Feeling My Age

Getting older has its drawbacks – but it's a lot better than the alternative.

1963 Radio

“One of the curiosities of the British music scene in the early ’60s was the so-called ‘needletime agreement’ that had been struck between the BBC and the Performing Rights societies and the Musicians’ Union. Only five hours of recorded music could be played per day. Everything else had to be performed live by a BBC ensemble or a band hired to play on the radio. It generated work for the musicians but also fed all the songs of the day through a strange filter of orchestras on the BBC Light Programme, the musical frequency that ran adjacent to the Home Service You could turn on the wireless in 1961 and believe that it was still 1935. You might hear the strings of Semprini playing light classics, or the polite dance music of Victor Silvester and His Ballroom Orchestra, or even a broadcast of someone playing happy tunes on a cinema organ for an entire hour.”

The BBC Radio Orchestra

“It seemed the BBC would do anything to fill up the broadcast schedule, and it was on the air only from early morning, with the Shipping Forecast, to just before midnight, when it closed with some improving thoughts from a vicar. I’d wait all week for Saturday Club, a two-hour show that featured live appearances by pop groups in between the records. Beat Groups, as they were now being called, would turn up on variety shows and have jokes made about their hair by comedians who might have only been five years older than them. The Joe Loss Orchestra may have seemed square to some ears – one famous beat group member once told me, ‘We used to call him Dead Loss’ – but they made a better job of playing the hits of the day than some of their contemporaries, due to their ingenious arrangements and having at least one very versatile singer. This was often the only may to hear your favorite songs, if not the original artists.”

From Unfaithful Music and Disappearing Ink
Elvis Costello
Paberback, May 2016

Elvis Costello

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Hipy Papy Bthuthdy

April 11, 2016 Feeling My Age

Owl by E H Shepard - from

Owl licked the end of his pencil, and wondered how to spell “birthday.”
“Can you read, Pooh?” he asked a little anxiously. “There’s a notice about knocking and ringing outside my door, which Christopher Robin wrote. Could you read it?”
“Christopher Robin told me what it said, and then I could.”
“Well, I’ll tell you what this says, and then you’ll be able to.”
So Owl wrote . . . and this is what he wrote:


Pooh looked on admiringly.
“I’m just saying ‘A Happy Birthday’,” said Owl carelessly.
“It’s a nice long one,” said Pooh, very much impressed by it.
“Well, actually, of course, I’m saying ‘A Very Happy Birthday with love from Pooh.’ Naturally it takes a good deal of pencil to say a long thing like that.”
“Oh, I see,” said Pooh.

From Winnie-the-Pooh (1926), by A.A. Milne
Chapter Six: In Which Eeyore Has A Birthday And Gets Two Presents
Illustration by E.H. Shepard

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Saw a preview of the new movie Pride – which is co-produced by BBC Films – and came away both tearful and uplifted. I vividly remember people collecting for Lesbians & Gays Support The Miners during the epic strike of 1984/5, but didn’t know at the time that The National Union of Mineworkers had been reluctant to accept the group’s support. The movie tells the story of how the activists ended up taking their donations instead directly to a small mining community in Wales, and how – despite some vigorous opposittion within their ranks – the villagers eventually came around to accepting and welcoming their support.

Most movingly of all, it shows how a large delegation of miners turned up to march in solidarity at the head of the 1985 Pride parade in London. I remember one of the miners’ wives coming onto the main stage in Jubilee Gardens to thank LGSM for the £20,000 they raised, and to say she would be proud for any child of hers to grow up gay. The following year a motion to enshrine LGBT rights in the Labour Party manifesto was passed, largely thanks to a block vote by the NUM.

Critics have complained that the story has been simplified and glamourised, and that the scene where villagers get up en mass in the Miners Hall to sing spontaneously in perfect Welsh Choir harmony is a tad sentimental. But screw that – the cast, acting and cinematography are stellar, and above all the story is a true one. This stuff actually happened.

Not a dry eye in the house – then or now.

