Monday 28 August 2023

Left high and dry by EasyJet in France

What a day we’ve had. Clare arranged a weekend trip to Nice for me to recuperate with friends after my recent operation. I missed celebrating my birthday as I still had a catheter in. On Friday, I travelled out and had a lovely relaxing time. We were due to fly back today. Then we started to get notifications this morning that the plane was delayed. At around 4pm, we were told it had been cancelled.


EasyJet emailed and told us to use the manage bookings features on the app but it doesn’t work. In desperation I’ve ended up paying €584 for two train tickets. The journey is around 12 hours, but at least we’ll get home this week.

I’m very disappointed with the total lack of help from EasyJet. I get that they have a huge workload, but to be stranded with no help at all is appalling.

We are lucky we can extend our accommodation but I’ve no idea if any of this will be covered by insurance etc. Apparently as it’s air traffic control issues, the normal compensation rules simply don’t count.

Anyway, look on the bright side, two more days of this







‘Richer than God’ - did David Conn call it right about Man City and football in 2012?

 


The only time I ever really get the time to properly read books is on holiday. I can’t dip in and out, I need to be engrossed. I usually take a few with me and then work my way through them. I wrote this on a short recuperation break in Opio, southern France. 

A decade ago, someone bought me Richer than God. A book looking at the rise of Manchester City under the oil rich Shieks of Abu Dhabi. It’s written by respected journalist David Conn. Conn grew up a City fan in Manchester, also playing the game for fun. I think his former Guardian colleague Kevin McCarra (rip), a mate of mine may have given me the book. Kevin was a friend and a football writer at the Guardian. Knowing I was a City fan and blogger, it was the sort of book he’d recommend. It not only looks at City, but explores his relationship with the club from his time as a child in the 70’s visiting Maine Road.

He also explains how he fell out of love with City, as he realised that for the owners, it was a business and the fans took no part in their machinations. Another thread is the decline of Manchester as an industrial power and the efforts of the council to live with the constraints of Thatcherism. It also explores the bleak early years of the Tory/Lib Dem coalition.

The book ends with City’s triumph in 2011/12 with the Aguero moment. As a City fan, the book is harrowing. The reminder of the years of abject failure, the awful owners, the false dawns, the discarded talents, the broken dreams. Some of the revelations about the ineptitude of previous owners are beyond belief. When Abu Dhabi took over, City didn’t even have an HR department. 

Eleven years on, UEFA and Premier League investigations, the decline of United, the regeneration of Manchester, which is now a very different City to the 70’s and is vibrant and confident. The decline of United in acrimony.  At the time of

Writing United were still the top club in England. I don’t think anyone could have predicted the mess that they’ve become. Whilst everyone expects the Glaziers to eventually go and the ship to be steadied, what if they end up with a forward with Franny scenario?

As to City, the owners have surely answered most of the questions about their long term commitment. I genuinely think most City fans would prefer a system where clubs were all fan owned and any well managed team stood a chance of honours. I do however also think they recognise the reality of World football. Most City fans see the corruption of UEFA and FIFA and do not see them is fit to arbitrate on anything. They see the hypocrisy of other clubs, campaigning against City whilst planning European super leagues. I think most City fans take the view that in a very imperfect world we have the best owners we could hope for.

David also talks of his love of playing. I played five a side until recently, when an injury put paid to it. For me the rise of facilities such as Powerleague, where you can play on decent floodlit pitches all year round was a godsend. I totally get the comments he made about grassroots football, which I’ve been saying for years on this blog. As a shareholder and season ticket holder of Hadley FC, I love non league football. Watching Hadley has become a big part of my life.

Where I have to disagree with David is on falling out of love with City. I still feel sick when they loose and elated when they win. Like most gnarled old City fans, I’m just waiting for the FA to demote us, the owners to leave and a new wilderness era as Utd once again reign supreme. The feeling that it will all go wrong is always there.

In truth though, that is not the real threat to City or the Premier League. Globalism is. The recent advent of the Saudi League, where good players are being siphoned off is one of the warnings of a change in the wind. Whilst the Champions League is the premier club competition, the dominance of European football is assured, but I don’t believe that is as secure as we believe. I could see a situation where the oil rich nations set up a rival global league and greedy clubs jump ship.This is the payoff of global ownership.

And finally a few words about David’s social commentary. That is of its time. The coalition ended, we got Brexit and Boris. To me the coalition was like getting a splinter and Brexit and Boris were the progression to Sepsis.It is hard to feel positive about the U.K. with a failing NHS, and a failed political system. I don’t think David’s most dire predictions of 2012 could sum up the mess we are in.

I’m glad I stuck with City, it’s been about the only good thing in the country in the last 13 years



Friday 25 August 2023

3 days on from Catheter removal, how is it going? Rog T's Cancer blog

Wednesday was a big day for me. It was 14 days since my radical prostectomy procedure and I had my catheter removed. Just in case you don't know what a catheter is, it is a plastic pipe that goes into your bladder and is connected to a bag, which allows your body to remove urine whilst your body recovers from the surgery. At the end bladder end of your catheter is an inflateable balloon, that, once in place, is inflated to ensure that the pipe doesn't come out. 

When you have a catheter, you feel like you need a wee the whole time. The inflated bag tells your brain that your bladder is not empty. You get day bags and night bags. The day bag is a small bag that can hold half a litre of fluid. The night bag connects to this and contains 2 litres. There are stop cocks on both to allow you drain them. You tend to drain them as often as you drink, although the night catheter is emptied in the morning.

It is inserted under anaestehtic, so I've no idea what that sensation is like. When it is removed, the balloon is deflated and then it is pulled out. It is one of the more unpleasant sensations I've ever experienced. It is only painful for maybe half a second, but it is a horrible feeling. Once it is removed, you have to drink a litre of fluid over 2 hours, then urinate naturally, to the level where your bladder is empty (or functionally empty). There are two potential problems at this point. The first is that you can't urinate. If this happens, the catheter goes in and you will need further medical examination. The second, for men following a radical prostatectomy is that you are incontinent and have no bladder control.

I am pleased to report that my bladder function is almost normal. I've had no major accidents, just a few small dribbles. I'll be wearing pads until this stops. The other issue for men is erectile function. This is affected as the nerves that manage erections are next to the prostate. I had nerve sparing surgery, so theoretically, I will be able to get normal erections eventually if the nerves have not been affected. For me, this was a big deal, and informed my decision of surgeon. Professor Eden felt there was a good chance that the nerves could be preserved. After the op, he said the surgery went well. Apparently it can take up to three years for this function to come back, if it does. Thus far, there are no signs of life, but there is still a degree of soreness and bruising and so it is not abnormal. So fingers crossed. 

The big question is how is my mental health following the procedure. The last six months has been extremely stressful. Once I had made my mind up to have the procedure, I've felt a lot better mentally. Now that the op is done, I feel that a cloud has lifted. Of course, there are many possibilities that may occur that will not be great. I probably won't know for a several years whether the cancer has definitely been despatched. I have a consultation on the 4th September with Professor Eden, where he will discuss things like pathology results. I will hopefully have a clearer indication then. That will, most likely, be the next installment of this blog. The other thing I have to still get my head around is the implications on my sex life of the changes to my body. Again, I will have a clearer idea after I've spoken to my consultant. It is early days. I've started to accept that my life may have taken a turn in a direction that I didn't want in regards to my sexual function. Of course it is early days at the moment, no conclusions can be drawn. I do however feel it is necessary to get your mind in the right place. The bottom line is that whatever will be. One way or another, I've got to live with that and get used to it. For now, it is fingers crossed.

