Tuesday, 24 November 2020

Derek Spedding ... An Appreciation

Larger than life with a generous portion of intelligence and a sharp wit, a zest for travel, adventure and fun. Derek was also a loyal and generous friend. He was as robust and tough as Yorkshire grit; as hard and valuable as a diamond could be. If this sounds even a little overstated, there is without doubt one quality that stands out above all else. Much of his conversation was imbued with an abundance of humour, sometimes, it has to be said, rather wicked or even wacky! 

Derek and his humour were the glue that brought and held people together. In truth it was Derek, who made the extra yards in the early years of our friendship with him and Sue. Always turning up on the doorstep at short notice, to share some news on interests we shared together, be they music or people and places, in all of which we found mutual enjoyment. He would unexpectedly bring presents round for our children, who were, even in the early days, growing to love him, and eventually grandchildren’s birthdays, and even, occasionally, for us, often for no apparent reason. We would enjoy a soirée, each in turn at the others’ home for food, music and a chat ... sometimes till very late. 

He was an adventurer. His always busy head dreaming up the next adventure, ideas for which he and Sue would often share with us. And if we’d decide to say “not this time”, it would still take a while before he would give up trying to persuade us! His adventures varied from local gigs to globe trotting. As for the latter, I had spent several years travelling the World for my work and had sated any possible remaining travel lust. Barbara simply didn’t enjoy leaving home in an aeroplane any more. But there was never a dull moment with Derek around.

Our initiation into the world of Spedding adventures was a trip to Disney World in Florida twenty-two years ago. Our sons, the two Davids, were competitive swimmers, who met in the pool after they raced against each other, coming first and second in a very close race. It seems they fairly quickly developed a mutual respect for each other. Derek and Sue had told their Dave, who was known as ’Sped’ or, ironically, ‘Little Sped’ (when he and his dad were to be mentioned in the same sentence) that he could invite one friend to go to Florida with them. So he chose to ask our Dave. They’ve been best mates ever since. Of course we couldn’t let our girls be deprived of this chance, so we decided to push the boat out and we all went together. A balanced party of eight: Derek and Sue, Barbara and me, two boys and two girls, off to say hello to Micky Mouse. 

A few years later, we made a very long trip to Shetland by car, to visit ‘Little’ Sped, who was posted to the RAF station on the northernmost island of Unst. This turned out to be another very memorable highlight; an experience never to forget. And in between, quite a few concerts and evenings spent in their company, occasionally with another ‘swimming’ family, their close friends, John and Linda Owen.

A shared love of folk music also brought us together. Our first of two trips to the Celtic Connections festival in Glasgow one weekend was noted for our tripping the light (absolutely) fantastic, getting to bed at 5 in the morning and (me), after a mere two hours sleep, having to drive 250 miles home in the morning. Exhausting, but we’d do it all again if we could. Then, for a change, we discovered a new adventure, a lot closer to home. We introduced Derek and Sue to the Rusby family’s newly conceived festival, Underneath The Stars, which was on our doorstep at Canon Hall Farm. We had been volunteering as stewards from the very first festival in 2014, Sue and Derek came along to the second one a year later. However, by now they were globe trotting, planning adventures abroad well ahead in the calendar. Perhaps Canon Hall Farm didn’t quite live up to the now elevated “adventurous” category. But they enjoyed sharing with us the photographic results of their journeys. 

Then there were those regular moments, when Barbara and I would be relaxing watching TV in the evening. A text message or the occasional phone call from Derek would inform us of an upcoming programme on one of our favourite characters or places that could be folk music, or Amanda Owen, the famous Dales Shepherdess (who once fed us with tea and scones), anything to do with Shetland - usually wildlife, or something that invoked a memory of Disney World. We would often reciprocate. 

Derek also had some strident views about life and politics. We didn’t always agree, but then what two people ever do? Then again, what does it matter when life presents us with its inevitable conclusions. If it is a good life well lived, filled with lasting friendships, that must make those outcomes easier to bear ... mustn’t it? 

Sometimes, I guess because we are often so busy ‘leading’ our lives, raising our families, pursuing our careers, we don’t always show enough appreciation for what we have ... until we lose it. 

