Sunday, 20 January 2013

That's what I want

What do the rich have that is not always in reach of those less well off?

  • Choice
  • Mobility
  • Freedom
  • Power

The above are in no particular order but I will deal with them one by one. Alan Whicker once said, when asked about his career choices, "You have to have fuck off money". And that is the essence of choice; you can always walk away. If you cannot walk away then you cannot be said to have a choice. Of course, money is not the only conduit of choice, but more about that later.

Mobility in terms of wealth, means that you can travel at will and live anywhere at will. Most of us, including me, are economic migrants. For various reasons we end up living where the work is, not where we want to live. The rich are almost homeless in this respect because they may have at any one time a raft of temporary and permanent abodes, none of which are "home" in the sense that most understand it.

Freedom, as Janis Joplin once sang, can merely be "another word for nothing left to lose" but for the wealthy it means freedom to change, freedom to make mistakes, freedom to choose and occasionally, freedom from the many petty rules and laws that most of us must abide by.

I believe that the gap between rich and poor can be lessened by stealth and ingenuity. I have not met many very rich people but I have known several multi-millionaires and spent time with them. What they seem to have in common is an incredible lack of basic skills. By that I mean, being able to drive a car or being able to plan a simple journey or to cook some food. Whilst they may be above average in a certain sphere the rest of their world is that of childish naivety. They often have no idea of the cost of things and they may have a very tenuous grip on the reality of daily life.

I think what I am saying here is that in my experience, the rich waste their wealth. It does not matter if they by a Ferrari on a whim. If they get fed up with it they can trade it in for another one and not count the cost of depreciation. If they book a disastrous holiday they can simply walk away if the hotel or the resort isn't to their liking. I know some people whose house, a quite modest one, is valued at around £4 million and it is filled with the kind of furniture you find in museums. They live in constant fear of theft and they live in only two or three rooms of the rambling, many-roomed house. The insurance must be phenomenal and they have spent thousands on burglar alarms. Years ago I spent the summer at what was once a typical minor stately home. It had been closed to the public and brought back into private ownership. The new owner had inherited it but really could not make up his mind what to do with it. He played at being Lord of the Manor for a few years and eventually ran off with the daily maid. I think it became a school but I have no idea what it is now. A similar thing happened with a similar house only a few miles away. The owner tried a series of silly half-baked ventures, having inherited the place. The grand plans came to nothing and in descending into a downward spiral of debt, he sold up.

Of course, not all wealthy people are as feckless and as clueless as this, but if you have never had to plan your meals each week according to a budget, or bought a car for a couple of grand that was going to have to last you for sometime, you may not be in the habit of thinking about consequences or indeed, thinking at all. For there is one thing that rich people seem to expect and apparently always get, and that is utter agreement with everything they say.

Friday, 18 January 2013

He does it right

I was of course saddened by the news that Wilko Johnson has terminal cancer, but heartened to hear that he is going to play a handful of euphemistically titled "farewell" dates. The Daily Telegraph has wrongly (I think) reported that he is going to play these concerts with "former band" Dr Feelgood. I doubt it. Wilko has a perfectly good backing band of his own and apart from a band that tours under that name, "Dr Feelgood" does not exist. At least not in any meaningful sense. The members of this "Dr Feelgood" band have little or no connection with the original members and apart from Lee Brilleaux, none of them ever played with a founder member. They are not even original replacements of original members; indeed the guitarist is the fifth incarnation of the role originally held by Wilco Johnson.

Does this matter? I mean, does it matter that bands tour as a shadow of their former selves? After all, nobody reckons the Berlin Philharmonic has gone down hill since Von Karajan left. Or maybe they do. Its probably a false comparison because the Berlin Phil don't even write their own material and nobody can tell you the name of their original first violin player, let alone their current conductor, without looking it up.