Wednesday 23 August 2023

The False Dots - Kicking back against cancer and affirming life on the 15th September at the Dublin Castle

It's been a tough old few months for me personally. I'm recovering from major surgery to have my prostate removed. At the moment I'm taking it rather easy. Yesterday was my birthday and as you read, I wasn't in a celebratory mood (mostly because I'm cream crackered), but I've set the 15th of September as my 'official birthday' this year. My band. The False Dots are playing at the  Dublin Castle, Camden on 15th September, with another local band, The Shoals who have been making quite a name for themselves recently. To celebrate my recovery from the surgery, we will be putting on a really special show and everyone who attends, will get a special momento of the night, that in years to come may be worth a fortune on Ebay (or not as the case may be). I'd love to see as many friends of the blog as possible on the night and have a real, life affirming party and a boogie. You only get one life, so enjoy it. A wise man once told me "In life, you will always have crosses to bear. They will seek you out, so don't look for them. When you have the chance, enjoy life"

As to the band? Well if you've not seen us since lockdown (or ever), we've really changed our act, although we've kept a couple of the old classics in there. We now have a very strong Ska element and our shows are great for those who love a bit of a boogie and a lot of fun! I've taken over the lead vocals and we will have a special guest joining us for the evening (more later). 

If you don't know what to expect, The False Dots have dropped some new tunes from our forthcoming album onto our SoundCloud. As well as local hit, The Burnt Oak Boogie, Check out ‘Oh no Sharon’, described by one rather well known superstar as ‘The maddest thing I’ve ever heard. A mash up of Eastenders, Ska and Rock and roll. We also feature a rather bonkers glam rock tribute to the wonderful world on British Sci Fi with Sci Fi Girls - have a listen and let us know what you think?


Tuesday 22 August 2023

A birthday to forget and a year to forget

 Exactly a year ago, I posted a birthday blog. It was reflective and positive. I'd just had a wonderful 60th Birthday party. The year was going rather swimmingly until March, when prostate cancer bit me on the bum big time. By nature, I am a positive person. I look forward, I believe that our best days are ahead of us. My philosophy is always glass half full, waiting to be emptied and refilled. But the last six months have been difficult, to say the least. By a cruel quirk of fate, it occurs the day before I have my catheter removed following prostate surgery. I am now more or less over the pain of the operation, although I am tired. I have made a decision to not drink at the moment. It can hinder recovery. Much as I'd love to get sloshed this evening when the family come over, I'll be on the water. I don't need alcohol to have a good time, but it will probably be the first birthday I've had since I was 15 where I will be stone cold sober. 

So how has my day been. I woke up to the wonderful sight of my beautiful wife. Leaned over to give her a kiss and managed to pull out the pipe to my cathetar night bag. Not a good start. I thought I'd listen to the False Dots new album. We've put this on preview at Soundcloud pending full release. Have a listen. I think it sounds rather good. 


If you think it sounds OK, please join us at the Dublin Castle on the 15th September. That will be me real birthday this year. I promise it will be a show to remember. We have several big surprises for the night. You can get advance cheap tickets here www.wegottickets.com/event/587027/

Having a postive focus is a good thing. The thought I may have to wear nappies is not! Nappies. I've mentioned many times that, as a child, I never spoke until I was four years old. What I've never really mentioned is that I was dry more or less as soon as I could walk. I don't remember, but I must have hated nappies. My mum told me that I saw one of my brothers pee'ing on the the bluebells at the end of the garden and spent six months doing the same. Eventually she persuaded me to use the toilet. The idea of nappies is alien, but necessary. I have all sorts of dark thoughts. What if I wet myself on stage? Should I have a beer at the gig? Should I get Clare to drive me home? 

Most performers have nightmares about embarrassing yourself on stage, I have managed to make a situation where there is ultimate scope for this. Can you imagine pissing yourself on stage, in front of all your friends? It would be easy to run and hide, but that is not my nature. It would be easier to postpone, hide, run away. That is not me. Call me stupid, reckless, whatever. I want to live. I've no idea where this journey ends, but I guarantee that whilst I can still breath, I will be squeexing what fun I can out of life. 

If I had my way, I'd simply cancel today. The kids want to do something for me. I think that they do not like the idea of me moping around on my birthday. It seems I have little choice in this. We'll have a nice dinner and a pleasant evening. Tomorrow, I'll have a better idea of where I am with regards to all of this. Sadly, much as I want to cancel my Birthday, the truth is that I am 61, I have had potentially life changing surgery. What bugs me most though, is that I don't see myself as a 61 year old. I want to play rock and roll music and party. But the good Lord, in all his wisdom has but a big size 9 boot into my plans and dreams. At some point, I hope I'll write a blog about the positives I've taken from all of this. I hope that date is soon, maybe the gig on  15th September? Maybe tomorrow, when the catheter comes out? In truth I'm lucky, I have a great family. I have amazing friends. I have a good lifestyle. Hopefully I am cancer free and I'll fully recover. I'm not depressed or having a bad day. I just like to have a proper birthday and that cannot happen. 

Today,  I just don't feel like celebrating. Please allow me to be miserable today.

Monday 21 August 2023

Pain diminishing, tiredness increasing - Post Prostate removal day 12

It's now 12 days since I hadwht my prostate removed at the London Bridge hospital. In two days I will have my catheter removed and will know how it has affected my continence and what sort of erectile function I have. The good news is that there is almost no residual pain, although I can only sit down for short periods as my perineal area becomes sore very quilckly. Oddly I did not notice this until last Thursday and if anything it has become worse. This is now the only real pain that is bothering me, apart from the odd bit of irritation from the catheter. What has become far more pronounced is the tiredness. This has actually been far worse this weekend than it was the first weekend after I was released from hospital. I've set myself a target of walking two miles a day and yesterday this was a real struggle. 

I spent most of the day watching football and dozing off. I've noticed that my urine has also been much pinker than it was for much of last week. It is not dark red, but there is definitely still a small amount of bleeding taking place. From reviewing my literature, I've concluded that this is nothing to worry about, although I will discuss with the team when I see them on Wednesday.

So far today, I've not felt as tired. Clare and I took the dogs to Lyndhurst Park for the first time since I had surgery. I didn't find it too bad, but had a sit down on a bench at the park whilst she through the ball for the dogs. 

I had hoped to have returned to work today, but got cover in as I do not want to overdo it. Duing the early part of last week, I thought I'd be fine, but I have realised that I do need to take this all rather easy. I do hope that the perineal pain dimishes considerably over the next few days, as I'm due to take a short break in France at the end of the week.

I've still not had a drink and TBH I've no desire for one. We did manage a takeaway curry and some fish and chips over the weekend, although my apetite is not fully recovered. I'm not off my food, but I am not really feeling very hungry either. 

I've started following a couple of Prostate support groups on Facebook. It is interesting to note the number of female partners who post. It brought home just how difficult PC is for partners. I've realised that my early detection has (thus far) spared me some very difficult issues. Reading some of the stories from men and their partners with stage 4 PC are heartbreaking. The last few months have been tough, but I'd far rather be able to make choices that I've been given than be in the position of some of the poor chaps who's stories I've been reading. One of the missions of this blog is to get as many men as possible over 50 to get a PSA test. It's not perfect, my last few months haven't been fun, but the disease is not in my lymph nodes, glands or bones. I am hoping that the op will keep it that way.

To sum up, I'm recovering, not quite as fast as I hoped, but I am recovering. Wednesday is the big day when I will really have some idea where I am. 

I wrote a little song to encourage guys to get a test, before they get symptoms. Please pass the message on.


.--- 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 had an MRI scan that showed 'significant change'. This lead to a biopsy that indicated a tumour of 4mm that had a gleason score of 4+4. A PSA test in June saw a rise to 12. I saw the  surgical and oncology team to weigh up the options. I was none to impressed with the UCL surgical team and their attitude to my concerns about impotence. They told me that due to my previous HiFU treatment, nerve sparing was not an option. I was very much leaning towards radiotherapy, when a friend recommended a second surgical opinion. I saw Professor Christopher Eden, who advised that using the Neurosafe procedure, I would have a good chance of retaining erectile function. I decided on this option and had a radical prostatectamy on Weds 9th August 2023. 