In pride, prejudice and profit ... there will always be lies, deceit and, ultimately, unhappiness. But there are a few circumstances, in which we can expect to find the truth. It will usually be found in poverty and poetry, but at no more prominent a point than in the passing of human life. I believe Derek had found his truth. To us it was evident that he’d discovered it long ago. He was true to his own convictions, even though there were occasions when I might have disagreed with him, but I have never had any doubt that he was a true friend. 

All of us have the chance to find our truth. Perhaps we should use this moment, and all too many opportunities like it, to seek that truth; to find what is important to us; to discover our strongest skills, stick to our guns and try to play our part, as far as it’s within our capacity, to make the world a better place. 

The World, from the perspectives of many, who knew him, was a better place because of Derek, because he dressed it with humour and, despite the exterior veneer of hard as diamond Yorkshire grit, he could barely conceal from us what underpinned it all … a place in his heart where there was no shortage of the capacity that lies deep in the wellspring of humanity, which is love. 

A Poem: 

Big Sped

Was it something we said made you yawn and tell us you’re bored?

a twinkle in the eye and recesses of a deadpan face,

like you’d read the Teach Yourself How to Avoid Social Grace

said it wasn’t the company you kept made you head for the door.

It was simply your way, and you’d always work hard to coax us

to embark upon journeys to visit our cultural heroes

or to see a substation, a distant in miles with some zeroes

the thought of them tiring, but always inspiring, make no fuss.

There were always those plans to conquer the Earth in a day

To sail the high seas to an isle on the edge of the World

trick the night to believing the sun hadn’t set and unfold

a belief that those fiddlers would never cease in their play.

Some journeys are harder than they were intended to be 

especially the last few miles before the peak

the pinnacle of the truth that we all seek

beyond reach, somewhere out there in eternity.

Was it something we said that made you respond in this way?

In the deepest recesses of a life-lorn deadpan face,

a twinkle you could read like a book of adventures in space

said it wasn’t the fare that we served made you call it a day.


© 2020 John Anstie

Friday, 23 October 2020

The Hallmark of Success

It is just over a year since an event occurred that has left an indelible marker in the memory.

It was on a wet and windy Saturday night, in early October 2019, in a little seaside town on the North Wales coast. The venue, whose size is almost out of proportion to its host, is international in its scope and contains a theatre that was packed to the gunnels, on all levels; and at £30 a ticket this is some achievement. What happened next was unexpected and quite extraordinary, at least for a group of amateur hobbyists, who sing for the love of it.

This group came together here, because they had been invited to be the guests of a large collective of women, who, like the men, happen to sing for love, not money. This is a routine invitation that happens every year to the chorus of men, who have won the chorus gold medal at their own annual convention. They neither opened the show nor closed it as the ‘headline’ act, but rather perform somewhere discreetly in the middle of the show. Somehow their performance turned into something quite different, something that few of us had experienced before, even those who had been on the stage with this chorus times many over the years in the winning of an amazing eight chorus gold medals in the forty years since they first came together in 1978.

We stood in silence, watching our Musical Director mouthing and miming instructions to us, to be alert and ready to perform, listening through the back of the stage curtains to a quartet singing their songs with huge hearts. Then, following applause for the quartet, we were announced ... reigning UK Champion men’s chorus, Hallmark of Harmony! But, as the curtains opened, there was a brief moment of time travel. 

It is always the case that every time we do a show, those ten, fifteen, twenty, thirty or forty minutes on stage seem to pass us by so quickly that it is easy to forget how it felt, whether I got all my words and notes right; whether I retained the right posture, facial expression, vocal quality, how I sang, whether I performed as I should. In that moment, I thought we had finished and the audience, which filled the theatre, were applauding, cheering, it felt like some were even standing to thank us. After that brief moment, it quickly became apparent that we hadn’t yet sung a note! We were being charged with energy from a very appreciative crowd, who, it seems, were either offering us the warmest of welcomes, or simply expecting great things ... 

I imagined in that moment what it must be like for a successful sports team or singing star, at the top of their game - with a large following of tens of thousands of fans - whose game is lifted by the energy of the crowd, its enthusiasm, its support. Well, ours was lifted that Saturday night. We were given wings ... and I believe we delivered on the promise.

