On Sale Now

On Sale Now
The Gift

On Sale Now

On Sale Now
Anthony Trollope: Power, Land, and Society 1847 - 1980

Out Now!

Friday, 30 March 2018

What has happened to the Labour Party? If you don’t like the question, blame John Lennon.



I’m a passionate Brexiteer but don’t bang on about it. There seems little point when you consider political constructs come and go and we’re dead a long time. What I find fascinating are the deep and heartfelt convictions that breathe life into past conflicts. It’s easy enough to understand, on an intellectual level, the arguments that drove the wars of religion, the conflict between roundheads and cavaliers, appeasers and those who opposed them - but what about the passions that fired them?  Present divisions allow us to savour the driving force beneath the dust of historical text.

And speaking of dust and historical text . . .



I was doing a spot of tidying,  rifling through some very old newspapers, and discovered The Guardian Wednesday 10th 1980 with two front-page headlines:
Lennon Murder shocks thousands
Labour looks at three-year exit from the EEC
The EEC being an earlier incarnation of the E U of course. 

I read on - skimming - focusing on the salient bits:

‘It might take up to three years for a Labour Government to effect Britain’s withdrawal from the Common Market….’

‘The report which suggests that the withdrawal be conducted in two stages, is likely to be published by the Labour Party next spring…’

‘It makes clear that while Labour will go for a clean break with Common Market membership, a future Labour Government would not want to retreat into a nationalistic isolationism…’

‘Significantly, the report insists that the objects of EEC withdrawal resolution passed by the Labour Party Conference in Blackpool cannot be fulfilled merely by repealing those sections of the 1972 European Communities Act which subordinated the House of Commons to the Council of Ministers in Brussels….’

‘The suggestion that Labour merely attempts yet another renegotiation of the terms of EEC membership is dismissed as likely to achieve little and as “acutely demoralising for the party”

‘The key proposal in the report is that the first step to be taken by the next Labour Government would be “withdrawal from the Council of Ministers from the European Parliament . . . and from other EEC institutions, and abolition of any rights of jurisdiction that the European Court has in Britain.” All of this, it is suggested, could be achieved in six to 12 months and “would effectively mark the end of our membership of the Community.”

‘A second stage would have to follow, during which Britain gradually disentangled itself from “the mass of of EEC regulations, directives, and decisions, and from the complex admininstrative arrangements involved in, for example the Common Agricultural Policy…and also in phasing in alternative domestic arrangements.” ….Withdrawal would also….(make) it easier to establish a fishing regime more to the liking of British fishermen and while the United Kingdom would be denied access to EEC regional development and social funds, Britain would on balance be better off in purely financial terms because there would no longer be any payment to the EEC budget.’

The irony continues

‘The prospect of the Labour Party renewing its campaign for EEC withdrawal is also bound to weigh heavily with Mrs Thatcher as the British election grows nearer and despite the Government’s present campaign to popularise Community membership’

One supposes Keir Starma, Chukka Ummuna, Lord Adonis et al would feel more at home in Mrs Thatcher’s Cabinet than they would have done in the Labour Party of that time. It’s a Topsy Turvy world.



Friday, 23 March 2018

My rhododendrons are happy too




Plastic is everywhere, including my gut. I’m not talking about microfilaments recently discovered in bottled water and coke. I drink neither. I’m talking about teabags. Plastic in teabags. Who’da thunk?  I drink gallons of the stuff, cup after cup, and yet I should have known. The rhododendrons did their best.

Rhododendrons don’t like tea as such, but they thrive on the tannic acid – which is fine if we’re talking about loose tealeaves fresh from a drained pot. But we’re talking teabags here, and now I understand why they never seemed to compost but instead piled up like small mountains of brown withered skulls at the base of each plant.

They must have seen me coming, the rhododendrons, and groaned— What’s the fool doing now?— winced as the mountains grew bigger.

Since I’ve seen the light, tea drinking has become a whole new experience. I’m drinking the tea my mother served before the bag raised its hideous head, and rhododendrons no longer groan on seeing me coming. There were some teething problems – the want of a tea cosy – vital if you’re serving tea from a pot that loses heat quickly – and here is one made by a thoughtful friend. She also made me an apron, which, forgive me, I’m not going to wear here.



But the experience of ‘real’ tea instead of the dust served in those small, plasticised bags. Five large desert spoons of ‘Assam’ or ‘Strong English Breakfast’ in a warmed pot, will give you three cups of excellent tea. My blood is buzzing after the third cup and I’m set up for the day. My rhododendrons are happy too.

