Now and Then, and then again…

Words, music, pictures, and more words


A visit to the Bowes Museum in Barnard Castle, County Durham, brought this to mind. We had booked a time slot which gave me enough time to stand outside Specsavers on the meandering Main Street of the town, and have a photo taken, as a futile reminder of the Dominic Cummings ‘affair’ – just one of many which have damned the Conservative government since lockdown began.

For those innocent of the ‘affair’, this senior adviser to Prime Minister Johnson broke lockdown rules by driving the near 300 miles from London to his parents’ home near Durham. He misjudged the wakefulness of the local populace, who spotted and photographed him in Barnard Castle, and tried to cover his tracks by saying that he had visited the town to ‘test his eyesight’ before driving back to London. Why couldn’t his wife have driven? A national disgrace which piled more trouble on the Government. Mostly everyone else in the country was doing their bit, so why couldn’t he??

The Bowes Museum is most famous for its Silver Swan automaton (it’s brilliant, look to up if you don’t know of it), made even more brilliant by the fact that it was made in the late 18th century. If it had been made last year, the design and manufacturing team would be nominated for prizes.

Its walls are also lined with many excellent paintings from across the ages to the present day. All very rewarding to view and marvel at the artists’ skill, care, love and attention. My efforts at painting fall far short of these, even though I do have to say that the sky which I painted recently over the Glenelg Jetty, just outside Adelaide, is as near to perfection as I am likely to achieve.

Nevertheless, I didn’t find these consummate works of art to be affecting. In other words, they didn’t make me well up inside or out. My heart didn’t beat faster and no tears sprung to my eyes. There was no real sense of wonder and ecstasy, just admiration.

So, you’ll be thinking that the broad world of physical art just doesn’t hit my personal spot, and you’ll be right – enjoyment and admiration, yes, but no more.

By a strange and unconnected coincidence, which walking through one of the galleries, Elgar’s Nimrod, from his orchestral suite “Variations on a Theme – Enigma”, was playing quietly through the tannoy system. I made a sharp intake of breath and the telltale signs of being truly affected by something, made themselves instantly known. Straight to the heart, in the same way that the smell of linseed oil on cricket bats coupled with new mown grass has the same effect. Paintings or sculpture can never do that for me.

I can even remember back in my youth, when the Kinks brought out a new single or album, what sheer unalloyed joy I felt in my heart. And these new releases fortunately always appeared on the promised dates, and I arrived at either Oxley’s in Great Malvern or Wilson Peck’s in Sheffield to collect my trophies. Joys that I was fortunate to find in my life.

So, it’s music that does it for me mainly. No other art form comes anywhere near, nor, I suppose, ever will.

Whilst also being able to knock out a few chords and write a few decent songs, the experience of singing in a choir can have the same effect, whilst being aware that emotions have to be kept in check whilst singing – I have been very near the edge sometimes singing Bass One with up to seven other harmony lines on pieces such as Eric Whitacre’s Sleep, or Morton Lauridsen’s O Magnum Mysterium, and perhaps most memorably Gustav Holst’s Nunc Dimittis in a sparsely filled Cathédrale de Saint-Denis in Paris, when the singing stops just before the ‘Gloria Patri’, and also at the very end. The layered sound rang and rang around the vast space – maybe the sound of Heaven to many…

Quotes To Live and Laugh By

One major employer of my youth provided a ‘My Plan’ diary each year – a rather nice, leather-bound one – in which you could keep track of your appointments, meetings and generally important aspects of your work life. Each day had its quotation to inspire your activity, such as ‘Rifleshot, not buckshot‘, or ‘By the inch it’s a cinch, by the yard it’s hard’. These ought to be self-explanatory, and in the context of inspiring useful activity, they have their place.

What effect these everyday words of wisdom had on me in my tender 20s, is difficult to say, but what I can admit to, is a dip in my personal successes and fortunes at one particular point, leading me to wonder if I was cut out for what I was doing. And then, there was a company restructuring, and our sales operation in Sheffield came under the management of someone based in Leicester – someone who was universally admired for getting the best out of his staff. Perhaps there was some light….

At the first general meeting he took, he kept his words to a minimum (brownie point for that), but one thing he said then, stuck with me throughout my business career, and my life in general. 1975/76 was a time when Britain was on its knees with social conflict, economic decline, the 3-day week etc, which conversely meant that businesses were looking to save money by being more efficient, which is where my company’s products came in. This man named Ken stood there and said ‘If ever there was a year to shine, this is it.’