It took only four songs, with their well thought out and entertaining links in between, telling stories of fun, joy, the value to the spirit of singing and gratitude for what we had achieved; for what the Sheffield Barbershop Harmony Club had done for Barbershop, for singing in the UK. Yes Sheffield. Once, in close living memory, the City of Steel; now, a city of music and of culture. A city where one of the four UK Assay Offices was created nearly two hundred and fifty years ago, to enable the accurate hallmarking of those highly valued objects made of silver and gold. Now a greater value is placed, maybe not by the establishment, but by so many extraordinary people, on creative endeavour, on helping both artists and audiences feel better about their lives. 

So how do we value the art of harmony singing? How can we put a stamp on it? How do we hallmark it?  In short, we cannot. In countless testimonies, the health and well-being of those who take up singing in groups, particularly in harmony singing, receives unquantifiable reward, not often with silver and gold medals, but every day, by raising the status of the human spirit. At a time when we are faced with burgeoning evidence of the corruption of politics, self serving interest and selfish greed ... for ‘things’, for stuff that provides, at best, only short term value and salve to damaged minds and spirits and now bodies, damaged by a cruel virus. You cannot put a price on it; on making music and art with friends. I don't know about you, but to me this is my idea of a successful life.

The Performance



That was the recording of our 24 minutes on stage in Llandudno. The quartet that joined us for that final iconic song, Bridge Over Troubled Water, was OC Times, an International champion quartet from the USA. After this performance, as ever we do, the singing continued in the large bar of the Venue Cymru at what is always called the 'Afterglow'. As we stood with our beers, when the show had finished, the audience trooped out from the theatre. We found ourselves once again surprised and flattered at the apparent adulation we seemed to be receiving from those passing by us to queue at the bar. It was quite extraordinary. We did eventually perform “Without a Song”, arranged by our own Sam Hubbard, in what was by then a very large and crowded bar, where we managed to squeeze in a rather large gathering of singers from Hallmark of Harmony, along with two of the UK’s top ladies choruses, the Cheshire Chords and the Leeds White Rosettes to reprise the song, directed by Tim Briggs standing precariously on a chair, to resounding effect, along with some tears ... tears that recognise the fragility of the human condition, the frailty of the human spirit, but above all this, how full of joy the human heart can be, especially when we are in harmony with each other ... and with a song. 


Wednesday, 2 September 2020

And Whilst we are Talking about the NHS …

[ I make no apologies that this is a long essay, no pictures of puppies and no music. I will make up for that later. It is only those who can read properly and have serious intent on saving our NHS from the hands of the greedy profit monsters! In fact saving all public services from the hands of antisocial individuals, whose mantra is an impregnable belief in their own entitlement! ]

We owe a huge debt of gratitude to the NHS for dealing with the massive burden of work during the COVID-19 pandemic emergency. The dedication, blood, sweat, tears and sacrifice made by doctors. nurses and staff throughout the caring services is nothing short of exceptional. I love you all.

Photo courtesy theGuardian.com

I  would also like to affirm that I continue wholly to support the institution that is our National Health Service and any government that vows to maintain it and do whatever it takes to uphold its purpose, which is to deliver healthcare free for all at the point of delivery, will get my vote. However, before that happens, a few things are going to have to be put in place. There will have to be far greater transparency in the way it is funded and run. I have grown tired over recent years of the Conservative government’s claims that they have repeated ad nauseam, like a broken record, that they care for the NHS, that it is safe in their hands and, moreover, that they have increased funding to the service to record levels! However, to make their claims credible, a thorny question needs to be answered. 

My suspicion is that a far greater proportion of funding of the service is coming from private sources, privately owned healthcare companies and corporations than it was ten years ago. Good news for the hard working tax payer, I hear you say, but don’t be too hasty. 

No private company worth its salt, if it wants to continue as a viable business, will invest in anything for free. Only very large wealthy multi-national corporates will be able to afford the ‘long game’, in which investment of funds is only likely to reap financial benefits in the medium to long term. It is to these huge companies that I draw attention. Out of their investment will eventually have to come regular revenue, shareholder dividends and profit. The logical conclusion to this is that the slice of the pie that represents what is paid to shareholders and directors and profits that appear in their Profit & Loss accounts and assets in their Balance Sheets (and overseas tax havens), comes out of that same pie, the remainder of which is required to spend directly on frontline NHS services. I want to see evidence of the balance of sources of funding for the NHS over the last few years, particularly since 2012.

