Sunday, 5 July 2015

Spot the difference

This bloke is seen as being dangerous for the UK by the press (largely owned by foreign millionaires), because he wants a to protect the poorest in society from austerity and wants the richest 2% to pay a bit more money, which they can easily afford without any impact on their lifestyle.

Wheras this bloke, who has enacted policies which have forced destituion on millions, given a huge tax cut to millionaires and who has presided over a system where foreign multinationals pay minimal tax in the UK is seen as a "safe pair of hands"

Am I missing something?

A wake up call - Is this the society we want or the way we want our Town Centres to look?

Old Postcard, Mill Hill Broadway
Mill Hill as it was

What sort of a country are we living in?  So far this morning has been a profoundly depressing experience. If ever a wake up call regarding just what a horrible world we are building was required, today was certainly one. Let me explain.

When my son isn't playing football on a Sunday morning, I go to mass at the Sacred Heart Church. On the first Sunday of every month, they have a collection for Colindale food bank. This has been held for a couple of years in response to the effects of austerity on our community. The Sacred Heart acts as the hub for collections in Mill Hill. In the Parish newsletter was a request for specific items.

I always make a point of making a contribution. The items required this month:
UHT milk

Long life fruit juice
Tinned sponge pudding
Tinned tomatoes and other tinned veg
Tinned rice pudding
Instant mash
Tinned fish & meat
Tinned fruit
Snack bars.

For some families, this will be Sunday lunch. Much as I hate the concept of foodbanks the reality is that many families need these to get by. Please consider a donation if you know of a collection. If you are in Mill Hill you can nip in and drop off a donation at any time today. 

As if the concept of foodbanks isn't bad enough, the sight of Mill Hill on a Sunday morning was simply disgusting. When I was growing up in the 1960's Mill Hil was a clean and attractive town centre. It seems that Barnet Council thinks that making High Streets into outposts of the council dump is the way to regenerate High Streets. The whole length of the Broadway is cluttered with ugly wheelie bins, stacked to overflowing and even worse, bags of rubbish simply dumped in the street. It infuriates me. My business pays over £10,000 a year in business rates, but the council don't even collect our rubbish. We have to pay a private firm to do that. The. Net result is that the Broadway looks like this. Is it any wonder that young people discard litter, when it seems to be council policy to make the Broadway look like a dump.

Saturday, 4 July 2015

The Saturday List #78 - The best things in life when I was growing up in Mill Hill

Tonibel Ice Cream - Started in Burnt Oak!

I've not done a Saturday list for a while. This one was sort of triggered by a comment my son made. We were chatting and he said "Dad, when you were a kid, they didn't have mobile phones, did they?" I replied "No". He said "How did you ever get to meet up with your friends or do anything then?". I had to explain that you'd see people and make arrangements and stick to them. He was bemused. This lead me to start thinking about how things have changed and that made me think of all manner of things. Here is a list in no particular order, of some of the best things in life, that at the time I used to get excited about.

1. A big Ice Cream cone from Tonibel in Burnt Oak, with a 99 flake in it and with raspberry source on top (the vans were fun, but the shop was a Mecca!)
2. A big cream cake and a hot chocolate in Chowens in Mil Hill Broadway.
3. A Chinese meal with my family at the Chinese restaurant on Burnt Oak High Street.
4. Sitting at the front of a train from St Pancras to Mill Hill, when the driver left the blackout blind up and being able to see the end of Belsize tunnel emerge as the train went through it.
5. Getting the paddling pool out in the back garden during the long summer holidays
6. Tobogoning down the Bunns Lane slope of Mill Hill Park in the winter.
7. Going to H.A. Blunt and sons and buying Airfix model aeroplanes to make.
8. Climbing up the trees at the bottom of my garden and building bases at the top
9. Scrumping the apples and nicking the loganberries from Mrs Grovers garden next door
10. Visiting Callis Bike shop in Mill Hill Broadway.

