to deal with it. The simple answer is to borrow the money to do the job properly. As ongoing maintenance bills will be far lower, ultimately the council will save money. The only caveat is that Labour must not make the mistake the Conservatives made, which was to let dodgy contractors do sub standard work. Without doubt, the Conservatives will then scream that Labour are "piling up debt for future generations". This will be inaccurate as there will be a massive benefit and the long term maintenance costs will be far lower. As someone who runs a business, I am all for investment backed by debt when there is a clear financial return. 

There are many other smaller measures that could be done. Last May, when I stood for the Lib Dems in Mill Hill, we outlined a few. Sadly, we didn't get in and the new Labour council have adopted none of these ideas.

Wednesday 24 May 2023

"Your biopsy results show....." Rog T's Cancer Blog

 One piece of advice I will give before I start. Whenever you have a biopsy for cancer, try and make sure you have someone around who can support you if the news isn't good. There is literally nothing worse than feeling isolated and alone in the face of bad news. That is the biggest lesson I've learned on this journey. 

So to recap. On Friday the 12th May, I had a prostate biopsy, following a worrying MRI scan in March. At 11am today, I was scheduled to receive the results. I have been expecting bad news. The MRI scan and the PSA test result told me that things were very unlikely to be good. Last night, I was feeling very anxious. I dealt with this by drinking a couple of bottles of wine. Sensible? Maybe not, but I simply didn't want to spend the evening soberly reflecting on what may happen. I had hoped to arrange a band rehearsal, but sadly the guys were unavailable. There was no football on the TV and I really wasn't overly interested in any of the programs, so I listened to Country Joe and The Fish and drank some plonk. 

When I got up, I had some porridge, dropped my daughter off for walk, took the dogs to Mill Hill Park and enjoyed the sunshine. It was wonderful. All I could think was "It's a fine day for a hanging"

I got back, made a cup of tea, got the papers and awaited the news. As ever, the call was fifteen minutes late. The samples had been analysed. There were two areas of concern. In one area, the Gleason score was 7 (4+3) and in the other it was 8 (4+4). The scores mean the following

I have to be honest, this was worse than I expected. I assumed that there may be a couple of areas of 4+3, but the 4+4 was a shock. So we then discussed treatment options. The first thing is to have a PET scan to ascertain whether the cancer has spread outside of the Prostate. If it has, then the options are not quite so good. Given the location and state, this looks unlikely and I was advised this was precautionary, but then that was what I was told when I had my first PSA test. 

Assuming the PET scan is OK, the options are as follows. I will have the choice of a radical prostate removal or hormone therapy followed by radiation therapy. Doctors from each team will speak to me in the coming days and weeks. I am likely to commence treatment in the next 1/2 months.  That is where I stand.

This journey has had some ups and downs. This is the worst day so far. I cannot pretend that I am anything other than devastated. Right now, all I really want is my own company. Being positive, it is extremely likely that the cancer can be completely removed and dealt with. I am likely to have a whole range of unpleasant side effects, but I will not die. Life will most likely change and not for the better. But I have not been given a terminal diagnosis. The cancer is unlikely to have spread and I do have options. It is still more likely that I will die with it rather than from it. My early diagnosis has not spared me anxiety, but it has, most likely, ensured that it won't limit my lifespan. 

Right now, I need to process this news. In the bigger scheme of things, I am OK. Today is a bad day, but tomorrow I'll have got my head around it. If you see me today, talk about the weather, the football, anything but this. Tomorrow is a different day. 

I make this promise to you, dear reader and myself. Whatever happens, I will enjoy life, tomorrow my head will be in the right place. Just not today. Today is a day that I could do without. Now please leave me alone with my thoughts. 