I hear proponents of private healthcare claiming that there will be far greater efficiencies as a result of the involvement of private companies, and certainly they can make waiting rooms and facilities look very pretty and plush, but the claims are poppycock! If efficiency can be improved by private healthcare companies it can also be improved by the NHS, as a public service by its own executive management, given the right incentives and accountabilities. 

This post is not, however, about conspiracy theory, as it might have been a few years ago, because there is so much evidence now of the Conservative government’s agenda, which has been brewing in their backrooms for decades and even published by Tory big-wigs. Instead it is simply an attempt to apply some straight forward observation, research and recall and some old fashioned critical thinking. In particular, how it seems that privatisation of the NHS has been insidiously creeping up on us, in such a way so that most people won’t notice, until that is, we begin to find healthcare so expensive, or so poor in what is cast off as unprofitable by the corporate moguls, that we need American style insurance to afford it. The only problem is that the healthcare system in the USA is not only inhumane, it is the most expensive healthcare system in the world. The USA also has the lowest life expectancy and the greatest rate of individual bankruptcy  in the western world, due to healthcare bills. So we want to follow that example? Allow huge companies like Serco and Sitel, United Health, and countless others to profit at the tax payers expence? Well, I certainly don’t!

If we look at what has happened over the past ten years and, in particular, some key events and decisions by government, a few key developments are revealed. The UK’s National Health Service, constituted by the National Health Service Act of 1946 (updated in 1977, 1990 under Thatcher, and 2006) brought into being on 5th July 1948 as a health service free at the point of delivery, regardless of ability to pay, is admired and envied around the World.

The first major move by David Cameron’s government within a year of their election in May 2010, was to enable a major rewriting of the legislation of the Health Acts. The crucial Act of parliament, the Health and Social Care Act of 2012, enacted by this Conservative government, radically altered the original and succeeding acts (1946, 1977, 1990 and 2006), by abolishing the Primary Care Trusts and Strategic Health Authorities and transferring £60 to £80 billion of healthcare funds to new Clinical Commissioning Groups, which was to be managed partly by GPs but which also acted as a major point of access for private service providers. In other words this was viewed by those inside the service as a business model to facilitate the privatisation of the NHS. Crucially this act also removed responsibility from the Secretary of State for Health for the health of UK citizens.

Now I have asked myself the question and enquired elsewhere, but have received no logical explanation for why they felt it necessary to remove that responsibility from the Secretary of State. The only explanation I can conceive is that it was so as to divest the government of its legal responsibility for delivery of the service as a public health service (something they seem increasingly keen to do in a lot of areas of our lives - reduce their responsibilities). As far as we can see, it marked the beginning of the end for the NHS as a provider to the public of healthcare ‘free at the point of delivery’, as well as being a way for the government to off-load their obligation in law to deliver the service as it was originally constituted by the National Health Service Act 1946. 

This was always a part of the Conservative party’s core raison d’être, to begin unravelling what they considered to be a huge drain on the public purse. A drain that needed the full resources of National Insurance and general taxation to keep it going. As private healthcare increases its grip so too will the cost to us all, but you can rest assured that there won’t be any reduction in National Insurance contributions or tax. The Tory ethos has always been to garner favour with the wealthy, as significant party donors, as well as their central policy of reducing income tax and of course countering anything else that smacked of socialism! The collateral benefit from selling off public services, which Maggie Thatcher started in 1979 - remember BT and British Gas? - was the increasing wealth of individuals whose real estate and net worth began to increase exponentially, simply because public service utilities, including parts of the NHS (thinking today particularly of Virgin Health), were being sold off cheap, enabling short term investors to buy and sell shares and make a little profit. But once in the hands of institutional investors, who have the financial resources to take the long view, those shares began to adjust to the real market values and enabled no uncertain enrichment of their private owners. Yes, there are always losers as well as winners, but you can rest assured that the greatest losers in this redistribution of wealth will be the majority of people of the United Kingdom; those whose resources are limited; those who cannot afford to fight their corner against increasing ownership of public assets, for which so many of us have paid our dues in income tax and National Insurance for decades.

