Bullish China Shop Owner Considers Switch To Fruit And Veg Stall

A couple of days into the brave new world and the Friday evening appearance of a plate spinner having an epileptic fit has swiftly evolved into a dramatic dust-storm pick up by a rescue helicopter; and even the bull who owns the china shop isn’t looking best pleased.

On Thursday, with the promises from the Leave campaign of cuts in immigration, £350 million pouring into the NHS and an unbridled economy ringing in their ears, and witnessed The Sun and Daily Mail readers tearing the ring out of Remain‘s bloodied nose …

On Sunday morning the promises have begun to morph into: immigration might not fall/freedom of movement of labour will still be needed to continue to maintain EU trade deals; money promised to NHS is now considered a mistake/only a possibility – funny how they never clarified that before, eh? – and the pound slid to a 30-year low.

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Can I eat these?
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Did someone order a turbo vacuum? No, it won’t pick up bullshit.

Meanwhile, the Labour Party, who initially appeared content with shaking Jeremy Corbyn’s rickety high-chair are now busily arranging themselves into a circular firing squad. And after Cameron’s “Fuck it, I’m off!” [condensed] speech, his mealy mouthed sidekick, George Osborne, has simply disappeared. Completely. [Maybe this is one of those times when a rotting corpse lies in a flat undiscovered for a few months because no one cared enough? Can someone please check to see if the milk bottles have been collected off his porch.] And, only this morning, Nicola Sturgeon floats the possibility of the Scottish €uro.

It must be starting to feel oddly disconcerting for all those Brexit voters who’ve now seemingly only guaranteed the right to eat bendy cucumbers and bananas – and plug in a turbocharged vacuum to clear up the broken china.

Who put the dumb in Referendum?

The shit storm approacheth. No, not the Glastonbury Festival – although that’s shaping up to be equally and traditionally messy; they can’t even get the cars in the car parks because of the mud this morning [I blame immigration]! – but the EU Referendum.

 

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Boris Johnson, Michael Gove and Nigel Farage yesterday

Frankly, I’ll be glad when it’s all over, but I still subjected myself to some of the last vast televised EU Debate in the cavernous Wembley Arena last night. Which, from the increasingly tiresome Leave campaign, appeared to largely consist of repeating the phrase Take back control, Take back control, Take back control… like some wearying, incontinent Dalek.

Well, here’s a sobering thought. Give control to Boris Johnson, Michael Gove and Nigel Farage and if their absurdist rationale subsequently slips through the cracks we’ll all be left yelling Control Alt Delete! CTRL/ALT/DEL!! Too late, we’ve already crashed. And when we look to them, they’ll probably be squabbling over a mallet [dutifully inscribed: Independence Day], flailing around and whacking the keyboard.

 

I rarely inflict politics onto the regular readers of my blog – because I doubt either of you would appreciate it! But I have occasionally been leaking my thoughts into my Instagram feed during the past few weeks. If you think you can stomach any more of my thoughts, here’s a couple of things I wrote there a while ago:

The EU Referendum gets more and more absurd each day. With each dawning one or other will reveal some hysterical prediction and the other will immediately counter with absurd. It never ceases to amaze me, in politics, how the entirely opposite view is invariably taken and no one appears to agree on anything … aside from self-interest.

It’s become abundantly clear David Cameron didn’t call for a parliamentary debate on the EU as the divisions in his own party would’ve torn it apart and made him unelectable. It’s equally clear Boris Johnson is taking the entirely opposite view in order to give him an opportunity to be Prime Minister. Meanwhile, Alex Salmond, after proclaiming the recent Scottish Independence Referendum as a ‘Once in a lifetime opportunity’, is now hedging his bets on the Remain vote while crossing his fingers behind his back and readying himself for a Brexit to ask for another Independence vote.

Meanwhile, those that equally absurdly have to make such a big decision … us … are left mostly beyond confused but will leave a vast swathe of the ignorant voting on essentially one issue: How racist and/or fearful of immigration are you?

What a feckin’ absurd way to run a country!