On the face of it, and taking into account the situation in the country at that time, this could be called crass or over-optimistic. But actually, it was a stroke of genius, as whilst it was said in public forum to c100 people, I certainly felt that he was talking to me on my own. And I thought ‘why not? – why shouldn’t I shine’. And if I put the rifleshot and inch techniques in there too, perhaps this is how to do it. It was a small thing to say, but real inspiring leadership in my book – and I then proceeded to have my best year with that company to the huge satisfaction of all. And I still look back and tell myself that this is where it all started, where I knew that no-one else could do it for me – it was down to me to get out there and make a name for myself.

There are many other quotes, proverbs and truisms that have stuck with me over the years – I just wish I could have come up with some of them myself, but I feel that I should share a few with you, to inspire and to amuse. The first ones especially, can be applied to many facets of life.

There are risks and costs to any programme of action, but they are far less than the long-range risks and costs of comfortable inaction. J F Kennedy

I learned long ago never to wrestle with a pig. You get dirty, and besides, the pig likes it. Cyrus S. Ching (American industrialist)

One doesn’t discover new lands without consenting to lose sight of the shore for a very long time. André Gide

Little wit in the head makes much work for the feet. Anon

Success is that old A-B-C – Ability, Breaks and Courage Charles Luckman

Sleep, riches and health, to be truly enjoyed, must be interrupted Jean Paul Richter

Where the willingness is great, the difficulties cannot be great. Nicolo Machiavelli


I wish I’d been there when you were alive, Daddy. One of my daughters when young, looking at photos of me when I was the same age as her

I used to think I was indecisive, but now I’m not so sure. A comedian

You’ve been cursed with people’s high expectations. It means also they are easily disappointed. Vaclav Havel on Barak Obama

Naked ambition tempered by arrogance. Another doctor describing Benton on the TV series ER

Don’t worry, a couple of days on your feet and we’ll have you back in bed in no time. Joan Collin’s doctor when she fell ill

The sort of guy who couldn’t pour piss out of a boot if you put the instructions on the sole. Garrison Keillor story subject

The Green Belt is a great achievement, and the Government are going to build on it. John Prescott

How far that little candle throws its beams! So shines a good deed in a naughty world. Shakespeare from Merchant of Venice

…the easy confidence of someone who’s never been pressed too hard by life. Obama on David Cameron

A film you shouldn’t attempt to watch unless you’ve seen it at least once. Roger Ebert on Synecdoche

In my book, such good news calls for another slice of Madeira Cake. Nurse Crane on TV’s Call the Midwife

We got our exercise lowering coffins out of upstairs windows….It was clogs, clogs on cobbles. You could hardly hear yourself coughing up blood. Victoria Wood reminiscing about the old days

An expression somewhere between winsome despair and trapped wind. Anon

Keep your face always toward the sun and the shadows will fall behind you. Walt Whitman

Being happy, smiling a lot, red wine and keeping fit with yoga. Recipe for a happy life from Eileen Ash, former England cricketer who died in 2021, aged 110

‘If You’re Thinking of Arranging a Funeral….’

Not the most encouraging words to hear on the radio two days after Christmas Day, but, upon further listening, I found that it was an advert for insurance to cover funeral-type expenses. Which got me thinking….

Some people regard death as a taboo and morbid subject, and I find that understandable, but it’s going to happen, and maybe when we’re least expecting it, so it may just be a good idea to make some preparations, however discreetly you choose to do this.

As it happens, I already have a policy which will will cover my modest funeral requirements, and hopefully leave enough over for those near and dear to have a wake, and play some good music – live and recorded. I wish I could be there!!

A natural extension of funeral requirements is what one leaves behind at the specific moment – stuff, mostly of no consequence to those picking up the pieces and much of it bound for charity shops or the council bonfire, with hopefully precious little to go to landfill. The significant memories such as photographs, paintings, scripts, recordings etc will have homes amongst the family, and should serve as a proper reminder of the person. And I still plan additions to this little lot 🙂 ….

However, it’s the other ‘stuff’ that could be the nightmare to those left behind. You may even have direct experience of this yourself – I know I have, trying to sort a close relation’s very full room’s worth of paperwork with my wife and her sister. Not something I would recommend to anyone, especially someone with a streak of organisational ability, which I already have.

I am conscious that the death of a family member is more often that not a traumatic affair, especially in those weeks immediately after the event when one can find it difficult to act and think straight. And, of course, it’s in these very weeks that you need clarity of mind and purpose whilst ‘sorting out the deceased’s affairs’. Where to start?