Things are not great but they are not dire either. 

 I've no symptoms apart from needing to wee quite regularly and sadly for a few people, if I'm gonna die soon, it (hopefully) won't be from Prostate cancer. Got the picture?


Saturday 19 August 2023

The Saturday List #414 - Ten things that surprised me about having a Radical Prostatectomy - Rog T;s Cancer blog

**** Warning - This blog contains details that may make you cross your legs and pray, but may help you if this is something you aregoing through or need to go through ****

Ten days ago, I had my prostate removed by a robot at the London Bridge hospital. This is the second relatively major (for me at least) medical procedure I've had on my prostate on this journey, along with a host of minor ones. Now I dare say that if I'd done my homework, none of this would have been a surprise, but to be brutally honest, I really didn't want to know. I made a conscious decision not to read up on the procedure. I didn't want to think about it, have doubts or worries about it and I trusted Professor Eden, who was performing the task. When I had HiFU I read up on it as best I could. This time, I put my trust in my surgeon. Professor Eden does around 200 a year. That is more Prostate removals than I have rehearsals with The False Dots in the same period. He's probably done as many in the last year as I've sold bands Pot Noodles in the last year. The only questions I asked him about the procedure were ones of curiosity. I regret not asking him what they did with all the old prostate's they've chopped out. I hang my old guitars on the wall. I doubt Prof Eden has a selection of jars above his fireplace. To give some context. The Ramones were called "The hardest working band in Rock", as they did 150 gigs a year, Prof Eden does 50 more prostate removals a year. I wonder if he listens to The Ramones as he does it? I should have asked. Anyway, enough waffle. There were a whole number of things that were a surprise to me over the stla few days. I guess that for most men, the biggest is erectile function. As I've got a catheter in and sex is impossible, that is not a major consideration right now. I have had what might be described as strange rumblings in the area over the last two - three days at times when I may normally have expected an erection. It is most definitely not an erection, but is a sign of life in that department. The information says that normal erectile function can take up to three years to return fully (if it is going to), with a nerve sparing prostatectomy operation. It is clear to me that the nerves are functioning to some degree, which is hopeful (I guess). I wasn't sure with this what to expect, but my perinium and abdomen are still tender, so it is all a work in progress. The catheter is rather uncomfortable, especially when I sit down. The end of my penis becomes quite sore when I sit down, but this passes when I move. It is OK when I am standing, walking or lying down. My catheter is removed on Wednesday, so I hope to give another update a couple of days after. The big issue then will be continence. 

Here is my list of them.

1. Where they pull your prostate out from. It is removed via the side of your abdomen, which is a long way from where it used to live. It seems like quite a long journey to get out. I'll miss it. It enabled me to have three wonderful children!

2. The scar is smaller than I expected. I was told that my prostate was the size of a grapefruit. The hole they pulled out through was far smaller.

3. When I woke up, my abdomen resembled a barrage balloon. Apparently they inflate you with CO2 to make it easier to get the prostate out. I was starting to think I'd eaten too many pies until I did a bit of research.

4. It was marginally less painful than I expected. I had an operation on my groin in 2000, which was absolute agony. This was not pleasant, the first two days were very uncomfortable, but post op, I only had paracetamol and haven't needed it for two days. Mind you my Mum always said I had a very high pain threshold. My Dad would add "where there's no sense, there's no feeling"

5. I didn't feel nauseous after the anaesthetic. I was informed that I'd feel sick after the op. The procedure was around 3 hours. I had a mastiod removed in 1988 that was the same length and I felt as sick as a dog after. They would only give me fluids after, but I could have eaten a meal no problem. By the morning, I was starving and only got toast. 

6. I didn't realise how much urine human beings produce. We go to the loo, do what we do, then flush the chain. I've had a cathetar so I see exactly how much I am producing. I've been advised to drink as much fluids as I can. I seem to be producing gallons of it. The day bag can hold 1/2 a litre and the night bag 2 litres. I seem to do nothing but empty the bloody thing when it's full.

7. The Hallucinations. The first couple of nights that I was out, I had the strangest hallucinations when I went to bed. I'd lie down and shut my eyes and be in a completely different place. I wasn't asleep and as soon as I opened my eyes, I was back in reality. They were extremely mundane as well. Things like shutting my eyes and then there would be a cleaner in the bedroom dusting. In actual fact, it is common, but I didn't know this. I was interested to read that cathetars are aggrevating factors. 

Read this www.verywellhealth.com/delirium-what-you-should-know-3156864

8. I feel much better mentally than I expected. Having the surgery has lifted a monkey off my back. When you are suffering stress and anxiety, you really don't realise how it is affecting you until it lifts. Hopefully, I am closing this episode of my life after 12 years. I won't miss it.

9. I've not felt like drinking alcohol at all. I last had a drink on the Saturday before the op. I have a strange relationship with alcohol. When I don't have it, I don't miss it, but when I drink, I feel the need to do it to excess. For the last few years, I've managed my intake by having three days a week where I don't drink. It is only in the company of friends where I really crave it now. If I became a hermit, I wouldn't drink at all. On Sunday, my daughter and her boyfriend visited and bought a nice bottle of wine to cheer me up. I just didn't fancy it, which is unusual. In the circumstances, it is a good thing. I did some research and found that alcohol is not recommended until you are fully recovered. It may reduce your eventual level of continence. I guess that is all the more reason to give it a wide



10. The sudden bouts of tiredness have taken me by surprise. On Monday, I felt marvellous and suggested to Clare we go down the road for lunch. We went to the Moroccan Cafe and had a pleasant meal. By the time I returned I was whacked and had a sleep for two hours. I was cream crackered.  It just sort of hits. When I woke up, I felt great again. I've been building up my exercise,getting the steps in. I'm trying to listen to my body and go at a sensible pace, but I learned that you can go from feeling great to feeling wiped out very quickly.




So there you go

Friday 18 August 2023

The Friday Joke and some workplace advice - 18th August 2023

 One advantage of having had major surgery is that I can skive off work. In truth, when you work for yourself, this is not quite the same advantage as when you re a hired hand. People have been wondering how I am feeling? I've been well enough to attend a short band rehearsal last night. I was completely knackered after. I'd not realised that singing may be difficult when your surgery affects your abdomen, but all in all it was well worth it in terms of mental well being.

After the reheasal a friend gave me a lift home. He works for Camden Council and was telling me the big bosses were having a big meeting next week to discuss plans for his department. He asked my view. This cartoon came to mind, which made me chueckle at the time.


My advice in such circumstances? Keep your head below the parapet if you want to keep your job! I made the mistake of thinking bosses wanted honest feedback on reorganisations back in 1990, when I worked for BACS Ltd in Edgware. I gave them just that and found myself being made redundant six weeks later. In truth it suited me, but if it hadn't..... I have come to the conclusion that big bosses never want to be told the truth. They want to identify gobby troublemakers, so they can be sacked.


.

