Monday, 28 January 2013

@ the drugstore

The previous and only other time I was in Greece was in 2007 with The EBB. It was a great night and one we’ll never forget. We had no idea what to expect when we began the show but what a night! I remember the assembled Greek choir that was our audience, singing it all as we went through the set. I remember it wasn’t the tightest set but it was full of emotion and power. So when I was asked by my new friend Spilios to go back to Athens for a couple of nights at his bar The Drugstore, I was excited and a little nervous. What if they don’t get what I am doing now?
When Spilios drove me out of the airport in Athens into the most almighty thunderstorm I have ever seen I told him hey, don’t blame me. I didn’t bring this with me and we laughed. At least I hoped that this was true and not some negative omen from the ancient deities of Greece. We drove as the lightning crashed all around lighting up buildings on distant mountains. The rain was incessant and heavy with hail. It was extremely exciting if you like that sort of thing and I love it. As we drove deeper into the heart of the city the architectural landscape in the storm reminded me of images from the film Blade Runner. I suppose it started with a question or two and then I was listening as Spilios spoke about the crisis in Greece and some of the ramifications of the situation, who is to blame and what is really going on. I was getting background to where we were in Athens in 2013 and how it came to be.
Time was running so after a quick look at the very cool place that is the Drugstore it was time for dinner and bed. Morning on the balcony of the room came with a view over rooftops. The birds came and went but nothing like in the song.
I spent some time in the immediate area checking out the place. I saw the have nots every where near my hotel, the stragglers and the strugglers.  It was clear to see who was managing to get by, who was doing very nicely, thank you and those who were in jeopardy.
It was time to earn my daily bread, for which I am grateful, and time to play. The bar was full by just after ten and I began the first of two sets. The audience was lovely, really lovely as I went through the new songs, explaining as I went. Some translated for others. I felt truly connected. We were all grateful to be there and we expressed it. For most of us it was a coming together and celebration of things we have in common. It made me proud of us. I talked as I always do of the things I care about. I played some old songs but possibly not enough for all assembled. The interval came and I relaxed. The second set was long. I don’t know why though I enjoyed it. I left my little amp and microphone to warm applause and the job was done.
I decided to tighten every thing up for the next evenings show and resolved to put some old stuff back in, but what? I spent the early hours of the next day and some of the afternoon working on new old things. That night I played a very tiny version of the whole Dr Spock piece including the instrumental. I don’t know what on earth made me do this but it worked. By the time the small song “What if the babies go on strike” etc, came at the end people were singing their heads off, especially at the tables reserved for the hardcore followers. I performed an acoustic mash up with Thinking of you and Exhibits from a new museum. Songs such as Red Star and The Christmas song, and The half light were very well received so I decided to put more old stuff in. It seemed only fair really. I finished the first set with Poppy. The Drugstore choir sang it with me and that was special.
Second set. So, a version of the whole of Side by side slipped in and I got lost in a  jam version of Hole in it playing some guitar I hadn’t thought of before. The audience drove it and that was so cool. I wanted to give them me, both the old and the new. I talked about the good old days and sang the song of the same name. This is an experiment and I pushed it to the limit from my point of view. The set wound on and it was time to wind it up so after a short story about losing/forgetting the song My Salvation and how I still believe it belongs to some body else and it all got mixed up in the ether and I ended up writing it. Well something like that. I sang it. Evening over rooftops was my last song and again the Drugstore choir gave it maximum attention. A guy near me even sang the sha la la la backing vocals and beautifully. He got his own applause and deservedly.
I had time to hang out with folk after and signed stuff. Every one was so warm to me. I was deeply touched. I didn’t want it to end. I was having a ball with these friendly bright people who speak English easily conversing about the deepest things.
The apr├Ęs gig party was rocking with great sounds and a fitting finale. I must thank all of the staff at the Drugstore for their kindness and support at all times. I was so well looked after. Thanks for the amazing cocktails, the special thing and the attention to detail shown through out my entire visit. The Drugstore is a special place that is a small community. The staff make it what it is – special. The drive with Spilios to the airport was fascinating. I learned some more about what makes his country tick. It is clear that many Greek people are beginning to take care of each other in a new way. There is a new spirit of collective participation to help others less fortunate and working towards small, achievable change. That is exciting and hopeful.
I had a fabulous few days In Athens and I have a growing affection for the place and for the people. The best part is we are going to do it all again next year.


Saturday, 19 January 2013

Optimist or narcissist?