In the case of Sue and I, we have been forward-thinking enough to give an organisational leg-up to those who are responsible for the sorting, .

And before I describe this, I have been in the habit of asking those I know well enough, what plans they have made. These people are invariably well-educated, successful in their own fields, rational, sensible, and good to have as friends. My question is more often than not by a blank expression or a distinct lack of enthusiasm for discussing the matter further – my solicitor has a copy of my Will…..there’s a file at home which some papers in…..I don’t want to think about it. So generally not uber-helpful to those following on behind.

Yes, we have a Will, and we have a box(es) of papers sitting on a shelf in the home office, and these will undoubtedly help… a point.

But what we do have is a simple document entitled Important Things To Know. The only mountain to climb was pulling all the Important Things together in the first place. Once done, it becomes a simple maintenance issue, being updated whenever there is a significant change/addition. Taken in isolation, it is a wonderfully cathartic exercise, and a significant load off our backs as the years go by. Our children know that there is a printed copy sitting in a particular place that they can refer to come the day – or actually at any time. We have nothing to hide.

To give you a flavour of the contents of Important Things To Know:-

LEGAL – Solicitor’s and Executors’ contact details, whereabouts of Will document, Accountant’s contact details. Also HMGov contact points and other free online services if needed for advisory reasons

FINANCE – all bank/investment account numbers and locations, insurance policies, pension arrangements and providers, debit/credit cards, finance agreements, investments/savings etc We don’t include balances specifically, as these change day-to-day

HOUSEHOLD – Property value and status, Buildings/Contents/Car insurances inc whereabouts of documents and expiry dates, Gas/Electricity suppliers, Phone contracts etc

FUNERAL INSTRUCTIONS – these may be very specific, and the final wishes are important

SCHEDULE OF VALUABLES – we have a list of paintings, as an example

PASSWORDS/CODES – access to much of the above may only be obtained simply by knowing these. We have a separate, secure document with all of these (hopefully up-to-date!). This will save much heartache

You will get the idea from the above listing – yes, there is work involved in pulling it all together, but the benefits of doing so are manifold, both for the now and for the future.

Death is hard – make it softer….

Lockdown Therapy

I know that everyone has been affected differently by the various lockdowns imposed on the UK over the last 15 months, but I can only tell my own story, and how I have worked my way through to the Prime Minister’s ‘irreversible’ ‘freedom day’ in July 2021.

In the UK, the first COVID-19 lockdown commenced in March 2020, when it was announced that people would only be allowed (lest we forget) to leave their homes for limited reasons, including food shopping, exercise once per day, medical need and travelling for work when absolutely necessary. All shops selling non-essential goods are told to close, and gatherings of more than two people in public are banned.

This meant a complete change of lifestyle for literally everyone in the country – young, old, married, living alone, working or not. As an individual living with one other and not working, how would this affect me? By nature, I’m not dependent upon gratification from others, and enjoy my own skin – both of which I knew would help me through whatever lockdown had in store. I have my friends but I’m not reliant upon groups or societies to justify my being.

I am lucky, I have the room to spread out in a large old house, and I have access to areas of natural beauty for my daily exercise, whether walking or cycling. I was always surprised to see how few others seemed to take up the opportunity, otherwise not easily open to them, to take daily exercise. I rarely met many others out and about even when we had all that sunny weather in spring and early summer 2020. It even made me wonder if I was abiding by the spirit of lockdown rules – but I was.

So, what to do and how to fill the waking hours. It never ended up being an issue, whilst, not having to home educate or work from home, it became a simple matter of choice as to how best to spend my time, and keeping myself engaged physically and mentally. It never seemed a hardship, and we never went without what was needed to sustain ourselves, and acquire goods, whether online or in the limited range of shops which were left open.


I never had a great love affair with decorating – and certainly not with wallpapering – but, much in the same way with gardening, I did it because it was there to be done, and it was a diversion from normal day-to-day activities. The non-living areas of our 3 storey house were in need of some TLC, so I started at the top and worked my way down from the top landing to the front door – a long journey, and I managed every high place without resorting to scaffolding, with judicious use of ladders and brush/roller extensions. It’s naturally a dark house, so needed a good lightening up. Parchment was chosen as the single emulsion paint shade. It’s a warm off-white and suits admirably, and worked well with the Oxford Blue gloss for the dado rails and Brilliant White for the skirtings. It took a few weeks, with some walls needing multiple coats – and the weather outside was good, so I made sure I breathed fresh air as well as paint fumes. I ordered from Wickes online and collected from my nearest store without fuss.


