Tuesday, 14 January 2020

RIP Neil Peart

RIP Neil Peart, and thank you for all the pleasure your recorded music, your live shows with Rush and your travel writing have brought me for nearly 40 years since I first discovered the band via Permanent Waves. How dreadful to find myself writing these words about an all time musical hero who has cruelly succumbed to cancer at the age of only 67.

What else can I add to the thousands of tributes that already have been written? Here goes: a musical anecdote, a travel anecdote upon which I was able to expand, and a lyrical excerpt.

The appearance of Rush in 2003 at the Toronto open air SARS benefit concert, headlined by the Rolling Stones, was a rare exception to their aversion to stadium shows. All the more so when they had to play a curtailed set, and when the constant message running through Neil’s mind when faced with the band’s home town audience was “just don’t suck”. Let’s take up the story from “Traveling Music” when Neil is only too aware of the attention of strangers and the pointing of cameras when they are waiting to take to the stage…

‘Normally that would have driven me mental, but under the circumstances I hardly noticed.

‘A short, older man stepped up to me, sticking out his hand and saying something I couldn’t hear. Thinking “now who’s this?”, I took out one of my ear monitors and said “Sorry, I couldn’t hear you.”

‘He spoke again, smiling. “Hello, I’m Charlie Watts.”

‘”Oh”, I said, taken aback. “Hello”, and I shook his hand.

‘He asked if we were going on soon, and I said yes, any minute, and he said, with a twinkle, “I’m going to watch you!”

‘I suppose if I could have felt more pressured, that might have done it, but I was already at maximum intensity – there was no time to think of Charlie Watts and the Rolling Stones, watching them on The T.A.M.I Show or on “Ed Sullivan” when I was twelve and a half, hearing “Satisfaction” snarling down the midway at Lakeside Park, Gimme Shelter at the cinema in London, listening to Charlie’s beautiful solo album Warm and Tenderso many times late at night in Quebec, or any of the other million times Charlie Watts and his band had been part of my life.

‘Geddy emailed me later and mentioned that scene: “BTW, I will never forget that moment before we went onstage when Charlie Watts came over to shake your hand (at the worst possible moment!) and watching your face go through all the motions of …a. who is this old guy? b. what does he want? c. oh, for god’s sakes it’s Charlie Watts!

Now for travel. In 2013, the US National Parks were subjected to a shutdown in consequence of a political squabble when the government ran out of money. Neil was part way through a motorcycle trip in Utah. Having narrowly avoided the worst of the shutdown, he takes up the story via his daily journals, speaking for every foreign tourist who was similarly put at risk of having a Parks visit ruined: -

But what did these foreigners think of a country in which a few mean-spirited creeps could hold the entire country hostage—all for the principle of denying mercy to the suffering (because it might be “their own fault”—hardly a Christian objection), while also denying its citizens (and “resident aliens,” as this Canadian is classified) access to their property? (A flashing sign inside Bryce Canyon National Park put it nicely: “Welcome to Bryce. Enjoy Your Park.”) These foreign visitors, like the American seniors who also visit the national parks outside the summer months, might have waited all their lives for this one opportunity. And there are tens of thousands of Americans, especially in the West, whose livelihoods are tied to the national parks.”

As I went on to describe in one of my own blog entries from late 2013: -

Expanding his theme, NP goes on to suggest that those “few, miserable damaged egos” who caused the Parks shutdown and displayed such disregard for its consequential effect on intending visitors ought to wear T-shirts bearing a slogan otherwise only fit for renegade bikers and surly rednecks, namely “Do I Look Like I Give A Fornication?” How neat to see this “expression of pure evil” producing the eminently pronounceable acronym “DILLIGAF”.

So as I think back to how my own recent USA trip was almost ruined, and then reflect in turn on the way that we are governed here in the UK by a political class and an administrative machine that all too often appears to have little regard to the practical impact of its conduct on those who have to pay for it, may I suggest that the acronym is upgraded to a noun?

