Tuesday 30 April 2024

Rog T's Cancer Blog - Radical Prostatectomy nine months on

Last week, I had my post op, nine month PSA test. In truth, I was slightly edgy. Every time I've felt like I'm winning, I've had a knock back, so I was not exactly serene. My previous two tests have indicated no cancer. I am not sure when, if ever, I can say I have been cured, but I'm guessing that nine months is too early. The good news is the level is undetectable. The news cannot be any better. 

The next step is to have a chat with my consultant. I would be surprised if he says anything other than "This is very good news". We will then discuss my continence, which is also pretty good. I've not really had any issues since the cathetar has been removed, except for when I've been silly with alcohol. Even that is improving. The only small issue is when I pee, if I forget to count to ten when I finish, sometimes a bit comes out when I tuck in. Then we'll discuss sexual function. That is slowly returning with the aid of Cialis. I had hoped it would be quicker, but we are getting there. 

I've had a couple of chats with mates who are around my age. I mentioned this and they told me that they needed  Cialis and they hadn't had a prostatecomy and reminded me I wasn't 18 anymore. I do get this, but as I was 100% functional until the op, I do feel I should be doing better, no matter how unrealistic this is. One thing I've found, which wasn't true before, is that if I drink any amount of alcohol, then the cialis doesn't work. A glass of wine or a pint is OK, but any more and forget it. 

And finally, there is the state of my mental health. I think it is fair to say that the operation had a huge effect on this. I would say I'm 85% back to where I was. If you'd asked me on Friday, I'd have said I'm 100% but the events at Hadley FC on Saturday shook me. Seeing a young man of 20, in his prime, keel over with a cardiac arrest really upset me. I can't say that I've 100% got my composure back. I've been feeling rather vulnerable. I suspect that before the op, I'd have not felt quite the same. I'd have been upset, but not feeling anxious and depressed about it three days later.

Recently, I've been on a real high. My band, The False Dots, have been on a bit of a roll. We did a wonderful gig on Friday night, but in truth, I've not felt like shouting about what a great band we are and doing the usual stuff I do.God willing, this malaise will pass and I'll my glass will appear more half full than half empty as I feel today. Having got some great news, I should be feeling ecstatic today, and reading on BBC News that Jack Marshall is doing well has certainly been good news, I am still feeling a bit anxious and lethargic. This is nothing major and having a bit of a cold doesn't help. I just don't feel that I bounce back as quickly from things since the op.

And as I move away (hopefully) from prostate cancer being an active medical issue for me, all I can really say is that I am extremely lucky. Heaven only knows where I'd be if I hadn't had a PSA screening in 2011. As a result of the HIFU treatment in 2016 and the RARP treatment last year, what could have been a really serious issue is under control. I was watching "The Piano" on Sunday with my wife and they featured someone who's brother, who I suspect was my age, had died of prostate cancer. I dodged that bullet, so I really have a lot to be thankful for. 


About Rog T's cancer blog.

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 61 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. This was followed by two in February 2022 was 6.7 and October 2022 was 6.6 was stable. 

In March 2023 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. On 9th August 2023 I had a RARP radcical prostatectomy procedure that, God willing, has addressed it. 

Got the picture?

Here is a song I wrote to raise awareness amongst men of the need to get checked for Prostate Cancer

Monday 29 April 2024

A big shout out to the volunteers and people behind the scenes who make things happen

 I had intended to write this blog yesterday, but events at Hadley meant I had other things on my mind. The weekend didn't really turn out how I envisaged. Friday night was awesome, with my band, The False Dots playing a great gig up at the Dublin Castle and the headliners Skaface royally entertaining us. When punters turn up and watch a gig, they only see a small picture of what actually goes on. It's like a romantic restaurant, where you are on a date. The lights are low, the waiters are polite and serene, the wine is chilled and the food is excellent. You don't see the other side of the door to the kitchen, where chefs run around frantically, people wash up plates and pans, etc. Or the office at the back where someone counts the money, pays the tax and electricity bills and wages. Or the cleaners who will be in first thing to make sure it is all spic and span for the the next bunch of romantic sweethearts. 

When a band does a gig, you turn up ridiculously early at an empty venue. A pub like the Dublin Castle, which is open all day does have a few drinkers in the front section, but the gig room will have a sound engineer and members of the various bands. For bands like us, who know the sound guy, we say our hello's, set up, do a sound check then hang around for hours, waiting for our allotted slot. On Friday, this was rather complicated by the fact that there was a fire on the Northern Line and all tube trains were suspended. This meant that our bass player, Fil, was nearly an hour late. We had no idea what was going on, save a text that "there was a problem on the tube". It turned out he had to get a cab. Being a sound person is thankless. People only know you exist when there is a problem. If there is feedback or something breaks. The guys at the Dublin Castle are excellent and we always get a good sound. Then there is person on ticket duty, who's job is to collect the money and pay the bands. Again a bit of a thankless task. It always irritates me that some people seem to resent having to pay to watch a band. If you look at a band like The False Dots, we've probably had ten rehearsals so far this year and Friday was the fourth gig we've performed. The average cost of a rehearsal for a band like us in London is around £40-£50, so just to keep ourselves up to speed, we've spent £400-£500 so far. Add in a few quid for petrol for non local members getting to rehearsal and gigs, say £50, plectrums/drumsticks/strings at another £50, we are at £500-£600 out of pocket. Now don't get me wrong, I love playing in a band. I don't do it for the cash. But when people see The False Dots, they get their moneys worth. The band on with us, Skaface were a nine piece set up and they'd come down from Blackpool to play. They had to stay in a hotel in Watford after and were playing in Derby on Saturday. I've no idea what their costs were, but playing a 145 capacity venue such as The Dublin Castle will never make them rich. Like The False Dots, they do it because they like playing an iconic venue.