--- About this feature
For those of you who are regular readers and have read the previous posts on Cancer, there's what this is all about. I write this blog because knowledge is power and if you know what you are dealing with, you have more weapons in the locker to fight it. It is a personal view, I'm not medically qualified. This is for the sole purpose of information for those who are interested.This is the latest installment in my occasional series about how I'm adjusting to living with a big C in my life.  For those of you who aren't, here's a quick summary. I'm 60 years old and in October 2011 I  had a prostate biopsy following two "slightly high" PSA tests - 2.8 & 4.1. The biopsy took ten tissue samples and one of these showed a "low grade cancer" which gave me a 3+3 on the Gleason scale. I was put on a program of active monitoring.  In early February, I got the results of the a PSA test - down to 3.5 and an MRI scan which found absolutely nothing, two more tests in 2012 were at 3.5 and 3.9, in 2013 my test was 4.0, Jan 2014 was 3.8, August 2014 was 4.0,  February 2015 it was  up to 5.5  and my latest in August 2015 was down again at 4.6. In October 2015 I had a transperinial Prostate biopsy, that revealed higher grade cancer and my Gleason score was raised to 3+4 (Small mass + more aggressive cancer). On 22nd Jan 2016 I had HIFU (Hi Intensity Focused Ultrasound) treatment at UCHL). My post procedure PSA in May was 4.0 which was down, followed by 3.7 in August, and 3.5 in October  which means that the direction is positive . However in January the follow up MRI revealed "something unusual which requires investigation" After a follow up biopsy, it appeared this was nothing to worry about. My two most recent PSA tests were Ok (3.7 and 4.6) and an MRI scan in March was very positive. A  PSA in October 2019 was 4.6, so stable and good news, the last in May 2020 was 5.45 a small rise, so worrying, however after a review against the most recent MRI, it was decided that this was fine. My two latest ones in February 2022 was 6.7 and October 2022 was 6.6 was stable. My MRI in March 2022 showed 'a change' so I am now awaiting a biopsy. I had a PSA test in late March which also showed a marked increase to 10.3.
 I've no symptoms apart from needing to wee quite regularly and sadly for a few people, if I'm gonna die soon, it won't be from Prostate cancer. Got the picture?

Monday 22 May 2023

The housing crisis, the planning system, the environment and the NIMBY enablers - Environment Monday

Over the weekend, I fell foul on Twitter of the YIMBY movement (something I'd not heard of previously), who have decided, rather amusingly that I'm a NIMBY and that I was a little flower who could be crushed by brute force! Given that I've got the M1 and the Midland Mainline railway in my back yard, I'd say that the charge of NIMBYism is not an easy one to make stick (for a sane, rational person).

It soon became clear to me that the leader of the YIMBY pile in was not really a YIMBY, more a IAARAHDYDWM ("I am always right, how dare you disagree with me" character). I am rather grateful to him, as he inspired me to put together a blog I've been pondering for a while on the subject of planning. I end with why such people are in fact a hindrance to the more reasonable people who may agree with them.

So where to start.

15 minute cities.

I like Mill Hill for several reasons, but the biggest is the excellent public transport links. I can get a Thameslink train to central London and be there in 18 minutes, and pick up an Elizabeth line train there to Heathrow. I can also get a direct train to Luton airport and Gatwick is an easy change away, as is the seaside at Brighton. I can take a 384 bus to the nearest hospital in Barnet (and Hadley FC who I support), I can take a 114/251/302 bus to Burnt Oak if I need the Northern Line. There are ample shops, cafe's and restaurants at the bottom of the road, parks and open spaces where I can walk my dog. There's even a fantastic music rehearsal and recording studio within walking distance, where I work and where I can indulge my hobbies. In short, I live in a 15 minute neighbourhood and love it. The only time I've driven my car in the last week is to deliver a PA system for a gig I was doing sound for. 

To my mind, any new city based developments should deliver exactly what I mentioned above. If stuff is on the doorstep and there are good transport links, it means less cars and less pollution. 

There is a caveat though. It's not enough to just be near all of those services. They need to be fit for purpose. The Hospitals must not be overloaded to breaking point, the Bus and train services should not be so busy that they are unusable. Shops need to provide goods at reasonable prices, not the premium price that many local convenience stores seem to charge. There needs to be ample open spaces and good air quality. Where these issues are not addressed, putting people in huge tower blocks is, to my mind inhuman. 

The Housing Crisis.

Which brings us on to the housing crisis. Lets start with the beneficiaries.The only people who are really happy are people who have a house and see the price rising, often by thousands of pounds a month and may be seeking to downsize. Many voters in this position are staunch Conservatives and for them, the system works (until their children want to join them on the property ladder, when many find that the equity in their property is soon gobbled up). But I firmly believe that the huge profits many Conservative voters are making are a root cause of the inaction of the Government in resolving the crisis. Anything that cools the housing market, will make a big dent in the value of their core voters property assets. If you want to understand why anything is a mess, follow the money.

