Tuesday, 31 May 2011

GBE 2 - 002 Blog 3 - How do you measure success these days?

'All women become like their mothers. That is their tragedy. No man measures up to his father. That's his' - Oscar Wilde.

My father has always been one of my big heroes. He was the son of a coal-miner, who managed to get himself a university education through his own good efforts and the financial help given by the newly created Welfare State set up by the Labour government of the 1940's. He studied at King's College London where he gained a B.Sc in Maths and Physics. He worked for a government-sponsored research laboratory, and was part of the team responsible for eradicating London of its smog in the 1950's, and then went on to develop the technology and dispersant chemicals that would be used to counteract oil-pollution. He was into computers in the age of punched paper tape. To this day we have a family tradition of making a new Christmas star each year out of paper tape (yes even now we have a very adequate supply, lol).

He taught me my love of numbers and mathematics, and one of my earliest childhood memories is of him taking me and my brother down to Stevenage Library, every other week or so, where we would pick out books to read.

I was able to read well and play with numbers before I started school. It was to stand me in good stead. Or it should have done. Unfortunately, life doesn't run like the railways, and my younger brother got killed in a horrific road accident when I was 9. It would be almost 50 years before I finally emerged from the trauma that my brother's death caused.

In between that time, I got married and divorced twice, had a very successful 25 year career in IT, and did my bit for British cultural relations as a Morris dancer, musician and teacher. I was devastating as the Gypsy violinist playing for a group of Morris Dancers that happened upon Albert Square (on the set of BBC soap 'East Enders) in May 1991. Also I was one of the cultural ambassadors who could speak a bit of German, when my Morris dance team, Belchamp Morris, took part in the wilds of the Munich Bier Festival later that same year. Fortunately, there are very few photos remaining of that event **Shudders***

So having realised that there was no star to aim for, where do you go to look for 'success'.

I'm no longer concerned with my own 'success'. I think I did pretty good.
What I'm now mainly concerned with, is the ongoing 'success' of mankind.

We get lots of mythological/religious stories about the 'ending of the days'.
Just last weekend, the world population might have reduced significantly due to 'The Rapture'. I didn't go along with this piece of nonsense, but you never can tell these days.

I'd like to think that mankind can 'triumph' over the ecological problems that have been blindingly obvious to me, for the last 30 years or so.

I'd like to think that mankind can see through the lies that are constantly thrown at us regarding the best way to fund our future.

I have my own ideas on that, which are shared by many around the world.

The most important of which is that wars only profit the arms makers, the military services and the banking elite that pull the strings of government.
The 3 wars that currently being waged - in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya, have no credible reason for continuing and need to be stopped immediately. And whatever
you hear, please don't let mankind get suckered into a war with Iran and China.

Will you join me in working for the success of mankind?

Or will we fail?

Monday, 30 May 2011

GBE 2 - 002 (Blog 2) - Tips for a succesful life

This is a list of tips for a successful life offered by His Holiness the Dalai Lama in his New Year's address from 2008.

Instructions for life Mantra

1. Take into account that great love and great achievements involve great risk.

2. When you lose, don't lose the lesson.

3. Follow the three R's of good karma:

Respect for self
Respect for others and
Responsibility for all your actions.

4. Remember that not getting what you want is sometimes a wonderful stroke of luck.

5. Learn the rules so you know how to break them properly.

6. Don't let a little dispute injure a great relationship.

7. When you realize you've made a mistake, take immediate steps to correct it.

8. Spend some time alone every day.

9. Open your arms to change, but don't let go of your values.

10. Remember that silence is sometimes the best answer.

11. Live a good, honourable life. Then when you get older and think back, you'll be able to enjoy it a second time.

12. A loving atmosphere in your home is the foundation for your life.

13. In disagreements with loved ones, deal only with the current situation. Don't bring up the past.

14. Share your knowledge. It is a way to achieve immortality.

15. Be gentle with the earth.

16. Once a year, go someplace you've never been before.

17. Remember that the best relationship is one in which your love for each other exceeds your need for each other.

18. Judge your success by what you had to give up in order to get it.

19. Approach love and cooking with reckless abandon.

GBE2 - 002 Success (Blog 1) - Kyle's Story


'Kyle's Story' is a true story that I heard about from a friend on Myspace quite a few years ago. When the new GBE2 topic was posted, I just had to search through my old myspace blog and share it again.