There are many, many other things as well, but these were the first ten that came into my mind, so they got on the list. I don't know who else remembers the Chinese restaurant in Burnt Oak. As I recall, the outside was painted blue and inside the lights had chinese style lanterns on, I used to lve the hot plates with candles in. These days we are too "sophisticated" for such gaudy items, but I used to love it. I can remember when my brother Frank got married and moved to Chelmsford, he announced that he'd found a "better chinese restaurant than the one in Burnt Oak". He cited the fact that they did this amazing dish called "Spare ribs".  We went to visit him and they were delicious, but it wasn't the magical palace that the Burnt Oak restaurant was. Shortly after, my folks got all snobby about it and stopped going there.  You'll notice that 2 of my list are in Burnt Oak, which partly explains my affection for the place.

I wonder what my kids would put in their blog, when they are 52 years old recalling their youth?

Friday, 3 July 2015

The Friday Joke - 3/7/2015

David Bowie not booking tickets in Mill Hill

I went to book train tickets at Mill Hill Broadway Station for my holiday

I said ''I want to go to Paris".
He said ''Eurostar?''
I said, ''We'll I play in a band, but I'm not exactly David Bowie'.

Wednesday, 1 July 2015

Do we really want to see the UK music scene die?

Creative industries contribute £8 million per hour to the UK economy. That is a huse amount of money. You would think that with this in mind the govt would be taking some sort of measures to protect and enhance these industries. Perhaps our greatest contribution as a nation is in the field of popular music. I am not going to name all of the great an innovative British bands over the years, because the list would be to long but if take one from each era of the last century, the Shadows from the 50s, the Beatles from the 60's, Bowie from the 70's, The Happy Mondays from the 80's an Blur from the 90's, in 2000's I have to choose an old customer of Mill Hill Music COmplexAmy Winehouse. These give just a flavour of the richness of our musical heritage.

If you then consider just how important some of the songs written in the UK have been. To me, there is perhaps no piece of music more important than "Free Nelson Mandela" by the Specials. This anthem, gave a sountrack to a movement that ended one of the most obnoxious regimes on the planet. Of course 99.9% of UK music isn't about chaning the world. When I nip into the Bridge Tavern and put Rebel Rebel or 20th Century Boy on the jukebox, I simply do it to lift my mood. Millions of us use music in the same way, for many it gets us through the day.

The point about these songs is that they are original material. As a member of a band and a songwriter, I know just how difficult it is to put a band together playing a set of original material. Firstly you have to write a set of say 14 songs. For each song I've played in a set, I've written about 5. Each one takes approx 8 hours work for me to get a rough arrangement. I then present it to the band and on average it takes 2 hours for us to get the song right. Maybe one our of two I present, we eventually reject. I am lucky as I own my own studio, so this is free for me. If I was paying, to simply get one song would cost 4 hours studio time with the band (after I've worked it out at home). If you say an average studio session in a budget studio is £10 per hour, this means a song costs £40 worth of studio time to arrange. A set of 15 songs would cost £600. Then add another 3-4 rehearsals to get the set together as a cohesive unit - Say £100. Then there is your equipment to play the gig. My Fender strat cost £1,000. My Peavey Amp cost £250 (and I get it trade). My drummer spent £750 on his kit and cymbals.

If we gig at a local pub, we need a PA, to hire this costs approx £90. If we have to hire a van, ad another £100. So if we played in Birmingham using our own PA, with petrol, we'd need to get approx £250 just to cover the costs. The trouble is that if you play original material and you are unknown, then you wont get paid a penny at most gigs. It is different if you have released material and have a following, but even then at the start it is difficult.

It used to be the case that record labels woul hear talented musicians and give them development budgets to get a set together an to support early gigs, but with the advent of "free music", we almost never see this anymore at the studio. Few labels have the cash and less have the will.  There is safe money in established stars and old hits. Even on a local level, the only bands I know making money are Tribute acts and covers bands.