Remember "Three Wheels on my Wagon"? The New Christy Minstrels, a staple of Children's Favourites and a blatantly commercial folk outfit had a hit with it in 1962. Gene Clark was in it, he of the Byrds. David Crosby wrote about The New Christy Minstrels in the first volume of his autobiography. I am quoting from memory but the gist is that, when the NCMs became well known, their manager found that he was overbooked and so he hit on the idea of touring several versions of The New Christy Minstrels at the same time, since nobody had any real idea who was in it. I suppose the moral of this story is that anybody can sing, "Three Wheels on my Wagon", but only Crosby can sing "Almost Cut my Hair". (And quite deliberately, nobody can tour as "Crosby, Stills & Nash" apart from CSN themselves - a deliberate factor in the choosing of their stage name)

Strangely, Wilko does the vocals when he plays these days. He murders "Roxette" and "She Does it Right" and sounds nothing like Lee Brilleaux. But hey. Who cares? Its Wilko; mad, strutting, guitar-gunning Wilko and he will always be the heart and soul of a sound that went a long way beyond the Thames Delta.

Tuesday, 15 January 2013

To give up enthusiasm wrinkles the soul

When I started this incarnation of Wrinkled Weasel I deliberately went a bit anti SEO (search engine optimization). I wanted something stripped down and easy to read on little phones. I hope that is the case. However, I still find that the old blog still gets more hits than this one. That is partly to do with the number of posts and topics and also to do with things like photos and videos and music.

People do read this, but not many. I wonder if I should worry? I suppose my main concern is the amount of time and effort I put into the posts. (Yes, it doesn't always show, does it?) Having said that, I discern that the readers, the regular readers, are probably the kind of people I would like to meet in real life - not just those who are searching for nude photos of Lady Diana. (There goes the SEO!)

This year for me and mine is, or should be, something of a watershed, a point of self-actualisation. I have finally acknowledged to myself that this is where I live (Scotland) and this is where I expect to die. In a few weeks I shall be moving to what I also expect will be "my final resting place" as I call it; a small hamlet in the Scottish Borders.

I mention this because I see in myself, and some of my friends, a tacit acceptance of the way that this road along which I travel is running out. This is not to be maudlin or to capitulate. Not at all. I actually feel rather free now that the ordinary things of life; having a family, where you live, what you do, have all mostly been sorted out.

I can wake up in the morning and say to myself, "what shall I do today?" And that, dear reader, is possibly an even greater challenge than what has gone before.

As Sophocles said: "A man growing old is like a child again". How very true

Monday, 14 January 2013

The vanished green to mourn

It does not take a rocket scientist to see why Jessops, the camera store and HMV, the music store have both gone to the wall. These once mighty high-street giants have gone into administration and of course the reason is the technology revolution.

I sometimes wonder if our revolution felt the same as the industrial revolution which took place in the second half of the 18th Century, along with the Acts of Enclosure that changed the landscape forever.

Whilst cottage industry, rural dwellers were made to leave (as economic migrants) their quiet villages and set up home in the big cities, their old haunts and their way of self-sufficiency was being taken from them with the removal of common land and the important rights of use that went along with it.

Of course, the erstwhile life was a subsistence life. Even today, with all the advantages of 21st century husbandry a Scottish crofter can be not much more prosperous than Jethro Tull, and must mostly seek other forms of income in order to survive.

Cottage industry has returned as a result of our revolution, but it is more a function of our economy than of lifestyle choice. We can simply have more of what we want because in relative terms, our disposable income is considerable. The choices are legion and our way of life has become a confusing search for the best holiday on Trip Advisor or the best Tablet on Cnet. The jumper that Sophie Grabol wears in The Killing was originally hand-knitted in the Faroe Isles and for all I know, still is, but the company that sells it, Gudrun and Gudrun is now a world-wide enterprise. It's an example of some incredible changes in the way one person with a pair of knitting needles has effectively tapped into a global market.

What are the lessons to be learned from the demise of shops such as Jessops and HMV? Well, obviously, don't invest in a product that is vulnerable to technological advance on the scale we are experiencing at the moment. In a way, these stores are like the music hall acts who toured the same 20 minute spot for their whole careers, or at least a few seasons, doing the same jokes or tricks or whatever. In the old days, you went into the hardware store and bought a toaster. Or you ordered a telephone from BT. Or you bought your knickers from Marks and Spencer. In those days, you got toasters made by Morphy Richards and the phone was the same phone everyone had because only BT let you have one.

Strangely, only Marks and Spencer seem to have hung on to the knicker monopoly and perhaps that is why you might still see them, in one shape or form, for some years to come.

