Category Archives: General

If the government always had to observe ASA guidelines…

The ASA (Advertising Standards Authority) decision against the Department for Work and Pensions’ misleading advertising about Universal Credit is welcome, and requires amplifying by as many people in as many forums as possible.

The DWP published adverts in the Metro (a free paper available at railway stations) and on the Daily Mail‘s website that claimed:

  • People moved into work faster on universal credit (UC) than under the old system
  • Jobcentres will pay an urgent advance to people who need it
  • Rent can be paid directly to landlords under UC

The ASA looked into these claims and upheld complaints about all of them*. A government department, staffed by supposedly neutral civil servants serving more or less willingly Conservative party spads and ministers, spent taxpayer money to tell their target audience (commuters) things that are untrue about a policy that affects the most vulnerable and frequently poorest people in society. Put more bluntly, they spent public money lying to the public.

In my day job, I have the ASA and its guidelines in mind constantly. I copy-edit, word by word, to ensure the company I work for never misrepresents the products it sells. The pains we take to be transparent and honest are the reason I feel comfortable working there. If the government was forced to abide by ASA standards in the House, on TV and radio and during press conferences, rather than just when producing their squalid marketing trash, none of them would be able to say anything at all beyond “Good morning”.

This advertising material from the DWP – and it was advertising, and it was from DWP, not the Conservative party directly – was egregiously, deliberately untrue, and so very damaging for people who have genuine reason to fear for their futures. If you live with a disability or long-term illness, or even if you’ve only read about people dying of terminal illnesses after being declared fit for work and having been denied UC and had their incomes taken away, it’s mystifying how the Tories could attract any share of the vote at all when this is the depth to which they have sunk.

There is a word for knowingly telling untruths about the most vulnerable people in society. That word is evil. We must punish them for it the only way we can: at the polls.

 

*The complaints were:

  • “People move into work faster on Universal Credit than they did on the old system” – no actual evidence to support this could be found. Complaint upheld
  • “Jobcentres will pay an urgent advance to people who need it” – “urgent”, if within five weeks can be considered urgent. Upheld
  • “Your Jobcentre can pay rent directly to landlords” – misleading, because it only applies to a small number of claimants. Upheld

A complaint that the adverts were not clearly identified as adverts was partially upheld. There was a disclaimer, but in very small type.

The lay of the land, 6 December 2018

Six years ago today, I had a pacemaker fitted at Papworth Hospital in Cambridgeshire. The year before that I was in an advancing state of heart failure. At that point of my diagnosis, I was Class IV on the NYHA classification chart; the subsequent class is “end stage”, which is what it sounds like. My diagnosis was idiopathic hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, a disease where the myocardium is enlarged, weakening the left ventricle and impeding the heart’s ability to pump blood effectively.

*

It’s nearly a year since Mel and I moved into our house together. Whenever one of us remarks on this fact, it’s in amazement. It doesn’t seem like a year. It doesn’t seem like five minutes, frankly. It’s been a wonderful year, in which we’ve done what we can to make the house into a home. Just a few more jobs to go now, then we’ll be done for a while, until it’s time to spruce everything up again. I can’t deny that the night I heard a dripping noise in our landing and realised that we had a leak, that it was coming from the roof, and that it was my responsibility to deal with it was a night I didn’t sleep much. But with great houses come great responsibility. Or something like that, anyway.

It’s been another good year health-wise. In the spring, my annual trip to St Thomas’s Hospital revealed that my heart is in very good shape for a man of my age with no medical history of heart problems, let alone someone who’s been where I’ve been. In fact, thanks to a renewed running regime, I’m fitter than I’ve been in at least ten years, and maybe since I left school. The next big goal is a half marathon in the grounds of Hampton Court Palace in March. Last time I entered a half my training schedule was disrupted by a chest infection that took weeks to properly clear up. This time, all being well, I’ll make it to the start line. I’m confident I could run it tomorrow, if I didn’t care about the time. I care enough that i’ll keep running the 14 kilometres home from work once a week and get out at the weekend for a 5k to work on speed.

This year I finally did release an EP on CD (download or order here), played a bunch of gigs with Mel as a duo (some very good ones, too) and did more work on James’s new one (an EP came out in the spring – the full album should follow in about six months I would guess). Other than James’s album and my full album (defo in the spring), the next project is a duo EP with Mel – we’ve got a few songs that were arranged from the ground up to be performed by us as a duo, so we’re going to record them the way we play them live, just two guitars and vocals.

