Key Quotes

"Anyone who believes that exponential growth can go on forever in a finite world is either a madman or an economist."
(Kenneth Boulding)

"Down these mean streets a man must go who is not himself mean, who is neither tarnished nor afraid. "

(Raymond Chandler)

"Live simply so that others can simply live." (unknown)

"I cannot live without books" (Thomas Jefferson)

"Sport is war without the shooting" (George Orwell)

"New York is a great city to live in if you can afford to get out of it" (William Rossa Cole)

The secret of a happy ending is knowing when to roll the credits (Patterson Hood)

Friday, 1 November 2013

A week in Sicily

We've been back in the UK for five days and I have to say that I'm missing Sicily. Now it could be returning on the eve of a major storm and a week full of caring duties may influence that feeling, however of equal importance was the chance to spend a week in October with temperatures in the mid twenties and the chance to gain a deeper appreciation of the island's rich past.

The week also revealed that I'm not cut out for organised tour holidays. There's no doubt that we saw more sites than would have been possible had we travelled independently, and the tour manager and the guides he arranged were both knowledgable and entertaining. The week however revealed what I already know about myself, I struggle in social situations where I'm faced with a group of strangers with whom I assume I have little in common. Put bluntly I can't do "small talk".

The other drawback was being the only vegetarian in the party. While that would have been fine in any restaurant, in hotels it seemed to present serious issues. A week of omlettes can't be viewed as acceptable. On the plus side the anti-pasta, the occasional pasta dish and fresh fruit desert meant I didn't go hungry.

It would be easy to simply record the various sites and towns we visited, however I'd rather focus on what I learned about Sicily. Early in the week we visited the "Valley of the Gods" in the South West of the island. As our guide told us the temples were not destroyed not by earthquakes or volcanoes but by  something much more dangerous - religious intolerance. Like most Mediteranean islands, history is littered with invasion and conquest.

Midway through the week we visited one of the  most complete Roman villas in the world. As we walked around and witnessed the complex arrangements of rooms, baths, and courtyards, it was impossible to forget the immortal line from 'Life of Brin ' " So what have the Romans ever done for us ". In a discussion I managed to initiate the following day I tried to explain the ambivulant attitude that I have to the Romans. Their technological achievements were massive but standing looking at an amphitheatre it's impossible to ignore the unspeakable cruelty and bloodshed they imparted.

Sicily was hit by a catastrophic earthquake in 1693, it destroyed much of the south of the island, which means that the area was nearly totally rebuilt in the baroque style. Siracusa was a wonderful town to walk around, the duoma and other buildings beautifully preserved. Certainly it gave me the desire to return and explore the region further, especially as it contains many of the sites featured in the crime series Inspector Montalbano.

Staying in Taormina, I had the urge to visit and walk by the sea, and so taking a public bus we visited the nearby resort of Gianni Naxos. In October the season was coming to an end. The only people on the beach were locals taking the child to the sea after a day at school. We walked around the bay and took in the whole panorama with Mount Etna in the background,while stopping for a drink at La Sirena bar.

36 hours later Mount Etna erupted, the day after we had visited. We'd seen towns such as Zafferano, previously destroyed by its lava flows and witnessed first hand how local people lived with nature.

Compared with many mediteranean islands, Sicily is rich in history and culture and somewhat undeveloped in terms of mass tourism. All the more reason to plot a return.

Monday, 28 October 2013

Albums to take to the other side

This was the unusual competition in the online site of the US magazine American Songwriter. At first I didn't pay it much attention, thinking it was just another list competition, but as the week has moved on I've found the theme entering my thoughts more and more.

It's just under 50 years ago that I bought my first LP, The Best of the Beach Boys, and strangely I remember that it cost 32 shillings and 6 pence. In compiling the list I've decided to reject any greatest hits or "best of" compilations in the belief that it's cheating. Similarly I've ignored live albums; this is more contentious as some of my favourite albums are indeed " Live at", but these often run into double albums and that's not what this list is all about. So I've selected ten albums that have at different times enthralled me or captured a mood at a time of my life.