Wednesday 16 August 2023

The Tories destroyed the Borough of Barnet, Labour are burying it

 When I started writing the Barnet Eye, I was not really aware of what Barnet Council did, how important their work was or the impact they have on people's lives. A year before the birth of this blog, I started to realise. My mother, who was housebound and frail, relied on meals on wheels for her main meal. She lived independently, despite having suffered a major stroke and not being very mobile. This was how she chose to live. She could afford a daily carer to help her get up in the morning. Once she was up, she could make a cup of tea, read, watch telly and tend for herself. Due to the stroke, cooking was an issue, so she paid the council for the meals on wheels service. These were good quality. healthy and nutritious and prepared in house. They would turn up, like clockwork at noon. If she didn't answer, the delivery driver would call us. She'd have a chat with "The nice lady" and she was improving. In 2007, the council announced the service was being outsourced. The nice lady was sacked. The meals became cheap to the point of being inedible. Mum, hating waste, would ring Clare, who would get her a sandwich and our dog would get the slop for dinner. Worst of all, the dinners were often late or didn't come at all. Being a stroppy person, I made a massive fuss, engaged councillors, wrote letters. This was the moment the blg was conceived. The stress this caused my mother was, I believe, responsible for her death. She was 83 and not in good health, but it rammed home that her independence was an illusion. She was angry for the nice lady. She lost weight. She became depressed. 

I did some research. The company, a French conglomorate, that won the contract, had set up a delivery round where 40 dinners were supposed to be delivered in 3 hours. That was 4.5 minutes per meal delivery. bear in mind, some times, it took my mum a minute or two to open the door. She was deaf and moved slowly. Sometimes meals were left on the doorstep. We weren't told. It was horrific for my mother. In short, to save money, they had taken a cheap bid that simply didn't work. The round took no account for traffic. My road, where my mum also lived, is Millway. Some days you can wait 4.5 minutes to get onto the Broadway at lunchtime. At that moment, I realised that outsourcing of vital services to save cash did not work. In the end, it cost the council a fortune to fix the problem. When I blogged about it, anonymous bloggers, who later turned out to be young, ambitious Tory councillors, set up accounts to slag me off. Why should the council help my mum? Why didn't I make her lunch? Why was my mother 'poncing off the council'? I was quite shocked. The reason was that my Mum had paid tax all her life. She wanted to live independently after she completed her rehabilitation and arranged the service with her care team as part of her discharge from Finchley Memorial Hospital. 

I realised that if you put your head above the parapet, you get shot. Many back down. I started a war and the Barnet Eye was born. One of my key themes was that outsourcing of key services was a threat to the quality of council services. What I found was horrific. The Barnet Conservatives had plans to outsource the whole council. Parking, Planning, HR, Revenue collection, everything. They had a policy called "future shape". What I found was that every service they had outsourced had ended up in disaster. The meals on wheels was just one instance, where the service had failed. They had ourtsourced care homes to a company called Catalyst/Freemantle. The homes had become ridden with Legionella disease. The contractors sued the council as they weren't making as much money as they hoped and won millions of pounds of compensation. Did Barnet Council learn? No. The Tories brought in Capita to run the council. Future Shape became Easycouncil, that became One Barnet. Guess what? It failed. By 2020, even the Tories were admitting this. Services were being brought in house, at huge costs as all of the capabilities had gone. 

Of all the aspects of Future Shape/One Barnet, the most destructive was the outsourcing of planning. As the council sought to shore up it's failing finances, planning became a cash cow. Barnet Council realised that mega developments offered a short term cash boost to the coffers. The planning system in the UK was already dysfunctional, but One Barnet meant that the only view that really mattered was the view of the developers with deep pockets, who could pay the fees. The Tories were not stupid. They realised that big schemes in Tory wards, such as the NIMR in Mill Hill would be unpopular. They also knew they'd bring in huge sums of cash. So they launched a very crafty ruse. They'd let officers develop plans that would be awful for locals, but roughly conform to the London plan. They picked a huge fight with the Mayor Sadiq Khan, declaring him an enemy of the people (I kid you not). Then they rejected their own plans, which were referred to the Mayor, who gleefully passed them. The Tory council got the cash and Khan got the blame. Once passed, the Council didn't bother to enforce any of the planning conditions. Locals had years of misery. Dust, parking and congestion and noise complaints were simply ignored. The po faced Tory Councillors, who had made such impassioned speeches against Khan's plans to pass the schemes, ignored the pleas of locals to enforce the rules that were supposed to ensure that locals were not impacted. This blog made videos, complained to enforcement, produced irrefutable evidence, but nothing was done. No fines were imposed. After a couple of years, the penny dropped for me. The Barnet Tories were always on board with the developers. 

In May 2022, there was a tectonic shift in Barnet politics. The Tories were booted out. Labour formed a new administration. It seemed like the Tories had finally received their comeuppance for the destruction of Barnet. They took over a council that had seen every aspect of it's business trashed.  They announced that they would get rid of Capita, for once and for all. Sadly though, there seemed to be no great hurry. They simply carried on with the plans the Tories had enacted in their dying days, to gradually unwind the relationship. What is clear is that Capita will squeeze every last penny from Barnet taxpayers. You may wonder what the real relationship is between the Labour Party and Capita? What is the Labour parties key policy in London? Unless you have been in a coma for the last two years, you will know it is ULEZ. Who runs ULEZ for Mayor Khan? It may surprise anyone familiar with Barnet to know that it is Capita. It seems that despite standing on the barricades, wearing #KickOutCapita T-Shirts, our Labour Councillors are far keener on the company than they've previously let on. I spoke to one about this a while back "Oh, this is different, Capita are experts in this field" I was told. This was exactly the argument that Tory Councillors made when they brought Capita in to run the council. 

So what have we learned about Barnet Labour in the last 15 months? I have a degree of sympathy with them. The scenario at Barnet when they arrived was nigh on apocalyptic. They'd lost expertise, the finances were a mess and they were bequeathed a stack of unpopular development schemes, such as Hendon Hub, Edgware SPD and Brent Cross. What I had hoped would happen would be that we'd see a new regime that sought to get the people of Barnet on board. Barnet is screaming out for new, good quality social housing. We need proper council housing, not lxury flats. We need better infrastructure to support it. If you've used Barnet General hopsital in the last few years, you will know that it is overloaded and overrun.

Sadly, Barnet Labour are not talking about a radical new plan to fix the housing crisis.  We are just seeing big developers running riot. There are social housing elements in the scheme. These involve different doors for the poorer tenants, can't have the premium residents mixing with the riff raff. A scandalously small number of dwellings will be for the people who need them most. They will not have gardens for families and they will be excluded from the plush gyms that come with the scheme. 

Barnet is being buried in concrete. This is the policy of Barnet Labour. The Tories may have destroyed Barnet but it is Barnet Labour that is laying it to rest. The tombstone will be 27 story tower blocks, with side entrances for the poorer residents. 

If anyone can tell me it is not so, feel free, I'll publish any guest blog that demonstrates that Barnet LAbour have a coherant pln to fix the housing crisis in Barnet. I'd stomach the towers of Edgware if this was what they are being erected for, but they are simply a money making scheme for a very large property developer. That is the truth



Tuesday 15 August 2023

What have we learned after the first round of Premier League fixtures

Last night we saw Manchester United play Wolverhampton Wanderers in the final match of the first round of Premiership results. Given different clubs are at different stages of fitness, have different priorities and some are still trying to finish their pre season business. It may well be that come the closing of the transfer window, some teams have rather different squads. So what have we learned?

Burnley, Luton and Sheffield United all learned that the Premiership is a rather different beast to the Championship. All suffered difficult starts. Burnley drew the short straw playing Manchester City. Vincent Kompany said before the match that it would be their worst performance of the season. Luton got battered by Brighton, who despite losing some key players looked excellent, but did at least scored. Sheffield Utd played  Crystal Palace and were lucky to get away with a 1-0. I suspect that all of these teams will be happy to survive come the end of the season. Based on what I saw, Burnley are most likely to stay up. Everton had a difficult start, losing a game that they should have won against Fulham, if that becomes a pattern, they may find themselves in trouble.