One day, when I was a freshman in high school, I saw a kid from my class was walking home from school. His name was Kyle.

It looked like he was carrying all of his books. I thought to myself, "Why would anyone bring home all his books on a Friday? He must really be a nerd."

I had quite a weekend planned (parties and a football game with my friends
tomorrow afternoon), so I shrugged my shoulders and went on. As I was walking, I saw a bunch of kids running toward him. They ran at him, knocking all his books out of his arms and tripping him so he landed in the dirt. His glasses went flying, and I saw them land in the grass about ten feet from him.

He looked up and I saw this terrible sadness in his eyes.My heart went out to him. So, I jogged over to him as he crawled around looking for his glasses, and I saw a tear in his eye. As I handed him his glasses, I said, "Those guys are jerks".
They really should get lives. He looked at me and said, "Hey thanks!". There was a big smile on his face. It was one of those smiles that showed real gratitude.

I helped him pick up his books, and asked him where he lived. As it turned out, he lived near me, so I asked him why I had never seen him before. He said he had gone to private school before now. I would have never hung out with a private school kid before.

We talked all the way home, and I carried some of his books. He turned out to be a pretty cool kid. I asked him if he wanted to play a little football with my friends...He said yes. We hung out all weekend and the more I got to know Kyle, the more I liked him, and my friends thought the same of him.Monday morning came and there was Kyle with the huge stack of books again! I stopped him and said, "Boy, you are gonna really build some serious muscles with this pile of books everyday!". He just laughed and handed me half the books. Over the next four years, Kyle and I became best friends. When we were seniors, we began to think about college. Kyle decided on Georgetown, and I was going to Kent. I knew that we would always be friends, that the miles would never be a problem. He was going to be a doctor, and I was going for business on a scholarship. Kyle was valedictorian of our class. I teased him all the time about being a nerd. He had to prepare a speech for graduation. I was so glad it wasn't me having to get up there and speak. Graduation day, I saw Kyle. He looked great. He was one of those guys that really found himself during high school. He filled out and actually looked good in glasses. He had more dates than I had and all the girls loved him. Boy, sometimes I was jealous!! Today was one of those days I could see that he was nervous about his speech. So, I smacked him on the back and said, "Hey, big guy, you'll be great. He looked at me with one of those looks (the really grateful one) and smiled " Thanks" he said. As he started his speech, he cleared his throat, and began. "Graduation is a time to thank those who helped you make it through those tough years. Your parents, your teachers, your siblings, maybe a coach...but mostly your friends.

I am here to tell all of you that being a friend to someone is the best gift
you can give them. I am going to tell you a story."

I just looked at my friend with disbelief as he told the story of the first
day we met. He had planned to kill himself over that weekend.
He talked of how he had cleaned out his locker so his Mom wouldn't have to
do it later and was carrying his stuff home. He looked hard at me and gave me a little smile."Thankfully, I was saved. My friend saved me from doing the unspeakable."

I heard the gasp go through the crowd as this handsome, popular boy told us
all about his weakest moment.

I saw his Mom and dad looking at me and smiling that same grateful smile.

Not until that moment did I realize it's depth.

Never underestimate the power of your actions.
With one small gesture you can change a person's life.
For better or for worse.
God puts us all in each others lives to impact one another in some way.
Look for God in others.

Tomorrow is a mystery.
Today is a gift.

Friday, 27 May 2011

GBE - 001 Expectations (take 2)

I caught up with an old schoolfriend today.

I'd cycled in to town to 'Sign on' ie prove that I was still alive and needed another handout from the Government, because at the age of 57 I'm too young to draw a pension, yet too old to realistically get another job.

And having completed the ritual paperwork and said nice things to the Jobseekers clerk, I wandered out into the afternoon sunshine.

A heavily bearded, scruffy looking person is sitting outside the the Jobcentre and calls out 'Ian'. I take a quick look at him, pretend I haven't heard him call my name, and head towards my bicycle.

He calls again, 'Ian'.

I turn and take a deeper look.

Could it be....no surely not


He smiles and offers his hand. I take it gladly.