I'm sure that if I had drawn up the list last year or indeed next, there would be some modifications. I think that's natural but for now here goes, the ten albums not in precise order that I want to take with me ..

1 Born to Run - Bruce Springsteen (1975)

2 Darkness on the Edge of Towm - Bruce Springsteen (1978)

 Winnemucca - Richmond Fontaine

4. The Dirty South - Drive by Truckers

5. August and Everything After - Counting Crows

6 Return of the Grievous Angel - Gram Parsons (1973)

7.Songs of Leonard Cohen - Leonard Cohen

8 Cold Roses - Ryan Adams

9 Harvest - Neil Young

10 The Nightfly - Donald Fagan


Leonard's your man

One advantage of being away for a week is that life becomes simpler, little telephone contact, restricted internet access and only minimal interest in the television situated in our hotel room. As a result more time can be devoted to reading. During the last week I've read "I'm your Man " - The Life of Leonard Cohen.

Musical biographies can often read like a collection of press cuttings with the occasional scandal or detail acquired from some dubious source who once met the artist in a bar. "I'm you man" is a long way removed from such hagiography.
The author Sylvie Simmons has had access to many musicians, poets and others who have shared Leonard's life.

It's an excellent read that details Leonard's life growing up in Montral, his years spent on Hydra, and his latter years in California including his time spent as a buddhist monk.

Obviously it looks at Leonard's various albums but the years spent between. I first became aware of Leonard Cohen when as a 15 year old I bought the CBS Rock Sampler "The Rock Machine turns you on ". At the time I was completely unaware on Cohen's work. However at the time I was both fascinated by poetry and the work of singer songwriters and Leonard Cohen ticked both boxes.

On hearing the Sisters of Mercy ( his track on the album) I was enthralled. Here was an artist to whom the lyrics seemed central. I've sang that song so often to myself over the years. Through circumstances and impoverishment it was some 40 years before I saw L.Cohen in concert. I was fortunate enough to be present when in July 2008 he played at the O2 arena London, a concert captured and released on CD and DVD.

In so many ways Leonard pre dates the era of rock. Next year he will be 80, yet  while his style of music has altered over the years , the themes and images he creates with his lyrics remain timeless. The biography reveals a complex man, who has battled depression and anxiety, who has sought refuge in the spiritual world but who has lived in fascinating life worthy of a biographer's attention.

Tuesday, 17 September 2013

Four Days in Brighton - Green Party Conference 2013

We arrived in Brighton on Friday morning and I was soon walking along the sea front from the flat where we were staying in Kemptown to the Conference held in the Metropole Hotel.

As I walked past the pier and approached the hotel two sites became visible. Firstly Caroline Lucas was being interviewed on the sea front by a telecision company and in front of the hotel some distance out to sea stood the rusting remains of the South Pier. That vision of the South Pier stayed with me for much of the next four days, it reminded me of the current situation of the UK, rusting having lost its past position . The pier is a fitting symbol of Britain's industrial decay.

So what of the four days, Friday was dominated by keynote speeches from the party leader Natalie Bennett and later in the afternoon by Caroline Lucas and Co-chair of the European Green Party Reinhard Butikofer .  While it was interesting to hear a European prospective, to me Caroline in so many ways remain the party's rudder and her speech was well received.

As always at a conference decisions have to be made; What shall I attend ? What do I swerve ? Late Friday afternoon I chose a discussion regarding the " State of Nature" report. Excellent contributions from speakers from RSPB,FoE and Buglife. I will carry with me the point that one mouthful in every three we eat comes as a result of insect pollination. A timely reminder of how much we rely on bees and other insects.

Saturday morning saw a number of workshops, this being my second conference I knew what to expect. I went to the workshop on local government,followed by a discussion on High Speed Rail.  After a lunch time meeting with other delegates from Essex I headed into  a discussion on how Greens could learn from how UKIP have captured popular awareness. The discussion focussed on the need to explain values rather than policy. In the discussion surrounding the rise of UKIP I raise the value of having a range of morning papers supporting your agenda, something the Greens lack. That morning I'd walked into the Co-op in Kemptown and had a strange experience. In my village on Saturday the supermarket stocks 10 Guardians and 100 Daily Mail's yet in Kemptown the experience was reversed. 