“Dilligaf”: a politician or official who, having acted quite unreasonably, reacts with deliberate indifference or hostility to the plight of someone suffering materially as a result of that act.

Finally, to lyrics. Having posted an excerpt from “The Garden” on my Facebook page, consciously choosing the last song on Clockwork Angels, the last Rush studio album, I will end with an excerpt from “Anthem”, the first song on Fly By Night, Neil’s first album with the band: -

“Know your place in life is where you want to be
Don't let them tell you that you owe it all to me
Keep on looking forward, no use in looking round
Hold your head above the crowd and they won't bring you down
Anthem of the heart and anthem of the mind
A funeral dirge for eyes gone blind
We marvel after those who sought
The wonders in the world, wonders in the world
Wonders in the world they wrought…”

Neil Peart, 12.9.52 – 7.1.20.

Thursday, 26 December 2019

Sunday, 15 September 2019

Boris Johnson, EU Remain Hypocrisy, and the Harper Valley PTA

If Dolly Parton was the second female singer to top the US Billboard Hot 100 and the US Hot Country Singles chart with the same song, “9 to 5” in 1981, who was the first? The answer, Jeannie C.Riley with “Harper Valley PTA” in 1968, also a one hit wonder in the UK after the song reached No 12.

The story behind the song was how a widowed mother, criticised for her lifestyle and her miniskirts (!) by members of the local parent teacher association, confronted them at a PTA meeting and called each of them out for their blatant hypocrisy. That was indeed, in the singer’s words, “the day my mama socked it to the Harper Valley PTA”.

The widowed mother’s name was Mrs Johnson. By some curious coincidence 51 years later, we have a Mr Johnson – Boris, of course – under attack for his leadership of the UK and in particular his approach to Brexit. His attackers include the official and unofficial opposition, members of his own party who have recently become ex-members, the Speaker of the House of Commons, European leaders and EU functionaries. Their universal message is that Boris is wrong, in the wrong, and indeed in the wrong for being wrong. By necessary implication, they all assert that they know best and that the UK electorate would be better governed by people like them than by a Boris government. But their own track records only serve to display their hypocrisy.

Here’s how Boris might call them out, in Harper Valley PTA fashion: -

Boris Johnson was in Downing Street
And hard at work one Monday afternoon
Contemplating how the UK
Would escape the chains of Brussels really soon
When the Chief Whip came up running
In a panic that was verging on insane
For he had brought with him a message
From the forces of European Remain

“For three years we’ve been scheming hard
To overturn that referendum vote
We hoped the Chequers Plan would sabotage
The Brexit dream, and leave us free to gloat
So we’re really quite indignant
At your attitude to running the UK”
And it was signed by all the backers
Of European Union Remain

Well, Boris’s reaction
Was to commandeer the airwaves that same day
“How dare these forces of malevolence
Pour scorn upon my leadership this way
Once there’s a General Election
I will make my glorious vision really plain
And this is how I’ll take the fight
To the supporters of European Remain”

“The Referendum leaflet said that
‘We will implement what you decide’
I’m not prepared to lead a government
Proclaiming ‘we’re so sorry, but we lied’
I’m bringing optimistic purpose
That was sadly lacking in Theresa May
And that shady bunch of characters
Who call for European Remain”

“The IRA supporting Marxist can’t decide
If he’s for Leave or for Remain
And there’s that poundshop Jimmy Krankie
Who’d take Scotland for a journey down the drain
And those feeble whipless rebels
Who have authored their own unlamented fate
And that purple featured pipsqueak of a Speaker
Who’s been rigging the debates”

“Merkel’s Germany’s been swamped
By an invasion of illegal immigrants
And little Macron has the Gilets Jaunes
Rioting on the streets all over France
All the Mediterranean nations
Have a truly dreadful unemployment rate
And noble Greece has been reduced
To a pathetic and subservient vassal state”