It should not be forgotten that it was a previous Conservative government in the 1990’s, starting with Margaret Thatcher’s ‘internal markets’, that started the Private Finance Initiative (PFI) that enabled a rather ‘under the radar’ approach to allowing private health companies and other utilities to invest in the NHS, in ways that do nothing but add long term potentially punitive financial burdens on the NHS, who were effectively mortgaging themselves out of control, because of a real lack of proper funding for the service. This involved, for example, the sale of land or buildings to the private sector for which in return the NHS had to pay ‘rent’ and enter into long term lease arrangements. It also, under the current government, involved far more buying in of services like ambulance, transport, laboratory and other services, not to mention the thorny problem of controlling excessive procurement costs for major technology, pharmaceuticals and medicines. There is also no doubt that Tony Blair and Gordon Brown’s ‘New Labour’ government, sadly, continued to implement PFI’s throughout the thirteen years of their time in office, but I am also in no doubt that the Conservatives have accelerated the involvement of the private sector with a vengeance, all the time increasing the proportion of the tax payers’ burden going, either directly or indirectly, into private pockets. They even at one stage set what effectively amounted to coercive ‘bribes’ for hospitals who needed funds to buy major new equipment, by coercing them to agree to sell certain assets to private concerns so as to raise the funds required. 

At this stage, it is worth reminding ourselves we should not forget that, much to its dissonance with the philosophies of Tory thinking, the NHS is not a vehicle for revenue generation. It is not a profit making business. It is a social service, albeit one with a huge responsibility to deliver healthcare as efficiently as possible, but one that has been an example to the World, of how to enable decent health care for all, regardless of their ability to pay. Seemingly beyond an ambitious Tory’s comprehension; it is not in their DNA! It’s almost as if it’s the word ‘social’ that they can’t understand!

All this might have changed five or six years ago, when the full weight of corporate America descended on Brussels to negotiate a Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) with the EU. The clear threat of the Americans walking all over hard won EU regulations, protecting the environment, food standards, employment legislation and more, as well as - maybe the last straw as this probably turned public opinion against the USA’s attempts, mostly behind closed doors, to seal the deal - was the institution of sort of ‘kangaroo courts’ that would be run by corporate lawyers and adjudicate on cases where governments were deemed to pass legislation that would adversely affect corporate profits. The EU flexed their not inconsiderable trading muscle and threw the Americans out! The latter have no doubt been smarting from this decision ever since and there is no doubt in my mind that they will have jumped on the UK’s decision to hold a referendum on whether to remain as members of the EU. They knew, as did the Russians, that the UK’s Conservative government had a hard core of Euro-sceptics, who had long schemed to get us out of Europe. 

Both Russia and the USA and possibly China feel threatened by the fact that the EU is the largest trading bloc in the World. Breaking it up would always enable a lever to break open cracks in Europe’s predominance. And so Brexit came about. And so we now find ourselves threatened with a TTIP style trade deal with the Americans, but this time our negotiating position is far weaker than when the EU was leading the talks on behalf of all its member states. In fact our healthcare, food standards, environmental protections and employment laws are under threat like never before. And if you look at the unelected bureaucratic aides at the centre of Boris Johnson’s cabinet office like Cummings, Mirza, the Cox sisters, Warner brothers et al, with their somewhat disturbingly extremist views on human rights, eugenics, chemical interventions, artificial intelligence and data gathering, you can begin to see how extremely right wing this government really is. Propped up by an electorate, it seems, whose abilities to read beyond a tabloid press headline and apply critical objective thinking to issues is clearly somewhat lacking plus a smaller proportion of the electorate, who clearly have serious vested interests.

What is clear is that there will be a greater darkness just before the dawn. How long it will be before we see that dawn, is hard to predict. So much will depend on how dark the coming Winter will be, mired by the continuing threat of the COVID-19 pandemic; mired further by the threat of a no deal Brexit, which it can be argued this government in their utter arrogance, has wanted all along. At least with the pandemic they’ve got plenty of ammunition to fight off accusations of incompetence in governing this country, plenty of distractions and smoke screens that are blurring our ability to see what they are actually doing to us all.

We need to keep our eyes peeled and our hearing sharp. This is not the time to bury our heads in the sand. Democracy is under threat now as ever it was from power grabbers, but never to a greater degree than it is now in the UK as it is in the USA and elsewhere in the developing world, not so much from visible leaders, but from the corruption that has enabled the wealthy to become extremely rich, and otherwise referred to as oligarchs - and not just the Russian variety - who continue to line up their ducks. Those with the hardest heads and the most ruthless ambitions will prevail at the expence of a majority of us, unless we stand up to be counted, difficult as this may seem to be.