Of course, the music industry has changed. Nothing stays the same forever, but unless we are to see the UK lose its place as a leaing light of the world music scene, something needs to be done to encourage creativity. There are a few things that could easily be done.

1. A music levy on Internet ISP's to fund grants for young, unsigned acts to assist with studio time.
2. Tax breaks for individuals and companies that give grants/assistance/bursaries to young musicians.
3. Grants for local music venues for soundproofing to ensure that there are local venues for artists to play.
4. Tax breaks on musical equipment & PA systems - ie zero VAT rating on instruments.
5. A guaranteed quota of airtime for unsigned artists on National radio (ie 1 tune per hour on Radio 1 etc and shows such as Garry Crowley BBC London show, written into the charter).
6. A provision in the Local Government act requiring Councils to assist with funding etc for local festivals etc.
7. Give UK record companies tax breaks on development budgets for artists

 All of these things would help regenerate the UK industry. In the medium and long term, this would bring in far more cash to the UK economy than the cost of the meagre tax breaks etc. It is clear the UK music industry has no interest in promoting new talent. The time has come for the govenrment to give the industry some help and encouragement.

Tuesday, 30 June 2015

Time for my annual rant about Glastonbury

Spoof infographic that even fooled The Guardian!
My Dad once assurred me that if I lived long enough, sooner or later I'd conclue that Planet Earth was a madhouse and all of the inhabitants are seriously bonkers. I was about 14 at the time and I hadn't got a clue what he was on about. He also told me his Dad had told him the same thing when he was a teenager (not that teenagers existed in the 1930's). I'm not altogether sure whether his comment was a result of his experiences in WWII as a bomber pilot or as a result of my teenage (and abiding) obsession with Punk Rock. When I was a teenager, the only people who went to "Rock Festivals" were hippy hippy kids (remember the ol punk motto "never trust a hippy") who wanted to escape their parents and smoke dope. As I watch Glastobury, it seems that now it is the parents who go to Glastonbury to smoke dope and escape from their kids! Even stranger is the fact that a recent poll in the Guardian showed that the vast majority of Glastonbury fans are either Tories or UKIP supporters ( I wonder what my a who was a Conservative would have made of that) (ed note - This poll turned out to be a spoof, but even the Guardian didn't realise! I suppose that tells a story in itself) . It seems that Glasto has morphed into something no one woul ever have dreamed of when the first festival was held in the early 1970's. For many it is the highlight of the musical year, to me though, this is not what music is about.  Let me explain.

If you have the Sky Box sets feature, there is a box set of "So It Goes", the iconic 1976/77 Granada TV show hosted by Tony Wilson (later of Factory Records fame). I discovered this on Saturday night when I'd had enough of watching Kayne West at Glastonbury (in truth after about 3 mins of his show). It confirmed what I've always believed, that 1977 was the pinnacle of music. I've always hated large venues, festivals and overly produced music. There has been plenty of great stuff since then, but in that period there were fantastic bands playing every night of the week in London and the hard thing was choosing which one to go to. Venues such as The Marquee (Wardour St), The Music Machine, The Roundhouse, The Moonlight, The 100 Club and Dingwalls were all hosting brilliant bands every night at affordable prices. Dingwalls had half price booze before 8pm, so if you played your cards right it was a cheap night. The Music Machine would give cut price offers for the next weeks midweek gigs out at the gig. Many of us would go simply for the atmosphere, if the band were crap we'd play pool in one of the upper level bars. At Dingwalls, you'd bump into Lemmy at the bar and he'd honour you by cadging a beer off you. 

Watching So it Goes, you realise just how far PA systems have come, but how stale and sterile music is at the moment. I got to episode 2. I loved the footage of the fight at the Penetration gig, where an arse got a good slap for spraying beer on Pauline. It says a lot that all of the best gigs I saw were in small or medium sized venues with what we would now consider sub standard PA systems and lighting in many cases.