“We see Verhofstadt, we see Barnier
The people never chose them for their roles
Just like that drunkard, Jean Claude Juncker
Who takes brandy with his breakfast, so we’re told
And then you have the nerve to tell me
As a leader you don’t think that I am fit
Well, you’re all living in Cloud Cuckoo Land
You anti-democratic hypocrites”

That was just the kind of spirit
We’ve awaited for so long in the UK
The day that Boris socked it to
The supporters of European Remain

Sunday, 14 July 2019

Smashwords Summer Sale: half price offer for Hatred Ridicule & Contempt and Infernal Coalition

Interested in some half price legal fiction via Smashwords? You're in luck - thanks to their summer sale, there's a chance to get hold of both Hatred Ridicule & Contempt and Infernal Coalition for $0.99 each. For more details, click on the link here.

Saturday, 26 January 2019

Philip Hammond and Amber Rudd: the Bonnie and Clyde of British politics?

What’s the difference between Cabinet Ministers Philip Hammond and Amber Rudd, and American gangsters from the Great Depression era Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow? Hmm. Let’s think. One of those couples started off as a minor irritation before progressing to become a confounded nuisance, rejoicing in their own arrogance as they defied public opinion, and eventually met a gruesome sticky end. The other couple were a pair of American gangsters…

Hang on, that’s not quite right. Hammond and Rudd have not met a gruesome sticky end. Not yet, anyway. But their determined efforts to defy the result of the Brexit referendum might mean that their political careers are hanging by a thread. Hammond has hinted this week at resignation if the UK leaves the EU on WTO terms (he probably said “No Deal” but there is no need to encourage use of this misleading phrase), and Rudd only has a 346 majority in her Hastings & Rye seat.

If it were to be fair to suggest that Hammond and Rudd are fast becoming the Bonnie and Clyde of British politics – and it may indeed be fair – the lyrics of Georgie Fame’s 1967 No 1 single “The Ballad of Bonnie and Clyde” are too tempting to ignore when there is a parody in the air, especially when it looks like a good fit for solo acoustic guitar: -

Hammond and Rudd were shifty looking people
And I can tell you people
They were Remainers’ sweethearts
Hammond and Rudd began their evil scheming
While Theresa May was dreaming
Down Westminster way

They mocked the vote
And spread their gloom around town
Got clean away in the Cabinet
And wouldn’t let the heat die down

Hammond and Rudd enhanced the consternation
And made the graduation
Into the wrecking business
“Brexit's no good”
Sour talking Rudd would holler
As Hammond played the scholar
Of sabotage

The scared PM
So weak, she left them alone
They dragged her crying through a pool of mud
And laughed about her feeble groans

Hammond and Rudd got to be public enemy number one
Rudely defying their own manifesto when Leave had won

They used to laugh about Brexit
But deep inside them they knew
That if they ruined the exit
They’d hit the ground together
Burning in Hades and shamefully supping the devil’s brew

Acting upon a tide of indignation
The forces of the nation laid a deadly ambush
For Hammond and Rudd – ‘twas Hammond’s deselection
And Rudd’s robust rejection at the ballot box

Hammond and Rudd
Remainers close together
And now they’re gone together
For good

Thursday, 6 September 2018

Tom Lehrer, Tom Jones - and a Boris Johnson campaign song

How might the American singer/songwriter and satirist Tom Lehrer bring inspiration to British political leadership campaigns? Probably not by suggesting that enthusiastic support for poisoning pigeons in the park would be a keynote environmental vote winner. But if we were to combine his spoken introductions to “Oedipus Rex” and “It Makes A Fellow Proud To Be A Soldier”, we might find a clue for our theme: “…and I am convinced that the only reason for the failure of this candidate’s leadership bid last time around….you’re way ahead of me…is that he did not have a rousing campaign song with which to rally his potential followers.”