"It's not about the bike" - Lance Armstrong

As many of you will know by now I am and have always been excited by cycle racing since I was a kid. My dad was a successful amateur Time trial ling cyclist before world war two came along and ruined any chance of a pro career.
So, Bradley Wiggins won the Tour de France clean or did he? I believe he did and in doing so opened up the amazing sport of competitive road cycle racing to a new and very large following in the UK. Some people will wonder  whether or not his success was helped along with performance enhancing drugs, especially after the Lance Armstrong debacle.
I stayed up to watch the Lance Armstrong interviews with Opra Winfrey. The first half of the Oprah interview revealed a man incapable of true contrition and incapable of real empathy. I saw a man who has a new agenda and I do not trust his motives one iota. He has the air of a man who has finally succumbed to the realisation that there is nowhere to run and must talk about that terrible man he used to be, especially now that the possibility of being tried for perjury has expired.
He accepts that he has done us wrong but wants our forgiveness just because he thinks he deserves it and - after all are we not better than him? He has learned from his obvious recent therapy that a new approach is needed. He is a very bright and articulate monster who doesn’t like the cage he has created for himself and wants to be allowed to play with the nice children again.
With the typical candour of the wanna be born again he lists his crimes and speaks about the man who committed them as some one he used to know and he attempts to join us, as one of his critics. He would have us believe that he is glad the charade is finally over and his bullying of any one who stands in his way or threatens his plans can be at an end.
He doesn’t expect forgiveness from those he has personally vilified for accusing him of blood doping and fixing up with “his cocktail” of performance enhancing drugs, nor should he. It will be a long time, if ever, before the riders he cheated out of winning will be ok with things and I am speaking of the few clean riders of his era. He beat our Chris Boardman in a prologue in one Tour De France and he later went on to win it. Chris was a prologue specialist but a clean example. Now we must wonder if Chris would have beaten Armstrong if Armstrong had been clean of EPO and there are many other examples where a rider was beaten by the man who says “ I knew I would win”.
Armstrong has had to face the trauma of telling his son not to defend him at school because his dad is, in fact, a cheat. He seemed more upset for himself than for his son. He has lost the support of those who backed him through out the accusations and denials. He has sued virtually every one who challenged his claim to be a clean rider. He has lost all of his sponsorship deals with the likes of Trek, Nike and Oakley. 
Armstrong cannot compete any where at any level in an officially sanctioned event and that is as it should be. He accepts this but thinks it is unfair and like “a death sentence” compared to the six months ban others received for testifying and testifying against him. There is a school of opinion that would like to see him jailed for fraud on a massive scale but he doesn’t yet seem to realise the extent of the damage he has done to pro cycling. For those of us who have followed the Tour for many years he has ruined it and left a legacy of mistrust. Do I feel any pity for him? Oh yes, as in - see ya, wouldn’t wanna be ya. 
Armstrong claims to be an optimist and I'll bet any thing that he describes many of those opposing him as pessimists. It is a dangerous mind set when deluded optimism dictates that all will be well, the show must go on at any cost and any challenge to that must be put down.
He must be a lonely man compared to how his life was a few years ago. He would still have every thing had he won a tour or two clean. Some of us suspected he was doping a long time ago but none of us had much idea as to the extent of it.
He speaks endlessly about “the process” and much of what he suggests seems rooted in his attempt to get it together with therapy. It is clear the man has accepted he has done wrong and it is clear the therapy has convinced him that now is the time to begin the road back to being loved again but the narcissist has not gone away. So, is he the deviant little shit at the back of the school bike sheds letting our tyres down or is he a man with new found sincere intentions? The jury is out. 


Wednesday, 9 January 2013

salvation army

Right now the weather is grim and deeply depressing here in the metropolis. The skies are endlessly grey or dark and full of rain.  I am sure most of us are suffering from a significant detrimental lack of energising sunlight but even this is a small thing compared to the issues many are facing at this time.
The government has made some more cuts to welfare benefits. It has become clear that many people are in favour of cuts to welfare for the unemployed. It will be interesting to see how some of them feel now that we know two thirds of the people who will have significant reductions to their benefits, are in fact working. Further down the time lines major wage cuts are inevitable and there is no nationally cohesive workers union base strong enough to resist this at this time.
In the north a young man from southern Europe arrives to work and settle. He quickly finds a job and soon after, a small flat in a block near the centre of a large northern city. Work is hard but life for him is reasonable and in quite a short time the young man is speaking some English and beginning to achieve some sense of personal security. Soon after this the man is involved in an accident that results in him losing his sight. After hospitalisation he is completely blind, home alone and totally with out support.
A neighbour who is concerned that she has not seen him calls Social Services. A social worker visits him and establishes that the young man has no money for food and heating and is quite naturally disoriented and low. The social worker calls the Department of Work and Pensions.
The concerned person who answers explains that the man has no rights regarding benefits at this time. He explains that the man has received a letter explaining this. The man is blind so cannot read this. Then it is established that the man has also received another letter explaining that he can receive some benefit. He cannot read this letter either. I won’t bore you with the discussion over entitlements and form filling that followed.
After further discussion it is established that the man is entitled to some financial support but it will take eight weeks for the assessment to be finalised.
So in 2013 the UK has no viable safety net for those who are vulnerable or in peril. If the young man waits for the system to kick in he will die of hypothermia and starvation.
The statutory machinery is incapable of the kind of care most of us would have regarded as essential only ten or so years ago.
Recently a Tory spin droid defending Government cuts to welfare and the
UK ‘s care of the young declared, our children do not suffer from poverty as they do in other counties. He must have been referring to “third world” children because according to UNICEF child poverty in the UK is rife and our general care of the young is next to bottom in their “first world” survey.
So what of the young man in the north? The social worker contacted the Salvation Army and a small local trust that can provide small amounts of cash for critical need, The nice man from the salvation Army told the social worker that he would have some one at the mans flat within the hour. Twenty minutes later the “Sally Soldier” arrived. The Salvation Army has agreed to provide a visit to the young man 5 times a week. They will provide food and heating money until the young mans benefit is available. They have found some one to visit who can speak the young man’s language.
The salvation Army has achieved what the State cannot. This is extremely worrying. According to a spokesman for the Salvation Army they are receiving more and more calls of this type on their time and on their resources. The “Army” is a magnificent organisation that has always kept to it’s mission. In my opinion no one is doing more so they get my vote and my money but, isn't it a disgrace that here in the UK, we have become so dependent on them and their fellows to save us?

I can’t walk or talk or do any thing much
I know - to some amusement
So take me dancing
let’s take a chance on you being my hope
my salvation