“Bring Me Something Nice…”

(Edited 29/10/2020. Noted below)

I love the USA. When I was 14, I was inspired by the music I heard coming out of America. I thought that it was amazing. I wasn’t alone. I had never been touched that deeply by anything. I had never heard anything like that before. I was spellbound, and I bought a cheap guitar which was very difficult to play. I think that it cost me £3, a small fortune in 1955.

I was off and running, and seeing how many of the songs I really loved that I could learn. St James Infirmary was one of the first songs I learned. I imagined what it would be like to see your girlfriend in a mortuary.. It was stark… ‘I went down to St. James Infirmary, And I saw my baby there, Stretched out on a long white table, so cold, so cool, so fair.

There’s an argument in my head about what the first words I heard in that second verse were. I’m sure that some of the old guys were singing ‘so cold, so cool, so bare’ and that the song has undergone some kind of a pc clean up in the twenty first century, but I’m not sure that I’m right about that either. None the less, it was an image that’s never left me.

No one, but no one, was singing such emotional and revealing songs on this side of the Atlantic when I was fourteen. I’d started on a road I’ve never left. I’m full of a broad sweep of British influence in music, but there, right in the heart of me, is the biggest single influence of all of them, and it comes from poor black people whose main way of expressing themselves was to sing out their deepest, most honest emotions in hope of things getting better. One day.

When I first went to the USA in 1968 it was magical. California was a brilliant world in itself. I felt immediately at home, and I clearly should have stayed there. It was almost the same when I got to New York, which was like a music museum. I went to a couple of Jazz clubs and browsed guitars in Manny’s and Sam Ash that were completely out of my league. There were more serious loving commitments in London, but the sheer magic of those first visits to the US left me in awe.

I became very much pro USA, and though the magic never wore off, there were reasons why the contexts of those old songs sank in deeper as time went on. There was a lot more to discover over the next lifetime, lots of it fascinating, some of it horrific.

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(On the Vice-Presidential Debate, October 2020, Vice President Pence declared himself to be ‘Pro-Life’, in other words against women being in control of their own bodies/destinies).

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Roe v Wade was a famous 1973 case in US judicial history that set a precedent which basically stated that a pregnant woman is in charge of her own body. I.e., she alone can choose whether or not to go through with her pregnancy.

This ruling has continuously put political distance between the largely religious right and the liberal ‘left’ in the USA. This distance has grown under Trump.. Most of Trump’s people belong to the minority religious opinion that pregnancy is sacrosanct, and must not be terminated, regardless of any particular woman’s circumstance. Under such laws, and depending on where you live, as we all know, a woman can become pregnant after being raped; and be forced to deliver the offspring of that rape into the world, etc..

We all know these things. We’ve known them for half a lifetime. Actually I’ve lived more than half my lifetime since 1973. So why is it important to bring this up again at this time? And especially it being that I’m three thousand miles away.. well, because what happens in the USA, and especially with regard to democracy, directly affects what happens in the rest of the democratic world.

This is largely because the concept of democracy is fragile, and is easily eroded. Democracy depends on trust, and people believing in their individual vote, their individual opinion, being made to count.

Democracy is the only system in world politics in which each individual citizen gets to vote on who they would prefer to be represented by, in person – from a choice of candidates they themselves have chosen – belonging to different political coalitions or parties of ideas that populate their own region.

This system allows for people from any perceived class or walk of life to rise to any place in any society. Where progress is marked by merit. Not by old school tie, nepotism or cronyism.

It’s the only system in which everyone believes that they have a chance to vote in a society where their joint funds will mostly go towards the common good, and the build up of an equal society.

Piratical and unprincipled authoritarian states and dictatorships are easier to lead, because citizens in those live under edict, and have little choice. These states are at the border. Their followers and operatives are embedded among democratic populations. Mal-intent exists. Everywhere.

Regardless of how you might compare what the current USA looks like, politically and morally, to how it used to be perceived, the Americans are at present, in effect, electing the ‘Leader of the Free World’. The leader of the world’s biggest democracy is usually dubbed with this moniker. It’s intended as some kind of mark of respect…?.. although in recent times there’s a hint of query in there..

At best ‘The Leader of The Free World’ is a titular position, but in theory a position at the altar of the only worldwide belief system that is universally engaged in trying to take the brute out of the ape. Or at least mitigate its affect.

So how is democracy being eroded? How might democracy not be as strong as it once used to be? Well, not that this hasn’t happened before now, but in this particular instance, in the USA, the governing Republican Party are desperate to accomplish two goals either before the presidential election on November 3rd, or in the interim period between November and the January 20th inauguration of the new president. IMO neither of these goals would seem to be maintaining a good democratic standard. They’re anti-democratic.

Their first goal is to get rid of ‘Obamacare’, passed into law by the previous Obama/Biden Government. The conservative Republicans regard Obamacare (free health care for those who can’t afford healthcare), as an unnecessary expense.

Medical corporations become wealthier when everyone has to pay.. when no medicine or treatment is free. Previously, The Republicans have been thwarted on striking either Obamacare or Roe v Wade from the law because they’ve not had the majority necessary in the Supreme Court to nullify these Acts. They’ve also been defeated in the House Of Representatives 60 times over this!

Their second goal is to abolish Roe v Wade, which has been on a Conservative wish list of Acts to repeal since it came into law in 1973. (This Law now contains “rights” for all kinds of people. These include LGBTQ communities).

Start edit…

My old friend Bill Robertson in El Paso wrote a reply (below) to me on my blog about a mistake I’d made in the blog. It’s a technical thing really. In my haste to get the blog finished before Amy Coney Barrett became a member of The Supreme Court, I’d forgotten all about The Constitution! How could I? It contains one of my favourite pieces of English, all time, written by Thomas Jefferson.

Anyway, I had to edit the blog because there’s too much information out there which poses as fact, but is in actuality conspiracy theory or thereabouts, which I didn’t want to add to. So here’s the tweak.. 

Bills and new law are sponsored by members of either House of government, Congress or Senate. Committees are then formed to discuss and research new law before putting it to the vote. 

The Executive branch rubber stamps, or vetoes, bills and new law that has been voted-on in The House Of Representatives, and have then been voted for and passed through The Senate. 