As for last years Top four, City and Newcastle look in very good shape. Arsenal looked amazing in patches but Forest came back and Arsenal need to manage games far better if they want to seriously challenge City. United were poor and their midfield looks lightweight. They were lucky not to give away a penalty, although such 'luck' is not unusual for them at Old Trafford. United are screaming out for a decent defensive midfield player. To be so bullied by Wolves at home showed them to be rather lightweight.  Chelsea looked much improved from last season, although that is not saying a lot. Liverpool look to be unbalanced. Brilliant in flashes, but far from solid.

Tottenham entered the post Harry Kane era with a draw at Brentford. A new manager with new ideas. It is hard to really tell too much. They scored two and conceded two. Too early to say how deeply Kane will be missed, as I expect a replacement to be shipped in.

As to the rest of them, hard to say. 

As to the rest of the league, nothing stood out to me. 

Friday 11 August 2023

So what''s it like having a RARP Radical Prosatectomy? - Rog T's cancer blog

 So here I am, back at home, having a cup of tea with a cathetar in and a very sore midriff. Excuse the spelling, which may well be even worse than usual. It's 2pm on Friday afternoon, I've just taken 2 paracetamol and I thought that as a diligent blogger, I really should share what this was like, just in case anyone was wondering. 

On Wednesday morning I got up at 5am. A quick swig of water (nothing else allowed). A quick shower and then off to Mill Hill Broadway for the 5.47am train. It was a glorious morning, as my Dad would always say "a fine day for a hanging", when the sun shone but he had to do something he really wasn't looking forward to. My destinatation was the London Bridge Hospital at the Guys Cancer Centre. I had to change trains at Blackfriars, which is always a station that I enjoy visiting just for the views of London.



I used to see this on a daily basis, now it is a rare treat. I arrived at the Guys hospital 20 minutes earlier than my 7am admission time.



I was ushered up to the 12th floor (I think - my brain is a bit fogged due to the residual effects of the anaesthetic). I was ushered into my room by a porter and put the telly on. A nurse came around, checked all of my vital statistics, asked my name and date of birth ( A process repeated ad infinitum over the next two hours). A nice red wristband was attached to my wrist. We had a brief discussion about the procedure and I signed a few consent forms. Just after 8am, Professor Christopher Eden, who was performing the procedure came in. He explained what he was going to do and asked me if I wanted to change my mind. I informed him that I wanted him to get on with it. He explained the intricasies of the RARP Radical Prostatectomy with Neurosafe procedure performed by a DaVinci robot, which is used to ensure that all of the cancerous tissue is removed, with the minimal damage to the nerve bundles in the prostate area. This treatment is not available on the NHS to the best of my knowledge. It gives men the best possible chance of preserving erectile function and avoiding incontinence. I am lucky to have private medical health care, which made this affordable (there is another blog coming on this subject, but today I am talking solely about my experience with the operation). 

I also saw the anaesthetist. She was very matter of fact in her manner and enquired about allergies, reactions to anaesthetics etc. After all of the paperwork was done, I had about an hours wait before I was walked down to the operating theatre, by a very nice young Italian nurse from Verona. We had a pleasant chat about how she was finding London. When we arrived, there was a debate about the trolley I was on and whether it was long enough. I was given a spinal block and a full anaesthetic. I said a quick hello to professor Eden as he went in. The spinal block was not overly pleasant. As it takes effect, it feels like sciatica, but the sensation doesn't last very long. Then I was given oxygen and the anaesthatist asked me where I was planning to go on holiday next. I don't recall the answer, as the general anaesthetic knocked me out.

I woke up around three hours later. I hadn't got a clue where I was. My initial thought was that I was still in Lourdes with my HCPT group (I was there last week) and I had to get up to help someone who needed care. The nurse in recovery was rather bemused when I tried to get up. I realised that this would not be possible. Around my midriff was rather sore and I was very tired. I was wheeled back to my room. I must have dozed off when a nurse woke me up. She advised me to try and have a drink. I was told that I could have light meals, as people generally felt nauseous (I didn't). A short while later, Professor Eden arrived. He informed me he'd spoken to my wife and that the procedure had been successful. He had been able to completely spare my nerve bundles. I thanked him and he went off. I just wanted to rest. I had a few glasses of water and asked for a cup of tea. As I started to feel more with it, I realised just how painful my midriff felt. The nurse was keen to get me up and in the chair. She informed me that the more quickly you move, the better you recover. For my evening meal, I had a light consomme and some bread. I wasn't that hungry. 

I had a fitful nights sleep. The cathetar is not particularly pleasant and when I moved it hurt. I was able to take paracetamol every six hours, which to some degree numbed the pain. I the morning, Professor Eden popped in again and told me I could have some tea and toast if I was hungry. He'd seen the tweet I'd posted and we discussed the issue of prostate cancer and men. I told him that I was very relieved to have now had surgery. Treatments such as neurosafe, which give men the best option for maintained sexual function, should allay many mens fears about surgery. There are men dying as they do not want to lose function. I am 60 and it bothered me. For a younger man with no children, it could be devastating to be rendered impotent. IN my opinion, the NHS and NICE need to recognise this and give younger men, without the money, the option of neurosafe. Professor Eden told me that the NHS simply doesn't have the resources or pathologists to do it. I suggested that the NHS needed a plan to change this. His opinion was that the NHS doesn't have a plan for anything and our politicians are to blame, being focused on the short term electoral cycle. Regular readers will not be surprised to learn that I wholeheartedly agreed with him.

I spent the rest of the day being cajoled to get up and walk around. I had a visit from the physio team, who took me for a little walk. It was rather painful due to the operation wounds. I was told not to lift more than 5kg, not to drive for at least 7 days and to walk around as much as possible, as this is key to getting your body working. I will have to wear the cathetar for two weeks and then I will have to do some serious pelvic floor exercises, to get my full continence back. I was also told that whilst the stitches are in place they may affect this. The view is that I should be back where I want to be within six weeks.

I spent last night in hospital. I got a better nights sleep. This morning I had a quick handshake and thank you very much with Professor Eden, then going through the discharge protocol. This involved making sure I knew how to manage the Cathetar, which I will have to change/empty myself. My dressings were changed, the view was that they looked in good shape. Some blood tests were done and then at 11am, Clare arrived to take me home.

As I mentioned, I am sitting here, having a tea, feeling a bit sore and tired. I am immensely relieved that I have had the treatment and from what Professor Eden has told me it is very likely to be successful. A journey that started with a PSA test in 2011hopefuly finishes with this procedure, although there will be follow up checks etc. Had I not had that PSA test, given that I had no symptoms at the time, I probably would never have realised there was a problem until it is too late. Prostate Cancer kills 11,000 British men a year. If the government and the NHS got their act together, than number could be nearer zero. When you think of it, that is criminal.

Here's a little song I wrote about my situation


Tuesday 8 August 2023

Why I do not support Barnet Council's bid to be London Borough of Culture in 2027

Rog T at the party to celebrate the saving 
of Friern Barnet Library in 2012

Barnet Council has begun the process of bidding to become the London Borough of Culture in 2027. As far as I am concerned, this bid is completely ridiculous and a waste of taxpayers money that would and should be far better spent on developing culture in the Borough to the point where a bid might be justified.

As I write this, I am completing the cultural survey that the council has posted on Twitter. It brought home to me just how poor the cultural offering is currently in Barnet. Please don't get me wrong. I am all for the Council spending money to develop a cultural identity, but this should be done before any bids are submitted. What is being done is simply a wasteful vanity project that will set culture back, rather than bring it to the forefront of our cultural life. I go to gigs more or less every week. In the last six months, I've been to the Mill Hill Music Festival and The Bull Arts Theatre in the Borough, as well as appearing at the Mill Hill Services Club and the Bacon Lane Club, along with a gig at Stephens house. I also saw a friends band at the East Barnet British Legion. The Borough does not have a single, dedicated music venue (along the lines of the Dublin Castle, 100 Club, Hope & Anchor). There are few pubs that sporadically have music. As to Theatre, we have the Arts Depot that has a regular programme of events and the Bull Theatre which has some pruductions. As Barnet has the largest population of any London Borough, we are chronically underserved culturally. Whilst Barnet has improved from the days when they were trying to close libraries under the Conservatives, there are has been no actual improvement in access to culture locally. There is much waffle, but even this year we've seen community assets closing.