Lets say, for arguments sake, that 100 people went on Friday and they paid £15 each to get in, then that was £1,500 to pay a nine piece band, a three piece band, the person on the door, the engineer and the engineer's assistant. On top of that, there is the promotor, a big shout out to Mr Tony Gleed, who put it all together. Tony puts a huge amount of work into putting the whole thing together. After the bands are on, he DJ's until 3am. I have no idea what his deal with the pub is, but whatever it is, it is great value for money for them. The pub also has their costs. The bar people, the door security, electicity, beer, rates, cleaners, keeping the place decorated, etc. Sometimes people say "How can they justify charging £7 for a beer, when you can buy a tin in Tesco's for a quid?".  Well the answer is simple. The £6 on top pays for the the costs mentioned. If you want to watch a band at a venue like the Dublin Castle, then all of those things need to be paid for. When you play in a band, you get a far greater appreciation of all of this. 

As I mentioned above, I also went to watch our local football team, Hadley FC. They play in the Southern League Central Division One. The official attendance on Saturday was 187. A goodly number of those people are season ticket holders, who like me, pay £50 a season to see all of the home league games. To get in without a ticket costs £10. So, you get to see eighteen home games for the cost of five. My preferred tipple at the ground is Whitstable Ale, which I pay £4 a bottle for. As with the Dublin Castle, there is a whole behind the scenes team, making sure that we all have a pleasant environment. Putting the actual team and the management around them aside, there are just about all the jobs that you have in a pub to be covered, as well as stewards ensuring the car park is managed, people who sort out the sandwiches and teas for match officials, the people who run the burger van, the grounds team, who have done an amazing job ensuring Hadley have one of the best playing surfaces in the league. The team only had one home postponement this year, due to a frozen pitch. Some teams had half a dozen postponements. Then there are the people who sort out the commercial side, sponsorship etc. There are probably a whole host of other roles not mentioned here. At Hadley the President Tristran Smith does a great job running the bar and doing a whole host of other jobs you never see. Steve Gray, as chairman also does a fantastic job on the pitch. You can see the whole team here. Nearly everyone associated with club works as a volunteer. They do it because they love football. At this level, there is not the big money that we associate with the Premier League. It is a community club and there is a community that supports it. 

After I attended the game, I went for a pint at The Mill Hill Services club. Until yesterday, I was involved with the management, being a member of the management committee. I stood for the role of Vice Chairman, but was beaten by Alan Thomas by seven votes, so I am off the hook. Alan is a good guy and I'm not upset. Outgoing chairman Gary Topp had asked me to stand, as at the time,the job was vacant. Incoming chairman Vince Howley had asked Alan to stand for election, and the members decided that Alan was the man for the job. I have quite a lot on my plate at the moment, so I'm happy for a good guy like Alan to take the reigns. Being the chairman or vice chairman such as Vince and Alan is a thankless task. The role is not paid and there is little thanks from members. Too much of the time is spent on petty tasks, such as keeping order and sorting out disputes by members. On occasion, I've just wanted to say "You are grown ups, why are you being so stupid", but in this day and age you cannot upset anyone, so you have to be objective, even with the most ridiuclous behaviour. 

The last year has been incredibly challenging, with high energy prices devastating the finances of the club. The committee took serious action to try and manage, but seeing the strains made me realise that both The Dublin Castle and Hadley would have faced similar challenges. When you are running a tight ship and your energy costs treble, there is almost nothing you can do except put up prices and hope people understand. As your customers are also being squeezed, it puts a real strain on us all. When you run a bar, with draft beer that needs chilling, it is a big cost. 

The club is an incredibly important institution in Mill Hill. My Dad was a life member. I am actually quite proud that even though I didn't get the role, over 47% of voting members thought I was the right person. Being on the committee for the last four years has really brought home to me just how much work is done behind the scenes and has made me far more appreciative of the efforts put in by those who keep the places I love, such as The Dublin Castle, Hadley FC and the Mill Hill Services club going. No one I've mentioned here does it for personal gain, they do it out of a love of music, football or the local community.

You may wonder what prompted this blog. I am involved with putting together the music programme for the East Barnet Festival.  This is another event run by volunteers. It seems that the local Police are piling on the amount of paperwork which the committee needs to do and asking for all manner of changes, that add huge costs that simply cannot be accomodated in the already tight budget. Now of course they have a responsibilty to ensure the safety of all concerned, but there seems little understanding on the part of the paid bureacracy, that community run events, put together by vounteers and small teams of people can only do so much. There was a time when the police would actually step in and help, rather than throw spanners in the works. It can be a little bit demoralising for all concerned, when you spend months working on things and then someone who is paid a small fortune for a full time job comes along and puts the boot in. They never say "How can we help, is there anything we can do to make this run better" or "Your safety policy needs some work, can I make a few edits and see if that works", or best of all "Here's a few quid to assist with the extra costs".  It just doesn't work like that.