If a law, at a later date, is questioned and subsequently litigated against, it goes to court to be tested. If that test is inconclusive, it rises up the court system until a conclusion or agreement is arrived at. 

The highest court any contested law can rise to is The Supreme Court (of The United States).. (SCOTUS), where ultimately precedent is tested by deep knowledge of the law and the opinions of 9 Justices; and either survives or is altered in some way. Including being struck from the law completely, (repealed). 

Unfortunately, SCOTUS has become increasingly politicized, being populated successively by Left and Right leaning Justices, and is not exactly in the place that the original Founding Fathers intended for it to be. A balanced Court of Justices in 1789 would agree to disagree among themselves. SCOTUS in 2020 is potentially comprised of two partisan groups with differing ideologies, some more extreme than others. 

End edit…

The problem for the Republicans in the present government is that they have not had a clear majority in the Supreme Court during this term in office, so that they haven’t been able to dispose of, or alter, either Roe v Wade or ‘Obamacare’ in the time that they’ve been in government.

On a previous attempt to curtail Obamacare, (The Affordable Care Act or ‘ACA’), in 2017, they failed, even though they thought they had a majority of right wing Republican justices on the Supreme Court. There were only 8 justices sitting at the time, because Chief Justice Scalia, the most right wing judge, had just died. They thought they still had a 5 – 3 majority in 2017, but Justice Roberts, who’d become the new conservative Chief Justice, changed sides, obviously because he didn’t think that it was wise to strip 23 million people of basic healthcare based on one vote.

The result was that it was a 4 – 4 tie, so the legislation which was intended to scrap Obamacare failed, and ‘Obamacare’ remained in effect.

This was galling for the Republicans, so since then, Trump has been detailed by his adopted party to vote new justices to the Supreme Court whenever he can. Since this failure to crush Obamacare, he has made two new conservative justices, though Brett Cavanagh, the last appointee, was given a very hard time, being accused of sexual inappropriations as a young man!

The Republicans were further assisted when liberal Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg died. She was the most brilliant lawmaker of her time. From a great distance, I loved her. She not only always did the most just thing, but she made it known how she’d come by her opinion. She was a Democrat. In all senses of the word. I shed a tear or two when she passed. I’d loosely followed her for thirty years.

She’d helped the Americans to make the best of themselves for a good three decades. She was a big loss. She hung on as long as she could, into her late eighties, through successive bouts of cancer, but in the end she just didn’t quite make it to the next Democrat government that she could hand her very worthy torch on to. On her deathbed, she asked the Trump administration to kindly delay choosing anyone to fill her place before the election.

No sooner was she in the grave than Trump and O’Connell (Republican leader in the Senate) rushed their already chosen ‘Pro-Life’ candidate through the ‘legal’ hoops into a gathering on the South Lawn of the White House to mark her nomination. Appropriately, if ironically, this gathering has since become known as a ‘super-spreader event’. Super-spreading Covid19 into high life..

And so the whole world is now witness to the fact that Judge Amy Coney Barrett will be associated with super-spreading Covid19 for the rest of her life. What she also does with the rest of her life hangs in the balance. Will the Republican administration be able to force her onto the benches of The Supreme Court before the election unopposed? Probably. There doesn’t seem to be anything to stop them from doing so. The Democrats have one day to stop this from happening. Tomorrow, Monday 26th October. Barring a miracle, she’ll be on those benches almost immediately, less than a week before the election.

Considering Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s request, and seeing that O’Connell refused the Obama administration a seat on the Supreme Court in July 2016, four months before the Hillary/Trump election, on the pretext that it was… “Too close to the election”, a new level of chicanery has been plumbed in US politics with Amy Coney Barrett taking her seat with a week to go before this election!

Trump has possibly realised for a couple of months that his time might be up, so his legacy suddenly becomes important to him. His legacy is equal to that of any Reality TV star in history, but he can top it by managing to appoint THREE consecutive conservative justices to the Supreme Court, FOR THE DURATION OF THEIR LIVES. I doubt, historically, whether any other president has achieved that. So, if that happens, his legacy will be a crowning glory for the Republicans..

They’ll be able to stop most left leaning Democrat lawmaking from progressing into law, simply because they’ll have a 6 – 3 majority on the Supreme Court: and because they’ve appointed young judges, like Barrett, with 30 or 40 years ahead of them, the court may become conservative POTENTIALLY FOR DECADES; but wait..

‘The American People’ are now cast in the role of the 8th Cavalry, in October 2020, and they’re just coming up to the top of the hill. Two thirds of them are peed off with the antics of the 45th President, but will they vote? And will they vote him out? Do the Americans enjoy someone so obviously unstable being their president?

This situation is impacting everyone. Do they vote Biden in, as alt-right Amy Coney Barrett slips into a seat on the Supreme Court at the same time?.. They have no choice. She’ll be in there before the election, or in the dead duck transition period between November and late January. This will strip Biden of any real power to move on anything she doesn’t like? The next administration stands the chance of becoming a one woman administration, where law is being administered from the pulpit. Albeit from the born-again pulpit. A new generation of puritans may be upon us. The kind of democracy/justice that prevailed under Judge Jeffries in the 1680’s..

Commentary from PBS.. (‘At the time, in 2016, scores of scholars — law professors, historians and political scientists — urged the Senate to at least have a process for (Judge) Garland (moderate liberal) as a duly appointed nominee with impeccable qualifications. But some lawyers and academics pointed out that the Constitution empowered the Senate to “advise and consent” but did not require it do so. (Some adding that they thought the Senate still ought to do so.) (my parentheses).

Potentially, she’ll mangle or destroy The Affordable Care Act during this November to January interim between presidents, (when, even if Biden wins, the conservatives still hold power, before his inauguration.. in late January).

Can the Democrats mount a fight to preserve these two important pieces of law in those ‘dead duck’ three months? If the Democrats lose, then one of the basic tenets of women’s emancipation is threatened worldwide, and medical care for 20 odd million poorer people in the USA vanishes.

If this happens in the US, this year or next, the democracy we all knew will have been significantly debased, and that reversal is unlikely to be contained within the USA. It will automatically spread like any social malaise into ‘democracies’ worldwide. A political backstep.