Let us apply this theory to – you’re way ahead of me – the case of a well known current aspirant to the Conservative leadership, and borrow a song from another famous singer by the name of Tom. “The Young New Mexican Puppeteer” was a hit for Tom Jones in 1972, reaching number 6 in the UK charts. A few lyrical amendments may go down well with Boris supporters, and of course badly with Boris haters…

In the Palace of Westminster
Worked a most concerned MP
He said lately I have noticed
The PM hardly speaks for me
She spreads the gloom from her advisers
“The UK can’t survive alone”
He said “I’ll lift the people’s spirits
With Brexit vision of my own”

The blond Conservative Brexiteer
He saw the people all live in fear
He thought that maybe they’d listen to
Boris telling them what to do
So he got to grips with Remain falsehood
He made some speeches and he was good
And folks came running so they could hear
The blond Conservative Brexiteer

First he quit the Foreign Office
“The Chequers Plan’s a steaming turd”
Then he echoed Winston Churchill
“Take back control, embrace the world”
Determined as the Iron Lady
Convinced the battle would be won
He knew he’d smile with satisfaction
When Theresa May was gone


Now his speaking skills were clever
And he gave the people hope
When he got across the message
To make the most of Brexit’s scope
They voted for him in their millions
And he smashed Corbyn and the Reds
And then they wrote him up in all the papers
And this is what the story said


Tuesday, 3 July 2018

Literary Lawyers - a holiday reading treble

How coincidental to find myself with not just one fellow solicitor’s published writing for a holiday reading session, but three. All of which were well worth it.

First up, retired solicitor Richard Wrenn and “Trust Betrayed”. As the Law Society Gazette asked, “is it possible to write a highly readable novel in which the central premise is breach of the Solicitors’ Accounts Rules in 1982? Surprisingly, the answer is most certainly yes.” Just take an ambitious young law firm partner, his older colleague whose flexible financial practices are about to catch up with him in telling fashion, and the younger partner’s fiancée – coincidentally, the older partner’s daughter – and imagine the dynamics when the attempted cover up only makes the original deceit far worse and its repercussions worse still.  Never a dull moment, and the backwater setting only adds to the intrigue.

A completely different theme, however, for Geoff Steward’s “In Search of Nice Americans” – a US road trip with a musical undercurrent, enabled by a three month sabbatical from the law, and guaranteed to strike many right notes. The Nashville stretch brings back my own fond memories of the Opry, Lower Broadway and the Hermitage, alongside the author’s sadly fruitless trip to the Bluebird Café inspired by the characters of the Nashville TV drama including “that bitch Juliette Barnes” (hint: book online for the evening performances a week ahead – I managed it twice). So how many nice Americans did the search reveal? Read it and find out, and don’t miss out on a trip to Savannah just because the Forrest Gump bench is no longer in Chippewa Square – there’s a replica in the History Museum.

What about the dilemma that every solicitor in private practice may encounter at some stage in their career, namely whether to strive for partnership rather than settle for a lifetime of employee status? Well, Tom Vaughan MacAulay’s “Being Simon Haines” takes the former to extremes – the quest for that ultimate prize at the City boutique firm Fiennes & Plunkett takes the form of “The Campaign”, where the hope of the single glittering prize pitches rival candidates against each other in a remorseless grind of 24/7 client work. Quality of life? Short pause for laughter, please. Or more accurately, short pause for a long awaited break in Cuba for Simon as the partners assess his Campaign performance alongside the efforts of his rivals, despicable Angus Peterson and sensible Emma Morris. (Tom’s presumed happy personal experience of Cuba is in marked contrast to my own from 8 years ago, but that’s another story…)

So what made “Being Simon Haines” a particularly appealing read? In my own debut, “Hatred Ridicule & Contempt”, recently elevated law firm partner Alex Harris found himself with unexpected enemies – his own fellow partners – who were looking for convenient scapegoats when their law firm ran into difficulties. He had arrived at his destination. What would he, and indeed what would Simon Haines, think of Robert Louis Stevenson’s famous words of wisdom from Virginibus Puerisque in 1881, “Little do ye know your own blessedness; for to travel hopefully is a better thing than to arrive”? That is the question.

Before I forget, a resounding five stars for all three.