Prior to this, I can’t remember when I last did one. I found a space which would take the size of picture with all pieces surrounding it. I found that 500 pieces was the optimum for me. I tried larger ones (1000+ pieces) but it was too much for my brain to take in happily. Some I bought from online catalogues, and some I had made from favourite photographs. I rattled off 24 such puzzles in short shrift. Some have since been donated to charity, but at least I took a photo of each one.


(The artistic type). Having rollered my way to decorating success, I felt something a little more delicate was required. But I’m not a natural artist, so thought I’d have a go at Painting By Numbers – rightly popular across the world. Some would say that it’s cheating and not real painting. It’s no more cheating than knitting from a pattern, or doing anything from a set of instructions, and at least with PBN, it’s only a guide, and you can change the template to better effect, colours or drama – which I found that I could do with confidence on numerous occasions. I have completed 14 so far – I’ve left this for the time being but will undoubtedly return to it at some point. As mentioned in a previous post, I have dabbled with abstract art but haven’t yet found the set of circumstances which fit the required mindset.


I started this series of short vignettes from my life experience just prior to lockdown #1, and this post is the 40th in the series. It’s classic lockdown therapy, with the bonus of giving me the chance to reflect.

I have always written – gaining school successes at A level in English and Use of English (an ‘O/A’, I think this was) – and at work continuously, writing business proposals, strategy documents etc. There’s a real delight in testing my mind to find exactly the right words, and, in my case, generally keeping it light and interesting for my dear readers. AND, when that day comes when I am here no longer, my words, paintings and my music album The Other End of the Wheel will help serve as a permanent reminder of who I was, and what made me tick.

I’ve also been lucky to share lockdowns with Sue, who has helped immeasurably in giving me space and keeping us rolling along in the right direction over the months. It seems to have been quite easy in so many ways, as we don’t set high targets for ourselves, and we have tried to treat what life has thrown at us recently, as a long, slightly hilly bike ride, with a welcoming pub somewhere down the lane ahead.

Painting – ‘Keeping Lookout

JIGSAW – from photograph of Reko Rennie’s original painting as seen in Adelaide, ‘a statement that we as Aboriginal people have always been here and always will be’.

The Heat

I live one mile from the cooling North Sea, as the gulls – currently bringing up their young between my uppermost chimney pots – fly. My part of the North East is not prone to the absurdly high temperatures suffered by some of the rest of the UK, and southern England in particular. What a blessing!

Rarely does the thermometer reach 80F, but on Saturday 17 July 2021, the mercury rose to 83F outside our back door. Not ridiculously high, but unusually so for this coastal corner of the country.

Over the years, I have spent hours in the cricket outfield in such heat, and even cycling through the midsummer of Southern France at the height of the day (when all French people are cloistered behind their shuttered windows for a long lunch and une sieste), with nothing more than a good sweat on, and, in fact, actually enjoying a warm and happy glow, with distant memories of sleet blowing off the North Sea to help me smile.

On this Saturday I found that it was too hot for me to be outside. My head and body were going into a personal lockdown. This is unheard of. I rechecked the temperature and yes, it was a few degrees over 80F. So what? Have I suddenly become less tolerant of heat? Has my 71 year old metabolism taken umbrage at being subjected to an excess of heat? I feel fine in every way, not unduly tired or lethargic, and today, as I write this 6 days after the event, I have completed a 14 miles’ circular cycle ride in the mid 70sF, with no ill effects other than an instant craving to neck a 0% alcohol beer upon returning home. I did….

It is unlikely that we will see the mercury rise above 80 again this summer, but I shall be watching and waiting to see if I experience any bodily reaction to this. I’m interested to see if any readers of my age have suddenly found a similar situation in respect of their own tolerance levels.

We have family in Malaysia whom we have been unable to visit due to the Covid situation, and, as they live a constantly air-conditioned life as a result of the outside temperature rarely dropping below 80F, I look forward with some trepidation to a potential visit, as I don’t want to fly all that way only to end up sitting in their apartment for a fortnight.

Mine’s a pint of something cool….


We have seen and experienced temperatures in this country, higher than ever before. The thermometer in the shade outside our back door registered 38C one day, with similarly high temperatures for days on end. My constitution did not respon, and when the cooler weather eventually came, it was a rare blessing. Never will I complain about the North East climate again!! And the Malaysian Barnes are now back in the UK, basking in our now temperate climate, and loving every minute.