And the inspiration behind my title:

Who put the dumb in referendum? Don’t let the facts get in the way of your prejudices; spit bile and piffle and watch them collide. Then arrange the firing squad into a circle; so-called experts, politicians and business leaders divide; ready, Remain, fire. But we’ll have 52 new hospitals by the end of the year if we Leave. What do you believe? We wouldn’t have one. So who put the dumb in referendum?

At the end of May, David Mitchell rather summed up my feelings perfectly in his excellent piece in The Observer. Essentially saying, I periodically elect my local representative to get their heads around the big decisions; not for them to simply sit back and say You Decide when it all gets a bit complicated or difficult to understand.

So, what are we left with? Some kind of hapless game of Pin the tail on the donkey. [And if you don’t know what that is, I feel for your empty childhood. But it’s essentially a British, considerably less violent form of, piñata.] But given the complete lack of agreement and joined-up thinking by our politicians, it’s probably no wonder they would rather eventually blame us for any future ills – whatever we decide. And it’s just so difficult deciding whether or not you want to wholly embrace racism, World War III, have less or more money, jobs and rights, financial stability or instability, all the while maintaining our position at the bottom of the Eurovision Song Contest. Where’s my mallet?

The Spirit Of Music

It’s been a strange few days; often finding myself suddenly disarmed; close to tears…

The foothills of the 90`s had been a difficult time for me; a life turned on its head due to the fateful roll of the health dice. It was during this time that the UK television schedules began running 24 hours a day; without enough programmes to fill the schedule they began buying in shows from around the globe to fill the gaps. One such show was Canada’s MuchMusic [still running today in Canada]. And by equally fateful accident I was given a gift. That summer I would sit lazily in the passenger seat of a car flashing through English countryside roads, and The Tragically Hip’s Fully Completely was the soundtrack. A distant love affair had begun. It would be another 7+ years before I finally got to see the band live, and what proved to be one of the most memorable gigs of my life.

Earlier this week the band released a statement which began, “Hello friends. We have some very tough news to share with you today, and we wish it wasn’t so. A few months ago, in December, Gord Downie was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer…” I’m still getting my head around the news. The band, but especially the enigmatic poet and performer tour de force that is Gord Downie, have weaved a musically spiritual legacy through my life. But even when a diagnosis hurts like a loss, their joint band statement still bristles with that spirit “… after 30-some years together as The Tragically Hip, thousands of shows, and hundreds of tours… we’ve decided to do another one. This feels like the right thing to do now, for Gord, and for all of us. What we in The Hip receive each time we play together is a connection; with each other; with music and it’s magic… we’re going to dig deep and try to make this our best tour yet.”

There are so many memories and connections entwined throughout the intervening 25 years, but it seems appropriate to revisit that very special night when I saw The Hip live for the first time at Shepherd’s Bush Empire, London, England. Well, it was kind of England … On 9th June 2000, the day after, I sat and wrote this for the alt.music.tragically-hip forum:

8th June 2000 : The Tragically Hip : Shepherd’s Bush Empire, London, England

I make no apologies for this l-o-n-g post. I hope you choose, and the writing is entertaining enough, for you to read it all [particularly those that know me and therefore know how long I’ve waited for this day…Hip Day!], but just in case … If you want to skip the Pre[r]amble, you’ll find the Gig and Setlist and a beautiful [preordained (?)] slice of fortune…further down the page.

Pre[r]amble:

You’ve possibly heard of Little Venice [a scenic part of London infamous for its canals and moored boats] … Well, a corner of Shepherd’s Bush became Little Canada last night. I felt strangely like a stranger in a strange land.

We reached London later than hoped, but we still just had time to wander into The Walkabout, an Australian pub apparently temporarily annexed to Canada for the crepuscular! Even the atmosphere in the pub contained a distinct frisson and flavour of what was to come; the place was buzzing with a fervent anticipation. After settling on the corner of a table a young dark haired girl caught our conversation and suddenly interjected.

“You’re not Canadian are you? Where are you from?”

“Uh … here. Well, when I say here, I mean…Bristol, England … here,” responding a little nervously, fearing we were about to be deported.

“Born and bred?” said the girl.

A trick question? Should we have forged some Canadian citizenship  documentation?! “Uh  … yeah, born and bred.”