In the past, the USA, whether you agree or not, had been a beacon of hope in music/art, industry, expression and style, but its future is turning out to be a progressively conservative reaction to its former democratized views. Newsfeed comment, xenophobia, The Caliphate, PC priority, White Supremacy, Covid fatigue, mental vulnerability, general retreat.. all convey the same thing.

I would argue that Trump is a symptom of this, but who knows? Is the older working woman in the Trump cap right to walk away from the camera? Away from the articulate college girl reporter who’s asking her what Trump’s future plans are.. 

Where am I.. ? ….Now .. Where was I  ? Is there anywhere I should be? Anywhere else.. other than letting stray thoughts stream out onto an empty page in front of me..

If the Democrats win the election, can they hold the republican Senate to ransom with implicit threats about what they may do in February if the Republicans interfere with any current legislation?

Biden isn’t keen on appointing extra Judges to the Supreme Court to ‘balance it up’, and I can see his point. If he appoints two more Democrat judges, he interferes with the basic make up of the court, and where does that then end? But is he still hiding his real intent? A bucket of worms appears. 

An almighty fight is ensuing. The queues at polling stations are long. Trump has been threatening to invalidate Democrat votes in any way he can. He’s calling it an illegitimate election, and apparently ‘voter suppression’ is well underway. In the world’s leading democracy!

This isn’t new. Sadly, it’s been a known practice since voting began. There are many ways to frighten people into not voting. Turning up at polling stations with guns isn’t new either, worldwide. Because of burgeoning communications networks, it’s now become more obvious… and is now planned.

Putin and Xi lately have a new deal, and are looking on, at a standing joke. They back him, because they perceive him as weak, and he sows confusion. All is diddle daddle disingenuous tittle tattle.

Trump is even using the Postal System to delay and clog postal votes. His minions are removing ballot boxes in some states/counties. In many places there are court battles to try to stop this. Not all of them are likely to succeed. People are having to travel 20 to 40 miles to cast their vote, as he continues to spreads rumours of fraudulent voting, accusing the Democrats of rigging the election when he’s the one most obviously trying to. This is ‘democracy’..

This is from the New York Times in early October 2020;

“A federal appeals court reinstated restrictions late Monday night that would allow just a single ballot drop-off site per county in Texas, allowing Gov. Greg Abbott’s order to proceed over criticism that it would make voting more difficult and dangerous.

The three-judge panel in the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, all of whom were appointed by President Trump, reversed a lower court decision from Friday (16/10/20) that had blocked the restrictions. The judges wrote that the order “does nothing to prevent Texans from mailing in their absentee ballots, as they have done in the past in election after election.” This was appealed against, but the appeal has been overruled by the Governor!

In Georgia and South Carolina, and many other places, people have been queuing for 11 hours to vote.

So how do the elderly get to vote? Are the young involved enough? What new tricks, or even laws can be invented or enacted in the next 8 days? Right now, in late October, Pennsylvania has won a battle to allow the counting of votes to go on for three days after the election.. and then another one that says that all valid votes must be counted! 

How can this President possibly cling to power in a few days time? Haven’t the Republicans already done enough to disbar themselves from government for the next cycle in any case? Hasn’t Trump already done enough to be banned from ‘serving’ in ‘public life’ again.. for the rest of his life? Sorry, that was all rhetoric..

The Supreme Court in the USA needs to be more distanced than it currently is from the legislature. More rhetoric?

“…one of the central foundation stones of a democracy is the idea that you do not allow the politicization of the system…  of the criminal justice system, the intelligence system, the military system…

I’m disappointed that Republicans who know better have not checked on this, and a very important question after the election, even if it goes well with Joe Biden, is whether you start seeing the Republican Party restore some sense of norms.. That we can’t breach at all, you know, he’s (Trump) breached all of them, and they have not said to him ‘this is too far’.” Barrack Obama. Friday 14/October/20. (partially in response to Trump’s allegations that Obama was ‘spying’ on him, which was defeated a couple of days before Obama said this.

In my opinion, the people and the people’s lawmakers in the USA, The House of Representatives, need to continue to make the law, unfettered. The Senate and the Supreme Court with their ‘Electoral College’ badly need reform to bring them into the century ahead. The law governing these bodies in the US needs to be changed. There are too many elections being held where the total of the popular vote doesn’t count at all. The ‘Electoral College’ is now dysfunctional.

Al Gore and Hillary Clinton both won the popular vote by millions, but lost their elections. Say what you want about Clinton, unpopular or not, but there probably wouldn’t have been quite the division there has been this last four years if she’d been president. And this does affect confidence the democratic world.

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I feel that I can speak about these things because they’re obvious to me. The reason for that is that American political and judiciary process is based on the older British model. The American model was the British model until 1789, which is awfully close to 1800, i.e., modern.

IMO, they both need changing now. British and American. The House of Lords is an over-populated talking shop with no real power, which in effect works reasonably well in its very narrow context, (i.e., it can’t and doesn’t freeze the process of government in the UK), but it sorely needs improvement. Surely an elected upper house would be better. Even if it was fairly toothless..

(A possible problem with an elected upper house in the UK is that it could slow down government a lot if voting was as meaningful in both houses. Arguing in two houses into the sunset, with no improvement in the jamming of legislation translates as filibuster.. The Senate in the US is democratic but little better, and with added giant power. IMHO, they’ve both outlived their original purpose…

Meanwhile, in both countries, Covid19 is holding sway. Some ridiculous people are hoping that it’ll get worse, for political reasons! While others are praying for their friends and family. I’m hoping that everyone will soon see the wisdom in wearing a mask, and distancing, with respect, even the young.

In both countries the food queues are substantive and growing. That’s the shame I feel the deepest. I feel ashamed that I can isolate in the way I do. I’ve been virtually isolated for thirty years, so the effect on my daily life is marginal. My conscience is another matter. I’d like everyone on earth to be in a similar position. The problem is that it took me the best part of 50 years to get here, even though it doesn’t seem like 50 minutes.

I sincerely hope that you don’t find this over-long. I wrote it because I think that something important is happening this week and next that might go underneath the radar more than it should. Perhaps because we’re all living very different lives to those we were living last year.

