Old movies, classic comedy and good clean smut…

There’s something quintessentially ‘British’ about going on a nostalgia kick.

In fact, there’s something quintessentially ‘British’ about using the word ‘quintessentially’, which I suspect is only ever followed by the words ‘British’ or ‘English’. You definitely never see anyone describing something as ‘quintessentially German’ – not even goose-stepping.

I’ve recently reconnected with a bunch of stuff from my youth, which leads me to write this epistle.

Here’s the ‘stuff':

  • Vinyl records played on a proper record player with little tinny speakers
  • Black and white films, of the sort that always used to be on telly on a Sunday afternoon
  • 1960s BBC radio comedy – specifically ‘Round The Horne’
  • B-movie science fiction, generally from the 70s and early 80s

These items, in and of themselves, are fairly normal. You could easily read that list and silently – or audibly – go “meh”…

But it’s more what they evoke than what they deliver.

Take the vinyl records, for example. They, for me, demonstrate that great line from the movie ‘High Fidelity’, when, after Dick tried unsuccessfully to guess how Rob was rearranging his record collection (“Chronological? No… not alphabetical…”) Rob reveals his system will be autobiographical, so that “if I want to find the song “Landslide” by Fleetwood Mac I have to remember that I bought it for someone in the fall of 1983 pile, but didn’t give it to them for personal reasons.”

I’ve not got many vinyl albums, but when I listen to the double live album Babylon By Bus by Bob Marley and the Wailers, I’m back home with my parents, them sat watching tv in one room whilst I’m sat next door, listening to one of the world’s greatest protest singers delivering a lyric so great, you don’t realise how revolutionary it was until nearly ten years later… but you remember the message. When I’m listening to Dare by The Human League, or Upstairs at Erics by Yazoo, I’m back in that post-school, pre-serious work period where everything was cool, and I was a part of it.

The old movies? Sunday afternoons in front of the telly were great – especially if it was raining outside, and we sat in front of the fire watching films like ‘The Sheriff of Fractured Jaw‘ with Kenneth More, or – if we were lucky – a Carry On film. All a part of those days when you could watch a film and part of your eight-year-old mind still believed it might be real. And if it was a sci-fi b-movie so bad it’s good, the knowledge that it most certainly wasn’t…

Round The Horne was something I got to later in my childhood, but the repeats of the show were always something I looked out for. The cast was brilliant, with the leader of the gang, Kenneth Horne, often playing the straight man (in all senses) to Kenneth Williams, Hugh Paddick, Betty Marsden, Bill Pertwee, and another ‘quintessentially’ BBC voice, announcer Douglas Smith. Listening to the show now, it’s remarkable how far they managed to push the boundaries of the BBC back in 1965, when the show was first broadcast. They had plenty of sexually repressed characters, innuendo by the bucketload, and the incredible ‘Julian and Sandy’, two unemployed actors taking on a range of different jobs. They were the most obviously gay couple imaginable, in an age when homosexuality was still illegal. The fact that they could get away with so much still surprises me, such as when they were working as lawyers:

HORNE: Will you take my case?

JULIAN: Well, it depends on what it is. We’ve got a criminal practice that takes up most of our time.

HORNE: Yes, but apart from that, I need legal advice.

SANDY: Ooh, isn’t he bold?

Comedy nowadays struggles to fit in single entendres, let alone the doubles that Round The Horne was liberally sprinkled with. Entertainment has changed, and not really for the better.

In this age of digital downloads, 3D blockbusters and so called ‘talk-radio’, I’d rather stick with entertainment that… well, entertained.

Gun Control…..

Today,  services were held in Emanuel AME church in Charleston, South Carolina. Local christians gathered to worship and pray, and commune together and with their God.

This would not usually warrant any comment, certainly not on a blog written five thousand miles away in England. But this is not a usual Sunday, because Emanuel AME was the scene of the recent massacre of nine church members by Dylann Roof, and today marks the re-opening of the church.

The reaction of the families of those killed has been admirable and not a little surprising. Forgiveness of such an act does not come naturally, but has been given in the midst of intense grief. These acts should not affect the way this crime is prosecuted, nor affect subsequent punishment.

The tragedy has spawned many comments across the internet. Most of these are from the usual sources – the extreme Liberal Left in the form of those lobbyists who would see all guns melted down, and the extreme Republican right in the form of the National Rifle Association, who – it seems – will only be satisfied when American babies emerge from the womb with a .357 magnum in their chubby little fingers.

Of course, neither are right. Certainly not the NRA, for whom one spokesperson tried to say that the reason nine people were killed is because the congregation were not carrying guns themselves for defence, inside their church. Clearly he’s the type of person we should be wary of in civilised society.

But the anti-gun lobby is also seeing things a little to black and white. If owning a gun is banned, criminals will still get hold of guns – after all, it’s not like they are that worried about breaking one more law, is it? So banning guns altogether won’t totally prevent acts like the one we saw last week in Charleston.

The issue, for me, stems from the oft-cited clause in the American Constitution. The Second Amendment, adopted into law on 15 December 1791, states

“A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed”.

It’s worth looking at what was going on in 1791, which made this amendment such a necessary change. The government of the United States was a mere three years old, after the War of Independence, the acknowledgement of independence by the British Government, and the formation and adoption of the first US Constitution. Much of the vast nation was still pretty much unexplored, with attack from the indigenous population an ever-present threat. Add to this the dependence of white Americans on the slave trade and black slave labour in constructing their new nation, and you can understand why a law enabling the ‘civilised’ population to protect themselves makes sense.

I’m certain that the authors of that document would not have imagined that their words would still be law 224 years later, and sure that they never envisaged them being so divisive. And yet Americans uphold this as an almost sacred right. If that’s true, and if being American means agreeing with the law that allows people like Dylann Roof the opportunity to slaughter so many innocent people, then – on that level at least – I’m very glad that I come from different shores.

What’s the answer? I don’t know – other than knowing it’s not simple. Banning guns is not going to happen, but a start would be banning them from being sold in Walmart. anyone can get one, and there appears to be little checks to see whether that person is suitable or responsible enough to hold such a deadly instrument.

The change needs to be a legal one, in that the Second Amendment needs redrafting. Not to remove the right of responsible people from defending themselves, but in ensuring that if an American citizen wants to own a gun, they have to show that they understand the gravity of such an undertaking. That they understand that if they are refused, it’s not a breach of their rights, instead it’s the nation upholding the rights of every other person in the country. That people understand that the most important factor in owning such a weapon is the hope that they never need to fire it.

When owning a gun stops being a right and instead becomes a privilege, maybe then events like Emanuel AME will start to become a part of history that America as a nation leaves behind.

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.