For my part I am going to start with a letter to our new Conservative MP. It may not seem much, but it would be progress if I got an answer, as I frequently did from our previous Labour MP. The sitting incumbent didn’t answer my last letter earlier in the year, but I live in hope.

Sunday, 9 August 2020

On Becoming A Hermit, Sort of ... and does anyone understand what's Happening?

A fully qualified veterinary nurse hand feeding a 2-day old kitten

Whilst the header photo is entirely irrelevant to the main text of this post, it is entirely relevant to a very proud father. In fact none of the writing in this post has anything to do with the photos! But certainly more cheerful than my ranting!
Breakfast with fruits of the garden

It is over a month since I last wrote about the virus, lockdown, political interventions, cases, deaths and how we are all dealing with this. Frankly, whilst B and I are carrying on much as before, with the refreshing addition of the occasional outing, a couple of times to see our son and family ten miles away, as well as for some more adventurous walks with the dogs. However, for the country as a whole, it doesn't feel like we've made any progress at all. We have continued to suffer under a political regime whose only competence seems to be managing their political agenda, manipulating public opinion, applying one set of rules for us to abide by and one set for them! 

We are therefore in the hands of seemingly totally incompetent management, whose response to each turn in the direction and location of new infection outbreaks, is to make it up as they go! Adding confusion to existing confusion as to who can do what, where and when. Our response is to apply our own critical thinking and common sense, of which this government is demonstrating precious little, and continue as we were before. For us this is a relatively easy decision. For those with families to support and jobs to go to, it is a nightmare!

The Conservative Government have managed in ten years to turn our lives upside down and take this country to a whole new level of blatant political corruption, self-serving greed and arrogance. The sheer pejorative, mocking attitude of its leader is made all that much worse by the fact that he clearly could not manage his way out of a paper bag! When things get hard, he takes a break and leaves unelected bureaucrats to manage his yes men, who muddle through and make things worse for us and themselves, perhaps in the mistaken belief that he will then step in like the knight in shining armour to rescue us, only to plunge is into even greater chaos. And all the while, creeping up on us almost un-noticed under cover of Corona darkness, is Brexit!

No deal seems now to be a very likely outcome, following - in my view and that of many more qualified a spokesperson than me - deliberate obstreporous and obstructive negotiating stance all the way through. Their hatred of the EU, which has otherwise been described as Euro-scepticism since we joined the EEC in 1972, and assuredness of their own imperious sense of superiority, has always ensured failure to negotiate a trading position with our closest neighbours. But there is and has been since the referendum on 23rd June 2016 a more sinister undercurrent that seems destined to drag us into a dystopian future, a future in which the great inequalities that exist between rich and poor will become greater still. Are we prepared to submit ourselves to an even more intense darkness just before it dawns on a greater majority of us that we need to wake up and smell the coffee? My view at present is that not enough of us are either willing or able to rock the boat. 

Instead, we are back, I'm afraid, to where (and I make no apologies for using the me word here), where I was constantly repeating my fear that we'd regress to where we were (before the TTIP trade negotiations between the EU and USA broke down over four years ago), but, because we will no longer be a member of the largest trading block in the World i.e. the European Union, in a far weaker position with far less negotiation strength, we will be desperate for a trade deal and the powerful forces of corporate America will walk all over us. Hence the government employed the full force of the Whips in Parliament to put down an amendment brought by opposition parties, that would exclude the NHS from any negotiations with the US. So everything is left on the table, the NHS, our food standards (e.g. the infamous chlorinated chicken), the intensive use of chemical agriculture and probably regulations around employment protections for those who cannot afford to defend themselves against being exploited plus God knows what else! Not to mention the infamous attempts to enable corporations to sue governments, if the latter legislate anything to affect their profits from said enterprises!

This dystopian new world is on the march, and there is only going to be one winner - the oligarchs and corporate America. 

As for the current resident at the White House, though he is way behind in the polls, I still fear that there is no greater risk to the integrity of voting numbers than under the pandemic, made far worse by the POTUS, being a complete delusional delinquent and having a pocketful of greedy corporate backers, who want to recover the economy regardless of the cost to human life. I have no doubt that voter turn out in November will be reduced and an increase in online voting will carry with it an increased risk of corruption of data. I don't think I need to say any more, but it had to be said, because I feel so angry at the injustice of it all. Forget accusations of conspiracy theories. This is not that. It is the application of critical thinking!