I wrote it for myself because I was here, outside it, but right in the middle of it. It might be a mistake to send it to you because I know that we all need to be thinking about more positive things. But I have to remind myself, all the time, that I have a responsibility to myself and my friends to pass things on that I think are relevant to the quality of our lives.

I’m going out now. I might be some time. When I come back I’ll bring you something nice… That’s what I always say to herself, when she masks up and goes to the shop.

“Bring me something nice”, with a smile.. It’s become a trope. My most recent trope. Really all I need is a biscuit, or a pat on the head..

I Hate The White Man – Part 1

As most people who are aware of me will know, ‘I Hate The White Man’ was written in 1968, and was released on Flat Baroque And Berserk in 1969? I’ve never really written about how the song came about, historically, or what I was feeling during the time that it was percolating in my mind, between 1955 and 1968. So now’s as good a time as any to write about that history. 

In this last week I’ve seen added interest in it for obvious reasons. The killing of George Floyd on the streets of Minneapolis was a foul deed enough without actually being witness to it on world television. I watch news all the time, because I like to keep up, so as soon as it was there, so was I. I wondered what I was watching when it first hit the screens, but after a few seconds I was as horrified as I’ve ever been about the general crass attitude of particularly the white cops in the USA. I wanted to reach through the screen and push that cop over, but I was being forced to witness a live execution. It was as horrific a thing as I’ve ever seen, and I’ve seen a lot of death and destruction. They blurred it out in later transmissions, but “I can’t breathe”.. will be with me for the rest of my life.

This action took me right back to my first realisation of what was happening in the USA with regard to race and race relations. I began to become aware of the situation in 1954-5 when Lonnie Donegan had a hit with songs called ‘John Henry’, which was basically a song about a chain gang, and a song called ‘Rock Island Line’. Both these songs  ……. were about life in the early 20th Century USA. I think that The Rock Island Line was the ‘A’ side, but that was of no consequence. Both songs were dynamite.

By the time that Donegan released his next record, all us kids, (I was 14-15 at the time), were starting to know about conditions that black people faced in the USA. I’d never met a black person at the time. I was intrigued. Here was something I could identify with.

Then the Rosa Parkes incident happened on the Montgomery, Alabama bus, and The Civil Rights Movement kicked off. As we all know, that’s a very long time ago now. So why does it feel like yesterday? Because it’s still going on! Nothing has been resolved in the 65 years since I began to hear about it. NOTHING! There has even been a black President, and a fine President too, and yet resolution seems as far away as ever.

Among Donegan’s releases were one or two Leadbelly songs, so I went off to find out all about this guy called Huddie Leadbetter. Briefly he done time in jail for killing people, and been released because the prison governor had been entertained by his songs!! This fact raised wonder in me. I wondered how the hell a murderer could be released just for singing songs. I spent a whole year at about the age of 16 thinking about this occasionally. Especially when I was singing one of his songs.

Then one day, somewhere in my seventeenth year, it dawned on me that where he came from, in the south of the USA, life was cheap, really cheap. I realised that if you were a white Governor in charge of a jail full of black men, you were not only judge and jury, you were god. I began to really understand the fundamental injustice of what was happening. Basically, Black Lives Didn’t Matter. I’ve never written that down before, but I started to know it in 1956-7.

Leadbelly’s songs changed my life. Goodnight Irene sounds like a love song, and it’s been a hit for a few people, but there’s a verse in it that sings, ‘Sometimes I live in the country, Sometimes I live in the town, Sometimes I have a great notion, To jump in the river and drown’. So there’s more to Goodnight Irene than immediately meets the eye. 

The Blues not only denote a cold colour, they describe the colour of a feeling, and often that feeling easily translates into a knowledge of deep depression. ‘Trouble in mind I’m blue, but I won’t be blue always, gonna let that evenin’ train, ease my worried mind’. It’s a mindset. A mindset that’s really difficult to get any release from.

I listened to everyone. Josh White and Big Bill Broonsy were obvious geniuses, Robert Johnson was great. When I was into my early twenties I came across Snooks Eaglin’s first record, which was mesmerising. It was never off the turntable for the best part of a year. It contained the best version of ‘Trouble In Mind’ that I ever heard, but the entire record was riveting for me.

I progressed into a love of jazz after my first encounter with the blues. I loved the songs, the music, the melody, the people, the history. I’d become deeply involved in black culture, from afar, on a distant island. I lived in Blackpool, which was ‘the’ northern holiday entertainment centre. I got to know the Clarke Brothers, black dancers who did a season of shows on the North Pier for a couple of years. They were striking characters from another world. They were athletic, with brilliant timing, and very professional, with a worldly intelligence. I was very impressed by them. Superb men. They came up to the flat I shared with Jimmy Peglar a couple of times. We talked about jazz, their roots, and the USA. They were way above my station at the time. It was an honour to be with them.

I had a dozen Charlie Parker records when I was 18, and when I found Miles Davis, my life changed. Davis inspired me more than perhaps anyone else. At the same time that he always seemed to be sullen, he was one of the most expressive people of my time. He seemed to be in command of every moment he lived through, and determined to convey that to a waiting world. After listening to Miles for a few years, I was impelled to improve on the only instrument I knew, and make my own statement. I’d largely put the guitar down in my eighteenth year, but a year or two later I knew what I wanted to do with my life.

I’d had my own tryst with the blues in any case, and I was ready to start the journey into a serious pursuit of poetic expression.

The journey has been a long one. Suffice to say that it began the first day I heard a man from the USA singing about the circumstances of something deeper and more immediate than I’d ever been exposed to earlier in my life. Effectively, I thought that I was trying to bring what I’d discovered in ‘John Henry’ and ‘Trouble In Mind’, into fusion with all of my other cultural experiences. 

I felt confident enough to try to begin to use my other influences, including Keats and Shelley, Beethoven, Kerouac, Stravinsky, Leadbelly, Shakespeare, Whitman, Robert Service and anyone who had ever inspired this hard fought progress through a youth I was too old for into an adulthood I wasn’t ready for. And I was obviously stupid enough to try. 

So I began to invent a kind of blues of my own making. Some of the songs were actually called blues, like ‘MCP Blues’ and ‘McGoohan’s Blues’, and others should have been, like ‘October 12th’ and, o yes, ‘I Hate The White Man’. ‘I Hate The White Man’ was a song that wrote itself in 1968. To cut a long story short, I’d been involved in the tumult of that year. 