So next time you go to a grassroots gig, a grassroots football match, a community festival, or anything else where people do it for the love of it. Show the people who keep it going some love. 


Oh and by the way, I write this blog for the love of it. If you enjoy it, there is one little thing you can do, if you'd be so kind. Would you mind watching the new video by my band, The False Dots and perhaps clicking the like, leaving a nice comment or maybe even both. It would mean a lot to me and would show that there are actually a few people out there who appreciate the efforts I put in. 

Sunday 28 April 2024

The Sunday Reflection #11 - Tragic scene shows that there are more important things than football as Hadley FC V Kempston Rovers is abandoned

 Up until 3.30pm yesterday, I was having a wonderful weekend. The False Dots gig at The Dublin Castle was wonderful. The headline band Skaface were excellent. As ever it was a great way to catch up with friends and have some fun. I awoke yesterday morning feeling fragile, but with a smile. We walked the dogs, had lunch and I made my way to Brickfield Lane, to watch Hadley FC's final game of the season. This is always a bit of a party. I won't see most of my Hadley friends until our pre season trip to San Marino in June. The club always make a big effort, player of the season awards are dished out and a few beers are consumed for the final game. The team made an awful start to the season, manager Tony Clark tragically lost his son just before the start of the season and not surprisingly this cloud affected everyone. The team started poorly with a string of losses. Another tragedy hit, when popular midfield Luke Alfano's Dad passed away. By Xmas, the club were mired in a relegation struggle. The 150 or so regulars stood by the team, knowing that the club was built on solid foundations and have been punching above their weight, playing in the Southern League central division one. 

In the dark days of winter, it seemed that nothing was going right. And then Father Christmas brought strike Isaac Stones some new scoring boots. Isaac had struggled to find the net after joining the club. He was clearly talented but seemed to lack confidence. All of a sudden, he couldn't stop scoring, finishing as the leagues top scorer. The team went on a stunning run. They almost made the playoffs. Although results last week meant that the playoffs were not mathematically possible, the club could achieve their highest ever points total at step four. They were playing Kempston Rovers, already relegated, with only pride to play for.  

A good crowd gathered and were in fine voice. There was much banter, Kempston play in green, so we sang "You're just a team of Keepers". We then had a jolly time winding up the number nine, about his inability to tie his shoelaces. Kempston seemed to be a rugged team, playing a long ball on the break game. Hadley started fairly sedately. After 36 minutes, Finlay Aldridge broke clear and scored. Much merriment ensured amongst the home supporters. As the game was about to restart, the Kempston keeper Jack Marshall went down on one knee and started signalling to the ref, who was looking the other way, as the game was about to restart. Myself and a couple of other Hadley fans who saw what happened shouted to the ref to check the keeper. He turned around, by which time the keeper was sprawled on the floor.  Immediately recognising that this was a serious situation, the ref called on both sets of physios etc. Steve Gray, the Hadley chairman called an ambulance. 

The Kempston players encircled Jack, and covers were brought, along with a defibrillator. As the severity became clear, fans drifted to the clubhouse. A paramedic, then an ambulance arrived. No one really felt like celebrating, the mood was deflated. The club did it's presentations. Quite a few Barnet fans were at Hadley and watched the Barnet game on the telly. They were in the playoffs. They lost 4-0. 

It was a strange feeling all around. At around 7pm, Jack's mum posted from Barnet hospital that Jack was alright, with pictures of Jack giving the thumbs up. 

That was really the only result I cared about. When I saw the pictures, I realised that Jack is about the same age as my own son. My son was a talented keeper for Watling boys but had to give up playing after damaging his ACL. As a parent, the worst thing is when something happens to your kids and my heart goes out to Samantha, his mum. Just before the incident, Jack displayed some rather tasty footwork and is clearly a very good keeper. I hope that he recovers and that he appears between the sticks again, if it is possible.

Yesterday was a harrowing day. Football is one of my great loves, but seeing Jack departing in an ambulance gave me a heavy heart and put things in perspective. It made me appreciate my own kids. When I got back, I felt overjoyed just to see my son and daughter doing the ordinary things they do. I've seen many things on the football field, but thankfully nothing like what I saw yesterday. At times in my life, I've felt like football was the most important thing on the planet. Yesterday put this into sharp focus, but on reflection it also showed something else. The reaction of the both clubs and the fans, when it became clear what was happening should be a source of some joy. It brought out the best in everyone. The reaction to Samantha's post showed the good side of social media, with everyone sending best wishes. In truth. we were all helpless onlookers as the paramedics came and the ambulance left but we can show Jack and Samantha we care. 

This morning, when I got up, my daughter had prepared my wife and I a lovely breakfast, for no apparent reason. I probably haven't said it enough on this blog, but I love my kids, they are the future. I wish it hadn't happened, but the incidents of yesterday made me realise that we should cherish those we love as things can change anytime, in a second.