Old Friends (2021 style)

(Or should it be Still Crazy After All These Years – following Paul Simon’s song titles?)

To be fair to everyone mentioned, some are still walking up to the door marked 70, and others have let themselves in already, so old by some conventions. But I mean old as in long-time, and, more importantly, not one of these people could remotely be regarded as old as in ‘lost in their overcoats, waiting for the sunset’*, in terms of demeanour, outlook, or attitude; quite an achievement in itself. They’re all feisty, opinionated and great fun to be with.

People aged around 70 in 2021 seem different from those Paul Simon wrote about at the end of the 1960s – ‘Can you imagine us years from today, sharing a park bench quietly? How terribly strange to be 70…’* That sounds more like those over 80 nowadays.

Those who have followed this series of essays will know that my generation of our family left its Sheffield area roots behind at the end of the 1980s, to move even further north, and by so doing, estranged ourselves from a regular social group which has been strong since post-school days. This is The Sheffield Group (SG).

I spent much of my teenage years at school in Worcestershire. My parents invested in this on the basis that it could give me a better chance in life, than going to a local school. They may also have wanted me out of the way during my years of teenage angst, but it’s too late to ask them now. Anyway, the experience didn’t scar me, and many friendships ensued whilst away from home. One result of these is The Malvern Group (MG)

In the cases of both Groups, ‘we talked about some old times and drank ourselves some beers’** and to the huge delight of all ‘we seem to lean on old familiar ways’** – and most recently with SG in the sunny Peak District in June 2021 (see pic below).

There are basic differences between the two groups.

SG comprises 4 couples who knew each other in the early 1970s, all having been married (as was the tradition) at that time whilst in their early 20s, all of whom now have children (11 between us), and grandchildren (24!). All are still married to the same partners, and have stayed in the Sheffield area, with the exception of Sue and I. We visit the area for holidays from time to time, and put out an all-points message for a get-together.

Historically this has taken place at the Miners Arms in Eyam, the scene of much alcohol-fuelled revelry back in the day, when every Friday night was a lock-in, before we got back in our cars for ‘over the limit’ drives back into Sheffield. How no-one ever crashed remains a mystery to this day. This year’s was at the Scotman’s Pack in Hathersage, a convenient 100 yard crawl away from our holiday cottage.

Only 1 of the 8 went to University straight from school, although 2 went to Polytechnic, and 1 has gained an OU qualification later in life. The group all come from the ‘right side’ of the city, one via ‘white’ Africa, and some went to private school – yet the pull of University wasn’t strong. To a man (and woman) all have succeeded in life, being no different in these areas than those in MG.

MG‘s roots reach as far back as 1963, when the members were all eager 13 year olds living and learning with each other for 5 school years. We all went our separate ways at the end of the 1960s until about 20 years ago, when Graham found me via the Friends Reunited website. This resulted in some very social meetings in London. By 2009, the core members had increased to 4 (see pic below), and we had the first face-to-face, men-only reunion in 2009, and we’ve had more since. Conversation and drink flows, and we would have met again more recently had it not been for lockdowns.

This is where ZOOM came in, and now we have regular on-screen meetings, albeit for only 40 minutes at a time, and with only minimal alcohol at our fingertips. The group has now increased to a hardcore of 5, with an additional ‘brother’ logging in from Cape Town when he can. Truly international, and we have a boys’ night away planned for December for all who can.

All of MG bar one (me!) went to University, and have had glittering careers on the back of it. Whether their lives have turned out any ‘better’ than SG is not up for debate. But what is undeniable, is that everyone has arrived at the same point in their later lives with smiles on their faces, and much experience and bonhomie to share.

I love the vibe and synergy of both groups, and if anyone hasn’t tried this with their own ‘old’ friends, I recommend it as one of life’s great diversions, coming full circle as it does on life-long relationships and friendships.

But, most importantly from my perspective, both these groups of lovely people help me make sense of my life cycle, being a strand that runs through. They provide continuity by having been there when I was younger and gauche and making mistakes, and being there again when I may even have grown up a little. But no-one judges anyone, no-one scores points, and everyone takes everyone else for exactly who they are, and everyone will remember why we were friends all those years ago – and still are. The river runs deep even though it flows quickly.