The way the UK build houses is a complete mess. Social housing waiting lists are so long that they are simply not an option for many. My parents, who were not badly off, lived in council housing from 1946-1960, when they were in a position to buy, My brother was given a council house in Burnt Oak when he married and had a child in 1972. Today, anyone in their position would have no chance at all.

My daughter is a teaching assistant, a key worker, who worked during the pandemic. She is in expensive private rented accomodation and for her, the only chance of owning her own home is if I fall under a bus. Her generation has been failed. She has a bedroom in a shared house. In the last decade, we've seen huge numbers of flats built in the Borough of Barnet, but none of these has impacted the availability of council housing for young families. Estate agent windows are full of what are called "Luxury" flats. In my opinion, Luxury simply means 'overpriced' and none of the building locally has addressed the issues of housing poverty in Barnet. We have imported a lot of rather well to do people from other parts of the country, but for the young, working population of Barnet, we've done nothing. 

Of course, we've seen a huge influx of refugee's in the last few years, drawn to the UK by wars and we have to address their needs. I have no problem at all with the concept that the people with most genuine need go to the front of the queue. I am not always sure that the assessment of what is genuine need is correct, and can be very subjective, but we need a huge number of new homes in the UK and we need them as soon as possible. But we cannot simply build properties without the infrastructure around them that delivers a decent living environment. Which brings us to.....

The Planning System.

The bottom line with all of this is that the whole planning system is dysfunctional. It is broken. It does not do what it is supposed to do, which is ensure that there is ample housing, a decent environment and it is affordable. In London, local councils have responsibility for planning, but can in various circumstances be overridden by the planning inspectorate, the Mayor and the Secretary of State. The council has no control over transport, which is run by TFL and healthcare, which is run by the NHS and the government. So when a large scale development is planned, it is almost impossible for a council to ensure that the infrastructure needed to support it is delivered. 

I've had dealings with the system in Barnet. Back in 2000, I needed more space for my family. I had a choice, I could move or put an extra room in my loft. I chose the latter. It is wholly appropriate for local councils to adjudicate in such cases. The approval process was quite time consuming and a relatively minor change had two iterations before approval. It made me realise the frustration of many. I had no local objections and my plans impacted no one, but I was still refused initially. 

Small changes, such as extensions, loft conversions, etc deliver extra living space in a time when there is pressure on housing, should be given a fair wind, unless there is an adverse impact on the locality. As it is, there are many arcane rules, drawn up in a different era. They are not fit for purpose today.

As for larger changes. When we are talking schemes that deliver hundreds, if not thousands of homes, such as the proposed scheme for Edgware, having a process where the local council manages the process does not work. Developers know that in the event of a rejection, the Mayor will probably approve on nod. All that happens is a year is added to the process and local concerns are ridden roughshod over. In Edgware, 5,000 new residents will add a large number of passengers to the Northern Line. It will add a new strain on already overcrowded A&E units at Edgware Hospital and Northwick Park. If it was the only development in Barnet, this might be manageable, but there are several huge schemes, including Brent Cross and Colindale. Barnet has seen approximately 50,000 new residents since 2011, with almost no improvements in transport infrastructure or hospital provision. 

A local planning system that is designed to deal with new sheds and a few houses being built on fields, is simply not fit for purpose when it is faced with the challenge of a site like Brent Cross, where there will be a new station, a new shopping centre and 29,000 new homes. Such sites should be holistically looked at as part of a London wide solution to the housing crisis. The Edgware development is on the border of the Borough with Harrow. Again, there will be iomplications for the Northern Line as well as Northwick Park A&E which is in Harrow. 

Any scheme that has cross borough and cross London impacts on healthcare, transport, school provision, the natural enviroment etc, needs a planning authority that is fit for purpose and one which can influence all of these. Although the Mayor of London may not be overly popular in Barnet right now, his office should assume responsibility for such large schemes. The government should be able to frame the rules in such a way that there is still accountability, but developments are properly planned. The system we have delivers huge profits for developers and huge hassle for affected residents. We need a system that redresses the balance, so that it is the local community that sees the benefits as well as the big developers. London needs new transport infrastructure, more hospital provision, fairer allocation of places in schools and utility networks such as water, sewers, electricty and gas networks that can cope. This needs to be designed in at the planning stage and if developers are making huge profits, some of this should be ploughed back into the schemes. Section 106 money seems simply to act as a sop to councils, rather than delivering much of use. In hard times, it helps the council coffers.