Thursday, 15 March 2018

Their Satanic Majesties



I recently rediscovered how good the Rolling Stones ‘Their Satanic Majesty’s Request’ is.  I was on the treadmill at the time, ‘The Citadel’ booming in my ears on shuffle. Mind you, anything sounds good on the Treadmill, apart from, perhaps, Hildegarde de Bingen.

What’s fascinating is the initial reaction to it from some critics, pontificating as though they had tablets of stone up their backside and the voice of God on their tongue. Rolling Stone (the magazine) saw it as a sad aberration from what the Stones did best – combining the ‘lack of pretension and sentimentality of the blues with the rawness and toughness of hard rock.’  I love that aspect of the Stones but abhor an ‘orthodoxy’ that suggests they should do nothing but that. Have you ever listened to ‘The Best of Chuck Berry’ where after twenty minutes you realise every track is essentially the same? How on earth could you sustain a fifty-four year career on that?

 Fifty-four years.

Other critics seek to make excuses, like social workers, or lawyers for the defence trying to ‘get off’ a dodgy client. They point out that 1967 was a very bad year for the Stones, citing their drug busts, Mars bars, the increasingly unstable Brian Jones and interpersonal rivalries made worse, no doubt, after Keith Richards seduced Jones’ girlfriend Anita Pallenberg.  Jagger later claimed the stones went wild on Satanic Majesties: ‘to piss Andrew off, because he was such a pain in the neck. Because he didn’t understand it. The more we wanted to unload him, we decided to go on this path to alienate him.’ Jagger was referring to their manager Andrew Loog Oldham. One suspects there were more than musical differences involved. Jagger would not have been unaware that Oldham was making five times as much money than he was – as good a reason as any to offload him.  Satanic Majesties was the means. Their contract with Oldham stipulated that he paid all recording costs and studio time. Is it merely coincidence that the recording of Satanic Majesties stretched from February to November (admittedly with drug busts in between)? It also explains the appalling ‘Gomper,’ which must have convinced Oldham to pack up and run.

But enough of the excuses. Satanic Majesties doesn’t need any. Charlie Watts’s drumming as much as anything else, gives it a groove contemporary psychedelia lacked. It’s what you get when you combine the power rhythms of R&B with the more ornate textures of ‘Flower Power’ sound. In this respect it is very much an artefact of its time and at the same time  unique. In contrast, Sergeant Pepper is trapped in its time, its very success and memories evoked untranslatable to the present. This is not so true of Satanic Majesties.

Stand out tracks for me are: ‘Citadel’ where Richards punches and thunders on guitar and provides, perhaps a foretaste of Jumping Jack Flash
The Lantern with its snappy drum and acoustic guitar


The acoustic guitar driven 2000 Man, where Jagger anticipates aspects of the present day:
'Well my wife still respects me
I really misuse her
I'm having an affair with a random computer
Don't you know I'm a 2000 man'


She's a Rainbow with Nicky Hopkin's beautiful ascending motif on piano and strings arranged by Led Zeppelin's John Paul Jones.



And last but not least In Another Land, sung and composed by Bill Whyman. The snore may be his too.

The eulogy is over, though mercifully the Stones are not yet dead. 

Saturday, 10 March 2018

Waitrose will have milk come the Apocalypse. Tesco, I’m not so sure about.


I love shopping, a disturbing admission for a man. Let me clarify, I’m not talking about clothes. That I abhor. I’m happy with what I’ve got until my wife points out they’ve largely disintegrated. Then it’s a brief foray out and then home.

No, I’m talking about food-shopping, the last residual shadow of man, the primitive hunter – or in my case, man with an appetite.  What adds piquancy to the twice weekly event is the nearly two mile walk into Monmouth – the same walk but one that changes with the seasons.

Summer, a view from Osbaston Road



Autumn. Vauxhall Field and a glimpse of the River Monnow

Autumn, the Monnow and a glimpse of Vauxhall field.

Winter, Vauxhall Field and St Mary's Church

Winter, Vauxhall Field and St Mary's Church touched by God.



Uh, uh. Something's brewing. (My Turner moment) 


Snow!
Snow, however, is the big event, and its effect on people is weird. People walk for starters, they have to, and greet each other like comrades in arms, as though we’ve just weathered another night of the blitz.  Earnest conversations ensue as to whether there is still milk in Waitrose. If only Napoleon’s soldiers had it so good on their retreat from Moscow. And yes there was milk in Waitrose. There’s always milk in Waitrose. Waitrose will have milk come the Apocalypse. Tesco, I’m not so sure about.
Osbaston Road. The trudge into town

A cold looking River Monnow

Crossing the Monnow.

Vauxhall Field and St Mary's

People!
No People


But then comes the thaw and the ‘walkers’ vanish, and a new season begins.


Soon be spring.