Saturday, 30 March 2013

soup any one?

The above picture is a poignant reminder of hard times gone by, specifically the Great Depression when the line for the soup kitchen was long. The Salvation Army recently reported a huge increase in demand on their services for those in most need of basic essentials. The Archbishop of Canterbury has spoken out against some Government welfare cuts stating that the cuts are increasing the number of those entering poverty and will have the most detrimental effect on children in that grouping.

I know of a small trust that gives out cash, up to £50-00 for those in need. That £50-00 has made a huge difference to many people who find them selves with out any means. The trust has limited resources. It has to maintain a level of capital so that it can continue as it was always intended to do so. 

The emergency money is paid out at the request of professionals who have no other resources to offer to an individual or family. The trust requires no receipt and works on knowing and trusting those who call on them. This is a rare and special thing and I hope it might continue to be able to make a difference long into the future though organisations such as this and the Salvation Army, were intended to ease the load for the few in dire need and not to become the front line in the struggle to help those whose dire need is caused directly by the banking sector and government policy.

The need for food hand outs through out the UK is increasing on a daily basis. In a small town like Colchester Chairman of trustees at Colchester Food Bank, the Rev Andrew Fordyce, predicts the continuing recession and looming changes to the benefits system in April will result in hundreds more people in the town struggling to put dinner on the table.
Last year, the charity handed out 16 tonnes of food, feeding around 1,500 adults and 600 children. But, it is predicted in 2013 in excess of 20 tonnes will be needed. This is not an isolated problem. Food banks with similar projected needs are forming all over the UK.

Food stamps are to be issued in Britain next week to tens of thousands of vulnerable people as part of benefits shake-up. Vouchers will be redeemable for food, nappies and other essentials.

I don't know if it is still the case but a while ago, when a refugee / asylum seeker in the UK was awaiting assessment, the living allowance awarded was £22 per week. The award, if you can call it such, was given in the form of coupons. Here's the Kafka bit. The coupons could only be spent at Sainsburys, not a store such Liddles or Asda where, it is obvious to any one that more goods could be purchased than at Sainsburys, what ever that company might say.

The so called bedroom tax is regarded by many as some thing that might have had it's inception based on common sense reasoning but got dreadfully mauled by those less gifted than the mandarin responsible for the idea. The chaotic policy means those on the left and right of the centre ground have the gravest mis-givings about the idea in practice. I know old school Tories who are dismayed by the machinations of Cameron and his gang and they are very concerned by the lack of fairness in so much of ConDem policy around welfare.

There are those who see the policy as justice for the "welfare scroungers" but the evidence shows that, if implemented as it stands, the so called bedroom tax will affect thousands of people adversely disrupting their lives and limiting their quality of life massively. Like the disgrace that is ATOS, the disability assessment police, the bedroom tax reflects very badly on the ConDems whose concept of a "big society" seems to me to be the shabbiest of things.

I say to those becoming genuinely concerned for the first time, what did you expect? This is The New Reality and it's been crap for some time.
 Mean while there are things that can be done though I understand it is difficult to see a way beyond the current malaise if, for example, you have spent your life dedicated to the service of others. I know morale in the NHS is at an all time low and we are not looking after any of the people we depend on most. 
We undervalue the people most important to our continued prosperity and welfare. I am talking about the folk who provide essential services and what happens when you decimate the numbers of police, emergency services and social workers.

On top of government cuts, u turns and confusion we have to try to get to grips with some of the strangest logic from the same stable. There are many examples of dodgy government thinking that are quite shocking to me. It bothers me immensely that the government has decided to remove the requirement for "people workers" to have Criminal record checks and for there to be 30% checks instead. For a start the government receives £150 for each CRB clearance provided. Nice earner! For some workers who worked in several settings a separate certificate was required for each setting. I always thought one current certificate should be sufficient but who decided to drop the whole practice at a time like this when the need for the protection of vulnerable people is so obviously necessary? 