*Lyrics from the song Old Friends by Paul Simon – 1968
**Lyrics from the song Still Crazy After All These Years by Paul Simon – 1975

SG – Gerald, Stephen, Sue, John, Val, Anne, Rob, (Fi snapping)
MG – Rob, Hugh, Will, and Graham (Nick and Simon to follow)

Where Are They Now?

Where Are They Now? written by Ray Davies and performed by the Kinks, is from Preservation Act 1, one element of a ‘rock musical’ comprising Acts 1 and 2, released in 1973/4 on the RCA label.

The stage version of this, performed by the Kinks + other cast members, was well received at the time. This song was sung by the Tramp, reminiscing about life just a few years before and soon forgotten, but ‘rock and roll still lives on’.

As you listen, what can you remember about:-

Swinging Londoners – London was at the centre of the Swinging Sixties, the cultural revolution driven by the young people of the time, embracing art, music, fashion – and the complete antithesis of the austerity of the 50s, and post-war Britain in general.  It was a time of sexual liberation and experimentation (for some reason sex was only invented in the ’60s).  Two of the fashion industry’s leading lights of the time were…..

Ossie Clark and Mary Quant – Mary famous for the invention of the mini skirt and the high hemline, together with her trademark page-boy short hairstyle.

Christine Keeler – whose main ‘claim to fame’ as a dancer/showgirl, was involvement in sexual liaisons with John Profumo and other prominent men of the time, which nearly toppled Harold Macmillan’s Tory Government in 1963.  The ‘social circle’ in which she moved with Profumo included a Soviet naval attaché, and there were serious concerns about spying and selling secrets as this was at the height of the Cold War with the USSR. 

John Stephen – aka ‘The King of Carnaby Street’ due the number of shops he owned there, created the mass menswear clothing market. Alvaro was another fashion design mainstay of the ‘60s.

Mr Fish – full name Michael Fish (and not the weatherman) was another ’60s designer, famous for designing the kipper tie, and Mr Chow was Michael Chow, founder of the Mr Chow restaurant chain, opened in Knightsbridge.  Famous for attracting celebs and being pricey – but it was the place to be seen if you wanted to be seen.

Teddy Boys – named after their love of Edwardian style clothing, were predominantly disaffected working class youths, synonymous with spivs and flick-knives, and violence.  Their music style was early rock and roll of the ’50s and ’60s, and many singers – Tommy Steele, Marty Wilde etc emulated their style.  They sported a greased quiff at the front (Brylcreem boys) and a DA (duck’s arse) cut at the back. Drainpipes (trousers) and blue suedes (shoes) were part of the standard dress code.

Beatniks – the non-conformist pseudo-intellectual youth culture started in N America, synonymous with coffee bar culture of the time, whose favoured dress included horn-rimmed glasses and long, black turtleneck pullovers.  This Beat generation morphed into the Hippie culture of the late ’60s, and thus from being arty to being more overtly political.

Ban the Bomb – the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) and its Ban the Bomb slogan was a non-political movement to ban the manufacture of weapons of mass destruction.  There was an annual march in the ’60s from Aldermaston to Trafalgar Square in London to publicise its activities.

Arthur Seaton – played in the film Saturday Night and Sunday Morning by Albert Finney, who works his way through various affairs of the heart

Charlie Bubbles – another part played in the eponymous film by Albert Finney in 1968, about a successful writer returning to his roots in Manchester. Finney also directed this film.

Jimmy Porter – played by Richard Burton in the film Look Back in Anger, he was the ‘angry young man’, written by John Osborne

Joe Lampton – the hero of John Braine’s novel Room At The Top, about a working class boy trying to make it to the top

Angry Young Men – a group of British playwrights whose works railed against the establishment.  They included:

Stan Barstow (A Kind of Loving) and John Osborne (Look Back in Anger), Keith Waterhouse (Billy Liar) and Alan Sillitoe (Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner)

Protest songs – in the ’60s songs typically by Bob Dylan (Blowin’ In The Wind), Donovan (The War Drags On), Barry Maguire (Eve of Destruction), and a long list by other entertainers both black and white, railing against social/racial injustice and war.

Rockers and the Mods – two conflicting youth sub-cultures of the ’60s – mods on scooters wearing parkas loving ’60s music like the Small Faces and the Who, rockers on motor bikes in leather loving their ’50s music from Gene Vincent, Billy Fury etc.  Many fights ensued, particularly in southern English seaside resorts

Some of these I remember, some I’d forgotten. Only Mary Quant and Michael Fish are still alive as at May 2021.

Maybe if Ray Davies was composing this in 2021, he might have included a verse something like:

Where have all the Brexiteers gone?