Wherever you are, have a great Sunday and appreciate what you've got.

Saturday 27 April 2024

The Saturday List #438 - 10 great international cuisines you can taste in the Borough of Barnet

 Yesterday, the rather wonderful David Grant asked the listeners of BBC Radio London for ideas for eating out, when he was standing in for Robert Elms on the midday show. What followed was a truly wonderful selection of restaurants etc across London. It got me thinking as to what were the 10 best cuisines that I've eaten in the Borough of Barnet. We are blessed with some fantastic restaurants. Here is my selection.

1. Chinese. You simply cannot get a better Chinese meal than the Good Earth in Mill Hill. The food is absolutely wonderful and the people who run it are lovely. It is not cheap, but is rather special.  As an alternative, if you want lovely Dim Sum JM Oriental is excellent.

2. Indian. Regular readers will know I love Indian food. My favourite is The Mill Hill Tandoori. It is very much a traditional Bangladeshi style. The best dish they do is the Tandoori Salmon. The mixed grill is also rather good. There are plenty of good Indian restaurants in the Borough of Barnet, I'd recommend trying them all!

3. Argentinian. If you like eating meat, you really can't beat El Vaquerro in Mill Hill is wonderful. The cuisine is meat on skewers. There is no menu, they keep bringing around different delicious meats until you are full. What is not to like. There is also a decent salad bar, but to be honest, you wouldn't really go if you are a vegan.

4. Irish. One of the best Irish pubs in London is in Hendon. The Claddagh Ring does excellent Irish cuisine, with great stews, bacon and cabbage etc.  Needless to say, the Guinness is pretty good too. It is not the place for a quiet romantic dinner though, absolutely buzzing venue. 

5. Italian. There are quite a few decent Italian restaurants in the Borough. My personal favourite is Metro Italia, in Copthall open space. Not fussy, a fave for families. Just good, relatively inexpensive and friendly. I'd also highly recommend Il Tocco D'Artista in North Finchley, which I note has a five star rating on Trip advisor. 

6. Spanish. I love a good Tapas bar and La Luna in Whetstone is excellent. A great thing for me is that it's only 15 minutes from Mill Hill on the 251 bus, which means I can enjoy a glass or two of wine as well. The Gambas, Crispy Pork Belly, Tortilla, and  meatballs are very tasty.

7. English. Many snobby foodie types look down their nose at English food, but I passionately believe that a Full English breakfast is the food of the Gods and there is nowhere better than Cafe Anglais in Colindale. 

8. Turkish. I'm rather partial to a good Turkish grill and Izgara in Edgware is pretty good. Not overpriced and highly tasty.

9. Japanese. Have to give Kiyoto in Mill Hill a shout out. They do wonderful Sushi, fresh and tasty. A really vital part of the Mill Hill food scene! A favourite of my missus and kids.

10. Pakistani. Easily confused with Indian food, but actually rather different. A friend suggested we try the Original Lahore Restaurant in Hendon recently and it was amazing. The grilled meat starters and the specials are amazing. If you want a more traditional Indian meal, you may well find it is not on the menu. They are not licensed, so you bring your own booze, which means it is a real bargain! 

And on that note, I am going to have lunch. It's made me rather hungry! Please feel free to share your tips in the comments. I am always looking for new, exciting restaurants.


And finally..... I do put a lot of work into writing blogs. If you appreciate the effort, please do me a favour and have a listen to the new track by The False Dots - We All Love a Party. It's on Spotify here

Friday 26 April 2024

Friday Fun 26th April 2024

As is the way with the Barnet blogs on Friday, we start with a bit of fun. This rather tickled me.

And onwards and upwards with our round up of news about our local music scene, gigs this weekend and other ways to have some fun. We will start with the end of the football season. The oldest club in the Borough, Hadley FC finish their season tomorrow at Brickfield Lane, opposite the Gate Pub. The club are hoping for a record crowd to celebrate an amazing season in the Southern League Central First Division. It is a great way to spend a Saturday afternoon. The beer is cheap, the sun will be shining and if you fancy it, The Gate is over the road for a pre/post match scoff!

And on to some exciting news. My band, The False Dots released our new single last Friday! If you've not heard of us (hard if you are a regular reader of this blog)  it is going viral in Brazil and has now been picked up in the USA on the ROKU network. There are 20 stations in Brazil playing the single on rotation. Who knows, maybe a tour of South America beckons. However, you lucky lot don't have to go to Brazil or the USA - you can come down to the Dublin Castle tonight at 8pm. We are supporting Ska legends Skaface. CLICK HERE FOR TICKETS. You can also watch the video, which we think is rather cool. Both David Grant and Eddie Nestor on BBC Radio London gave us a lovely plug on their shows today. 

Of course there are plenty of other gigs going on in the Borough, if Ska isn't your thing. Here is our round up. A full list is on Lemonrock so click here


Pip in Boots gig at The Three Wishes
Pip in Boots (Pop / Rock, 3 piece) at The Three Wishes, Edgware 4.5 miles
info icon9pm - 11.30pm

Pippa Goodfellow gig at Ye Olde Monken Holt
Pippa Goodfellow (Soul, Blues, Jazz) at Ye Olde Monken Holt, High Barnet 0.2 miles
info icon7pm - 9pm Free

Wednesday 24 April 2024

What is the point of BBC Radio London if it doesn't give London musicians a platform?