Anyway, calming down via a few obligatory statistics. At the close of my last bog post on 1st July, there had been 43,906 covid related deaths in the UK. As at 8th August it was 46,566. That's 2,660 more lives lost; more families deprived a a loved one, a dependant, an earner. Since lockdown began to be relaxed, the steady decline in cases and deaths, has reversed and the death rate has been ever so steadily rising again, albeit not at the catastrophic rates that we witnessed from April through to June.

That's all I'm going to say for now, because it is depressing enough, but also because I want to get on to some music. I haven't looked at Clemency Burton-Hill's 'Year of Wonder' for over a month and it is long overdue. Too many to review, so here is my selection ...

For the 1st July, Clemency chose Erik Satie's very appropriately calming and relaxing Gymnopedie

The 5th July brought Charles Villiers Stanford (1852 - 1924), whose "The Blue Bird" I sang in chamber choir a couple of years ago. His "Beati Quorum Via is sung here by my favourite octet, Voces8. 

Then on 7th July, she places this "wrenchingly beautiful love-letter" the fourth movement, the Adagietto, of Gustav Mahler's 5th Symphony, behind which is a wrenchingly beautiful (and sad) love story of his eventual wife, Alma Schindler and their only child, who died in childhood. One conductor observed of this late stage in Mahler's life: "Love! A smile enters his life ". Clemency observes that this "may be just about the best definition of falling in love ever".

The influence of Scott Joplin (1868-1917) on 20th Century American music, not only for ragtime and swing that followed, but also on jazz, rock and classical, is inestimable. So says CBH, and I believe her. So she planted him on 8th July here is his "Gladiolus Rag". He enjoyed little success in his own lifetime, but he sure did ever since his music appeared in the Oscar winning 1974 film, 'The Sting'.

I would go on to add the Adagio from Edward Elgar's Cello Concerto in E minor, op.85, made famous by Jacqueline Dupre, but I think we've had enough raw emotion for the day!

And this delightful piece to conclude the day: contemporary composer and pianist, Dobrinka Tabakova (b.1980). Her Nocturne is just lovely.

Guide Dog Taz minding the courgettes

Wednesday, 1 July 2020

On Becoming a Hermit, Sort of ... The 'Quantitative Easing' of Lockdown

A Happy Taz after a Free Run

It's been a couple of weeks since I updated this blog series. I apologise to everyone, who may have been expecting a continuance after week 13, but it was unintended, because other events took priority. There had to be a pause in proceedings.

Fountain across a Sea of Lettuce
Two weeks on from my last post, I confirm this journal will continue from now on as an occasional update, simply because it is clear that the situation caused by the pandemic is not going to go away as soon as most of us would like. We all want a successful vaccine, a cure or something that will help us - particularly the more vulnerable among us - to feel safer, more secure and comfortable with resuming what we knew as normal life. In the mean time, there is still the garden. And there will also be some more music from Clemency Burton-Hill's "Year of Wonder "; I shall pick out some choices as well as some more music from both my singing groups - Hallmark of Harmony and Fox Valley Voices.

Eva the Diva
We long to see and hug our children and grandchildren again, but I feel it will be a while before we can be sure of doing this safely for both them and for us.

Firstly an update on the state of the country and what the COVID-19 has been doing.

As at 29th June, total deaths, confirmed as being caused by the Coronavirus, stand at 43,730. This is probably the highest per capita rate anywhere in the World, even beside Sweden, who after deciding early in the year to go with the 'herd immunity' policy, have had a torrid time with infections and deaths rising catastrophically! And to think, this is the way the damnable Dominic Cummings advised we should go!! (let me remind everyone, DC is the unelected bureaucrat employed by PM Boris Johnson as his chief political adviser). Dare I suggest that the two or three weeks delay in implementing a lockdown and social distancing that this thinking caused, has caused significantly more deaths? To add insult to our intelligence, DC was also a core member of the Brexit cohort and guess what that's going to do to us at the end of the year - the end of the 'Transition Period'. They will of course now be able to blame the resultant parlous state of economy on COVID-19, rather than Brexit. The arrogance and ignorance continues ...

We're doomed ...

The other significant statistic is the result of testing. Out of a reported total of 9,426,631 tests, 312,654 have tested positive. I say 'reported' because of the debacle of failed government promises to deliver 100,000 test per day by the end of April, one is left with the impression that, at least for a while, there was a lot of 'creative accounting' for test figures.