With the advance of UKIP still on my mind I headed to the launch of a meeting to discuss how we need to work to ensure the Green Party retains the Brighton Pavilion seat in 2015.  There clearly is work to be done and I was persuaded to offer to deliver leaflets on Sunday morning, so after dinner in the Barley Mow in Kemptown and some excellent local real ale, it was an early night so I could be up early to deliver copies of Greenleaf.

Sunday morning and a chance to see a part of Brighton that most tourists never reach,the georgian crescent and streets about a mile back from the seafront. Most of the houses now divided into multiple occupanies. The leafletting took a hour or so and I met several other members out volunteering so we walked back to the Conference together discussing issues and values.

After attending a a question and answer session from Caroline Lucas , Keith Taylor MEP talked about his work in the European Parliament, and not surprisingly my mind went back 25 years to when I worked in and around that institution. How much has changed in that time , yet the more I think about it, the seeds were perhaps sown then. Labour's drift towards New Labour was brewing after the 1987 General Election defeat and my interest in green politics was at an embryonic stage as I undertook environmental research for a then Labour MEP.

In many ways Sunday evening was the highlight of conference for me, a discussion on Green Philosophy chaired by Tom Chance but with a significant contribution from Andrew Dobson. I've used Dobson's book in my teaching for years so it was an excellent experience to hear him speak and be able to ask questions relating to the development of green political thought.

I stayed for the Monday morning session attending a Q&A with the leader and deputy and then taking part in the passing of reports.  At lunchtime I left the conference and made my way back to Kemptown.

Walking along the seafront I reflected upon the value of conference to me. It was my second experience, so perhaps it wasn't such a learning experience, but of more value was the opportunity to listen, think and consider. Brentwood lacks dialogue with other members, so for isolated members conference is a huge boost, it invigorates, replenishes and propels you forward over the year ahead.

Monday, 26 August 2013

The Oval - a sense of history

For members of Surrey County Cricket Club , home has seen some changes this season. Firstly the relocation of the Hobbs Gates and the construction of a new forecourt which gives the pavilion a more palatial appearance, although I still tend to enter from the side.

The external features that represent the Club's heritage are still there to be found but perhaps you have to look harder to find them.

Once inside however a great effort has been made to display memorabilia from great players from the Club's past. As I walk through the corridors and mount the staircases the portraits remind me of the rich history that the Club possesses.

Realising that there are now members who because of their age have no memory of Barrington and Stewart reminds me that although I often quote the career statistics of Sir Jack Hobbs, of course, I never saw him play. Yet cricket is a remarkable sport we continue to discuss who was the great batsman or bowler based on grainy film footage taken nearly a century ago.

It's now over 50 years ago that I first watched cricket at the Oval, yet memories of those days still flood into my mind. They have made an indelible imprint.
They represent some of the most memorable and happiest moments of childhood.

In this respect my early history is tied up with the history of these old buildings,stands and memory of players sadly many of whom have died in the years that have passed since I was first taken to the ground in 1961.

Wells revisited

This is the third time we've stayed in Wells next the Sea in the last two years. I think everyone needs a bolt hole. A place where you can relax,walk, think and generally escape.

North Norfolk might not appeal to everyone, but it does to me. This is the first time we've been there during the summer holiday period. From the children catching crabs on the quay to the groups of children with buckets and spades on the beach, Wells remains a traditional seaside environment.

Sunday was harbour day, the town's equivalent to the village fete. I must admit I enjoyed the band who sang folk and sea shanties.- the Blackeney Old Wild Rovers.



As ever the walk from the quay to Holkham Beach never disappoints, regardless of whether the tide is in or out.

The essence of Wells, the pace of life, the narrow high street, the narrow lanes, the sound of the gulls, the windswept feel of the beach, the boats either on the mud flats or bobbing on the tide. These images,feelings and sounds are magical and seem captured in an almost timeless way.