Through my work at the studios, where we rent sound equipment, we know of just about every church hall, youth club etc in the Borough that hosts music events. If you compare Barnet to our neighbouring London  boroughs, such as Camden, Brent and Enfield, we are miles behind. Enfield in terms of Theatre provision, which is perhaps the most similar has The Chickenshed, The Millfield Theatre and The Dugdale Centre and a  similar selection of pubs doing sporadic music. I'm not criticising the Arts Depot or the Bull who do great things, but they are on the East of the Borough and there is almost nothing on the west side. Over the last 20 years, we've lost a whole stack of local festivals, including The Finchley Carnival, The Watling Festival and this year we failed to stage the well respected East Barnet Festival. 

For the Borough of Barnet to be credible, we need to show a commitment to Theatre, Music, Dance and other cultural activities across the Borough and on a regular basis. Until this is established, we shouldn't even begin to consider any sort of bid. 

In May of 2022, the then new Leader of Barnet Council, Barry Rawlings asked me to help the Borough draw up a new cultural strategy to address this shortfall. I told Barry that I was fully on board and would back his efforts 100%. As someone who has run a studio complex for 44 years, played in a gigging band, performing at over 40 venues in the Borough since 1979 and a member of the Mill Hill Music Festival and North Finchley Festival organising committee, as well as on the music committee for the East Barnet Festival, I believed I was uniquely placed to assist. I know just about everyone involved in live music in Barnet. I attended several meetings and was excited when Barnet recruited a new team to push this forward. I produced a draft strategy for discussion and circulated it. I heard nothing back. In February, I was contacted to be told that my services were not required on the steering committee. It seems my CV was not up to scratch. I was informed that I'd be on the "experts panel" instead, advising the committee. This seemed rather odd but I am familair with the council, so wasn't entirely surprised. I heard nothing further. In July, I saw this on Linkedin and so I posted the following reply..

As I suspected, I'd been completely cut out of the process and I was not considered even to be a partner worth inviting. A week after I posted the tweet, a council official phoned me to ask why I'd posted the tweet and told me that they still wanted me to be fully involved, just not a part of the steering committee or any other part of the planning process. They said they'd not contacted me for six months because "other things had been going on behind the scenes". 

So why did this happen? It is clear to me that there are four main reasons, as far as I can see.

1. They did not like my view that the council should not spend hundreds of thousands of pounds on consultants to draw up strategies. My view was that the money would be better spend developing hyper-local, grass roots arts projects across the Borough.

2. They also did not like my view that the council needed to identify its artistic assets before they started drawing up a strategy. The Council official informed me that this had been done. I know for a fact that none of the organisations I talk to had spoken to at the time of our conversation. My view was that the council needed to develop a collaborative culture amongst arts organisations, before we would be ready to start to formally develop the strategy. An audit of our artistic resources would allow us to build on what we have.

3. They did not like my view that the larger vested interests in the Borough should not monopolise policy. Generally they tend to see such execises as opportunities to hoover up funds and grants, rather than to generate artistic activity.

4. They didn't like the fact that I was stating that we were in no fit state as a Borough to make a credible bid.

It is clear to me that there are many well meaning people involved in the process. It is also clear to me that very few are genuinely interested in working outside of their own little bubble. I am truly appalled at the lack of interest amongsth Barnet's councillors, both Tory and Labour, for local arts. Unless they came in disguse, not a single one attended the Mill Hill Music Festival, although it ran for seven days and was a stunning success. No one contacted us from the Council to ask how it had gone, what they could do to assist us or what our plans were for the next festival or the one beyond that, which will take place in 2027, when the bid, if successful, is recognised.

I concluded my conversation with the Council Official by stating that I will always be 100% happy to assist any grassroots project to improve the cultural life of Barnet. Our company will continue to work to do this, as we have for 44 years. What I am not preapred to do is waste time working on projects, where they do not even have the common courtesy to tell me that my services are not required.

Our company, in any given year gives between £25-50,000 support to local projects, mostly in heavily discounted logistics support and free studio time. I had planned to encorporate this as part of my submissions for the bid, but as we are not deemed key partners, we will simply continue as we always have, doing this quietly and behind the scenes, not making a song and dance of it. 

The Barnet Council bid is based on fresh air and PR waffle. Many amazing hyper local projects, which should form the basis of it, are likely to be excluded. I am sure it will be well presented and have some good things, but the sad thing is that Barnet does have assets that should be developed to support the bid. The bid should be based on Barnet being diverse with a myriad of different groups, doing wonderful things, not a few large organisations trying to take on Camden with a few community projects as an afterthought. 

As I mentioned, I drew up a rough draft in July 2022, in my own time, free of charge (not a big deal). I circulated this. To the best of my knowledge, not a single person at the council read it. I also circulated it to other partners in the community, who were keen to participate. They provided some excellent feedback and asked me to get them involved ASAP. As the council never actually came back to me, it all stopped there. As far as I am concerned, I am done with Barnet Council, just as they were done with me in February. I cant, in all good conscience, justify wasting time with people who do not even have the common courtesy to say "Thanks but no thanks" and can't be bothered to read and respond to things you've spent weeks putting together. I genuinely thought that Barnet had turned a new leaf last May. It is now clear to me that the Officers and Officials have no more real interest in the people of Barnet than they had under the previous Conservative regime. I know this post may ruffle a few feathers. That is a good thing.

I will leave the last word on Barnet Council to Dave Cox, who is an Admin on the wonderful Barnet Music Facebook page, which does more than anyone to promote music in Barnet. You'd think such a key stakeholder would be fully engaged with the Culture bid process. He was unaware of it and posted this less than a week ago.

I am interested to hear people’s views about Barnet Borough Council in relation to music. Do you think that the council sees music as an asset or a nuisance.
Don’t turn this post into a bash the council fest. The council do have public consultations and use their collected survey data to administer services.
However as I recall they made no mention of music (I could be wrong) in their most recent consultation. Under leisure and activities the emphasis was on parks and sports.
What is also clear is that the Council has administered noise abatement notices to many live music places which have resulted in their closure. Many of these places no longer exist as places of entertainment and are now either residential or retail or part of a larger redevelopment scheme.
Also all of the rehearsal premises in High Barnet were forced to close by residential development projects.
If the council recognised the importance of those premises and the need for them then perhaps it could have insisted on the replacement of the facilities that were being lost in the development in the planning application. Insisting that rehearsal facilities with adequate sound isolation are included in the plan as well as other business premises that are lost when industrial properties are developed into residential.
But these things would only be recognised as important by the council if local people made clear to the council how important they are.
I don’t know how people feel about this.
Maybe the council are right to consider that live music is a public nuisance and isn’t very important.
If live music is important but is also a nuisance then we need premises which are designed for purpose with proper sound proofing in the design.

If you are interested, here is my draft strategy. Please feel free to tell me what you think.

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A culture strategy for the Borough of Barnet (draft)

Introduction

The first question to answer is “Why does the London Borough of Barnet need a culture strategy?”. There are several reasons. A vibrant creative scene brings people together, generates opportunities for the people living in the Borough, especially young people and improves the health and wellbeing of the people living in the Borough. If we have good things to look forward to,  a pleasant environment and our young people have creative outlets, our Borough will become happier and more successful. London leads the world in many spheres of creative activities, but the London Borough of Barnet is one of the drier areas for cultural life.