“Wow!” she exclaimed excitedly, “You guys are my heroes! English Hip fans! Oh, oh, I must take a picture,” and she eagerly fumbles in her bag for camera, somehow smiling even more broadly than we are as she presses the shutter and the flash pierces the air. Quite possibly the most surreal beginning to a conversation I’ve ever had with anyone!

Note: I’ve edited out a significant chunk of the original post here that refers to meeting many people from the alt.music.tragically-hip [an early internet forum], but as well as other rare English Hip fans, there were also ex-pat Canadians and even a dedicated few who’d flown in from Canada for the gig. 

 

It was a suffocating, humid evening, so we decided to grab 15 minutes of fresh air on Shepherd’s Bush Green before heading into the venue. Although, fresh air could be considered a Central London oxymoron if ever there was; even the grass of the Green was a dusty grey! So, we gasped for breath on Shepherds Bush Grey for about ten minutes, then the final countdown had really begun …

The Gig, er, Pre[r]amble:

Okay, I introduced another category … sue me!

The venue was outrageously sticky and airless. We were in the general admission stalls, stood towards the back of the lower floor when the support act [Sloan] were competing for our attention, but long before they had finished the room-to-breathe quotient was fast evaporating. Being in possession of a slightly vertically challenged other half and being a bit of a fragile old fella myself [Ed: this was 16 years ago!], we decided to try and head for the seated upper levels. We squeezed out to the back of the room, only to be met by a burly security guard with a face like a bag of spanners – and all the charm to match – who turned us around and sent us straight back. Fate had seemingly decreed we would dance with the lions in the pit …

So, deciding to make the most of a bad situation, we then squeezed our way back through the throng to within about 40 feet of the stage and found ourselves stood next to the only other two English people in the house; attracted by a subliminal osmosis? With perspiration now dripping from the walls and us unavoidably exchanging bodily fluids, we struck up a conversation. To cut a long conversation short [uh, yeah right! you all say] they had Level 2 tickets, but had “sneaked down”, so offered to swap. After a moment’s ponder “Hmmm… Nah, we’re wedged in here now!” Anyhoo … I was in the perfect position for potentially being able to describe to Sue, my other half, probably just the top of Gord’s sweaty pate, now only a matter of minutes away … when suddenly …

The lights dim, an almighty roar rises from the crowd, Gord mutters something completely incomprehensible through the tumult, the band rip into Something On, the floor disappears from under our feet and we’re now swooping like kelp in a pounding surf!

Mid-song, another decision is made: we feverishly swap tickets with our new friends and fight the tide in an attempt to beach ourselves at the back of the stalls! We eventually reach dry land, towel ourselves down and head out through the door, climbing the now deserted staircase to the brooding bass lines of Grace, Too … we stealthily open the door to Level 1. Our timing is perfect, security are distracted by some fool completely [fully] lost in the moment, apparently contemplating a leap from the balcony! We swiftly nip inside, slide down the aisle and are somewhat surprisingly confronted with the very front of the lower balcony, with the most perfect view you could ever imagine.

Throughout the gig, people would occasionally come and stand right next to us and were immediately ejected [for blocking the aisle]; it was like we were completely invisible to our spanner-visaged friends in the yellow T’s. Lucked out doesn’t even come part way to describing the series of coincidences that led us here. And sitting at my desk today, I still find it hard to believe. Clearly, fate and the Go[r]ds had certainly been smiling …

The Gig:

Well, over the years I’ve been to, quite literally, 100’s of gigs [of varying shape and size], but in all those times I’ve never experienced an atmosphere quite like this – the U2 Unforgettable Fire/Joshua Tree tours had their moments – and the sheer sustained intensity of emotion at this gig was altogether remarkable. The energy and enthusiasm just swept though the entire building, to all four levels. In fact, I would say there was probably enough energy generated in those two hours to keep a medium-sized Scottish Isle lit up like a Christmas tree for a year! Just breathtaking.

The air was constantly charged with the sound of 2,000 voices carrying the band’s songs around on their collective shoulders, no more apparent than when they played a new song, when the unfamiliar cast an almost reverential hold – it wasn’t exactly quiet but the contrast did possess a fascination in itself. Then, with batteries suitably recharged, the next familiar intro would reignite the blue touch paper and the ocean in the stalls below became alive again.