As for the future, it may well find a clue in the past since the technology revolution has torn down the fences and monopolies of old, perhaps signalling the beginning of a return to some of the better aspects of the old ways of life;

Now this sweet vision of my boyish hours
Free as spring clouds and wild as summer flowers
Is faded all - a hope that blossomed free,
And hath been once, no more shall ever be
Inclosure came and trampled on the grave
Of labour's rights and left the poor a slave
And memory's pride ere want to wealth did bow
Is both the shadow and the substance now
The sheep and cows were free to range as then
Where change might prompt nor felt the bonds of men
Cows went and came, with evening morn and night,
To the wild pasture as their common right
And sheep, unfolded with the rising sun
Heard the swains shout and felt their freedom won
John Clare.

Thursday, 10 January 2013

Yer acksual mull ee cull sheral Bri'ann

News today that Birmingham, Luton and Leicester no longer have a majority white population may have sown fear in the hearts of Daily Mail readers, but not me.

Ever been to these places? Ever thought, "Oh, Luton is such a paradigm of picturesque tranquility, a joy to behold and just the place to see out the winter of my years"?

No. I thought not. The fact is, in places like Bristol, which boasts something in the region of 25,000 failed asylum seekers, is and always was and always will be a shit hole. Of course, it is their own fault. Bristol council is full of credulous lefty idiots and their MPs are just as bad. I know, I lived there for 15 years, right next to the road where the animal rights nutters exploded a car bomb and injured a baby. It all thrives there and Bristol people deserve what they get. Somehow, the council tends to regard all these people as heroic and people being people, the City is a magnet for all those types you would really want to avoid.

But back to the Daily Mail and the fear. Or, if you are a leftie, the Phobia.

The time will come of course when the sheer weight of numbers begins to undermine democracy. But thankfully it will be severely limited to the kind of places that most people will avoid.

I used to think that demographic inevitability would undermine our democracy and to some extent it will, but in the end, if people who refuse to become British take over Birmingham, Luton and Leicester (and that by no means means all non-white citizens) they will always remain a minority by virtue of our First Past the Post voting system. Thank God.

Tuesday, 8 January 2013

England, 40 years ago

Cigarette smoke. Everywhere. Nobody complained either. There were non-smoking carriages on the railways that guaranteed you always got a seat. (It was where all those people you did not want to sit next to sat.)

In 1973, most adult men had been in the armed forces, either doing National Service, or the real thing, 1939-45. It is almost impossible to explain the extent to which this affected every day life. For a start, the service industries were packed out with men who polished their shoes to within an inch of their lives. Their hair was dripping with Brylcreem. They always called you "Sir", even if you were a spotty, long-haired youth. Of course, there were many ways to say, "Sir". You could make it sound civil or as sarcastic as hell. I remember trying to pay for a British Railways dining car meal with a cheque. In those days you could still just about get away with putting your address on the back. The steward, in reply to my request to pay by kite, replied, "If you wish.....SIR". It was a stab in the back. An affront to my class and his position. The import was clear and immaculate. I was doing a very bad thing. The steward could do nothing about it but he made it very clear how he felt. It was the kind of magic of social discourse, between those of the servers and the served, which I so enjoyed. Of course the roles were reversed in Harrods, when one was always served by an assistant whose suit and shirt were better than yours and who was clearly an aristocrat fallen on hard times. You were, in this instance, called, "Sir" with the kind of sneer that Jeremy Paxman does so well on Newsnight.

I don't remember there being a lot of cosmetics. These days our bathroom has overflowed into a large cupboard, filled with enough chemicals to make Big Pharma alarmed about its monopoly. You got soap, shampoo and bubble bath if you were lucky. In 1973, had you asked an assistant in Boots for After Shave Balm, they would have called the Cops. Moist lavatory tissue was the kind of thing people would have thought impossible - rather like levitation and time travel.

Nobody had AIDS. But then again, nobody had sex either.

There were no celebrities. You got "famous" people, but they were usually famous for actually doing something. As someone said at the time, Television is for appearing on, not watching.

A word about the rest of the world. Imported items had the word "foreign" stamped on the bottom. This was tantamount to an admission of social deprivation. Perhaps even worse was anything "made in Hong Kong" - then a synonym for tat. People even looked upon Japanese machinery with disdain. Jap bikes were still a bit, you, know, edgy, and there were men who would never buy a Japanese car because they had been guests of the Japs in 39/45 and did not like it. Not being made in England was a huge perceptual mountain to climb for foreign manufacturers. The only person I knew with a BMW was a film director. I did know someone who owned a Messerschmitt KR200 Kabinenroller, but she was the wife of a Mercedes dealer, so it didn't count. Most people drove a Ford Popular or a Zephyr or maybe an Austin with leather seats and little woven rope pulls in the back.