Where have all the Brexiteers gone?

Francois and Cleverley, Rees-Mogg and Duncan Smith

Where on earth have they all gone?

Slipping back under their stones,

Yeh, where have all the Brexiteers gone?

That’s my input, as I’m unable to resist the parallel and the temptation.

Where Are They Now? is a great song anyway, and enjoy it for what it is…


I don’t regard myself as an acquisitive person – I tend to buy things as I need them, rather because of any compulsion to have the latest, or ‘be seen to be having’ something. Being a Yorkshireman, I see these options as roads to penury, and in any case, when did you ever see a happy compulsive purchaser? The more you go up the scale, and feel you have to have – for example – the latest model of German SUV, it’s a very slippery slope, as there’s always someone close by who will trump you. Yes, I know that one member of my family has a German SUV, but I know he will have this in another 5 years. Really.

That said, we live in a large old three storey house with big rooms, and a double garage to boot – and there’s an awful lot that can be stashed inside without ever feeling cramped. It’s only when we spend a week away in someone else’s holiday cottage that we realise how little is actually needed to live a perfectly happy life. Barring taking the family photographs, art and Sue’s medal collection, and of course my guitars, ukuleles and favourite vinyl records and books, we have all that we need with us. So what is filling all corners of every part of the house, and why is it there – and most importantly why don’t/can’t we get rid?

Decluttering has been on Mrs Barnes’s resolution list for more years than I care to remember, with the implied connotation that this applies equally to me. So, not bringing Mrs Barnes into this as she has her own challenges on this front, I’ve made a start – this is what an excessively rainy May can do.

I’ve started at the top of the house, but the first difficulty I find there is that as we don’t use these rooms that often – apart from for ironing, a home for my guitars and ukes, and Sue’s exercise bike (a turbo, it’s called) – and they’ve defaulted into a storage area for elder son and family whilst they are in Malaysia, and also for younger daughter’s things whilst she is between houses. Actually, she is no longer between houses but persuading her to take all that’s hers is somewhat fraught with difficulty. I must insist!!

So, I can’t effect any significant change to the top floor’s asset register, but I come down a flight to the bedrooms/office hoping for better luck. The main bedroom is ripe for filling black bags, after all, how many clothes do I need? Yes, I fill a bag with clothes/shoes that are well past their good-looks date – and decide that they are probably good enough to go to ‘charity’. I’ve sent a lot of good stuff to charity over the years, but I never see anyone riding an old bike or wearing one of my unworn pairs of jeans, bought optimistically, and which I couldn’t be bothered to take back. I guess that they’re all out there somewhere, in someone else’s wardrobe.

I swiftly come to the conclusion that I must need 20 pairs of socks, 12 pairs of trousers and 16 shirts, and equally convince myself that certain socks suit certain shoes/boots due to colour or thickness. Yes, I seem to have a lot of shoes and boots as well. And as for two and three-piece suits, I have to confess that they aren’t worn often but I need lighter ones for weddings and darker ones for funerals – if ever I am invited to either, which is fortunately not often.

As for the chest of drawers and the bottom of the wardrobe, apart from additional but necessary daily clothing, they have sheaves of papers such as lyrics which don’t have music, and music without lyrics. I shall have to join these two piles up at some point. Also my Punch magazine collection, and the shelved progress of a marketing effort to persuade the great and good to contribute to a series of cassettes (that tells you how old it is) by reading a humorous story. I sent one to Tony Blair at 10 Downing Street, and had a reply on his behalf from one Andrew Marre (before he dropped the final e) when he was PPS to the PM, before sliding conveniently into a media career at the BBC. Blair said ‘No’. But it’s all personal stuff that I’m not inclined to ditch at this point (even though it won’t mean a fig to those who do the sorting after my demise).

So, degrees of success in the main bedroom (and the overflow wardrobes in two other rooms – ouch!).

The smallest bedroom is also the ‘office’. My filing system is there – the important documents which people will be needed by those who follow on. I have done a reasonably good job keeping these up-to-date and tidy over the years, yet I still find utilities bills from 2015 (as just one example) sitting in the folders. Why? Of course they should have been ditched, but it’s an ongoing process.

At least I have a clear conscience in the bathroom, as there’s only so much shampoo and shaving foam I can use at any one time – with the shampoo having an almost uncanny ability to last indefinitely. Did you know that they don’t sell Aussie shampoo down under? They don’t even have a reciprocal one called Pom. I searched high and low in large chemists in Adelaide, so am reasonably sure that I’m right.