The band: Gord Downie was undeniably the permanent focus of the collective attention. Whether it was simply tossing and catching the small percussive beads [actually a bunch of grapes!], in perfect time, throughout Springtime In Vienna [he did drop them once, only to deftly flip them back up over his head and catch them again!]; revealing exaggerated high jump techniques over his bent microphone stand during a jam; or curled up on the floor in the foetal position to close-out another song [damn!…what was that?]; he possesses a quite remarkable presence and his quirky movements and gestures seem to have taken ‘dad dancing’ to a whole new level! Meanwhile … the band played on – seemingly oblivious to both Gord’s antics and what was happening in front of them – a pure focused unit cranking out this wonderful stream of atmospheric plankton.

So, my personal highlights from a truly magnificent set … I especially reveled in Ahead By A Century, Escape Is At Hand For The Travellin’ Man and Scared [when the soft plucked chords of the intro to the latter began I exalted a breathless “Y-e-s-s … only Nautical Disaster for the [favourites] full set” to Sue – the guy next to us smiled, but we didn’t get it; my only real disappointment. Churlish really.] Fully Completely and Courage [came together or quite close? – it’s a bit of a blur!] and lifted the roof. At The Hundreth Meridian was, er, intense! The magnificently brooding Gift Shop burned. But the thing that will live longest in my memory, simply as it encapsulated the whole experience: the crowd responses. Somehow even managing to pick up a gear for the encores of New Orleans Is Sinking and Little Bones; and the mention of ‘Toronto’, in Bobcaygeon, brought a response akin to a last minute winning goal in an FA Cup Final [er, that’s a very big English football match/institution!]. I just gazed all around the Empire in awe. This had been a truly special night.

Set List:

[The first four songs and the encores are correct, er, I think! – otherwise the order is approx.]

Something On
Grace, Too
Putting Down
Gift Shop
Escape Is At Hand For The Travellin’ Man
Ahead By A Century
Lake Fever
Courage
Fully Completely
Stay
Poets
At The Hundreth Meridian
700ft Ceiling
Scared
My Music At Work


Fireworks
Bobcaygeon
New Orleans Is Sinking


Springtime In Vienna
Little Bones

 

This blog has been written to preserve this memory. The Tragically Hip remain arguably one of Canada’s best kept musical secrets – staggering, when you learn they’ve had nine No.1 albums there in their 30-year career – and undoubtedly one of the most special live bands I’ve ever seen. I still can’t quite get my head around the tragic news. And couple that with what will be an extraordinary handful of shows that finish in their home town of Kingston, Ontario in a couple of months; emotionally charged would barely be an apt way to describe one of their regular gigs. This … I can barely imagine.

A Momentary Lapse Of Reason

This stuff is beginning to simply write itself …

 

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I Have Something Important To Say …

 

My playfully, favourite political news story of the week was when a YouGov poll revealed that, of the entire, influential G-20 nations, only one would support Donald Trump as a presidential candidate: Russia. This news was swiftly followed by the coercive endorsement of Trump’s presidency by a certain Vladimir Putin. And it made me think, what a mindf*ck for the dim-witted Republican demographic to deal with: “We’re supported by communists now?!” In the confusion they might end up shooting themselves in the face.

Relax. In rides one Bobby Knight to introduce Trump at a subsequent Indiana rally, endorsing him during a meandering and befuddled rant as the man to press the nuclear button and become the fourth great president after Truman [the third] did the same … Knight only just pulled up short of the character in The Simpsons who yells “Yee-haw” at the end of each statement before firing two revolvers in the air. 

The brilliant mind that is Armando Iannucci writes the acclaimed US political satire, Veep [starring the wonderful Julia Louis-Dreyfus – unapologetic namedrop in a hapless attempt to gain more blog hits! 🙂 ], then, with the advent of Trump, American politics turns reality into pure satire.

The Shakespearean and The Heathen

I first met Alice when she was a fragile 14-year-old. Her life had become more than a little crazy following the sudden loss of her father at a tragically young age, for both of them.