That’s the lay of my land. The world beyond our front door is more worrisome. With Brexit an all-consuming oncoming storm, I despair at the lack of real leadership from the left. Not merely in terms of the division in the Labour party between centrists and the left wing, either. My dread fear is that, with politics (and the culture more widely) as polarised as it is now, any social progress made by a future government of the left would be immediately undone by incoming Conservatives, in much the same way that, if there were to be a second referendum on EU membership and Remain were to win, the Leavers would howl and scream for however long it took them to get what they want.

In such a situation, the only victory that could stick would be a revolutionary one – one where it was impossible to put society back together again, and building something entirely new became the only option available. Which is a pretty scary thought, as in that situation the forces that retained the most economic muscle would do the shaping. In the meantime, there are forces at work to keep left and right as far apart as possible. The deliberately divisive language of the right-wing media (which is most of the UK media), of “crush the Brexit saboteurs” and so on, is repulsive, but it’s deliberate. Its purpose is to fix people into position: to radicalise the right, to alienate the left, and to tell both sides that there is, there can be, no common ground. That’s how the right sees us, the left concludes. We can’t hope to reach them, and why would we want to?

Yet to make positive changes within the system as it exists today, we have to. More than ever, we need someone to make a moral, persuasive case for progressive policies in a unifying, consensus-building way.

On that troubling note, I leave you. Back next week.

The lay of the land, 6 December 2017

Five years ago today, I had a pacemaker fitted at Papworth Hospital in Cambridgeshire. The year before that I was in an advancing state of heart failure. At that point of my diagnosis, I was Class IV on the NYHA classification chart; the subsequent class is “end stage”, which is what it sounds like. My diagnosis was idiopathic hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, a disease where the myocardium is enlarged, weakening the left ventricle and impeding the heart’s ability to pump blood effectively.

*

Time moves faster than I ever could have imagined as a child, 25 or 30 years ago. I’m nearly 36 now, closer to 40 than 30, and finally doing the adult stuff that for the longest time I didn’t think I ever would – buying a house, getting a mortgage, making plans not just for retirement but for death (by making a will, you understand.  I’m not planning on hastening the end).

Most of the time when you’re doing this stuff, the process itself just sweeps you along with it and doesn’t leave much time for reflection. But every now and again, it occurs to me how unlikely this all is, and the fact that Mel and I have a financial commitment that’s going to last till more or less the end of our working lives in 30 years’ time is in many ways the biggest symbol of my recovery yet: inconceivable six years ago, massively unlikely five years ago, but now a reality. We move in next Tuesday. It’s daunting as we’ve still got so much to do, but it’s also hugely exciting.

Many of my friends are in similar positions and it’s nice to look around and see how many of them are happy and settled: buying houses, getting married and having children. I wonder, though, if any of them feel the same way I do: that they’ve been enjoying an elongated adolescence that is only now coming to an end.

I already have plans for next year. Setting up a studio den in our new house is first on the list. A new record with James McKean is in the works, and my own much-delayed album is finally – finally – recorded (I just plan to press an EP first as essentially a trial run, so I can make all my mistakes on a low-stakes release), but I’m not looking too far beyond those things at the moment. Compared to this year, next one should be quieter, and less stressful. There may even be more time for blogging! I doubt I’ll ever again get to the more-than-once-a-week schedule I maintained in 2013-2014, but at least once a week would be good.

I’ll be back later in the week if time permits, but you know, moving house and all. I’ve got a couple more drum posts planned, so if you’re into those, stay tuned.

The Lay of the Land, 6 December 2016

Four years ago today, I had a pacemaker fitted at Papworth Hospital in Cambridgeshire. The year before that I was in an advancing state of heart failure. At the point of my diagnosis, I was Class IV on the NYHA classification chart; the subsequent class is “end stage”, which is what it sounds like. My diagnosis was idiopathic hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, a disease where the myocardium is enlarged, weakening the left ventricle and impeding the heart’s ability to pump blood effectively.

*

I’ve done one of these each year on 6 December since I started my blog, and they’re shoot-from-the-hip affairs. They’re a snapshot of how I feel on this day when it rolls around. The 2013 and 2015 pieces were positive, contented pieces; the second one was probably the angriest thing I’ve ever written on this blog..

This year, it’s been hard not getting angry every time I read a newspaper. But we on the left must resist the temptation to wallow in anger, bitterness and resentment. Our world is being remade into something ugly, and it will take a long, long time to undo the damage that’s been done.

Yet we must believe it can be undone. The only alternative is despair, cynicism, nihilism: destructive emotions that help no one, change nothing and destroy a person from within.