 You, me and and George the dustman, who lives up the road, all pay the wages of the people who run the BBC. If you live in London and have a TV licence, you are a stakeholder in the organisation. The BBC is split into three main parts, TV, National Radio and Local Radio. In London, our station is BBC Radio London. During my life it has had various guises, including GLR, Radio London, BBC London Live 94.9 to name a few.  What does it do? Well this is what Wikpedia says

BBC Radio London is the BBC's local radio station serving Greater London.

It broadcasts on FMDAB, digital TV and via BBC Sounds from studios at Broadcasting House in Langham Place, London.

According to RAJAR, the station has a weekly audience of 548,000 listeners and a 0.9% share as of December 2023.

Local programming is produced and broadcast from the BBC's London studios.

During the station's downtime, BBC Radio London simulcasts overnight programming from BBC Radio 5 Live and BBC Radio Manchester.

The station's output is generally similar to that of other BBC local radio stations and targets a broad, mainstream audience. While previous incarnations of the station offered a more diverse range of programmes for London's various ethnic, religious, social and cultural communities, specialist programming now remains in a smaller form and is mostly broadcast at weekends.

What does this actually mean?  It means that there is a public service broadcaster, funded by all of us, with a misson to inform and entertain the people of London. London has several commercial stations. There is Capital Radio, which plays chart music. There is LBC, which runs phone in shows, often with rather provocative presenters, on both the left and right, who's mission is to give a platform for anyone who has a grumble. As such, I think it is fair to say that those areas are well served.

So what should be the USP of BBC Radio London? The current management had a revamp and massively increased the local sports coverage. They do this reasonably well, especially with the teams in League one and two, which don't normally get too much coverage. I have a bugbear that they do nothing on the lower non league teirs, where teams such as my team Hadley FC play in the Southern League Central Division.

They also brought in a few younger presenters, from more diverse backgrounds, Such as Salma El Wardarny and Shay Kuar Grewal, moving established presenters such as Robert Elms and Jo Good to the further reaches of the station. A big change at this time was a change to the way music was selected for the station. Previously presenters had pretty much carte blanche to play the music they felt appropriate for their audiences. Robert Elms was the first presenter to play Amy Winehouse and Gary Crowley, probably helped launch more bands than anyone over the course of his time on the station. Now it seems that an algorithm picks most of the music. On Robert Elms show, which is now Friday-Sunday, computer selected music sits jarringly within the show. Songs which form the playlist are played to death. Some of them, I quite liked the first time I heard them, but after the 20th time in a week, it gets rather wearing. That the music that is played is totally out of kilter with the audience is bad enough, but what really irks me is that Radio London should be giving airtime to good, upcoming bands from London. Music is a huge revenue generator for the UK PLC. The BBC, as a national institution, should be supporting up and coming UK musicians and helping them develop their careers. Local radio is the absolute perfect platform. Just about the only chance any up and coming band has to be heard is Jess Iszat's @BBCIntroducing slot. Whilst this is clearly a good thing, the bands featured get one or two plays on the radio if they are lucky. This is nowhere near enough to help build a profile. 

I was quite upset to see that despite having over 180K followers, the Twitter account for BBC Introducing last posted on the 8th April. It should be posting every day, signposting new bands and new music. As someone who runs a music studio, plays gigs at grassroots venues and does my best to seek out new music, I know for a fact that BBC Radio London is failing completely to do even the basics properly when it comes to music. A few weeks ago, I joined a network of Independent London musicians called Band Up. They put a shout out for bands to submit one or two spotify tracks for an independent play list. I submitted  The False Dots Sci Fi girls to the list. Within two weeks there was over 19 hours of music from up and coming London bands. Sure, not every track is wonderful, but some are absolute gems. You can check out the BandUp playlist here. Bandup also host gigs and play the list on random shuffle between bands. A few bands that I rather like on the list is the quirky Arctic Monkeys vibes of the Neversheds (great name), the semi psychedelic vibes of 1988 and the catchy popy vibes of November Now. We've pretty much had the list on rotation in studio reception, since then. As a studio, we feel it is important to give up and coming bands an airing. Wheras, when Robert Elms was on during the week, he'd regularly have new artists in the studio doing live sessions, promoting shows etc, that part of the content has gone completely. Gary Crowley gets an hour on Saturday lunchtime, not enough time for his talents. I like Eddie Nestor who nicked Robert Elms slot, but the music on his show is dire. Eddie should spend at least 30 minutes a day on London culture on his 10am-2pm slot and should be given free reign to play the music he likes, as well as up and coming artists of a suitable genre. 

In my household, the station has become a running joke. My kids ask me if Robert Elms and Eddie Nestor actually like the rubbish they are forced to play. As both know there onions, it is clear the answer is no. Just how bad the situation has become was brought home to me recenty. My band, The False Dots, released our new single We All Love A Party.  As we think it's a rather good tune, we employed a professional plugger to assist us. As the list of interviews came in, it was hilarious to see that whilst stations where presenters that have taste and latitude, such as Channel Radio and Truro Radio were delighted to give interviews and play the track, when I asked Steve the Plugger about BBC London, he just laughed and said "All they are interested in is there ****** playlist, which is picked by robots". 