In 1973 I had about 20 LPs. Most of them had been gotten from bargain bins in Smiths. Consequently I had a very unusual collection of stuff that now fetches hundreds of pounds on eBay. If only I had kept them. I bought my first version of the Sibelius Symphony No2 around this time (see posts passim) for about 40p and the Bruch Violin Concerto which very nearly got me laid.

I dropped out of Art College after two years and had to get a job. I turned up at the Regent Palace in Piccadilly Circus and worked as a porter. All life was there. I loved it. Apart from being pestered by rent boys and punters on my late night journey back to Surrey. (In those days I had long golden, curly hair, a slight figure and a tendency to look like a poof.)

The Regent Palace was full of former Corporals and Sergeants. It was all run along military lines and I was never addressed by anything other than my last name. I never felt that my human rights or my dignity were impugned for this, either.

The clash of cultures in the early Seventies is difficult to sum up. On the one hand you had men who had saved this country from Hitler and on the other, poovy young men like me who wore floral t-shirts and espoused free love.

I wonder, looking back 40 years, who won? Who won?

Saturday, 5 January 2013

The Year in View

I made a half-assed effort to think about what I have learned over this year. It does not amount to much, but I put it down here for your amusement.

Musically I have turned, more often than not, to classical works. In 2012 I managed to go to three concerts (at least, I only remember three). One was Gilbert and Sullivan's Ruddigore, then a selection of Scandinavian stuff. (See reviews passim) and early on in the year an exception; Steve Hackett, ex Genesis. After getting my fingers badly burnt upon seeing Crosby, Stills and Nash on their "We are only in it for the money" tour, I was loath to shell out money on more ageing rockers, but Steve was an exception, partly because Steve invited me and the tickets were free and partly because he is a musician for whom I have a great deal of respect. Hackett does two hours of immaculate material. It's a good show and I can only recommend it. Any Genesis fans will love it and anyone who likes Prog should love it too.
I have otherwise been disappointed by the offerings of other Old Grey Rock Gods. There is an exception, and that is Led Zeppelin. I happened to catch some of their 2007 O2 concert on the BBC and then went out and bought the DVD/CD box set (Celebration Day). They don't over-expose themselves, but when they do re-appear, it is dynamite. The whole thing sent shivers down my spine. The other big surprise for me has been Madness. I got hold of The Liberty of Norton Folgate and now I realise how much I have been missing all these years.

2012 also marked my debut appearance on an album, but the less said about that the better.

2012 was the year we decided to move homes and very soon we shall do just that. A place in the Scottish Borders where I can grow old out of the glare of publicity.

The Political Scene has become hugely boring for me and that has a lot to do with being in Scotland, even though the issue of independence seems to be a hot topic. Whatever people say, I find this country mostly friendly, less stressful and pleasant to look at and enjoy. If the weather wasn't so terrible it would be near perfect. If a few more restaurants learned how to cook food and serve it efficiently, it would be heaven.

The only thing of lasting interest I believe in past 12 months has been the beginning of the end of the BBC. After the Savile crisis, and a number of other problems, I cannot see how it can survive in its present form for much longer. If nothing else, it will be eaten up by technological advance that will render the need to buy a licence fee obsolete. As for Cameron & Co, I am largely unimpressed, except to say that at least the egregious descent into Labour inspired madness has, to some extent been slowed down. At least, in theory, if a burglar enters my home I can take a pop at him, rather than offer him counselling and a short seminar on safely breaking and entering, or sympathise with the stressful business of being a burglar, as one judge recently did. Of course, the tide won't turn. Labour made sure that the decline of this country was irreversible.

I intend to devote the coming year to Archery, Scalextric, Painting and Hill-Walking and the promulgation of world peace. Upcoming musical treats shall be Stenhammar, Moeran and Alfven. Continuing my studies in WW2, I have ordered a couple of Hugh Trevor Ropers and I shall keep on trying to plough through The Golden Bough and From Ritual to Romance (the Grail Legend), both the latter being highly cited as influences on Eliot's The Waste Land.

Now excuse me while I fish out my green tights.