The second question to answer is “What should we aim to achieve with a cultural strategy?”. The answer to this is perhaps harder, as many diverse groups see the priorities as very different. However as a local authority seeking to improve the cultural life of the Borough and spending cash on the project, the answer should be that we choose to develop a strategy that opens up participation in cultural activities to those who are currently excluded and gives creative opportunities to those who are currently denied them. We should remove as many barrier as possible to participating in creative activities and we should aim that when we spend public money on culture, where possible it is on sustainable projects that also have a legacy.

The third question to answer is how we actually get those we are not engaging with to participate in cultural activities. This is the hardest question to answer. It would be relatively easy to engage with people who already have a degree of access and the means to participate and make wonderful opportunities available, but for many this would often mean simply subsidising activities that they would be participating in anyway. Getting those who would benefit most to participate in the cultural life of the Borough is a hard ask. Many will be suspicious and many will have a negative attitude to authority, so will not immediately be drawn to participate.

So how do we achieve these aims

The principles

I would start by defining what our principles are when we define the strategy. I would base everything on three simple principles.

1)      There is no such thing as a negative cultural activity, although sometimes they can be in the wrong place or at the wrong time.

2)      No one should ever be excluded from participation although there may be scenarios where the participation needs a degree of management

3)      The strategy should empower those participating in to define their own projects and goals. The culture strategy should simply give them tools, support and mentoring to succeed.

What do we mean by this?

Lets start with negative cultural activity.  Let’s take an activity such as graffiti, which is a problem in parts of Barnet. It costs the council a large amount of time and money removing it. The young people who are involved in graffiti see themselves as artists taking on the system. It would be very easy to simply dismiss them as a nuisance and seek strategies to suppress them. However, maybe we should view them as artists who are simply not being given the space and support to make a positive contribution to the cultural life of the Borough. What if we embraced their talents, found spaces that they could brighten up and gave the support and mentoring to do murals in dark, drab places that would benefit from being brightened up? If we gave them the opportunity to show that they could do more than scrawl on brick walls, in the knowledge that their efforts would be painted over tomorrow? Some people may object to such a scheme, but how else do we engage. It is worth remembering that one of the Uk’s best known artists, Banksy, started out as a street artist. There are plenty of drab spaces that with a bit of creativity could brighten up.

What do we mean by no one should be excluded, but some participation must be managed. It is not always appropriate for everyone to participate in every scenario. As an extreme example, someone in prison for violent crime would not be let out to participate in a music or painting scheme, but if they wanted to learn to paint, play a musical instrument or write, then that opportunity should be made available. Such schemes do help reduce re-offending levels. There are also many elderly resident of Barnet, who never get considered when we discuss culture. This is a blind spot we should address. Some may be vulnerable so there safety must be a consideration

Finally, one of the failures of many projects is that they are not designed by those they who are the target audience. Across Barnet, there are all manner of people and groups who have dreams of setting up cultural projects. These could be writing books, making music, painting, staging plays, concerts, running radio stations, staging raves. Many do not know where to start, how to get the space, etc. They have no mentors who can guide them. So the dreams remain just that.

What we need to provide

The first challenge is to connect. How do we do this? How do we engage with those who we seek to help. The worst way is to say “lets start from scratch”, when there are many existing pathways that we could exploit. The second challenge is to start to develop the potential of those who have a desire to contribute, but who do not have the wherewithal. For this we need community mentors, who are prepared to use their skills and expertise to help develop our cultural life. The third challenge is to provide the physical space to do this. We have faith based spaces, libraries and private concerns. Are these in the right places, do they welcome those we seek to attract?

A first stage should be to audit the cultural life of Barnet, identify organisations that we can partner with, people who can be mentors and spaces where we can build community. We should reach out and offer them the opportunity to participate and build the strategy. It must be made clear that this is not simply an exercise in adding funding streams for what they already do. They must bring something to the party.

By having an auditable baseline, we will also be able to measure the success of our strategy and identify what is working and what isn’t.

How much will all of this cost?

That is impossible to quantify without knowing how much we are currently spending and what we are delivering. By getting organisations to work together, collaborate and develop synergies, rather than working in silo’s and seeing everyone else as the enemy in a constant battle for funds will mean we do more for less. There are all manner of pots of funding which are being missed out on and there are plenty of activities that are not delivering value for money for those who most need it.

What is the Borough of Barnet missing culturally

There are 24 wards in the Borough of Barnet. Neighbouring wards can be very different, take Mill Hill and Burnt Oak. What works in one ward would not work in another. That is why we need to empower communities to develop their own hyper local strategy. It seems ridiculous that we have boarded up shops, when young people have nowhere to go to express themselves or develop cultural skills. What is even more incomprehensible is that these empty spaces could be let to charities, removing the costs of business rates to Landlords. Short term lets, to local cultural organisations that are charities, could provide a win/win for both landlords and the organisations. Getting young people to develop such spaces into viable cultural enterprises, backed by mentors, local entrepreneurs, charities and the local authority, would be an amazing way to deliver cultural provision to all parts of the Borough. Empty spaces spell decay, we can breath life back into our high streets and give local people a real opportunity to participate in their own neighbourhood.

The role of local commercial providers

Any strategy will only be successful if it gets the support of the independent commercial sector in Barnet. People successfully running their own businesses are people who can bring skills and mentorship to the table. There should be synergies they can exploit that will work for them commercially whilst delivering opportunity to people to develop their own creative projects etc. This could be as simple as local galleries and caf├ęs displaying local artwork, local pubs staging local bands.

We need to encourage young entrepreneurs from across the Borough’s diverse cultural and social spectrum to develop cultural projects to build their own CV’s and skills in delivering commercially viable cultural offerings.

We need to ensure that assets of community value are recognised and we lose no more of our key venues, such as the Torrington music venue in Finchley. We need to ensure that any businesses that face short term financial stress due to the pandemic are availed of whatever assistance the council can provide and that in four years time, we have more, not less commercial provision of culture.

The role of the council

The role of the council in all would be multifaceted.  Much of this would simply to be to help signpost these activities. It would be good to see small amounts of easily obtainable seed money for hyper local projects to be made available. I’d like to see this work in two ways. Grants should be available where there is a good case and the opportunity to work with local financial institutions to guarantee small loans where there is a strong business case. This will mean lower interest rates should be available. Of course, financial diligence is a key to this. Some benefits will be tangible. If artists paint murals that result in a decrease in requirements to paint over graffiti, this would have a financial benefit as well as delivering a more pleasant environment. Local councillors will have a key role to play. They should be engaged with local groups and be aware of where the most need is. They should be driving the case for resources for culture in their ward. There should be a degree of equity in resource allocation, but also a bias towards where the greatest need is. This does not mean splashing huge sums on deprived wards to the detriment of relatively better off wards. It means ensuring that there is proper, easily accessible provision for everyone in the Borough of Barnet and an effort to ensure that any cash the council does spend is use on projects that would not happen otherwise and can deliver a measurable improvement in cultural provision.

Summary

The London Borough of Barnet has not had a coherent cultural strategy and funding has too often been guided by vested interests, best able to cope for themselves. We need a step change, where we develop a vision of what we want as the cultural landscape in Barnet. We need as many people as possible to contribute and we need the Borough of Barnet to recognise and support the activities of as many creative people from the diverse array of cultures across the Borough. 

Monday 7 August 2023

London Symphonies - Solace in Southwark Cathedral and bopping with the Bard!

 Sometimes, you just find yourself having a perfect moment of calm, when there is a storm raging all around you. It is impossible to explain, but I am sure we all have experienced this occasionally. I'd been planning an installment of this series featuring Southwark Cathedral since the inception of the whole idea for London Symphonies crystalised. I had planned a very different episode, taking in the surrounding area, Borough Market, London Bridge and the South bank. As it turned out, this episode is very different and I hope immeasurably better. The London Symphonies are not intended to be history pieces, although there are historical elements in many. They are an explanation as to why a part of our city is living and breathing. It is a celebration of the now, albiet with a nod to the history of this city.