Tony and I grew up together. We went through infant school, junior school and grammar school together. We were both brilliant students, tusselling to win 1st place in any given assignment throughout our early school years. Later in grammar school I specialised in science, with Chemistry as my main subject. Tony was an excellent science student but was even better with English and languages. His mum was Jewish, his father a German dissident.....he had the world as his oyster.
He went off to Cambridge to do a double-first in English and German. I went off to the the University of East Anglia in Norwich where I failed after the first year.
Such is life.

I can't tell you how pleased I was to see my old friend.
We WILL keep in touch.
Even though we're both useless scumbags, in today's society, I'd like to think I can contribute bright thoughts to the world. And Tony's intellect is......well....out there.....even now, as he lives the life of a tramp

Wednesday, 25 May 2011

GBE2 - 001 Expectations


This year marks the 70th birthday of 2 of the greatest singer/songwriters that the world has known. Robert Allen Zimmerman, better known to the world as Bob Dylan celebrated his birthday yesterday, and Roy Harper celebrates his on 12th June.

Most people can be forgiven if they've never heard of Harper. He's a British artist who has had very limited commercial success, largely because he refused to compromise with the corporate music labels and has doggedly followed his own muse. And yet over the course of almost 50 years as a professional musician, he's produced 23 studio albums and as many again live and compilation albums full of extraordinary music.

Harper’s music has consistently rattled the cage of received ideas. His versatile, poetic sensibility has been employed in a wide range of song styles from romantic love songs to late-night mantras to blackly comedic throwaway numbers. From the start of his career he has been a brilliant percussive and fingerpicking guitarist, and he has extended the form over the years, allowing himself the space to stretch out in long, lyrically dense and mantrically repetitive odysseys of poetic thought. “I was writing long poems in the 50s,” says Harper, “none of which unfortunately made it past the first few moves of living quarters. My first inspiration was John Keats’s Endymion.”


I've loved Harper's music ever since I first saw him play live at my local college here in Stevenage sometime in 1969. He was booked as the support act for early British blues/rock pioneers Free, who were riding high in the charts with their big breakthrough hit 'Alright Now'. Free did a brilliant show with some exquisitely good playing from their sadly fated guitarist, Paul Kossoff.

But for my money, Roy Harper blew them off the stage.

So all in all, it was a much better gig than I expected, in fact probably the best gig I've ever been to.

I've seen Roy playing live many times since then, and to this day every live show of his has been special. Despite being a very angry man in his worldview, Roy has crafted strings of beautiful songs full of dense poetic imagery and coupled with extraordinarily uplifting musical accompaniments.

I have yet to see Dylan live, and I don't suppose I ever will now. But over the last couple of years I've tried to get to Roy's now infrequent live shows, fearing that each one would be his last. He has largely retired from public performance and lives very contentedly with his lovely wife Tracey in the delightful Irish town of Clonakilty, just west of Cork on the SW coast of Ireland.

I last saw Roy a couple of months ago in London. He had been asked to take part in a musical series to be broadcast on TV called 'Legends'. Each episode will contain interviews with the artist(s) and a live gig shot at Metropolis Studios in Chiswick W. London. I was amongst the lucky 120 people who saw the gig. And at the end of the gig, Roy mentioned that he would probably do just one more live gig, to mark his 70th birthday. His fans have been waiting in anticipation ever since.

Only just recently we heard that the gig had been set up for Nov 5 at what has become a favourite venue for Roy and his fans, at the Royal Festival Hall in London. Its a 2900 seat concert space which retains the intimacy that is very much part of Roy's live shows. His wildly spacey rambling monologues introducing his songs are best appreciated in this setting. His performance at the same venue for his 60th birthday produced a cracker of a live 2-CD set, unfortunately I missed the gig itself as I was living and working in the USA at the time.


So I hoped very much that I would be able to get a ticket for this last gig. Tickets were expected to go on sale to the 'Friends of the Southbank Centre' last Friday, and over the weekend a few 'Stormcockers' - members of Roy's online fan club gleefully announced their acquisitions and noted that tickets were selling rapidly.

We had been told that tickets would go on sale to the general public on Monday 23 May.

There was just one snag for me.