Pride has its own excellent website and opens in UK cinemas on September 12th 2014.

Pride The Movie

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One of the more memorable TV advertising slogans of the last 20 years came from Murphy’s Irish Stout – whose main rival back in the 1990s was the hugely popular, though more bitter-tasting, Guinness brand.

Murphys brewery in Cork had been taken over by the Dutch giant Heineken, whose own lager famously “refreshes the parts that other beers cannot reach”. Heineken commissioned a series of 30 second vignettes set in Irish pubs starring a handsome young actor recovering from a series of humorous misfortunes with a comforting pint.

“Like the Murphys,” he would say, “I’m not bitter.” Take that, Guinness! The ads were launched during Channel Four’s Father Ted Christmas Special in 1996.But just who was this suave, twinkly-eyed star of all three ads, and why haven’t we seen more of him since then? It’s been extraordinarily hard to find out… [More]

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As mentioned in an earlier post about Wild Swimming, my wife is a member of the South London Swimming Club at Tooting Bec Lido. whose wintertime activities appear – to the casual observer – to be plain barking mad. Namely open air swimming in water just below 5C.

However in this gorgeous new video shot by a ridiculously fit SLSC member called Jonathan Cowie, his own dolphin-like grace and the beauty of the setting makes the whole ritual look truly graceful and enticing. It seems almost tempting to have a go. Almost.

But then you remember thay on some days SLSC members have to break the ice before they can even get into the water for goodness sake… Fit and graceful or not, these people are crazy.

To be continued…

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Gilbert E. Hawker

January 6, 2014 Feeling My Age

Photo source: http://www.ww1photos.com
Photo: with grateful acknowledgement to ww1photos.com

From Dad’s diary:  “Gilbert E. Hawker, whom my mother May described as “a golden haired engineer and the joy of our year” was light-hearted, smiling and flirtatious. When he was fighting in France in 1918 May sent him by way of comforts for the troops a pair of socks she had knitted and a slab of home-made toffee. Later, on a visit to Flanders after the war, Hawker’s name was the first that caught her eye on the Menin Gate (below). My father once showed me a photograph of the college football team and said that none but he had survived. This is Hawker’s letter, written on cheap lined letter paper…”

My Dear May,

I am attempting to answer your epistle of loving cheer under somewhat trying circumstances. I am sitting next to a rather warm stove in a dark corner of a typical Flemish estaminet. The company talks Flemish, French and English, and are kicking up an awful row. A young lady of ample proportions is ironing sundry domestic garments on my right side, six Life Guards are blessing the service to my front and my friend is chattering vile French on my left flank. All over pervades the odour and noise of two small children and a dog. The usual glass of watery beer is at mine elbow so here’s to the fair May.

I have now gulped half a pint of water and a thimbleful of beer to you. The atmosphere is stifling hot and I can’t see the lines I’m supposed to write on, but being a soldier I’ll stick to my post and hope you can figure out the script. May, I’m simply awfully bucked to hear from you. The people from the college have all turned out aces and I absolutely love the place since it was my last link with the civilised world. The stout lady has just lit a vilely malodorous lamp so I’ll manage better by its dim light. The socks were charming and you must be a hero to have stuck through the monotonous period of knitting ’em. I washed my tootsies: the socks’ arrival coincided with my monthly ablutions and I put ’em on, and never felt better in my life. Considering what came with them I shall never part with them so long as this noble heart still works its revs per min. as usual.

Of course, I’m a real veteran by now, and when you’ve buried pals by night in a bleak rain under fire and picked up bits of chaps, there ain’t such a thing as horror. It’s called sport by the boys who won’t be killed. The fellows never get very excited about this because they’re in it, and Lord knows they may cart the corpse of G.E.H. to a convenient hedge some dark night. The toffee was really excellent, ’cause they can’t make toffee here, they’re all such mercenary idiots. The thing that does really worry us is this: who is looking after all the dear girls while we’re away? It haunts me day and night and spoils my appetite. Freda, like the brick she is, writes and keeps me alive occasionally. And now, May, I cannot hear myself write for the row and other things so au revoir, and for thy fair sake I’ll keep under the barricade.