In this bizarre New Reality if you work with and for people, it might seem that no one in charge wants you to the job you trained for but, they do want you to do your best to meet the new and ever changing criteria. This is mostly about form filling and killing your body and mind for no good purpose while you watch the service you were proud of reduced to a holding operation, at best. 

The New Reality dictates that young people must provide for their own pension and general social security at a time when the value of a pension paid for by their parents is diminishing every day. The likelihood of a meaningful entitlement to a state pension in the distant future seems highly improbable. The New Reality is that we have learnt that we will not get back what we pay in and that there will be a new underclass for whom there will be little or no state support.

This is the country where child poverty is on the rise, where low wages and a reduction in decent working conditions will be normal, the Lords of Capital will consolidate their holdings and the bonus culture will continue with little control. So much of what we were once proud of, here in the UK, is crumbling and will continue to do so until we get some fresh ideas and a new improved ethos in every part of UK governance.

The plan to dismantle and privatise the NHS, and the welfare state was planned years ago by the Conservative Party, their chums and their business partners, long before the General Election. Three generations have been born into the finest of Labour’s creations, and are so now familiar with it that they have come to believe it is an intrinsic part of life in Britain, so that to imagine life without it seems surreal. Basically, complacency has set in. Voters believed Cameron’s lies, didn’t listen to them as apathy reigned, or if they did they had lost all faith in an impotent voting system, and the supposed democratic system which so many fought to preserve.

We have seen this government spend wastefully and borrow while they condemn the very principle. They are still blaming the last government for their own poor performance. The economy is flat lining as many predicted it would. The ConDem assertion that we are on the right path is a fallacy at best and at worst, a lie to keep us hard at it. The message to the battered British public is - Be thankful you have work and get on with it no matter what we demand of you. 

This government promised that no one who worked would be worse off than those not employed. This is a blatant lie. A young couple I know with one young child, would be better off by £600 per month if they split up and the mother claimed all of the benefit she would be entitled to. The father works full time for a very low wage. Big Society, family values?

You might not agree with every thing or indeed, any thing I have to say on the subject, but who believes the ConDem way forward is the right way? Who believes that new welfare policy is fair and will help lead us to a better place as a civic society? Who believes that a government whose economic policies fly in the face of expert opinion in industry as well as the public sector, can effectively change the predicament we are all in? Who believes any of their employment and growth statistics? 

Only weeks before the budget they were running around stopping Whitehall departments from spending parts of their budget and urging heads of departments to defer spending to the next financial period / year in order to fudge the figures in support of the Chancellor's statements. It is similar to what the banks did when they knew they were deep in the proverbial. Why did they do this? Because they could and still can, with impunity.

We let them do this and get away with it but for how long? Will you participate in the struggle to combat the ConDem culture? Are you involved with local campaigns or perhaps you participate on the 38 Degrees lobbying and petitioning website? There are things that can be done and they must be done soon. We have to send a message to Cameron and his gang that cannot be ignored. People are suffering and if we do nothing I feel sure that our shame will last for generations.


Wednesday, 20 March 2013

grand design

design dean butler

Last week was quite hectic with a trip to Warwick to begin work anew on the new electric project (working title The Intervention). We met up on the wednesday evening for a catch up session and then spent thursday and friday hard at it. Three electric versions of acoustic songs emerged in a more or less thought through manner. There were high lights when the three of us meshed together in a wall of lovely noise. It is so good to play a whole song with hardly a lick or riff and to keep on doing it until the arrangement begins to settle into a useful form. I have to try to keep an eye on my propensity to drift off by a bar or so as the fancy takes me. It is hard for me to be tied down to an arrangement when I have become so used to free forming, on my own, if I choose to. I enjoyed every minute of it and although progress is quite leisurely, down to me as much as any thing, and I like it very much. The only criteria is around quality and the only agenda is around having a good time. We click together nicely even after a quite long break and all bodes well for the next episode.
Saturday brought the fund raiser gig at Club 85 in Hitchin. A drive up with my very good friend and companion Dave Randell and Doris the sat nav brought us into the outskirts of Hitchin Town Centre at the doors of the Club 85. What a pleasant surprise we had when we dashed inside out of the pouring rain. the club is superb. Well appointed with top class P.A. and lighting and a dedicated staff of mostly young guys who worked methodically and effectively all night.

