An Ode On The Departure Of Jeremy Clarkson

Farewell from the Beeb, Jeremy Clarkson.

You were a dinosaur, a throwback
And had no truck with the Liberal Left
(Which is ironic, since you often drove a truck on the left)

We will miss your catchphrases.
“POWERRR!”
That was one of yours.
And “How hard can it be?”
That was another.

You were friends with the Hamster.
And the floppy haired one.
You probably still are.
But not on the BBC any more.

I guess that’s what happens when you punch a colleague.

Oh well. There’s always Dave.

The School Reunion – How To Survive…

After thirty-four years – yes, THIRTY-FOUR YEARS – tomorrow I will be attending my first ever school reunion. And most of the people there will last have been seen through my eyes on that fateful day in July 1981, when we all escaped through the gates of Haymill Secondary School for the very last time.

I will admit to mixed feelings about tomorrow night. Don’t get me wrong, I’m really looking forward to getting there and seeing everyone, catching up, and finding out about people’s lives. But there’s a part of me that is wondering just what it’s gonna be like.

Reason: American Movie Reunions.

Yep. Up to now, my knowledge of, and exposure to, school reunions has been entirely covered by movies such as Grosse Point Blank, Peggy Sue Got Married, Something Wild, and of course, the brilliant Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion. And all of these have a stock set of characters that repeat every single time.

There’s the Jock That Never Grew Up. He was a bit of a bully, and a bit of a tosser, back in school, and he still is. Probably worked his way up to Assistant Manager in his dad’s Car Dealership, and did so despite never doing anything useful except show up three days out of five.

There’s the Fallen Princess. Voted the Girl Most Likely To Marry A Millionaire And Live Happily Ever After, she’s somehow found herself in a trailer park with seventeen kids and a real knack for up-cycling curtains into dresses.

Then there’s Mr “Too Good To Be True”.  Whatever he says about his wonderful life, supermodel wife and perfect children… well, you know. He’ll probably claim to have invented Post-It notes…

There will be Farmer Ted, the sad geeky one from school, who after all these years is the sad geeky one from work (work being a public sector job, maybe Post Office or Council Housing) who hasn’t changed a bit.

And finally, there’s the Ugly Duckling. Someone nobody ever expected to succeed, who has turned out into the most successful, wonderful, beautiful/handsome* (delete as applicable) person in the entire world. You know the one in the movies, she’s the one that nobody notices at all until she takes off her glasses and lets her hair down.

That’s all I know. And if I let myself, I’d wonder which of them was me (hopefully NOT the Princess).

But, like the movie directors, I’m missing all the rest. Those who may be played by extras, who go through the story and their lives largely uncredited, but who have brought remarkable stories to the table. Tales of travel and adventure, tales of hard work, sacrifice and reward, tales of children and – in some cases – grandchildren. These are the real successes, people who have lived every second of those 34 years and are there to share and enjoy that with you. Especially when you talk to them and recognise not just the person they have become, but the nerdy boy / giggly girl they used to be as well.

So. As promised, here’s my Secret of Surviving your School Reunion. Have fun, avoid the drama queens and those who look like they’ve just watched life go by, laugh a lot, and hope to hell you can recognise everyone, cos there’s nothing worse than reminiscing with a bunch of strangers who don’t know who on earth you are…

UPDATE!!!!

So the reunion went very well. We had around forty people there, which after thirty-four years was a great turnout. I guess there was a certain amount of “And you used to be….?” for a while, but it was a cool evening of catching up. And yes – most of the stereotypes were there to a degree, but everyone was lovely and pretty much well-adjusted!

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Just what are we paying for?

I received a very interesting document in the mail today. From HMRC, it broke down not just how my Tax and NI contributions were calculated and collected, but also how the money was spent

The expenditure was broken down into fifteen different sections, and the numbers themselves make for interesting reading. As a percentage of my overall tax bill, it breaks down as follows:

Welfare 25%
Health 19%
Education 13%
State Pensions 12%
National Debt Interest 7%
Defence 5%
Criminal Justice 4%
Transport 3%
Business and Industry 3%
Government Administration 2%
Culture 2%
Environment 2%
Housing and Utilities 2%
Overseas Aid 1%
EU Budget 1%

Let’s look at this in a little more detail.