One other aspect that, as a nation, we should be addressing is regional inequality. Although it may not be fashionable in some circles to say it, the huge numbers of migrants that are driving the housing crisis in the UK do offer us scope to address this. Any policy that seeks to provide housing for refugees, should also try and ensure that the areas where they are housed are ones which have labour shortages and where an influx of people would benefit the local community.  I really do not like the idea of simply building huge tower blocks as storage facilities for refugees until we figure out what to do with them. I'd rather see people living where there is an oppportunity for them to work and contribute to the economy.

I am not against huge towers and skyscrapers. They have a place in solving the problem. As with any scheme, we should ensure that they are the most appropriate solution. In the case of the Edgware development, for me the problem is not high buildings. The problem is that the number of people would completetely overload the local infrastructure. In 2018, my wife broke her shoulder and had to wait 8 hours for treatment at Barnet General. She was in agony. Anything that makes such things worse, is to me dangerous. The situation has got worse, not better. The Conservative government needs to accept it has failed the NHS and do something.

I have no expectation that the Conservatives have the appetite for this. Hopefully, when Keir Starmer takes over, this will be top of his in tray. 

The Environment.

As far as I am concerned, the biggest challenge in fixing the housing crisis, is to not devastate the local environment as we do it. There is a huge movement to concrete over the green belt. I can see the attraction for developers. For them, this is an easy win. Most of those who propose this, have no interest in the natural environment, biodiversity and the plants, fish and animals affected. If there were genuinely not other solutions, then this would be something to possibly consider. However, in London we have approx 700,000 empty properties. On top of that, property developers have been banking land for years, to force up prices and enhance their profits. After the war, the then Labour government recognised the competing pressures and the Atlee govt  took appropriate action such as the New Towns Act 1946 & the Town & Country Planning Act 1947. The results were not perfect, but they delivered new homes and protected the natural environment. A balance was achieved.  What we need is a proper national audit of land, with a view to identifying brown field sites and areas of minimal impact. We need action where land has been banked. I believe that if those developers who have sat on land were faced with financial losses, then we'd see the crisis resolved far more quickly, without tearing up our green spaces.

The NIMBY enablers.

 What I've seen over the last few days was quite shocking. Local residents alarmed by aspects of the Edgware redevelopment scheme have started a petition to get aspects of the scheme changed. 

The petition does not call for the abandonment of the scheme, it calls for a scaling back. I don't think even the most optimistic of signatories will expect there suggestions to be fully implemented. I signed as I agree with the general idea that a scheme on this scale simply cannot be supported by the local infrastructure. I am also more than familiar with how developers operate. They come up with schemes that sound superficially appealing. They put the benefits to the local residents at the end of the development. These usually cost most and deliver the least profits. They then claim that they are "no longer economical" and things have changed. They are quietly dropped. This happened with the proposed doctors surgery in MillBrook Park. The petition notes that the shops, cinema, etc are scheduled to be delivered in the latter part of the scheme. To me, this does not pass the sniff test.

No one is saying leave the site as it is. The backers of the petition just want to ensure that the scheme is properly thought through and does not cause issues where none existed before, or even worse, make existing problems impossible. Until 1998, the Borough of Barnet had two A&E departments. One in Barnet and one in Edgware. One of the first acts of the Blair Government was to rubber stamp the closure of Edgware. Since that day, Barnet General and Northwick Park have seen a massive increase in waiting times. When people start bandying around the term NIMBY at people who have sat for hours on end in A&E departments, all they do is make people more determined to stand their ground. For me, what was shocking, was that a member of the Polar and Limehouse Labour party started questioning my knowledge of Barnet, calling me names, insinuating that I was in the pay of the Campaign for Rural England or some other body. I've been writing a blog for fifteen years and that is the first time I've ever had such a charge levelled. I genuinely think that no one in Barnet, even my arch nemesis Brian Coleman ever suggested that! 