Among other events that Spring, I’d agreed with my friend, photographer Stefan Tyszko to meet in Grosvenor Square for the demonstration against the Vietnam War. I was up late as per usual, so when I got there I couldn’t get into the Square. I tried, but there were thousands crushed in there. The noise was like being in a pitched battle momentarily, and the cops were blocking the streets off, so people were piling up everywhere and being trapped.

I tried to get between people, in my usual manner. I used to think that I was lithe enough to get through anything, but the crowd was completely pressing, and dangerous. Then I got trapped, along with others, against the black painted railings in the street leading into the Square. I was almost injured, so I slowly worked my way out.

I thought that Stefan would have been up there at the business end of the violence, taking photos, but I’ll have to check on that. It was a good lesson in what to try to avoid in the future. It was a riot, and completely out of control when I got there. I’ve never been that concerned about personal safety, but I was reminded that day that the force of a moving crowd is overwhelming.

Then the following month, Martin Luther King was killed. As people might know, I was never a friend of religion. I’ve always felt alienated by religion, and by any thought of a reliance on anything that looked or felt like dippy superstition, but the killing of Martin Luther King was something different altogether. It was an affront to the civilised world, and a crime against humanity, against us all. Civil Rights were the single most important thing we fought to preserve in that moment, and this was amplified when he was killed.

I’d read Black Elk Speaks, along with other accounts of the treatment of indigenous ‘Americans’ by white planet creep. The stories of Red Cloud and Sitting Bull. Of Crazy Horse and Geronimo. The song was beginning to write itself. There was anger in my heart. I was dripping with my own blood.

I thought that I had to own up. Everything in my heart was telling me that I had to speak, because I knew first hand that there were millions of black people in the world who were more gifted than I was, and in particular, as humans. I’d met some of them, and read about countless others.

I thought at first that it might be a song like ‘We Shall Overcome’, but then I thought that that song was owned by the wet and wheedling white middle class. The song was a bit of a puff-ball. I then knew where I was. I knew that I had to deliver a statement. The treatment of Caryl Chessman, who was executed in the gas chamber at San Quentin jail in May 1960, reminded me about how institutionally cynical white justice really was. Chessman was no saint, and he wasn’t black, but he fought for his life for about twelve years before the California Supreme Court apparently !unwittingly!, filled the execution chamber with gas while his latest stay of execution was ‘on its way’! I went for it, I transferred the hate I had for the countless betrayals of ‘due course’ I’d witnessed over the years. It was going to have venom.

The record was reviewed by the Joan Bakewell in one of the broadsheets, at the end of her review she said, “It is to be hoped that he doesn’t believe in some of the things he’s singing about”. I’ve never trusted her opinion since that day.

Ten years later, I began to realise that the song was far too long, that for best effect it should be cut down to the two verses in which the real meat of the song is to the fore. So a little later than that, I was singing just the first verse and the last verse. The long version edges on esoteric/trance because of my overuse of coded prose/rhyme. Every line in the second and third verses has a direct relation to the ethic/meaning, but perhaps it’s too flowery for the later roy. The point needs to be made succinctly, and quickly.

With the murder of George Floyd, the song has relevance again. Not that it didn’t, ever, but it’s again witness to the fact that this principle, this truth, that all humans are born equal, is a torch that needs to continue to be carried by all of us who have been aware of the injustice meted out to people who have a different colour of skin than Cecil Rhodes. Actually, a different colour of mind.

We had someone at my old school who won a ‘Rhodes Scholarship’ to Oxford. I’d have been about fourteen at the time, and about as close to that kind of an achievement as I would have been to Pluto. I’m very lucky. I’ve been guided by my heart, all my life, to put the underdog first; and I Hate The White Man is part of that. But I had to go further than that, and I knew as much at the time of writing the song.

I knew that writing another ‘We Shall Overcome’ type of drone was just useless. The word that follows ‘Overcome’ in that song is ‘someday’, and someday was too late, even 51 years ago. So as you can imagine, my intent at the time was to cut through ‘someday’. ‘Someday’ is cynical, and the worst way to be trying to educate people. How much notice of ‘someday’ are you going to take?

I almost understand black frustration at not being understood AT ALL, perhaps because I fall into that bag for some of the same reasons. At the age of four I was continually put down, and it became a recurring theme. But I can’t put myself in the same class as being racially repressed, even before you get up in the morning.

I’ve gone through racial abuse. I was spat on twice in France in 1959 for having blue eyes and blonde hair. I was threatened with a knife in New York in 1969 for being English, by an Irish American ‘patriot’. I had to stand my ground. He had to be pulled away. In San Antonio, Texas, where I sang I Hate The White Man on the radio in 1969, they received a phone call which was handed to me. It was a guy who said, 

“Are you Roy Harper?” I answered him in the affirmative. Then he asked me whether I’d written the song. Again I said ‘yes’, to which he said,

“Man, I’ve got a gun here.. I’m gonna come down there an’ put you out your misery”… in a Texan drawl.

I was raced out of the door within a minute. The radio guys drove me back to my hotel. We were there in what seemed like seconds. From talking to interested people about writing and music one minute, to being rushed back to a hotel room the next is a headless human moment. I still had the momentum being generated by the interview in my mind and body, but in the next moment, I’d suddenly been teleported into a silent hotel room. I was still in the middle of a sentence.. that was never delivered. Off the cliff, but never landing.

I’ve had a thousand of such moments, but that’s not in the same class as being dulled every day by a glance into the mirror. Knowing that the alien culture/society sneaking through into that mirror, the mirror that’s telling you, with every breath, that you’d like to be someone else, somewhere else, must be soul-destroying. To want to be someone other than the person that you are, or worse still, other than the one that you ‘could’ be, has to be a living nightmare. Ignorance is bliss, but not a lot of black people are ignorant.

In some ways, at times, we all want to be someone else. I wanted to be a fighter pilot, but I was twenty years too late. But that’s a white boy talking about a youthful fantasy of his own, in his own culture.