Click for tickets

The single has been doing really well, it is ironic that it has made the playlists of radio stations in Brazil, but we cannot even get near a play in London. I wouldn't mind if great young bands were keeping us out, but when all we get is the likes of Lewis Capaldi and Beyonce on rotation, it is quite ridiculous. When band like us have gigs at iconic London venues, such as The Dublin Castle, with venues under massive pressure to survive, surely promoting a few London bands playing grassroots venues should be central to their mission. If someone at the station actually listened to the track and said "Sorry you are rubbish" that would be fine, but no one is interested in London music and bands.

I am not one of those fools who calls for the BBC to be defunded. I want it to be fixed. I want local radio to properly serve our local community and our culture. The organasation is obsessed with cost cutting, when it should be obsessed with brilliant content. I truly believe that if the BBC wants to fight off those calling for it to be broken up, they can only do it on the front foot, by demonstrating that they are essential to the cultural life of our country and that they are keeping us at the heart of world culture. 

Just for the record, these are all the stations in Brazil playing The False Dots.  How on earth can it be easier to get our friends in Brazil to play the band than our local station?

Monday 22 April 2024

Football - Is it still "the beautiful game" or just one great big scam?

A 1967 Edgware Town programme
with MacMetals advert
Since 2019, I've been a season ticket holder at Hadley FC, in the Southern League Central Division 1, which is at the 8th tier of the football pyramid. It is totally different. You can have a beer when you watch the game. You don't have VAR. It's £50 for a seasons worth of games. At the end of the season, one lucky season ticket holder gets their name pulled out of the hat and wins £1,000. Crowds are around 150. Games are at 3pm. The clubhouse sells reasonably priced beers. The Gate is over the road, if you want lunch before or dinner after. The quality of football is surprisingly good. I also bought a small shareholding in the club, to help them fund ground improvements. The club were promoted from the Sparten league a couple of years ago. If they get another eight promotions, I'll be quids in when a rich investor buys them! But that is not why I did. In truth, it is an interest free loan from me to the club,which means I can have a better matchday experience. No one is in non league football for the cash. There are no Glazers ripping off fans for overpriced t-shirts. There are no prawn sandwiches. 

My affinity with non league football is equally deep routed, my Dad's company MacMetals used to sponsor Edgware Town. Several of his staff were players. I'd get taken to the Old White Lion ground as a kid, get a lemonade and a bag of crisps and watch the game, often in the company of the boys who worked for Dad. He didn't like football, so would sit in the clubhouse, chat, smoke cigarettes and drink beer. He always impressed on me the importance of supporting a proper local club like Edgware Town. He had no time at all for the big clubs, but liked the atmosphere around non league teams. Edgware Town would play at the Old White Lion ground, behind The White Lion Pub. It was a proper old school non league ground. Sadly like so many, it has long since been bulldozed and developed.

How different is supporting Hadley and Edgware Town, to the other club I follow. Since I could walk and talk, I've supported Manchester City.  As soon as I started ggoing to see City, in the 1970's, I was more drawn to glamour of what was the first division#. I liked going to watch Edgware, but when I started going with mates to watch matches at Highbury, Stamford Bridge, White Hart Lane, I was seduced by the bright lights and glamour. In my later teens, twenties and thirties, I rarely went to football. I played for many seasons for Hendon School old boys, even though I never went to that school. I had mates there and it worked for me. They played in the AFA League, which meant they played on a Saturday at 3pm.  I'd catch the odd game if Hendon were not playing, but I got very much out of the habit of going to games. I stopped playing 11 a side in around 1995, when my daughter was born as I couldn't justify writing off every Saturday with the family.  I started going to watch the odd City game again and also would watch Barnet FC at Underhill. I'd also get to see the odd Wrexham game with my mates from North Wales.

At the time, City were in the doldrums. I loved going to the games, but watching the repeating pattern of relegations, false dawns, promotions, then another relegation, as Manchester United got ever more successful was grating. I prided myself on the fact that as a City fan, at least no one could ever suggest I didn't have a real love of the club or was a glory hunter. Games at Barnet were always fun. A beer at The Red Lion before,  ninety minutes of mayhem, then a beer at Ye Olde Mitre and a curry, before making my way home. What was not to like? 

Over the years, things started to change. Following the Taylor report, segregation and all seater stadiums, it became almost impossible for me to get a ticket to see Manchester City in London in the City end. Teams had allocations and a big team like City had more than enough regulars to fill this. I stopped playing to spend time with the family, going to Manchester every weekend was not really feasable. I started going to more Barnet games. When my son was born in 2000 and started to take an interest in football, I took him to watch Watford play City. He decided that this was better than Barnet, so we went to Watford for a couple of season for the odd match. We also started making trips up to the Etihad. By the time he was taking a proper interest, City had been taken over by the current owners. They were no longer a Yoyo club, but one where a bad season was a mere place in the Champions league and an average season was 'just a cup'. I'd still catch the odd game at Barnet with mates, but then they decided to move to The Hive. It was a soulless ground, with no proper pubs nearby. I hated it. The only time I've enjoyed watching Barnet was with the Wrexham boys in the away end. Like City, Wrexham have been snapped up by rich owners. They have had two promotions, which meant this season, we couldn't get tickets. As City have become ever more successful, even getting tickets, as a member, for home games has become difficult. Champions League group games and FA Cup matches are usually OK. Midweek games are also available, but it is almost impossible to see a big game on a Saturday, if such a thing ever happens. 