I currently pay over a third of my tax and NI towards Welfare and State Pensions, supporting those who do not, cannot – or will not – work. I have no issues whatsoever with providing the needed funds for those that need the help of the state. However, given the reports we see every day, I’d like to see some movement towards preventing people from screwing the system for their benefit and my loss – whether these people are benefit cheats or benefit tourists.

I currently pay more towards maintaining the status quo of our accumulated national debt than I do for defence. Or for Criminal Justice. Or for Transport or Industry. Or, for that matter, for Culture, Sport, the Environment, Housing and Utilities, Overseas Aid AND the EU membership combined. That shows the mess that the previous administration left us in in 2010, and why I fear a return to left-wing political leaders.

Overseas aid, that big issue for bigots, accounted for just one percent of my tax. Without rounding the numbers, membership of the EU cost even less. Despite what Nigel Farage and his cronies would have us believe, the EU isn’t the problem. Johnny Foreigner isn’t the problem.

WE are the problem. We fail to engage in the political process, keeping ourselves ignorant by choice or lethargy so that when an important choice comes up – such as EU membership, local or national elections, etc. – we allow ourselves to be swayed by whoever has the best publicist and soundbytes.

We have a couple of months until we get the chance to have our say about the direction and future of our country, when the nation goes to the polls on May 7th.

Whatever colour you pin your allegiance to – or even if you decide to opt out and abstain – please take time to get a broad understanding of what each party says on the above issues, and make it an informed choice. Don’t become disengaged with the important issues that will affect us all over the next five years.  Whatever you do, make sure you understand why

Will Rogers : Misfits

The latest album to drop into my inbox is the soon-to-be-released offering by Will Rogers, Misfits.

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Will’s music is an open, honest mix of lyric-driven acoustic rhythms, no more so evident than in the title track, which cocks its hat very much in the style of Barenaked Ladies. But this album has many more layers and dimensions to it that the simple desire to cram as many words as possible into two minutes and fifty four seconds. It comes over very much as a labour of love and an insight into the musician’s soul.

Take the first track, More, which espouses all of the collective fervour of Billy Bragg’s social utopia with none of Bragg’s annoying political overtones. It’s a great little sing-along song with catchy riffs and a tagline that sticks in the head, leading to those embarrassing moments when you find yourself singing aloud in public. Together with Thunder, Misfits and Take A Leap, there’s a positive, almost jaunty feel that dares the foot not to tap along.

Cogs hits a sombre, darker tone, with a lyric that comes closest to angst-driven unrest and despair. It shows that Will is far more than a one-trick pony, with the ability to deliver both lightness and shade.

My favourite track, however, is the final offering, Dangerous Words In The Dark. There’s a clarity of message that cuts through so clearly, telling of the challenge facing a man desperate to completely open his heart and soul to his true love. As a contrast to the rest of the album, it takes you by surprise and really makes you sit up and take notice.

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I’m really glad that I got the chance to listen to Misfits. Finding a new artist, and getting to understand a little of what makes them tick, is the best thing about writing reviews. And it’s even better when the material is as refreshing as this.

Misfits is released on Saturday, March 7, 2015. For more info, go to http://willrogersmusic.com/

EDIT: Misfits is OUT! You can get it through the link below (or in all the usual places, amazon, spotify etc.)

https://itunes.apple.com/gb/album/misfits/id970648939

Of Sins Present And Past by John Aulabaugh

 

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New Music.

It’s a phrase that evokes a range of emotions, but these days, more often than not it sadly throws up a depressing image of kids with computers in bedrooms remixing and self-producing in the hope of becoming the world’s next YouTube sensation. Which is why, when a new artist comes along that defies the stereotype, we should sit up and take notice. John Aulabaugh is one such artist.

His debut album, Of Sins Present And Past, dropped into my inbox this week.

John is a musician, a businessman, a father, a son, a husband. He’s seen life with all its triumphs and challenges, and with this album, John brings all his years to bear when telling a story.

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Of Sins Present And Past talks of addiction and recovery, of secrecy and deceit, of compulsion and hurt, pain and recovery. And just as that journey is full of ups and downs, John’s music hits you on unexpected, and at times slightly uncomfortable levels. It sings of despair, desire, destruction, desperation and the hope of ultimate deliverance, through well-written, meaningful lyrics and intelligent, carefully crafted melodies.