Accept the heartiest thanks and best wishes from your old friend

Thomas Atkins aka G.E.H.

“…the letter is undated, but was sent from somewhere on the Western front in 1918, the year of his death

Menin Gate inscription, Ypres

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Child A Leaves Home

September 23, 2013 Feeling My Age

Baby Child A

Our son left home last month – where does the time go? He’s shared our roof ever since we first brought him home from maternity hospital back in 1990: the end of an era in our family life.

Child A Leaves Home

He graduated last year, got himself a decent digital job in Shoreditch and can at last afford to take on a flatshare in Docklands. Wife and Child K were away camping at the time, so there was just me to see him off.

They say you need to give your kids both roots and wings, but the theory’s easier than the practice. Standing alone in his deserted room after he’d gone I could have howled like a dog.

Leaving Home

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Steve Winwood

September 1, 2013 Feeling My Age

Steve Winwood - click to zoom image in new window

Photo of Steve Winwood in 1967 aged 19 – just after leaving the Spencer Davis Group to form Traffic. Young, modest, immensely talented and adorably goodlooking. What was not to like?

I saw Traffic when they headlined the Teespop Festival in 1968 and they were immense. Nothing on any of their studio albums ever came close to the freewheeling majesty of that band at the height of their powers. Wonderful groove-driven jams and memorable chorus – all achieved without a bass player.

Steve played bass pedals on his Hammond most of the time, and when he switched to guitar, Chris Wood would actually somehow play the basslines on his tenor sax. I’m not making this up – he had some kind of electronic pickup routed though a bass amp via – presumably – some kind of early state of the art electronic gizmo that dropped it down an octave and rolled off all the top end. Amazing.

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The Order of Things

August 27, 2013 Feeling My Age

From Acts Of Knowledge - click to visit site
Illustration & commentary used with grateful acknowledgement to Acts of Knowledge:
a collaborative project with John Morgan, Bill Macmillan, Lori Lee, Aschoy Collective

Celestial Emporium of Benevolent Knowledge is a Chinese Encyclopedia described by Jorge Luis Borges (1899–1986), in which animal are categorised into 14 types:

(a) belonging to the Emperor
(b) embalmed
(c) tame
(d) sucking pigs
(e) sirens
(f) fabulous
(g) stray dogs
(h) included in the present classification
(i) frenzied
(j) innumerable
(k) drawn with a very fine camelhair brush
(l) et cetera
(m) having just broken the water pitcher
(n) that from a long way off look like flies

This classification – says the Acts Of Knowledge website – explores the arbitrariness (and cultural specificity) of any attempt to categorize the world and  demonstrates an “other” to our system of thought. In Michel Foucault‘s book “The Order of Things“, he explicates an “archaeological” investigation of knowledge acquisition; he also comments on the fragility of our current means of understanding the world. For Foucault reasoning is the ultimate act of control, delivered through the power of representation to confirm an objective order.

Acts of Knowledge begins with a text found in an old social studies text used in U.S. classrooms. This educational text delivers a structural form of knowledge and a series of narratives about the similar and the other. Acts of Knowledge uses the primary forms of knowledge – the encyclopedia – to question the structure imposed by reasoning. In that context, the acts of estrangement and the visual structuring of the dictionary and the encyclopedias through collages questions the categorization, knowledge, and the arbitrariness of otherness.

To view more of the artworks, visit Acts Of Knowledge

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Rudy Narayan

July 28, 2013 Feeling My Age

Rudy Narayan

Back in the late 70s – or maybe early 80s – I was called to do jury service at the Old Bailey, no less. The case concerned an altercation at a London ‘Blues’ party  – so nothing too grisly. The defendants and witnesses were almost all black, the jury was almost all white. The whole experience was a a valuable insight into other people’s lives: the witnesses and my fellow jurors were nearly all from backgrounds quite unlike my own. Also it was fascinating to see the way our legal system actually worked at the coalface.