*

In the meantime, you have to live life, with all its ups and downs. This year, my father’s sister, Marion, died unexpectedly. She was only 72 and had not been ill. I’ve also seen more friends and relations get married and start families. Mel and I look to our future and make our own plans.

We’ve been fortunate enough this year to see Santorini, Tuscany, Madrid and Liverpool, and I’ve just got back from Biarritz, where my company had its conference. I’ve continued to make music, helping James, Mel and Yo with their releases, and planning for my own, which will definitely be happening in 2017. Enough waiting. Time to make it happen.

I began running again, after my mum remarked that I never mentioned going running any more. I started, on the hottest day of the the year, by seeing if I could do 2.5 kilometres. Two weeks later, I ran 5k for the first time since I was at school. Two months’ after that, I ran 10k to raise money for Southend Hospital (where I was an inpatient on the cardiac ward). Next spring, I plan to do a half marathon, possibly for Cardiomyopathy UK. Training begins in earnest after Christmas.

*

Things are fine for me. But they are not fine looking at the wider picture. Far, far from it. In a year of remarkable, unpredictable political upheaval, it seems daft to try to second guess the future, but next year is likely to be another difficult one for too many of us. It may seem an ivory-tower kind of exercise, but I’ll still be here, looking for music that means something to me. It still feels like a job worth doing.

Back at the weekend with drums. Take care, y’all.

running

Nearing the finish line

 

Things that are happening round here

Just a little update on things related to my own music.

This Sunday, 7th February, I’ll be playing a live session for Doug Welch on his folk show on BBC Kent. It starts at 9pm, and I’ll be doing three or four songs and talking a bit about them. I’m really honoured to have been asked to do it, and am looking forward to it a lot. I’ll put a link up to the podcast once it’s up, which will probably Monday.

I’m also putting the finishing touches to a digital-download single, which is a trailer for full album to come out in the spring. It’s a song I wrote just before Christmas called Separated by Water, and I’ve been working on it at home for the last month, which has been slow progress due to a cold I just haven’t been able to shake and which meant it was touch and go whether I was going to be able to get a usable vocal done in time (colds tend to completely destroy my voice and leave me unable to sing properly for a week or so after I actually feel better). Anyway, I’m mixing it tonight and tomorrow, and will let it out into the world on Saturday, so I’ll put a download link up here then.

As for the album, I’ve finished it, I think! Just need to find a mastering engineer, get some artwork, photos, all of that jazz. I’ve never done a full album release with an actual physical product, and I want to make sure I get it right.

Added to that, James McKean’s second solo album, No Peace for the Wicked, is mastered and ready for release on 27 March. I mixed it, recorded a lot of it, played my usual assortment of instruments on it, and will be playing at least one live show with James to launch it (and potentially more), so I’d like leave my release till after his one’s done and dusted. James’s record is wonderful – very well sequenced, with excellent songs and brilliant performances from a pretty substantial cast of London-based musicians, and I’m really proud of the work we’ve all done on it.

Expect mine to follow it in late April or May.

In the meantime, here’s a bunch of songs more or less certain to be on it.

The Lay of the Land, 6 December 2015

This was mostly written last Sunday but wasn’t published at the time – halfway through writing it, I yawned, stretched and pulled a muscle in my shoulder, then spent the rest of the day lying on my back in a world of ow. I’m better now.

Three years ago today I had a pacemaker fitted at Papworth Hospital in Cambridgeshire. The year before that I was in an advancing state of heart failure. At the point of my diagnosis, I was Class IV on the NYHA classification chart; the subsequent class is “end stage”, which is what it sounds like. My diagnosis was idiopathic hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, a disease where the myocardium is enlarged, weakening the left ventricle and impeding the heart’s ability to pump blood effectively.

*

I started this blog in spring 2013, so this is the third “Lay of the Land” post I’ve written. The first was a kind of round-up of all the changes that had happened in my life in the previous six months – starting a new job, moving to London, beginning a relationship with Mel – and how amazing it was to me that any of that had happened, given the place I’d been in. Last year’s was a very different piece, easily the angriest thing I’ve ever written on this blog. It was about a subject I care about very much (how the language we use around illness shapes the way we think about it, in a profoundly negative way). I haven’t changed my opinions on any of that stuff; indeed, I’ve seen some terrible, inexplicable things happen to good people this year. It’s not a comforting thought to us that a life-threatening illness could overtake any of us at any time, no matter how cleanly we live our lives, or how “strong” we think we are. But we must realise it, about ourselves and about others. It’s the only way we might develop empathy and a fair and just social policy. We sure don’t have one now, and as a nation we don’t vote as if we want one. I won’t get into that again now. I said it all last year and would just be repeating myself.