The rest of the middle floor, apart from a guest bedroom complete with groaning wardrobes, is filled with Sue’s stuff, and it’s not my place to comment on the quantity or value of all that.

Downstairs my vinyl album and CD collections are housed in one room. Neither pile is vast, and I feel I could go without the CDs if push came to shove, but the vinyl has to stay. It’s not that I play them that often, but they’re a part of me over the best part of 60 years (and some are quite rare, such as the original Tyrannosaurus Rex album on the EMI label – before the duo became T Rex – with its iconic words on the reverse from DJ John Peel, reproduced here. Pure 1968…).

Tyrannosaurus Rex rose out of the sad and scattered leaves of an older summer. During the hard, grey winter they were tended and strengthened by those who love them. They blossomed with the coming of Spring, children rejoiced and the Earth sang with them. It will be a long and ecstatic summer. – John Peel

My DVD collection is small but iconic, with some great music and fine French films. Yes, I’m sure that they’re on YouTube, but you don’t get the extras and behind-the-scenes stuff there. I have a book collection which fills a couple of shelves – the entire printed works of David Gemmell and Garrison Keillor taking pride of place, alongside the 20 hardback volumes of the best of Punch 1900-1930, which was such a rich source for my Songs and Stories of the Great War production at Sage Gateshead in November 2018.

Moving outside to the garage, the space is filled with cars, bikes, garden furniture, ladders, bins, bike racks, and shelves full of man stuff, like tools and equipment, J cloths, dirty flower pots, old emulsion paint cans – all of which are extremely valuable to me, and stand little chance of being removed. Yes, I know that I forgot to mark which rooms the various tints of white paint were used in, but that’s hardly the point…..

I’ve probably gone about as far as I’m comfortable with in terms of shedding stuff, and filling the Council Tip and/or charity shops, but I have made a start, and I keep reviewing my efforts and thinking about doing some more. I still admire the holiday cottages though, but minimalism only goes so far.

And I haven’t mentioned the loft, but there’s only so much of this you can take. Just use your imagination 😳

Battle of the Bands

Growing up in the late ’50s/early ’60s, popular music as presented on the BBC Light programme was pleasant – Perry Como, Rosemary Clooney, Michael Holliday, Matt Monro and many others of their ilk.

Then, sitting in my Dad’s Zodiac outside Warburton the grocers in Wilmslow in 1962, listening to Jack Jackson’s record programme, my ears were pinned back by firstly Nut Rocker by Bee Bumble and the Stingers, and the Love Me Do by a new Liverpool group called the Beatles. What an awakening!!

Wow – real music which grabbed the attention, and so life moved on…

When starting senior school at 13 and a half, I found all my classmates (bar one) was into pop music, and they all had their favourites, with the Beatles and the Rolling Stones being top of most people’s lists. I liked the Beatles (who didn’t), but the Stones never did it for me – middle-class lads trying to be cool and their music had a strangely weedy sound to me (although in time a couple of their singles were quite good, and I even bought their Aftermath album in 1966). But I was persevering, trying to find my sound, until….

In late summer ’64, the Kinks released You Really Got Me – ground-breaking and super cool – I was hooked. I bought each single and album as they were released. Yes, the Kinks were my group, and I was loud and proud about it – and one of only a few at school who went in that direction, which made them even cooler. And when the Kinks’ Ray Davies started his social comment phase – Sunny Afternoon, Dedicated Follower of Fashion, Plastic Man, Village Green etc – my joy was complete.

But I wasn’t immune to the delights of other ’60s stars – and they’ve all stayed with me ever since – Paul Simon, the Zombies, Procol Harum, The Beach Boys to name a few – and I’ve kept the original vinyl albums as well as supplementing these with digital versions.

As the years have gone by, it’s been great to hear how they’ve all been able to keep producing new music intermittently, in their own inimitable styles, and on occasion, I’ve been able to catch ‘live’ performances with up-to-date stage sound techniques to support them – albeit Ray Davies solo, and the other groups with inevitable changes of personnel. I’ll come down on the side of the Zombies as currently being the best of the bunch ‘live’ as at 2021, with Rod Argent and Colin Blunstone still fronting, and I’m looking forward to their worldwide ‘live’ concert this September direct from Abbey Road studios, where their timeless Odyssey and Oracle album was recorded in 1968.

I could go on and on about popular music over the last 60 years, and maybe I shall in a post to come…

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