The barrister representing one of the three defendants made a deep impression on me. His arguments cut straight to the crux of the case: that we could only reasonably convict his client if we believed the testimony of one particularly flaky witness whom everyone referred to as Brooksy. In cross-examination he forensically picked through and shredded the inconsistencies in the man’s testimony, and sat down with a cuert “no further questions” after extracting one final, blatantly obvious lie from the witness. “It’s Brooksy or nothing” he stressed in his closing speech to the jury. His client was acquitted – the other two were found guilty.

That barrister was  Rudy Narayan who went on to become famous anti-racist campaigner, founding the Society Of Black Lawyers. Tragically, Wikipedia reveals that alcohol subsequently deprived him of his livelihood and, eventually, his life. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rudy_Narayan

Blue Plaque for Rudy Narayan

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Brilliant, engrossing, and in places extremely moving on treating London primary school children to the great outdoors made by Lotte Davies and posted on Vimeo by Jack Sloan from Hanover Primary School.

Best quote comes from the boy explaining what he enjoyed the most: “chopping wood – like with an axe and saws – ‘cos you don’t really get to do much of that in London…”

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Jay Sings Out Part 2

September 19, 2012 Feeling My Age

Jay Spears

A year ago I blogged about Californian songwriter Jay Spears and mentioned how his upbeat tweecore tunes such as the cheerfully queer “I Like Mike” and controversional “Smak Dem Christians Down” have put a smile on my face in my middle years. You can find loads of his songs at jayspears.com

Jay had a run-in with cancer, but now he’s back with a vengeance and is is raising dough to complete a third CD of what he describes as “happy peppy pop tunes!”.

I’ve made a donation to his recording fund on Kickstarter but now he only has until September 27th to reach his target or the whole thing will fail to materialise. If you like those tunes as much as I do perhaps you too might consider making a contribution? You can get plenty of grand swag for a modest donation – see kck.st/RX9St0 for the charming video, a view of the swag, and how you can make a pledge.

However small the amount, Jay will thank you and I will too!

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Same-Sex Marriage

August 3, 2012 Feeling My Age

Wayne and Cody 18 Years

Chick-Fil-A is an American fast food restaurant chain headquartered in College Park, Georgia, and has been long associated with the Southern United States, where it has been a cultural icon. Chick-fil-A has donated millions to groups that are politically active in opposing same-sex marriage and other gay rights issues.

From a recent blog post by Wayne Self
Think about this: how would you feel if KFC came out tomorrow and said they were spending money against equality for Asian Americans, or African Americans, or religious people? Really. Think about it. What would you do? How would you feel? How would you feel if, after their announcement, there was a big increase in KFC sales and I was all over Facebook supporting KFC. Please stop reading right now and imagine this. You can stop now because it’s ludicrous. It would never happen.

Oh, I don’t mean the part about KFC being against some group. That could happen. I mean the part about me supporting them. Let me tell you something: I’d sign on for the boycott IMMEDIATELY because I believe in equality for all people. But also because you are my friend, and I don’t willingly support people who harm you for just being you. How could I? But, more importantly for our purposes, how could you?

Read the whole of Wayne’s beautifully eloquent post here.


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Dancing Robots

July 7, 2012 Feeling My Age

Just discovered this while wilfing around on YouTube. Posted in 2005 so probably everybody else but me has already seen it, but despite low respolution and awful audio quality it’s just stunning.

The YouTube posting looks like a copy of a copy and gives no credits – who made the robots, who created the dance, or where it all took place. Seems really odd that the presentation is obviously taking place in a room full of people, yet nobody applauds at the end. The language being spoken is Japanses – maybe applause is forbidden by some weird form of business etiquette.

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Burying George's ashes

Burying George’s ashes in a corner of the grounds of the old Priory last Sunday – with photos of Aberfeldy where he was happy, the concise Oxford dictionary he proudly inscribed as a teenager in 1969… and a half-smoked cigarette end because that would have made him laugh.

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