If you asked me to pull out a few tracks as standouts? It’s tough, because they are all good, but I’d say that having spent a few days listening, the tracks that I find myself singing are the wonderfully acoustic A Road Less Travelled, the darker, more compulsive Strange, the more laid back, rhythmic feel of Awake, and the beautifully haunting Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore. That these tracks each have their own feel and flavor just highlights again how John Aulabaugh has delivered a welcome, refreshing breath of fresh air with Of Sins Present And Past.

This new kid on the alt-country block has been round that block a few times, and his music is all the better for it.

John Aulabaugh‘s debut album, Of Sins Present And Past, is a habit well worth indulging. Featuring such renowned artists as Jessy Greene and Rami Jaffee, it’s at the same time both personal and universal, and deserves all the acclaim it will undoubtably create.

Of Sins Present And Past is released on March 30, 2015.

Just to be clear – I’m not Ableist

The past few weeks have seen me involved in some very interesting, very detailed, and very heated conversations on Facebook and on friends’ blogs regarding the subject of Ableism.

You may not know what this means – I admit I had to look it up.

Ableism means using language that discriminates against disabled people. In the past, this would have included terms (from my days at school back in the 70s) such as ‘spastic‘, ‘spaz‘ and ‘Joey‘, after Joey Deacon – a well-known television presenter and suffer from Cerebral Palsy – to indicate stupidity and lack of intelligence in the intended target . At the time, we were just being thoughtless kids. These days, however, such things simply wouldn’t, or shouldn’t get used as insults, and we all get that.

The accusations thrown at me haven’t been about this, however. They started when I described a phrase created by a US sports media company as ‘dumb‘. Which it was – in the ‘idiotic’, ‘ridiculous’ sense of the word. However, this has been the catalyst to a raft of statements being thrown at me, describing me as a ‘Great White Male‘, a throwback, and a bunch of other things. All for using a word in context and conforming to one of its accepted dictionary descriptions.

These people – the ‘anti-ableists‘, if you will – believe that ANY term, that could possibly be discriminatory to ANY person, at ANY time, should be banished from our speech. This would mean you can’t describe anything as ‘crazy‘, ‘lame‘, or any one of a thousand other terms. Including ‘dumb‘ – unless of course you’re using the word to describe someone without the power of speech.

My position has been misinterpreted by many – including someone who thought I should liberally sprinkle my language with the worst racist terminology possible as a test to see whether people take offence. So I want to set out my position clearly.

I am NOT ableist. I do NOT agree with the deliberate circumvention of language in order to offend people.

However, I am also not an ‘anti-ableist’, in that I disagree fundamentally with the supposed restrictions on speech that have been leveled at me and others who sprang to my defence.

If I can be described as having a stance, it’s more likely to be an ‘anti- anti-ableist‘.

The people picking me up for what they see as misuse of the word ‘dumb‘ are not mutes, nor have they checked this with mute people, to my strong understanding. The people responding to the conversations who might get offended by use of the word ‘lame‘ – due to disablilities they have – actually stated that they are not offended by this, as they don’t see the connection between themselves and the use of the word in context. It’s this perceived third-party offence that is all pervasive throughout the liberal end of society that actually offends me. and something that I am trying to eliminate from my language and behaviour.

So, when councils, company management, or organisations start talking about the ‘holiday season’ or – God forbid – ‘Winterval’, I will send them a Christmas Card, wishing them the merriest of Christmas. Because changing behaviours or speech because you think someone you don’t know, and haven’t spoken to, might be offended by something somebody says, is in itself offensive to me. There. Notice has been given, so please stop doing it.

Again – I’m not saying that anybody should deliberately offend others. What I AM saying is that the freedom to hold a position, to be a part of this great society we live in, and to live a life to the fullest, includes an implicit clause that means you won’t like everything you see and hear – much as others won’t necessarily like everything you say or do. And not to make judgement calls on what others may think, and not to get offended on their behalf. Disabled people, mute people, whoever – these people are more than capable of getting offended – or not – on their own. They don’t need others to do it for them, because that’s far more demeaning and patronising than anything I may cause by saying that American sportscasters say dumb things.

#OfSinsPresentAndPast

I’ve been listening to some new music today.

It’s so new, in fact, that it’s still in the process of final mixing. The release date for the album isn’t for a few months yet. But the tracks I’ve heard so far have been very good.

I’ll go into more detail over the next couple of months, but keep your ears open – or pop over to John’s website.

Of Sins Present And Past by John Aulabaugh.

You heard (about) it here first!