Today was a strange day. I had to attend the London Bridge hospital at 10am, for a pre operative assessment. I'm having surgery on Wednesday and they needed to check me out and sign me off as fit for an operation. I was done by 11am. I'd made no plans and I was in a very strange frame of mind. I neither wanted to go home, nor stay where I was. I used to work around the corner on Park Street, so it's an area I know well and love. I've spent many wonderful times in the pubs and restaurants around London Bridge. I often ate at Borough Market and I occasionally took advantage of the quiet traquility of the Cathedral for a moments reflection when I was working there, without ever properly exploring it. Sometime, I just needed to get ten minutes on my own to regroup. This morning, when my appointment was done, I decided to slowly amble back from the hospital to Blackfriars, to catch the train to Mill Hill. Writing an episode of this feature was the last thing on my mind.

As I walked past the Mudlark Pub, I felt a desire for a pint. As I am having surgery on Wednesday and have been advised to not drink for two days, this was not the best idea, so I walked on. I've had many a pleasant beer with friends in the Mudlark. It is perhaps the cheapest pub in the area and one of the less busy ones. I reflected on these with a degree of nostalgia and sadness. I won't be having a beer with anyone for a few weeks.

Southwark cathedral The next item of note on my travels was the  Southwalk Cathedral. There is a pleasant coffee bar/bakery in the courtyard. As I don't really have a sweet tooth I'd not been in previously. Even though I'd had my porridge this morning,  I had a strong urge to have a double espresso and a plain croissant. I almost never drink coffee. It doesn't agree with me and makes me feel very weird, but in the circumstances, I felt that anything that changed my mood was probably better than the gloom I was mired in. So I ordered a double espresso and a plaing croissant and sat in the sunshine enjoying a moment of peace. 

As I sat enjoying the Sun,  I started to appreciate the fine architecture of the Cathedral. It is a place I knew nothing about until I worked around the corner. I've often felt that my schooling let me down, not educating me about our great city. This has been a motivation for this series, exploring places that give me great pleasure but that were deemed not worthy of a mention in our geography or history classes. 

When we were at school, they taught me that a City has to have a Cathedral and London was really two cities, Westminster and London. There was never any mention of Southwark, just over the river from London's St Pauls. Whether this was just a North London thing I don't know, but I was quite surprised when I first discovered that London had a third city and a third cathedral. 

Southwark cathedralI had not intended to stop, but, on a whim,  decided that it would be a very good thing to have a proper look around the Cathedral and take some pictures. As I entered the Cathedral, there was a morning prayer service taking place. A simple service, with prayers for NHS workers, peace in the world and everyone's private intention, followed by The Lords Prayer. I sat down, near the back and listened, taking in the beauty and magnificence of the building.

It took me a very long time to enjoy such buildings. As a child, I was forced to go to church and found such buildings musty and intimidating. Now, I find them peaceful and reassuring. This is not really a religious thing. I had a Roman Catholic education and we were brainwashed to be suspicious of other faiths, their buildings and their ways. As Londoners, we are lucky. We are exposed to other creeds and cultures on a daily basis. Any lingering secratrian distrust has long since gone. I can see beauty wherever it is and find fascination in all manner of places that my teachers would have been appalled by. London won that particular war with my blinkered teachers.

SouthwRk cathedralI had not previously noted the monument to William Shakespeare within the Cathedral. Whilst my schooling tried very hard to put me off C of E  Churches, they put a huge amount of effort trying to persuade me that William Shakespeare was the best thing since sliced bread. We were forced to read the Bard. As we yawned, we were endlessly lectured on his wit, his wisdom, his talent. We were shown videos of his works, featuring actors in silly costumes, speaking in stilted accents, on the old Philips video system that it seems were only ever bought by schools. We would have to write essays eulogising his works and praising his geniues, whilst all the time counting the seconds to the bell for playtime. 

I finally left school at eighteen years old. Five years later, I met my now wife. I was spellbound by her beauty and intelligence, but perplexed when she informed me she loved the work of William Shakespeare, suggesting I gave it another go. It took me a very long time to realise that she had a point. It was only when I realised that Shakespeare invented most of the insults in the English language, that I realised she may have a point.  

SouthwRk cathedralAs a blogger, a song writer and a poet, I have come to appreciate the work of the Bard. I will never be his biggest fan, but I have realised that our teachers failed miserably to explain the true magnificence of his work. If I was given such a task, teaching miscievous eleven year old boys about his talent, the insults would be the first place I'd start. I think I'd also explain that his work was seen as mass entertainment in Elizabethan times, it was not highbrow or exclusive and the snobs of the time looked down on him. 
Shakespeare wrote for a living and earned money entertaining the working people of England. Much as we repeat the catchphrases of our famous comedians, such as "He's not the Messiah, he's a very naughty boy", they would leave exclaiming quotes such as  “Villain, I have done thy mother” (Titus Andronicus Act 4, Scene 2) tittering wildly. It is amusing to me that the same English teachers who would put down punk singers such as John Lydon and Rap/Hip Hop poets for such lyrics, would laud Shakespeare for his wit.

I made my way to the garden. I don't know if I've never noticed it before, but there is a bench where you can sit with the great bard and exchange pleasantries. Of course he doesn't say much, he doesn't have to. I got to thinking "What would William Shakespeare think of my work with The False Dots?" Now I am not comparing my work with his, but I suspect that we'd get on just fine. I suspect he may feel more at home at one of our gigs (once he got used to the noise) than he would at many modern productions of his plays. I sat down next to him on the bench, went to take a selfie and got a strong feeling that he was saying "Come on then son, give me your best!!!". I was quite taken aback for a second by this feeling. Now I am not saying I was communicating or channelling, but I felt, for a second, a warm glow that I was in the presence of a master and he wanted to help me (yes I know this was a delusion, but I'd rather have a pleasant delusion than a miserable reality).  So I gave him my best shot. I sat for a while, trying to think what poem was most Shakespearian. Then I thought, no, lets give him a blast of pure Roger Tichborne. I'm not and will never be a tribute act. I do my own material! I think he appreciated that. Can you imagine how bored he must be with people sitting there and saying "Foresooth, alas poor Yorrick I knew him well"?



I cannot pretend that making this video didn't give me a massive buzz and very unexpected buzz. Was it the mind bending effects of the coffee? It was completely off the cuff, but it just felt like the right thing to do. A bunch of tourists stood and watched and probably thought I was either a madman or part of the furniture, I am not quite sure. For a few seconds, I felt a kinship with Billy. If only we could adjourn for a flaggon of grog around the corner, the world would be perfect. 

As I walked back to the train, I wondered what he'd make of London in 2023. It is a very different City. I suspect that he'd do better than many other historical figures. He strikes me as a forward looking man, ahead of his time. His plays are timeless. His humour cuts to the heart of the human condition. He was not a puritan or a prude. His work was not the work of a little Englander. 

For me, this was a transformative experience. This may sound silly, but in London we are surrounded by the ghosts of our rich history. We cannot see them, we cannot feel them, but they are there and in places such as Southwark Cathedral, we can share a space with them. It would be one of the few places that the Bard would find vaguely recognisable today. This is what London does to you. You go out for a pre op check up, you stop for a coffee and you end up with a deeply spiritual experience. 

The sounds of London are there if you listen. That is what London symphonies is trying to capture. If you are interested, here is the full photo album from the visit to Southwark Cathedral. It is well worth a visit and the coffee and croissants are wonderful.

Southwark Cathedral