This particular individual is a classic example of a bully. I'm used to it and I can give as good as I get, but such people use such behaviour as their modus oiperandi, hoping that people will be scared by such abuse and shut up. In fact, all they do is get blocked and make those that they call names operate out of their sight. The people they label NIMBY's don't go away, they just don't share their plans with such obnoxious people. Ultimately this makes the campaigns more effective. Twitter is by and large an echo chamber. You are followed by people who agree with you. When your world collides with a world you don't like you block. You are no longer party to what they are doing and what arguments they've raised.

I daresay I am now on all sorts of rather inaccurate lists, labelling me as "The Enemy". Why? Because I want the schemes that these self labelled "YIMBY"'s are keen on, to deliver decent housing, a good living environment, good transport and good services for the residents. There is no harm at all in having an intelligent debate, raising potential issues. My brother worked on the construction of the Grahame Park Estate in the 1970's. This won awards at the time. Much of it has been demolished since, as the accomodation was sub standard. It took decades to get a decent bus service to Mill Hill station, something that should have been part of the scheme from day one. Grahame Park was a scheme built by the GLC and is an example of what happens when you don't listen to communities and you go for shiny scheme's that are not well thought through.

There is an old maxim in business that your most difficult customers are your biggest friends. They tell you the truth. That is the only way you up your game.  Those who seek to stifle debate, call names and intimidate are in fact their own worst enemies. I'm well known in Barnet and when people saw that tweet, even those that don't like me would have realised it was ridiculous. Who did that help?

I've spent decades arguing with local Tories. All of the sensible ones, over the years, from Ex Mayor Hugh Rayner to current Mill Hill Councillors Elliot Simberg and Laithe Jajeh privately and candidly discuss local matter with me. They don't always agree, but they appreciate sensible feedback. The leader of Labour's Barnet administration, another sensible councillor Barry Rawlings spoke to me shortly after Labour took the council last year and asked me to continue to scrutinise them, as it makes for better decision making. By shouting at people with your fingers in your ear, you learn nothing and achive nothing. You end up enabling those you seek to stifle. You may think you are clever and when you get blocked, that you've won a victory. You've done nothing of the sort. You've just confirmed other people's prejudices and prevented a sensible dialogue.

It seems a shame that the chair of Poplar and Limehouse Labour does not take the same sensible approach as his colleagues in Barnet (some of who privately told me they know him and none too impressed). All I can say is that I am glad I am not a member of group with such a chair.

Sunday 21 May 2023

The Tweets of the week in the London Borough of Barnet - 21st May 2023

Sadly, scenes of natural habitats like
this offend some people

As ever I start with a quick round up of my week, before getting stuck into the meat. Apologies if this is of no interest to those of you who just want a list of tweets about Barnet! My choice avoids politics and tries to be positive and focus on the good stuff going on, finding new local accounts that I deem worth a follow etc. This week has seen some atrocious Trolling of several rather good local accounts, resulting in one of the best @Time_NW locking his account. I hope he feels comfortable unlocking it soon. I despise Trolls, who are invariably gutless bullies. There is one tweet that would be top of my list, but I avoid tweets from locked accounts. Rant over!

I must confess I've had a great week. My team, Manchester City thrashed Real Madrid and won the Premier League. When I started this blog back in 2008, even the idea of qualifying seemed rather remote! I just reread a blog written shortly after the mega rich owners acquired the club. All I can say is that times have changed. The period of 'sackcloth and ashes' I wished upon Man Utd fans has not quite been the relegation to the Ryman League, but also it has not been too long. 

Another highlight was finishing the backing tracks for The False Dots new album. I will shortly be in Portugal at my mate Boz Boorer's studio to finish the job. Anyway, far too much about me

1. Let's start with this rather wonderful tweet. Boosey and Hawkes were a local legend

2. Another local factory with an interesting history was the Smiths Instruments factory in Cricklewood. I rather like this tweet as well

3. Talking of Cricklewood, our local people do great things!

4. If I wasn't massively phobic of snakes, I'd say this chap in Finchley is magificent, but TBH he scares me to death!

5. I really like what this local Tweeter is up to

6. This will always get a mention when it visits us

7. It's always great to see young people getting invloved in nature conservation

8. Want to know who the oldest football team in the Borough of Barnet will be facing this season?

9.Have you got your tickets yet?