In the real world, institutional racism is everywhere. It’s written subliminally into the law, sometimes by mindlessly not recognising that law has to be re-written to be inclusive. Society is lazy about itself, especially in ‘good’ times. And the law is more often a sloth than an ass. And it’s absolutely no good using a by-law about damaging public works, to stall the removal of a public work, when it’s been clearly obvious for a long time that this particular ‘work’ is well past its use by date. It should have been put into a museum an age ago, and not become the focus of social unrest. Or for a clandestine attempt to discover whether a virus is as virulent as the last time the young public were all shouting in the streets together.

It’ll now go into the local museum, bashed and battered by its recent dive off the dock. It’ll be in a case with banners and memorabilia from the demo. And all the locals will go to see themselves now and then, and they’ll wonder at what times were like in the early 21st Century. Or perhaps the museum will be under water in fifty years time…

But it’s wrong of me to be taking my focus off the job in hand, which is to try to make this count a lot more than it did last time round. It’s a shame that Rentamob turned up to loot and burn, as they usually do, but this  time must be made to count. There are a lot of young black people who will change this society for the better if real change is now put in motion. 

They might help us all to help ourselves. Society is only as good as it’s weakest constituent, so let’s begin to try to allow the perceived weaker to begin to enjoy the strength they have. There is no other way. There is no alternative. 

An Anonymous Thought

At the beginning of April, I began to realise that if this lockdown lasted throughout the Spring, then the conditions for wildlife to prosper would be better than in any year I’ve experienced since I was a child. 

A month later, it’s beginning to look really good. We have greenfinches, goldfinches, chaffinches, goldcrests, a song thrush, a chiff chaff; blue tits, coal tits and great tits in the walls, collared doves in a tree next the house, a Siskin in the vicinity, a heron!, at least 3 lots of blackbirds, wrens, a dunnock, a robin or two, pesky Jackdaws and even more irritating starlings. 

Then there are gulls and buzzards overhead, and an owl, probably long eared, who leaves pellets under our bedroom window. I hear pheasants down the hill, and partridges used to nest here, though I haven’t seen them for a few years now. I haven’t seen a bullfinch yet this year either, but a lot of buds have gone missing.

The jackdaws begin to surround the house in February. I try to shoo them off every day, but it never works. They used to build nests in the chimney, and we were regularly having to open the access to the old wood burner to let one of the young out. They’d fall out of the nest and possibly down an adjacent chimney pot. Either that or the whole nest would come clattering down the chimney with young “jack” in tow. What a mess. It was always a black mess, because of all the soot that came down and out with the young bird.

The danger they present is that there’s a threat of a chimney fire with half a nest a quarter of the way down a chimney. But a real annoyance is the fact that they’ll try to build a nest on the sloping roof. They always fail because the roof is too steep, but sticks fall into the gutter and clog the flow of water into the drain. And lie in great stick-piles on the ground beneath the gutter. Which is out of reach, twenty five feet above the ground.. So they’re a liability, and the March air is often filled with the loud voice of an ancient ape shouting into the mist.

They watch him. They know that he’s an ape. They can hear it. He’s got a very old pellet gun that he goes into the house for, in order to make a bigger sound. In 30 years he’s never hit one of them. Actually, the damn thing wouldn’t hit a barn door five yards away, but it does provide the sanctuary of getting them to take off for a few seconds. They retort. Six or eight of them will shout “jack”, all at once. It’s a ritual. It doesn’t happen more than once these days. We just share looks of suspicion. Stare at each other.

Every year, half way through these exhaustive attempts to try to build on a sloping surface, I find smashed eggs on the ground. He doesn’t have much of a clue actually, he’s just the giddy activating tool, but the egg forming inside her must alert her to the fact that it’s got to go somewhere. Maybe not! Since she has no nest to drop it into, she goes into what we must assume is jackdaw labour on a ridge tile, and pops it out onto the roof.. and it just rolls off and smashes 30 feet below. Life is cheap among the daws. I’ve seen three eggs laid from 30 feet into the ground like this in one season..

I’ve never actually seen her do it, so I’ve not been able to look into her face at the time to see whether or not it could be classed as a tragic event.. or just a minor cursory excretion.

They flutter when I come out. Perched on the edge of the gutter to see what I’ll do this time. The idiot. Look at him, down there, idiot! The wall belongs to them from February to May. It’s a cliff edge to them, in a universe of cliff edges with holes in them. I should have put the scaffolding up when I had it, and filled all the holes with cement and stone, but I never managed to do it. Most of the holes are old wooden scaffold pole holes. When I first came to the house there was still wood in a couple of them. Wood from 1827, when it was built. I wish that I’d taken that wood out now, and kept it as a souvenir of the house thirty years ago. I miss those 1827 pieces of wood.

The house has retained the look it had when I first saw it. It was like something out of a Bronte novel. Did I have a secret longing to become Heathcliff? Perhaps I’d be willing to court that kind of silent, desperate rage; but… no, I just needed a warm fire to stare into, to encourage the latest vision, to labour over a thought, before letting it go without knowing, without even making a record of it. An anonymous thought.

Tracy has described a bird to me that sounds like a snipe, that’s flown out in front of her somewhere down the hill, but I have no proof.

The list above is all common stuff. I haven’t seen anything rare yet, but this is the first Spring for a long time without business somewhere in the distance. It’s really quiet. I can usually catch long scars of aircraft exhaust across the sky on a clear day. Scores of them. We’re 35,000 ft below the route to the east coast of the USA. They’d be audible on a still sunny day, but they’re not there, they’re not anywhere. It’s not been like this since 1960. 

Actually, this year there’s been a bit of confusion. Covid looks and sounds very similar to Corvid, which is a word that I’ve used since I was a kid to describe the crows as a related family. Corvidae in Latin. The corvids in these islands are ravens, carrion crows, hooded crows, rooks, jackdaws, magpies, jays, and choughs. So sometimes I refer to the disease as corvid-19, because I’ve used that word all my life. I couldn’t help it at first. I quickly grew out of it, but the association in my mind is still there. Four weeks ago, I’d have just got up and daydreamed through my morning cleaning ritual; gone downstairs into the kitchen with the radio on: and one of the first words I would have heard would have been ‘covid’. Wham! A picture of a magpie flashes into my head. So that in February I was seeing magpies all day!? With the occasional jackdaw thrown in.