As far as I can tell, the sole reason Kayne West appeared at Glasto was to enhance the TV rights sales for the US audience. Glastonbury is nothing more than a massive cash fest these days, it may be full of Tory hippies seeking their long lost youth, but the biggest smiles are on the faces of the organisers bankers. We need to get past the view that "bigger is better" when it comes to live music. I've no idea where it all went wrong, but it has and it breaks my heart. Watching So it goes just reminded me what we've thrown away.

Monday, 29 June 2015

Dyslexia Blog - Is my fear of socialising in large groups of people a dyslexic trait?

For those of you who haven't read my dyslexia blogs before, here is a little preamble and introduction, so you know who I am and what I do and why I write this stuff. For those of you who know the story, skip to the end of the paragraph for todays installment. Let me give you a bit of Background so you know who I am and what I do. I was born in 1962. I didn't start talking until I was 4 years old (at all, not a single word). My parents thought I was deaf. My reading age at eleven was 5. When I was fifteen I started a rock and roll band called the False Dots, the band is still going strong. When I was 16 I started a business called Mill Hill Music Complex (although then it was simply called the studio), a rehearsal studio, as we had nowhere to rehearse. The business has grown into a very successful enterprise, one of Londons biggest and most well respected independent studios. We now have 16 studios and a music shop and also have a photography/video studio and a dance studio. I also have done IT work, mostly on a freelance basis since 1983. In 2012 I also moved into film production, producing two highly acclaimed documentary films, both of which had screenings at the House of Commons. When I was 31, a friend suggested I had a dyslexia test. To my surprise I was told I was moderately dyslexic. This made me interested in the subject. To my amazement, what I have learned over the years is that my lack of educational aptitude, my feelings of anger and injustice and the core of my personality have been formed by the fact I cannot read words in a linear fashion. In 2013, I have set one of my objectives to use this blog to let dyslexics know they are not alone, to suggest that people who think they may be dyslexic to get an assessment and toget people who have dyslexic children or siblings to understand the issues that they face.

Today I had a eureka! moment. Have you ever suddenly realised that a huge part of your character and how people perceive you  is not how you perceive yourself? Have you ever suddenly realised that in fact you are not really seen by others as you actually feel. When you realise this have you ever heard a penny drop and worked out why?

Well today was one of those moments. My wife casually mentioned that one of the Mill Hill Music Festival committee members had commented to her that I was a miserable sod and I never smiled. I am sure that those weren't the exact words, but that is pretty much the jist of it. It seems they weren't being critical, just puzzled as to why I am not the life and soul of the party. At first I was taken aback. Am I really so grumpy and miserable? Part of the reason could be that when I do something like the festival, I see it as work and so I like to focus. But there is more to it. If you meet me 1 to 1 and have a chat with me, you'd probably conclude I am quite a cheerful soul. But I find that as soon as there are more than 3-4 people in a group, my brain shuts down and I become socially inept. I have a mechanism for dealing with this in most situations. At dinner parties I sit at the end of the table, so I only ever have to engage with 2 or 3 people, which is quite managable. But in some scenarios, I am forced to be in social situations, where there are 5 or 6 or even more people all talking at once. I find that this overloads my brain. By the time I've thought of a witty riposte, the conversation has moved on. The easiest way to manage this is to ensure that you avoid these situations, but it isn't always possible and it is always uncomfortable. I realised long ago that my brain works at 2/3rds the speed of "normal" brains for tasks like reading, but it hadn't occurred to me before that this may be also true for talking to people. In a 1 to 1 conversation, it isn't noticable, but in a large group my brain is swamped beyond it's capacity.

Over the years quite a few female friends have told me that for a bloke I'm quite a good listener. It has struck me that this may just be because my brain doesn't process the information quick enough to get a response out very often. I don't consider myself thick, so I do get a response out in the end and when it has been thought about, it is usually quite a sensible response, but in a large crowd this facility shuts down.

I was wondering if there are any other dyslexics out there who have similar issues and if so, is there a strategy beyond hiding? I'd be intrigued.