10. And finally, an update on the new woodlands in Mill Hill park

That's all folks, have a great week!


Saturday 20 May 2023

The Saturday List #407 - My top ten tinned foods

 I've had a funny old week, one way or another. I've been doing a little bit more relaxing and taking it easy than normal, as I recover from my prostate biopsy. Although there was no real pain involved, the side effects are not fun. As ever, when I have too much time on my hands, I start thinking on rather strange tangents. A minor obsession of mine is tinned foods. Have you noticed how any tinned food tastes completely different to the fresh version? Sometimes they are better, sometimes they are worse. 

The first time I had barbeque fresh sardines, after a life of eating tinned ones cold, it was a revealation. The same can be said of Tuna. I think I was in my 40's before I had fresh tuna. I was never a fan of the tinned variety, which tends to make the sarnies soggy. I was taken by my then Boss to La Pont De La Tour restaurant by Thames. He said "You've got to try the tuna mate, it is amazing, Bill Clinton ate it when he was in London". So I did and it was. 

But then there are other things, where I much prefer the tinned version to the fresh ones. What is it about these tinned foods that make them so special. Then there are ones where I like both and they are just different. I did this list before for list #192, but I realised it was a lousy list, so it needed revising. These were the tinned foods I'd lived on, but not that I'd liked. So here is the proper list.

So here we go.

1. Frey Bentos Steak and Kidney pies. These are my biggest guilt pleasure. If I ever get divorced, I will celebrate with one, as my Missus always berates me and tells me they are th food of the devil. Not that she'd know as She's a vegetarian!

2. Ambrosia Rice Pudding. I don't do Dairy anymore, but if I did, this would be top of the list. I've never had a rice pudding to match it. Rice puddings have a special place of legend in our house. My sister Caroline went to the trouble of starting to make a rice pudding, got bored and told mum it was me. As I was five years old, even Mum saw through her cunning ruse. Her defence was "That was the wrong type of rice and I know that, he wouldn't". To this day she swears blind I made it, whilst we all snigger. The trouble people have when they make Rice Pudding is that they try and be too clever. Ambrosia just does what it says on the tin. A dollop of strawberry jam to top off.

3. Libby's tinned peaches. I love these. They were the pudding of my youth, topped with tinned cream. They are wonderful. Fresh peaches? Well, in France they are wonderful. They melt in your mouth, but the ones they send here are often too hard, the stones get stuck and they are a bit string and hairy. 

4. Guinness. You simply cannot beat a tin of Guinness. My mum was diagnosed as having terminal stomach cancer in 1970. She lived until 2008, largely on a diet of Guinness. At one point she was drinking eight pints a night. In her final years, I'd nip in every night and have a tin with her. In 1984, she asked her doctor if she was drining too much. He said "Well Celia, eveyone else on the planet who had the operation you had in 1970 is dead now, and your Guinness has kept you going, but if you can cut down from eight pints a night to 3 or 4, it may be better".

5. Heinz Alphabetti Spaghetti. It is beyond me why posh chefs such as Gordon Ramsey don't do this. This is the best fun. It may taste of nothing, which can easily be rectified with some Lea and Perrins, chilli flakes and pepper, but I used to love making rude words. As a kid, if I could make "Lorry smells" or "Caro is a Bum" and then show them, I'd feel elated for a week. My siblings, being smart arses were too clever for the game. Laurie would try and spell "Roger is Flatulent" but as I couldn't really read and didn't know what flatulent met, it was wasted on me.

6. Sabarot Burgundy Snails. Our old bassplayer, God rest his soul, had a wonderful French Girlfriend called Christine. When I was going out with Lorna, Christine invited us for dinner. She'd cooked up a proper french treat, with snails as the first course. I'd never seen anyone look as horrified as a Lorna. She loved Christine and didn't want to offend her, so she managed to shovel them onto my plate when Christine wasn't looking. They were drenched in garlic and were wonderful. I gleefully tucked in. Afterwards Lorna was really thankful and said "You really pretended to enjoy them". I thought my luck was in, but she wouldn't let me near her for a week as I stunk of garlic. They are wonderful, but you need Christine to cook them. 