If I was still playing for Hendon, the 3pm kickoff would hardly affect my watching City now. They hardly ever play on Saturday at 3pm. They have six home league games left. Not one is at 3pm on a Saturday. Although a convenient time for all fans, the TV companies deem it not suitable for big games. When you go to a game, you can't buyt a beer and take it with you to your seat. At half time, there is a desperate scramble to get a pint, then you quaff it as quickly as you can. You pay a small fortune for a seat, but you have no idea what is going on when the VAR signs come up. Sometimes it is obvious, but you never get to "see the lines" for offsides etc. When I saw Spurs knock City out of the Champions League at The Etihad, following an obscure offside that would never have been given pre VAR, I didn't know what was going on, until we started listening to the radio on the way home. Don't get me wrong, I love going to football. 

On Saturday, I went to Wembley to watch Manchester City FC beat Chelsea FC with my son and godson and had a wonderful day. Too much beer was consumed and so yesterday was a bit of a slow day. As Citys member, with a few match points, we got decent tickets without too much difficulty and left Wembley, after a tense game, with smiles on our faces. But the talk amongst the City fans was as much about how Semi Finals should not be at Wembley, as about the game prospects. Semi's were always at a relatively convenient neutral ground. Typically City Vs Chelsea would be at Villa Park, which was about an hour on the train for both. 

@rogertichborne Celebrating Bernardo Silva’s winner at #wembleystadium #mcfc #weallloveaparty #falsedots #football #mciche #facup #bluemoon #mancityfans @Manchester City #bluemoonrising ♬ We All Love a Party - The False Dots

Which brings us to the big talking point this week, FA Cup replays. The FA have agreed to abolish them from round one of the FA Cup. Why? The big boys get tired if they play too many games. Do they really? There was a proposal that the big boys in the UK all initially signed up to, to play in a European Super League. That would mean more games. So why does that not make the players tired? Could it be because they earn a shedload of money playing European teams.  Big clubs don't play their best players in the early rounds of the FA cup. If they come unstuck and get a draw, they often still play the kids. For a team struggling in League 1 or 2, it is a huge financial benefit. Sadly looking after the less well off teams is not part of the deal. For a team like Hadley, getting to the first round of the FA Cup proper would be a massive deal. A kind round of draws is probably the only way, it would happen. If they did and somehow managed to draw the game, it would be a massive thing for the club. The FA chiefs simply don't care. Clubs have been saved from bankruptcy in the past following such events. 

A friend asked if I thought football had lost it's soul? It certainly hasn't at Hadley. In truth, when I saw Kevin DeBruyne's reaction at the end of the Chelsea game, no one could say he's lost his soul. But the big TV companies, the offshore club owners, the gambling companies, the rip off replica kits, the corporate lounges, where people go and often only watch 20 mins of the game as they guzzle and booze, and the people in the FA, who should be defending the clubs who are on the brink, none of these has anything resembling a foot ball soul. None of them care for ordinary fans. Nothing would make me happier than if fans fought back, turned off the tellys, boycotted games and we got our game back. The sad truth though, is we are addicts. Most of us simpy couldn't bring ourselves to miss the game. The B*****rds know this.

Sunday 21 April 2024

The Sunday Reflection #10 - A reflection on my relationships with Steak and Kidney pies!

I had a Eureka! moment this morning. Yesterday I went with my son and my Godson to watch Manchester City beat Chelsea in the FA Cup Semi final at Wembley. We drank far more beers both before and after the match than is sensible and we felt might fine for it. This morning was not quite so fine! We had some rather interesting conversations, including one on the topic of religious belief. Maybe it was the beer, but not for the first time, I found it impossible to lucidly sum up my relationship with organised religion. I was trying to find an analogy that suitably worked and ended up burbling nonsense. 

This morning, I was thinking about steak and kidney pies, and I realised that this was just the analogy I need. Ever since I've been a wee nipper, in my mind, the perfect food is the humble steak and kidney pie. First of all, lets start with the perfect pie. It has crispy pastry, that is properly cooked, not burned, not soggy on top and that sort of soggy, gooey pastry on the bottom. When I go to a pub and it's served in a tin, with no bottom layer, to me it is not a pie and is a failure. Then there is the meat. It should be proper chunks of steak, no gristle, no bits that are chewy and look like macaroni. It should have about 3 parts steak to one part kidney. Again the kidney should not have gristly, chewy bits in. The kidney should taste properly like kidney, but not be over firm. Finally, there is the gravy. This should be slightly gooey, with the consistency of wallpaper paste, not runny. So that is the perfect pie. I dream of such a dish.