Last year a hooded crow nested in the tallest tree in the garden. The tree is about 50ft tall. We noticed, possibly before the crows did, that the tree was dead at the top. So that instead of the nest being hidden by the spring growth, it was still naked after the eggs had been laid. Hooded crows are notoriously shy, but there they were, in full view during the entire nesting period. Their behaviour was interesting. The pair of them would fall like stones out of the other side of the nest until they were about ten or fifteen feet from the ground, probably in the hope that they wouldn’t easily be seen. It became something I’d see happening every day for 2 or 3 months this time last year. They’ve wised up, and they’re not back this year. Shame; I enjoyed them. 

There was a huge tree at the gate that was taken down in the storm of October 2017. The ravens used to nest in it. We’d hear them croak and bark throughout the day. It was like listening to tuneful dogs. It was fantastic to have them here, but they’ve lost their cover now, and I’ve only heard them a couple of times this year. They suited the house, and it was surrealistically mutual for the human in me.

Even though some of the crows are majestic, and very intelligent, they’re all flying rodents. None more sly than the magpies. I usually work in the studio in the spring and summer with the studio door open. So I’m sometimes sitting with a guitar, but more often at the computer. I face north into the screen, as the sun slowly comes into the door to the south west, which is on my left. So that I glance to my left and see that the shadow has moved, and just after midday in mid summer, the sun breaches the roof to the south and starts to shine in through the studio door.  

On a nice day in June last year, I was in situ when an awful row burst out in the yard. The swallows were angry and shrieking, and a couple of magpies were cackling like they do. I sprung up immediately. It wasn’t difficult to know what was happening. The magpies were attacking the swallow fledglings. I jumped out of the door and headed for them. I shouted and they squawked and scattered. 

“HEY, HEY!” I shouted loudly. I went over to the wood shed to see whether or not they’d pulled the nest off the beam. I really enjoy the swallows, they’re really good fun and they’re endearing. They know that they are, so they have a symbiotic relationship with us where they provide company and we provide some kind of shelter. By the time I’d got to the shed, Tracy was already out of the house, and we found the head of a young swallow. Just the head. Probably the body had gone down in one gulp.

The dinosaurs had been. They were dinosaurs with brains. They knew when to pillage. They could easily have taken the eggs, but it’s just possible that they’d waited until more energy had been stored in the young birds before they could no longer wait. The meal was ready. Sod all these slugs, and bits and pieces of dead stuff.. Get the fillet steak out, slap it down in one gulp, and chase it with a Champaign of rattling laughter. In reality, they could just have been alerted to the chicks by the constant flow of traffic to the nest by the parent swallows. There are times when I’d really like to have a proper gun, but that’s not the way I should ever intervene. My presence and my voice have to be enough. Always.

The swallows were edgy for the rest of the day, but the magpies weren’t going to return, especially to be greeted by the apes. Their instinct tells them that the apes can endanger life. They’re not really going to be that willing to strike again on the off chance. I played outside that evening, until dusk. I sang out. They didn’t come back.

But the worst of our neighbours are the starlings. From February to late May, it’s the earthlings versus the starlings. It’s my fault, because I’ve always prioritised other things rather than the smaller holes in the walls… which belong to them for a whole three months at this time of the year. And I have to raise my voice, because if I don’t they’ll be back to start a second brood. It’s like having ten unwanted sergeant majors move in at once. Keeping them out is virtually impossible. They WILL find a way. 

Up close, they’re spectacularly decorated birds, but sadly, they’re vermin, and their arrogance is absolute, and confrontational. For a creature of that size, they’re unbelievably aggressive. Their will to breed in exactly the place they want to is astounding. You can throw the kitchen sink at them and they’ll still come back. Really, we should be killing them, because they really are flying rats. A two hundred pound starling would rule the world. They seem to have everything except size.. Intelligence, flight, character, communication, stamina and cunning.

As each year goes by, I ask our neighbour Brian, who’s good at fixing most things, about putting up scaffolding to finally plug the holes. In the past, we’ve blocked one or two by just putting stones into them from a ladder. This year, before all the spring noise started to happen, I asked him would he put some scaffolding up, but then I started to think about it. There are nine outside walls on the house. All of them represent nesting sites. Putting nine lots of scaffolding up just isn’t going to work. The expense, just to keep the starlings out, would challenge the national debt, and that’s before any of the actual work begins… So then we thought that we’d hire the mobile bucket crane from the local tool hire, and we’d get it done.

He came back to report that they were now charging €250 a day for it! So it was going to take at least a week to get around the house, find them all and block them. There are at least five pairs nesting in the wall as I write, but there are probably 200 holes, so you can see the problem. It’s much easier for them to choose an alternative hole than it is for Brian to find them all. 

So the bucket crane would have to be hired again, and maybe again… and.. the hire price is a rip off. We know that, but if they can get that much a day, and they obviously can, then that’s the going rate. Before I say anything else, I must tell you that the walls are two feet thick, so the birds mostly don’t get into the house through the wall..

As I was about to suggest a compromise, Brian was dragged off to England for a family bereavement… and Covid arrived. I’d missed my chance again.

So the starlings are still with us. Largely because I’m not going to dump cash into a bottomless anti-starling slush fund. Even so, it’s now become a choice. Do I get rid of them or not? Is it a priority? There are other priorities. A floor needs to be put down in the dining room. It was half done just before Covid struck. The old floor has had it. It would be done now but for this lockdown. And that’s not all that needs to be refreshed. And there’s a budget.

I think that I have to go for it, and there’s one overriding thought. I want to have sparrows back in my life. I grew up with them. I know them. They’re really sociable in a different way than starlings are. Let me just drift for a moment and make a couple of wildly speculative comparisons. For me, starlings represent middle class soldier/civil servant officers. Their arrogance befits their nature. They are ‘in command’. They’re snotty, and they boss and dictate. They have a social rigidity that would seem to be law-bound. You do this.. this happens.. You do Not deviate! They live in Gilead. And they’re shite filled peeves.