The first act was an outfit called Hazel Turnock and the Finger Choppers followed by POG. Now Hazel who was suffering with a cold, is a class act. With her rubber BDSM mask and stilt red heels she is a very impressive presence on stage and has a creamy blues delivery. POG has a lead singer who plays a classical nylon strung guitar that gives an unusual and appealing ambience to his distinctive vocal style. The percussion was supplied by one of those amazing electrified boxes you beat on. They have distinctive tones depending on where and how they are struck. Great idea! I thought that if Hazel got together with the box beater and bass player from POG that would be so cool.
I had an interesting show with a couple of very loud conversations throwing me ever so slightly for the first half of the gig. Still when they cleared off home to watch the boxed set of Ludicrous and unnecessary plastic surgery 2013 all was well. I throughly enjoyed myself and played for what is becoming quite a long time. I didn't play much old stuff and tried out some NEW, new things which went down well. I used some of the parts I had developed for and during the rehearsals in Warwick with Rick and Bob. Both acoustic and electric versions of songs feed into each other.
Thanks to Chris, Steve and co for putting on a great night and .... the West Indian food was so good! Special thanks to Al for getting me a great onstage and out front sound as he always does.
So after what seems, with hindsight, to have been a period of hibernation and low activity levels I am back in the saddle. I am looking forward to some relatively good weather and getting out on the bike. I am a little long in the tooth for all weather bike rides these days.

The designs at the top of the post are by a young guy called Dean Butler who is working on some new graphic designs for me. We had a chance to chat at the gig and I think our new friendship will be very fruitful. Thanks mate.

I have just picked up my lovely new Mac Book Pro with Logic 9 so every spare minute is spent getting to grips with it all. This new tool is going to make all aspects of music production easier and quicker for me.

I'm off to the wilds for a few days now and then it's back to the grindstone ha ha!


Friday, 8 March 2013

messala and hopkins

in the house of shepidee

Beyond the pipe crew shelter a man rides slowly steering his tall black charger across a market square in the pale dawn light. His name is Matthew. Matthew Hopkins was a man of doubtful credentials who instigated the infamous witch trials of the 15th century and became the dreaded scourge of the good women of Suffolk. He was born in Manningtree in nearby Essex.
( According to legend Manstree was re named by Ivar Ragnarsson nicknamed the Boneless who lead a great Viking invasion into  East Anglia. While surveying the region for an inland attack Ivar had been surprised by the power of a flooding tide on a pitch dark, moon less night. As as he and his comrades drifted on the flood into the Manningtree estuary where the River Stour meets the sea,  Ivar saved the day by using a sighting of a tree he glimpsed through the gloom and driving rain high above Manningtree. They managed to escape the storm and find their way back to sea). There after the warriors from the sea called the area Manstree.
Like many tyrants before him and since Matthew Hopkins was a man of no great talent. He was ordinary and ambitious and a vicious misogynist. He tortured and executed women he identified as witches accusing them of consorting with the Devil  and his familiars. Hopkins had an assistant Jack Stearne who enjoyed cruelty for it’s own sake. More surprising Hopkins used a woman called Mary ‘Goody’ Phillips whose specialty was finding witch marks on the bodies of those accused.
Where ever he travelled the good folk closed doors and windows to him in the hope that he wouldn’t notice them. All averted his cold gaze that gave the impression he was searching into their very souls with his mean stare. Women were tortured and executed for doing nothing at all. Much magik medicine and good remedies were lost to the community during this time. Women who had always practised a homespun medicine were afraid to put a poultice on a wound or dress a child’s scraged knee in case their nursing was misinterpreted as witchcraft. Even the mid wives were terrified that if any thing should go wrong with the delivery of an infant they might be accused of some diabolical crime against God.
Hopkins carried out his vendetta against the women folk with out any mandate from any one. Neither church nor state supported him and yet he carried out his crimes with out let or hindrance. The king disapproved but took a long time to express any dissatisfaction over the matter of Hopkins and his vile practises
One fine summer afternoon Hopkins decided to take a small glass of ale in a village tavern. He had killed two sisters there only a day before and was resting from his labours. He disliked public houses but the day was long and he was very thirsty. The sun beat down on every one but to Matthew it seemed as if the sun dried his throat but did not warm his heart or lift his spirits. He was morose and deeply troubled. Perhaps he was tiring of his campaign against women. Perhaps he was beginning to be influenced by the burgeoning crowd of dissenters who had begun to criticise him openly. One day his actions would come to be regarded by most decent people as being among the worst recorded crimes against women of England.
Hopkins entered the cool, dark room of The Green Man at noon precisely which was to prove to be the worst mistake of his miserable life. After the heat of the day the cool shade of the small room would have been a welcome respite for any other traveller but Matthew was more chilled to his core than comfortably cool. He felt weary and sad but explained it away as the result of over reaching himself in the service of the Lord.