I've been jobless for a while now, and reliant on JSA (Job Seekers Allowance) - a 2-weekly payment from the UK Government to anyone available for work and demonstrably seeking it. The problem was I had been living in Hastings on the South Coast for a couple of months and had only recently returned to Stevenage. You would have thought this shouldn't be a big deal, but the UK bureaucracy can be notoriously slow, unhelpful and to be quite blunt incompetent. I had completed all the necessary paperwork at my local Jobcentre 2 Fridays ago and been advised that my JSA should be paid into my bank account the previous Wednesday (18th). Of course it came and went without any money arriving in my account. The same on Thursday. On Friday, I spent all day attempting to phone the JSA claimants centre, getting put on hold for 20 minutes at a time before the line would eventually go dead.

On Monday, I tried again and got through at about 10am. After re-answering all the questions that I'd answered at my local Jobcentre, I was told that the money would be paid into my account later that day and that I should receive a phone call to confirm the payment within 3 hours.

At about 2pm I got through to them again, explained about the lack of return phone call and lack of money in my account......and went through the whole cycle of answering all the questions I'd answered last time. This time payment and a confirmatory phone was promised 'within the hour'.

At about 3.20pm I got through to them again, explained about the lack of return phone calls and lack of money in my account......and got transferred to a team leader, where I went through the whole cycle of answering all the questions I'd answered last time. This time payment and a confirmatory phone was promised for 'tomorrow morning'. I told her that I would be made homeless if I didn't give my landlord some money today and asked if there was any way to pick up a payment from my local Jobcentre. 'Yes', she says, 'I'll arrange that for you, you should get a phone call to confirm it within the hour, and you'll have to get down to your Jobcentre by 5pm with some form of ID'. I confirmed that I was able to do that and waited with bated breath. At 4.30pm I was just about to call them again when they called back. 'I've arranged for you to pick up a Girocheque from your local Jobcentre tomorrorow at 9am' sez she. 'Umm, please I really desperately need some money today, I've already explained that I'll be made homeless if I don't pay some money to my landlord. 'Oh OK' says she, 'if you head to you Jobcentre right now, I'll let them know you're coming to pick it up tonight'. I jumped on my trusty bicycle and pedalled furiously into town.

I got to the Jobcentre at 4.40 and explained the position to the receptionist. She looked on all of her lists and confirmed she knew nothing about my story. 'I'll just check with the Finance team' sez she. About 5 minutes later I was shown into a room to wait for a cashier. Another 5 mins and he opens up his till, I show him my passport and Jobseeker papers, sign a piece of paper for him and finally get given the Girocheque. A couple more minutes and I'm in the Post Office getting the Giro cashed. Then onto my bank just before closing time at 5pm to pay the money into my account.

Then high-tailed it back home, where it was time to prepare dinner. I live with my 85-year old father and we share cooking duties. Having got dinner on, I logged on and found the Southbank Centre website. It took a while to navigate to Roy's gig in November as the site just allows you to look at events up to three months in advance. Eventually I find the gig, click on the 'Buy Tickets' button.....and it comes up 'This event has now sold out'


Here is a selection of Roy's songs, there are lots more on youtube

'Another Day' - a beautifully poignant love song

'I Hate the White Man' - one of his 'Angry' songs, and reckoned to be one of his best

'Same Old Rock' - one of his long poetical songs, accompanied by his son Nick Harper

GBE2: Introduction

The GBE - the Global Blogging Experience first started on Myspace several years ago where it was hosted by a lovely lady called Alicia. The idea is that every week a topic is set and everyone who wishes to take part has the rest of the week to create a blog on that topic. You're allowed to take your own tilt at the topic, you can write as little or as much as you want and add pictures and or music. Then once you've posted your blog, you let the host know the blog's link and everyone else in the group may visit your blog, hopefully enjoy it and leave comments. Its a nice way to get your blogs known to a wider audience and very often make a lot of new friends.

I made a lot of lovely friends taking part in the original GBE, amongst them my 'virtual' sister Elizabeth Grace. Beth has decided to host GBE2 via a Facebook group, though with the twist that most people will be using proper blogging sites like Blogger, Blogspot, Wordpress etc to create their blogs on. If you'd like to join in, and you're on FB, please join this Facebook group:
GBE2: Blog On

or go to Beth's Blogging site:

and tell Beth that Ian sent you :-)