Sparrows are totally different. Their society is much more integrated. They live in an actual commune. They squabble about stuff, very regularly. At least three times a day someone has run off with someone else’s Mrs for a quick one, or someone else’s beak has been put out of joint by some odd remark. So that their society is much more socially integrated than that of the starling, whose social life, at least in the nesting season, seems to be about more order and less contact among couples. In the autumn, there are massive flocks of starlings, whereas the sparrows just chirp along, day by day. Starling flight is strong and quite fast, whereas sparrow flight is a brief flutter from A to B. The starlings largely disappear in the winter. The sparrows stay put.

Now. Can I intervene? Do I want to bring a little bit of chirpy disorder back to my own environment? Mm, can I single handedly replace one species with another? Can I be god? Could I do it in mutant stages? I’m starting to read through de-extinction papers, but gene-editing wouldn’t be my strong suit, so I might have to do a bit of plain old cut and paste. If I was, by some chance, able to fill all the holes in the two walls at the studio entrance, and put sparrow-size open nest boxes up on the wall in the autumn.. then something else might arrive into them in the spring.

I’d have to put a few nest boxes high on the wall, with entrances smaller than a starling could comfortably get into. So, who might come if that was the case? There are only a few that would use a house wall nest box. Swallows might, but they don’t arrive until April 26th. It would be occupied by then, and probably by great tits. Cheeky birds with a lot of character. No chance! The Stasi would already know, and would already have found a hole nearby that the apes had missed, and the tits would be stared down, psychologically overcome, and hounded out.  

Back at ‘The Big Stone Tent’, the drama will continue into another season. It should be on the History Channel actually, along with ‘Mountain Men’, or The Discovery Channel, along with ‘Alaska The Last Frontier’. Will raymundo ever be able to get up at dawn in February to outflank the starlings with a pea shooter and mud pies? 

A fox screams in the chill night air.

The next series will begin in the Autumn. 


4:01 AM

I’m tempted to throw the iMac out of the studio door and kick it in the teeth! But actually I’d just be committing metaphorical GBH again, right here in Paradise.. imagine that! 

Man Lurches Into Internet With Intent!! Brandishing Axe!! Says that he was ground into the virtual AstroTurf on Safari, and Google, both of which repeatedly changed and hid his access codes, and refused to recognise him: so that he quickly developed a savage urge to stick them right up their own system preferences! 

Man Couldn’t Get Away! Was stalked into paradise and forced into blinkers with matchsticks holding his eyes open, on his second bottle of Boots Dry Eyes, to read ‘Logic For Junkies’, which he found interrupted his buzz. It then collapsed into the ether, and refused to be found. He tried to pull a few levers, but they were trying to pull him further into the abyss. Just when he thought he was getting somewhere he was enraged, at 4 0’clock in the morning. Alone. In the middle of nowhere. NJAAAA!!!!

PS. St. Thomas’ Hospital

Like everyone else, I’m very unhappy with what’s happening around the world at present with regard to the virus. I’m finding that every day there are devastating losses that I can’t allow myself to get used to. Again, like everyone else, I’m moved a few times every day. Right now it can be by anything, but mostly by people being human.

By adversaries agreeing, by the intelligent resolve the Spanish medics are handling what is a national disaster, by the Italian doctors in Naples totally sealed off in impregnable plastic suits who’ve had zero infections among their number since the emergency started, and are making complete sense. By the people singing to themselves in Rome.

Remembering walking around in Rome in the heat of the July day, and spending 2 or 3 hours in the Leonardo museum across the piazza from where we were staying a couple of years ago. And my five stays at St Thomas’ Hospital, Lambeth over the years. Getting better one time, and walking to the end of the ward and staring at the Houses of Parliament just across the river when I was 31. Sister Chapman and nurse Kate. All the death in the ward at the time. “Yes, it has been a little much this last week or two Roy”.

And the most dedicated doctor I’m ever likely to meet in my life, Michael W-P. A pure missionary who’s largely responsible for me still being here. Then all the rushing; a team would come flying in as the curtain was quickly pulled around someone. The frantic atmosphere from behind the curtain, with a lot of movement, but hardly anything being said. 

And then, after about ten minutes, as a still begins to come from behind the curtain, white coats emerge, slowly walking out silently from behind it; and washing their hands in the sinks in the middle the ward. Some walking away quickly, others just strolling disconsolately. 48 years ago. Then again, just over twenty years ago, the same doctor, in the same place, and two procedures later, over a period of 3 months, giving me another 20 years, and counting..

Funny slightly aged building now, seeing it on tv, parts of the decor have fallen off the front of it. The first time I was in there, the ward had about 25 beds. The second time, it had been divided up a bit more. There were more wards, and they all had four beds. It looked like it was easier for the nurses to work in. They didn’t have to walk all day. It’s a huge warren, but it’s also a regular, very busy, ordinary hospital in there, always in some state of re-reparation, with all the staff working tirelessly around everything else.

Inside the entrance on the north east side there’s a statue of the young king, Edward V1, son of Henry V111 and Jane Seymour, who died as a teenager. I remember reading the inscriptions on it and thinking that he must have been a bright young man. I rarely think about privilege when I’m reading something like that, I always think about the human, and the time. He signed a charter for the refounding of the hospital in 1551. He died a couple of years later. His privilege couldn’t save him. Both his sisters succeeded him. What a different world it might have been without Elizabeth 1, and Walsingham..

In Ireland, we got the disease later than the UK, which made a big difference. We were better forewarned, and didn’t change course. We had a week or two’s grace to get ready, and closed some amenities, pubs and gatherings, just four days after the UK. It could be said that we’re more protected in Ireland, but it’s not finished yet.

A local nurse lives near us, and the messages from there are not that different than they would be from the UK. Everywhere in Europe, it’s the same story. They’re all going to get PPE tomorrow, but it never comes, and the medical staff work in danger.

 In France, Macron has finally admitted that there’s a problem getting hold of PPE worldwide. The world delegated China in their spare time, and it’s not working. New York has now told people to wear masks. It’s a no-brainer. We knew that weeks ago, but we also knew that the medics needed all of them.

I don’t know why the NHS don’t let that be known in England. The government surely has to tell them to. Just be honest. We can all take that. I saw Vallance prevaricating today. Raab has to say something. We can all see it on their faces.

I’ll be writing. It’ll probably be a song. It’s already started in my head. I’ve got to be extremely careful. No meaningless words. Got to observe with grace. And write with charity.
royx