Elizabeth Clarke was kept without food or sleep for three consecutive nights, and on the forth night of her torture, she weakened and confessed to being a witch, at the same time accusing five other women of witchcraft. Her confession alleged that she kept and nourished five familiars, Holt - a white kitten, Jarmara - a fat spaniel, Sack and Sugar - a black rabbit, Newes - a polecat and Vinegar Tom - a long legged greyhound with a head like an ox, broad eyes and a long tail.  According to Hopkins no less than eight people swore they had seen these familiars.  In the course of her interrogation the other witches she implicated as accomplices included:  Anne West and her daughter Rebecca, Anne Leech, Helen Clarke and Elizabeth Gooding.

The Cognos mainframe reports > The angel Shepidee who guards the Great Guf of Souls watched from a far place. She felt the hurt of the Suffox women and knew the abomination that was Hopkins and his cohorts. She called out to Messala the fallen angel breaking a silence that had consigned the angel Messala to endless isolation in the barren wastes of dead staars. She asked Messala to go the the far side of the milky way. She was sworn to make a correction on earth and offered release from her exile for doing so. Messala had become quite used to her isolated , nomadic wanderings but relished the idea of visiting the blue planet and agreed to carry out the task with out hesitation.
Hopkins took a large swig of beer from the tankard and wiped his lips with his sleeve. He took another and coughed as the cool ale poured over his burning throat. When he looked up from his beer a young woman had entered the tavern and was watching him. He looked her up and down and felt no reluctance at lingering over his looking. Usually his gaze would have been deemed improper and most definitely by him self. Still he gazed and all the time she looked back expressionless. He hadn’t met a woman that wasn’t afraid of him for a long time and this had given him a kind of security and confidence that allowed him to explore every inch of her with his eyes and mind. Comely she was, he thought. Attractive. Dark eyed and probably wilful, he thought.  He wondered why she would come to the tavern alone. 

When Matthew Hopkins ( Witch Finder General ) left The Green Man he felt weighed down and extremely fatigued. His back and shoulders ached as though he carried the weight of the world. It numbed his legs as he staggered through the village trying not to seem out of sorts to the locals. He feared his enemies might take advantage of him should they become aware of his weakness. Occasionally a small child would point at the stooped man as he struggled to put one step in front of another. “Look momma, a lady on his shoulders”.
Only a very few children ever saw the strange sight of the angel Messala sitting astride the neck of Matthew Hopkins and never a grown up. She would remain there until the day he died redeeming herself in the eyes of her Lord and Master and achieving her own release from exile. Then she could spread her wings and travel home, free at last.