But then there is the reality. These days, the only time I tend to eat pies is at football, washed down with a beer. Any football fan will tell you that they are lethal. They are heated to the temperature at the core of the Sun and if you are not careful, you will get third degree burns. Often, you are starving hungry, as the alcohol tells your tummy to eat. You have to devise a strategy to eat it without inflicting damage. God help you if a gooey lump falls on your hand, or leg if you are wearing shorts. It is more destructive than napalm. And as for the quality. These days, many pies are mostly gravy and globs of gristle. They lack chunks and the kidney degenerates to a rather unpleasant sandpaper like material that is simply not pleasant in texture or taste. Occasionally, I'll see a "Special pie" in a pub, sometimes with the words "Homemade". They come out and what should be a really simple dish is spoiled. There is no bottom layer, the top layer is dry and unpleasant. The gravy is like water, the steak has gristle on it and the kidney is simply not properly cooked and smells of wee. In truth, I don't know if I've ever had the perfect pie. In my mind, I know what it is, but have I ever had one? Was there ever an era when they really did make proper pies? Don't get me wrong. I almost always enjoy them, but there is always something wrong. Just when you think you are there, you hit gristle. 

The worst experience I had was in a rather pretentious restaurant. There was a special steak and kidney pie. When it came out, it had runny gravy, the top was slightly burned and there was no bottom layer. The steak was nice, but there was no kidney. I queried this with the waiter. He said "customers don't like kidney in the pie". I pointed out that it was called a steak and kidney pie, therefore it should have kidney. I then told him all of the other things that were wrong with it. The next thing I know, a burley chef appeared, with a snarling demeanour. He demanded to know what my problem was with the pie, so I told him. His response? I am a qualified chef, I've worked in some of London's best restaurants, who the **** do you think you are telling me how I should cook my food? I replied "The bloke who is paying your wages, and if you don't know that a steak and kidney pie is supposed to have kidney in it, then it's no surprise that you no longer work in London's finest restaurants and are selling defective pies here. At this, we were asked to leave. I refused to pay the bill, they threatened us with the Police, I said "Call them, I'll get them to do you for fraud for selling a mislabelled pie". We left, our wallets unopened. When we reached the pub down the road, my mates told me that it was the funniest thing they'd ever seen. As we'd actually all polished off our dinner and a couple of bottles of wine, and in truth it was quite tasty, it was a result. I could see other diners sniggering as myself and the chef argued. 

When I got home, I made the mistake of telling my wife. I thought it was a victory, but she told me that I was an embarrassment and an idiot. 

I was mulling this over. I realised that in many ways, I feel the same abut organised religion. I have this idealised view of what a religion should look like, what it should deliver, what priests should do and how they should make you feel. When I was a kid, I went to a faith schools. They told us that Jesus was the prince of peace, who came to the world to save us, died for our sins, so we could be free of death and open the doors to heaven to us all.  The Priests were seen as beyond reproach. They nuns were ladies of faith, working hard to help save us. It was a compelling story, but like so may a pie, you hit a bit of gristle. We all know of the activities of certain members of the clergy. Then there is the dollop of molten pie that lands on your leg and scars you forever. I carry a lot of scarring and baggage with me as a result of my upbringing in a faith. Then there is that moment when you find, when you lift up the pie crust, there are no lovely tasty chunks of meat, just sandpaper gravy, it looked great but there is no substance. I had that moment when I was 16. I went to see our parish priest, to rent the Church Hall, so that the False Dots could do our first gig there. He sneered and said "Go and see the Union church, they need the money". So we did and our first gig was at the Harwood Hall instead. I didn't go  back to The Sacred Heart until my Dad died and we had the funeral there. I had genuinely thought the priest would welcome local lads playing music in the hall. I decided he was a snob, uninterested in doing things for youngsters. He also abolished the youth club, where we played table tennis and snooker. To me, all the church was, was a tasty looking crust with nothing inside. 

It took me a very long time to realise that despite the fact that I've spent my life being disappointed with pies, without the belief that there is, somewhere, that perfect pie and one day I will find it, life really is not worth living. I've come to feel the same way about religion. Maybe I am just fooling myself, but I need the concept of some sort of bigger picture. I've also come to accept that one piece of gristle, doesn't spoil a pie if it is tasty. Just discard the overly chewy bit and enjoy the good bits. There will be people who don't like steak and kidney pies, thinking WTF is he droning on about. Just as there will be people of no faith who ask the same thing. That is the great thing about life. To me, finding that perfect bit of kidney, amongst the juicy tender bits of steak, is better than finding a pearl in an oyster. But if you don't like pies of kidney, then you just won't get it. If you don't like it, do your really care if I do? That should be like faith. We should leave each other alone to work these things out and not get the hump when other people like things we find unpleasant. It's a pretty good mantra for both pies and life.

BTW,  at the top of this blog is a picture of a Fray Bentos Steak and Kidney pie. I had one last week, for old times sake. For me, the experience was pretty much the same as when I go to Church these days. I can just enjoy it for what it is and accept it. If I do, I'll finish it happy and full. Or I can look at the numerous things they get wrong and feel cheated and irritated and not enjoy it at all. After I finshed it, I vowed that next time, I'd get some proper chunks of meat and kidney to add to it and make it perfect. But there would still be no bottom layer, once you start trying to fix things, can you ever really stop?