Sunday, 28 June 2015

Songs of Praise in Mill Hill

This morning we had the BBC filming at the Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Mill Hill. They had come to film a mass of remembrance for Anthony Fatayi Williams, a young Londoner killed in the 7/7 attack on the London Underground. It is ten years since the terrible events. Marie Fatayi Williams, mother of Anthony, received international acclaim for her incredible speech of forgiveness for her sons murderers. At the time Mrs Fatayi Williams said "Hatred begets only hatred. It is time to stop this vicious cycle of killing. We must all stand together for our common humanity". Her inspirational comments, calling for forgiveness and spelling out the senselessness of such atrocities struck a chord with people across the globe. Mrs Fatayi Williams has subsequently been interviewed numerous times for radio and TV speaking out against hatred and violence.  She is a member of the Sacred Heart congregation and has often spoken warmly of the support the parish has given her. The BBC came to Mill Hill to film her at mass and to interview her, to help promoter her message that violence is not the way. 

Like Anthony, I was travelling to work on the Underground that day. I was lucky enough to miss the carnage. I arrived on a train from Mill Hill to Kings Cross, only to find that the tube was suspended. I had to get to Debenhams head office in Oxford Street, so I jumped on a bus. It got no more than 100 yards, when a very aggressive policeman kicked everyone off. It turned out that the bus in front had been blown up in Great Russell Street. As I walked down the Euston Road, I saw people walking up, dazed and covered in detritus from the blown up bus. At that time I didn't know what had happened. I only found out in Tottenham Court Road, when I stopped at a cafe for a cup of tea and saw the news. I've had a few close shaves with bombs over the years in London, most notably the Victoria Station bomb and one in the City. Like tens of thousands of Londoners, these things happen in places we see every single day we work. With the Victoria bomb, I walked across the Station forecourt ten minutes before the bomb went off. As these were pre mobile phone days, I only even started to hear about it at lunchtime. 

What I've come to realise will not make happy reading for terrorists. The truth is that there is no point committing atrocities in London. The citizens are too resilient. They get on with each other. I doubt that there are any Londoners of 100% English stock. We are a mixture of every race and creed under the sun. We work with and socialise with people of all creeds and colours. Only an idiot would think that a few bombs would change that. The likes of Tony Blair and David Cameron will not change their policies because of a few nutcases letting off bombs. They are generally unaffected by such atrocities, it is the ordinary people suchg as Anthony who suffer.

Such terrible events brings out the good in people. Mrs Fatayi Williams is testimony to this. The church was packed and Mrs Fatayi Williams laid on a buffet in the hall after. It was full with people from all around the world. We all get on. It was a lovely service. Fr Noel who said the mass, commented that it would be nice if the BBC could come every week as it had been a lovely mass. That got a laugh. The truth is that our community stands together and it is nice for that to get some national TV coverage.

Saturday, 27 June 2015

Network Rail and the big Tory lie

As we approached the last election, like many people, I found myself struggling with a deep dilemma. As I assessed the options I was faced with, it was clear to me (and so it seems to everyone else on the planet if you believe what they say) that I felt that Ed Miliband was not up to being Prime Minister. Back in 2011 I met Ed Miliband at the House of Commons as part of a delegation from the Federation of Small Business, to discuss Labour policy towards small business. It was clear to me within 2 minutes of meeting him that he wasn't up to the job. From that moment I always felt the Labour party were on course for a sound spanking at the polls, unless they faced up to the fact that they'd chosen the wrong man.

Having accepted this fact, I started to take a bit more interest in the likely shape of the new Parliament. Like most commentators, I thought the likely outcome of the 2015 general election would be a new coalition. Whilst I thought the Lib Dems would lose a few seats, I took the view that in the areas where they had MP's they would generally hang on, as I thought they had an effective party machine.