7. Baxters Mediterranean Tomato soup. I miss Budgens in Mill Hill. Whilst M&S are wonderful for many things, they don't stock many great bands. Baxters soups are wonderful. This is my favourite. I was a vegetarian between 1984 and 2000 and these were my light lunch of choice, with a slice of crusty roll. I must get some.

8. Heinz Cream of Mushroom soup. My sister Valerie had a book called the "How to cheat cookbook". In it they said if you wanted to make a wonderful chicken disk, bake som chicken breasts for 50 minutes and when there was 15 minutes to go tip a tin of Heniz cream of mushroom soup over it. It worked like a dream. It works with cod as well.

9. John West Anchovies in Olive Oil. These are amazing on toast. These are the one tinned fish that are better than fresh ones. I recently went to a fancy restaurant and this was the starter. They didnt say they were John West but I was 99% sure they were. A bit of pepper and I''m in heaven!

10. Epicure Mandarin Oranges. I have saved the best for absolutely last. These are so good. Although fresh mandarins are nice, there's all the skin and pith etc. These are just the good bit. In fact I think I'll get some right now.

I must apologise for list #192. It was lazy, populist and very poor in truth. 

Have a great weekend

Wednesday 17 May 2023

A look at Edgware in the 1980's - What we've lost and what we've gained

I thought I'd share some personal reminiscences of Edgware with you. I was born at Edgware General Hospital and went to Orange Hill School which was in Burnt Oak, that is a district of Edgware and had a large catchment area within Edgware. As Mill Hill Broadway lacked a pub, a cinema, a tube station, a nightclub and a nearby football ground, I spent a lot of time in Edgware. It also had two half decent record shops, the Catholic Church had a vibrant club, the Broadfields Estate had a wonderful pub, which not only was a fine music venue, but was also popular for weddings and other functions. AS a teenager, the restaurants were not like the more stuffy, posh Mill Hill venues of the time (apart from the Indian and Chinese). They had the sort of food that teenagers loved (and soon grow out of), such as great Pizza's, KFC, etc. They had Mr Jacks, owned by George Michael's Dad. A place where just about every local had their first kebab. 

So what did we do in Edgware? The cinema in Edgware was wonderful. It was a big venue, constructed in the 1920's with great fanfare. This is how I remember it, I saw many films here, a few that particularly stand out were Return of The Jedi and the Indiana Jones films. 

As soon as Edgware lost the cinema, it lost much of it's alure. Another place that everyone would visit was Jingles night club at The White Lion (Thanks to Pats Mizon for this wonderful Pic)

The place was always packed with locals out for a night of fun and funk.The White Lion was a big pub, which also had a football ground at the back, home of Edgware town. My Dad was a sponsor of Edgware Town in the 1960's and would take me to matches, and we'd invariably have a drink in the clubhouse, or in the pub. Those were my fondest memories of The White Lion. 

Whilst Jingles was popular, the White Lion pub was not really a destination as a teenager. We may have had the odd beer in there, but the centre of our world was The Beehive. I've yet to find a picture that does it justice. The atmosphere was always brilliant. On the door was Eddie, with the bouffant hair (brother of John who now runs the guitar shop). I was never quite sure what Eddie's job was, as he never prevented anything, although he did throw the occasional drunkard out. You had to be very badly behaved to get slung out. The bikers were at the back, dealing various substances. In the middle were the Au Pairs. A mate of mine, Chris, was the barman. We'd occasionally visit other pubs, such as the Masons Arms, The White Hart and The Railway Hotel, but these were a bit more grown up and respectable.

When the Beehive closed for the night, we'd head for a bite to eat. Often this was in Pizza Hut or Pizzaland. If you had a  Pizza you could have a beer and drink into the early hours. Some Saturdays, it seems that the whole of the Beehive had relocated. If we were going back to a friends, we'd nip into KFC. There was a period where a few local fascist skinheads were targetting the young Jewish kids, thinking them easy pickings. We were in KFC, when some trouble kicked off. What the skinheads didn't realise was that a bunch of Jewish hardnuts, some with Israeli army experience,  were waiting in ambush. Let's just say that the problems stopped. I found a tweet that recalled this

I went to Orange Hill with a fair number of the local Jewish kids.  Some had older Dads and Uncles, who'd cut their teeth in the 1960's in anti fascist punch ups. They were simply not prepared to put up with such things. I recall one guy leaping off a table and landing a flying headbut on one of the skinheads. It really was quite spectacular. By the time the police came, all of the protagonists had left and the queue for chicken had resumed. The rumour was that the Skinheads would return mob handed the following week for a monumental battle. We truned up to watch the entertainment after the Beehive kicked out, but there was no trouble at all. Battle had been done and the matter was dusted. I spoke to one of my school mates and I soon realised that a lot of planning had gone into the whole matter. It was no accident that the issue was settled so quickly. 