So 6 December 2015 – the third anniversary of that pacemaker procedure – finds me tired, but happy and looking to the future. I played a gig with James McKean last night, drumming at the Harrison Arms, and so I’m pretty shattered from having lugged a set of cymbals, a snare drum, and a kick pedal around all day. Which explains the tired, but I’ll be fine tomorrow. As for the future, let me tell you about that. First up, I remain healthy. I go for check-ups and scans and pacemaker tweaks at St Thomas’s Hospital in London, and at a scan earlier this year the cardiac physiologist told me that according to their classification chart, my heart is now within the “normal” range; I’ve improved from “severely impaired”, through “moderately” and “mildly” impaired to normal. My next trip to St Thomas’s is in a week or so. Let’s see what they say.

In the last few months I’ve begun working full time at my copy-editing job. I’ve been there two and a half years now, and still enjoy it. Mel and I have been together for over two years and we continue to make plans for our future, and not just in terms of holidays and trips. I’m blessed with friends who understand and care about me, and who for reasons better known to themselves than to me seem to like having me around.

I continue writing, recording and playing, both on my own and with Mel, James and Yo. Mel released her first EP this year, Yo his third album. I did my usual jiggery-pokery on both. James’s second album is pencilled in for March (my work on it is done; it’s just mastering, artwork and manufacture to go now), and I’m looking to release a proper full-length CD album soon, too, which is a long-held ambition but not something I’ve ever done before. Nearly finished on the music, but then that too will need artwork and so on. I was hoping it’d be ready to come out in February, but it might be a few months yet.

That’s what’s going on with me. But that’s only a small part of a wider story. More importantly, the lives of my friends and family members continue to change and develop, mostly in good ways, too. Just one small, happy example: I’m now the uncle of a nephew as well as a niece.

No life is perfect. No world is perfect. This is not the best of all possible worlds. There are things that I would change if I could in my life and in the lives of those closest to me. But I look around at the people I know and see folks who are mostly happy, mostly fit and well, mostly getting quietly on with whatever lives they have found themselves in, mostly fairly content with those lives. And speaking for myself, I have everything to be thankful for, much to look forward to, and lots to be getting on with.

I’ll be back on Sunday.

The future of the 12 Bar Club

Writing last month about the closure of the 12 Bar Club in its Denmark Street location in St Giles, I said:

This is a terrible shame for London’s music-playing community. With Enterprise, the 12 Bar (and across the street the Alleycat) and the retailers, Denmark Street has been a real community, where musicians played, rehearsed, bought and maintained their gear, and hung out. That will end now. Nothing they could put in its place there will ever replace that.

Nothing, that is, that the property developers behind all of this, the Consolidated Property Group, put there will ever replace it. If you’re having trouble imagining what that will be, take a walk through the alleyway next to St Giles in the Fields, past the Phoenix Garden, across Shaftesbury Avenue, down Mercer Street and into St Martin’s Lane. Continue until you see a Jamie’s Italian on your left hand side. That’s the western entry to St Martin’s Courtyard. Give it five years or so, and in all likelihood that’s what Denmark Street will look like: a privately owned piece of defensible space, monitored discreetly by private security, comprising a spa, some expensive (though not exclusive) retail and some upper-middle-price-range restaurants.

Feel like we have enough of these places already and don’t need another? Me too.

But this is a digression. As I said, nothing that Consolidated (what a hateful, foreboding name!) put there will be an adequate replacement for what the musician community of London is losing. That’s why we have to replace it ourselves. The glory of the 12 Bar Club was that it was one of the few really great central London venues, in a place that was a destination already. Denmark Street had been a musicians’ hub long before there was a 12 Bar Club; musical folk wanted to spend time there, and all of us living in this sprawling city were at an equal disadvantage getting there. It wasn’t in anyone’s neighbourhood, so it was in everyone’s neighbourhood. And it was readily accessible to those coming in from outside the city, too, who naturally enough gravitate to the West End.

I live in Lewisham, south-east London, 10 miles from Holloway. If the 12 Bar had reopened in Brixton, it would be 9.5 miles away from a musician living in Leyton. That’s the scale that London is built on. Those of us who live south of the river, or out in the west, must resist the temptation to start thinking of the 12 Bar as a “north London venue” and forget about playing there, hanging out there. If we do, it will likely fail. And we will all have lost something special. The continuance of a London music community is entirely dependent on the effort we put in to maintaining it.

12 Bar Club

A recent recording