What I didn't consider (and I think most Lib Dems failed to consider either), is just how brutal and ruthless the Tory party machine is. Lynton Crosby clearly took the view that to win a majority, it was the Lib Dems rather than Labour who needed to be targetted. He rightly took the view that this vote was "soft". I have formed the view over the last five years that Lib Dem voters fall into two camps. There are voters who veer towards Labour and hate Tories, who vote Lib Dem to keep the Tories out. Lynton Crosby took the view that these would by and large desert the Lib Dems and make the seats winnable. The other group, I believe the larger group, are the Tory leaning Lib Dems. This group distrust Labour and see it largely as a tool of the trades unions. They are too nice to be Tories, not buying into Europhobia, not supporting deep social welfare cuts and being largely supportive of green policies.

As the Lib Dems had been in coalition with the Tories, this group had been "softened up" to the concept of voting Tory. For Lynton Crosby, the secret of winning the Tories a majority was to convince this group that a Tory vote was not going to destroy the hard work that the coalition had done. A whole raft of policies had been developed that specifically target such voters. Pretty near the top of this list was the program of railway modernisation. This included electrification of the Midland Mainline and the Trans Penine route.

It is quite ridiculous that the countries main rail links are not electrified. The mainstay of the Midland mainline train fleet are the HST fleet. These were built in the early 1970's and are nearly 40 years old. How many cars of that vintage are still on the road? The fleet was originally developed for the East Coast mainline as a stop gap until the route was electrified. They were then cascaded to the Great Western route and the Midland line. Whilst the trains have a theoretical top speed of 125 mph, for much of the Midland line, this speed is unachievable. The Midland route is the cinderalla route of the British railways network. It has been the victim of chronic underinvestment ever since the creation of British Rail. As a result, important cities such as Sheffield, Nottingham, Derby and Leicester have a second rate service. The southern part of the route, as far as Bedford, has been given a significant investment as part of the Thameslink programme, but this has delivered nothing for the people of the major Midlands.

Perhaps even more important for many people in the North was the Trans Penine electrification, linking Leeds and Manchester and creating a Northern super hub. This would provide a massive boost for the North and help rebalance the economy, where the South East is overheating, whilst the North is in semi recession. George Osborne had even received tacit support of many Labour metropolitan councils with his plans.

The promise to rectify this scandalous waste of resources was for many people a deal clincher. I have many friends and business contacts in the North and Midlands and many were terrified that Miliband would get in, screw the economy and cause the cancellation of Osbornes ambitious infrastructure plans. As such many who'd never voted Tory jumped on board, and many marginals in the Midlands that people expected to see fall to Labour, stayed Blue.

But as ever, once the election is out of the way, we find out what a bunch of lying shisters we hav running the country. The plans, so vital for our economy, have been "suspended". It is clear that Osborne new this would happen months ago. In short, the Tories won on a big lie. Sadly, this is a big lie that will eventually cost our economy tens of billions of pounds. These projects would have sparked a mini boom in many depressed areas and helped join the country up. Sadly, the people of the Midlands and the North are being sacrificed, so that George Osborne can give his rich city friends a tax cut.

And to me, that just shows how completely unfit he is to run the country.

Friday, 26 June 2015

The Friday Joke - 26/6/2015 - How To Maintain A Healthy Level Of Insanity in RETIREMENT

This one did rather aamuse me

At lunch time, sit in your parked car with sunglasses on, point a hair dryer at passing cars, and watch them slow down!

On all your cheque stubs, write, 'For Marijuana'!

Skip down the street rather than walk, and see how many looks you get.

With a serious face, order a Diet Water whenever you go out to eat.

Sing along at The Opera.

When the money comes out of the ATM, scream 'I Won! I Won!'

When leaving the Zoo, start running towards the car park, yelling, 'Run For Your Lives! They're Loose!'

Tell your children over dinner, 'Due to the economy, we are going to have to let one of you go....’

Pick up a box of condoms at the pharmacy, go to the counter and ask where the fitting room is.

And The Final Way To Keep A Healthy Level Of Insanity: My Favourite:

Go to a large Department store’s fitting room, drop your drawers to your ankles and yell out, “There’s no paper in here!”