In truth, there was rarely trouble. The only time I personally was threatened was one night when I was about sixteen. I'd been to Dingwalls and drunk eight pints of cider. I wasn't used to boozing. I fell asleep on the tube home, woke up at Edgware and realised I needed to throw up. I decided that the best place to do this was the little alley that ran by the side of the station sidings. I ran there as fast as possible, only to be ambushed by three thugs, all bigger than me, intent on bashing me up. I issued a warning that this was a  bad idea. The lead thug grabbed my lapels and said "What are you going to do". Sadly, for him, what I did was discharge eight pints of cider and a kebab all over him. Any desire to fight immediately departed him. His mates also lost their fighting spirit. As I shuffled off, I distinctly recall him picking off pieces of kebab from his jacket. I never saw the three of them again.

I abhor violence and I was very thankful that the Good Lord protected me in such a novel way that night. I don't advocate drinking too much, but there is a saying that the Lord protects drunks and this was my most graphic example.

As a member of The False Dots and having a Dad who ran a garage that had at one stage or another, employed most of the local thugs and villains, people knew me and I never had any problems.  Edgware was full of characters. People such as Yogi - Edgwares last Hippy, who dealt cannabis and LSD, Eddie the Bouncer and his brother John and Tank, a large, blond biker girl, who regularly punched out the lights of guys who annoyed her. She was mates with my then girlfriend, so she was fine with us, but woe betited anyone who she took a dislike to.

As a rock and roller, I must also mention The Sparrowhawk pub on The Broadfields Estate. This was the local music venue. It had regular 50's Rock and Roll / Rockabilly nights, as well as Friends of the Earth Benefit gigs, with some excellent Blues and Prog Rock outfits. All of these were packed.

What really struck me when I started to put this together was just what a great place Edgware was to grow up in. As a teenager, we had a cinema, a nightclub, cheap and cheerful Pizza joints, a KFC, pubs that were edgy but safe and a community that didn't take any bullshit. What is so sad is that all of that seems to have gone. A teenager at Mill Hill County School (which took over the Orange Hill mantle) simply would never go with their mates down to Edgware. I know that some nefarious activities were mentioned, but all of this was vary low level and on a very social basis generally. Many of my mates, who would accompany me, went on to have families, careers and do very well for themselves. We have Orange Hill School reunions and I see many. Amongst our Alumni are Phil Golding, a professional golfer, who won the French Open, Steve Pankhurst who set up Friends Reunited and sold it for £65 million to ITV and Boz Boorer, who has a stack of gold discs for his work with The Polecats and Morrissey. All of these knocked around the places mentioned. 

When Lucy holds her meetings, the question I have is "What provision will you be making for teenagers and young people". Edgware was a brilliant place and somewhere between about 2002 and now, it all went wrong. We lost the cinema, the football, the nightclub and the pubs. There is no real reason for me ever to go to Edgware. My kids, all in their 20's, have never been with their mates for a night out there. They go to pubs 'in town'. Sadly, many have been spiked, as such places do not have locals looking out for each other. The community in Edgware and the local police, knew that shenanigans went on, but ensured it was never at a level that real harm happened regularly (of course there was the odd incident, but this was rare). Communities are built and they focus around venues where people mix. Cinema's, nightclubs, pubs, cafe's are places where this happens. They need to be affordable. I had a pint in Mill Hill last night and it cost £7.50. This is too expensive for teenagers. You don't stop teenagers from drinking by making it expensive. You just force them to drink cheap tins and do it in anti social ways. 

What have we gained in Edgware since the 1980's? Try as I may, I cannot think of anything. If you can please let me know and I'll add it on here. Just about everything I mentioned above is long gone.


This is why this is needed