At the time, Alice’s mother, Linda, was briefly working with my wife, Sue, at the local university. And, unknowingly, it seems the fates had conspired.

Alice had lost her father a few days after Christmas and in the months that followed, as an only child, had understandably lost a bit of faith and belief in the world; her world turned upside down and inside out. It seems neither mother nor Alice were coping with the grief too well. Alice, I’d been told, had yet to cry.

It was early that following summer when Alice came to see a gig with Sue and I and, presumably, having decided I wasn’t wholly unhinged [an early misjudgment], subsequently agreed to come out and have a coffee and a chat with me. [For anyone reading who might not know, although not qualified, I’ve shared a room with a high school counsellor for the past decade. So, used to being around vulnerable teenagers, both Sue and mum thought Alice might open up to me.] Alice had been brought up within a philosophically stiff-upper-lip background. Be strong. It seems emotion wasn’t something she was able to fully express. I’m not sure how long we were in the tiny, crowded coffee shop that day, but at some point the emotional dam burst; many curious heads were turned. Eventually, we were standing outside as the world swirled around us and I offered her a hug. As we stood on the pavement I nodded back in the direction of the coffee-drinkers, many still looking our way … “If you can cry in there, you can cry anywhere!”

Alice has cried quite a lot since then … sitting on the couch; lying on our bed; in the car; while out walking the dog; and in one or two more coffee shops. She’s quite good at it now! But we’ve laughed many times, too. What I hadn’t expected those seven summers ago, was to have made a special little friend – which she’s grown into. There was that slightly uneasy period, for a while, as Alice grew closer to both Sue and I, where I didn’t feel comfortable at the thought of replacing her father. We talked about it and reached the playful compromise of her being my young wife instead … I still attach a delighted mischievousness at some of the expressions such an introductory label engendered from a few; particularly as Alice shares my absurdist sense of humour.

Since then, we’ve passed a number of life milestones and shared many wonderful moments. And I doubt any moved me more than the day I found out – after the event – that in one of her final classes at high school, the teacher had arranged a show and tell: pupils brought in various objects and described their relationship with them to the class. Alice simply took in a photograph of me! I’m told that she had most of the class in tears, including the teacher, vividly describing the sadness behind our meeting before alighting on the significance to her of the next couple of years … a thought that still moves me today.

The following is a video I made for Alice’s 16th birthday that summer after a photographic session in her home. Arguably most remarkable for the fact that I was able to use virtually every image that we shot that day.

 

I’ve chosen to write this now because today is Alice’s 21st birthday. Another milestone. But it’s become an extra significant milestone, as earlier this week Alice phoned to say she’d just completed a Skype interview with King’s College London and they’d immediately offered her a place on their prestigious MA in Shakespeare Studies “Not only will you draw on the literary expertise of a world-class university, but you’ll be taught within the renowned Globe Theatre, only metres from where Shakespeare’s plays were originally performed.”

When I first met Alice it seemed she was destined to become a barrister or lawyer; something her father had potentially wanted for her. Since meeting me I’ve wholly supported her in her will to simply become … Alice. And as a Shakespearean heathen myself I’m happy to clarify this direction has garnered absolutely no coercive prompting on my part! However, if there’s one thing I hope that Adrian [if he is able to look down from somewhere] and I both share in this notable of week’s … it’s a sense of pride at seeing Alice finding her way with such intelligence and passion.

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There’s a place I go 

When I’m alone

Do anything I want

Be anyone I wanna be

– Newton ‘Shakespeare’ Faulkner

 

 

Who knows or even begins to understand why people come and go in our lives on this earth? The only thing I do know is that people occasionally swing into each other’s orbits for myriad of inexplicable fateful reason. And, undoubtedly, the best thing is being able to recognise the special ones when they do … and cherishing the journey you share.

This blog wouldn’t be complete without my favourite Shakespearean quotation: “I thought I’d [finish] by reading a poem by Shakespeare, but then I thought, why should I? He never reads any of mine.” – Spike Milligan.

For my special girl. For my special friend. To the future. Happy 21st Alice. x x x

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The Shakespearean and The Heathen