Following the commencement of 'quantitative' easing of lockdown three weeks ago, the news has been littered with accounts of what I can only describe as explosions of relief by the masses of people who, during the very warm and sunny weather have converged on the beaches and resorts of our coasts. Bournemouth was a particular newsworthy item, as scenes of thousands upon thousands of people descended on the beaches there in the mini heatwave of a week ago. And let's not mention the reopening of pubs ... and the one metre 'plus' advisory ... after a few drinks, I think we all know how that's going to play out: more deaths!

Each and every one of those, who have joined the crowds, has contributed to the death of other people, if not themselves! Yes - and I say this categorically - each and every one of them has contributed to the death of human beings and will continue to do so.

It confirms for me the observation of human behaviour in this pandemic that either they simply don't bother with, or are incapable of, reading the facts about the mechanisms for the transmission and spread of the virus, as well as the science behind this, or many of them simply cannot discriminate between the logical and emotional sides of their brains. 

It is clear that ...

(1) the virus is spread by close proximity to the exhalations of other people, even outdoors and especially in close packed crowds like we saw on Bournemouth beaches, but especially especially in enclosed spaces, like pubs. 

(2) there are those who are asymptomatic or presymptomatic, who unknowingly spread the virus, through their breath or by touching communal hard surfaces with their virus laden hands; there may also be those who have mild symptoms but who are in denial, especially when there's a day out in the sunshine or a good time in the offing. 

(3) it has been established by science that social distancing is necessary and that 2 metres significantly reduces (even if it doesn't eliminate) the risk of transmitting droplet and aerosol infection to other people. One metre 'plus' (the newly advised distance) is a mockery, frankly, most likely driven by the greater lobbying power of the larger pub, restaurant and entertainment commercial concerns.

It is therefore inconceivable that there will not be further infections and tragically unnecessary deaths as a direct result of these emotional responses to being socially restricted for three months. There will undoubtedly as a result be another spike in infections and deaths.

In so many ways, I mourn the loss of the cleanest air we've experienced in over a generation; for some ... ever. I mourn the loss of the quietest time in the most wonderfully bright, sunny and colourful season of Spring. It reminds me of the days, when I was much younger - before the iron fist of corporate commercial pressure marched us irretrievably towards a seven day week, a 24 hour day - when the World seemed to stop on a Sunday, the refreshingly recreational peace and quiet that proved to be a true break in our busy week. I feel a genuine anxiety at the renewal of the madness of this seemingly irresistible addiction of consumerism. 

I feel a need to stop all the clocks for another period, not just for the sake of the sanity of the nation, of the World, but also to take a deep breath of what fresh air we have left in a rapidly polluting environment and to hold a few moments of silence for all those who have tragically lost their lives to this awful disease. I would also like to point you towards the June edition of >>> the BeZine <<<, whose theme is 'Sustainability', but notably a stunning introduction that draws together and links the three major and related issues of our time: Climate Change, Pandemics (and health) and Racism

All manner of produce in our green garden ...


Music ...

Sunday, 14th June brought this evergreen piece, that always makes me well up ... "The Lark Ascending" by Ralph Vaughan Williams. It seems that RVW had English musical culture and folk tradition written into his DNA. This famous piece is based on a poem by George Meredith about the song of the skylark. Every time I walk up to the moors above us, I listen to that elusive breathless sound of the skylark, sometimes ascending so high it makes them difficult to see in a bright sky. 

He rises and begins to round
He drops the silver chain of sound ...

For singing till his heaven fills,
Tis love of earth that he instils,
And ever winging up and up,
Our valley is his golden cup
And he the wine which overflows
to lift us with him as he goes.

And the day after, Clemency comes up with 8 Concert Etudes, Op.40 Prelude: Allegro assai by Nikolai Kapustin (b.1937). Kapustin is jazz-influenced Russian composer and it shows. get your ears and hands round this if you dare!

And to finish for today, here's Clemency's recommendation for Tuesday, 16th June ... The Frog Galliard by John Dowland (1563-1626). The Galliard was a popular dance in Elizabethan times. The 'Frog' part of that title remains a bit of a mystery, but it is suggested that it may have referred to a (presumably unsuccessful) French suitor of the Queen herself, duc d'Alencon, whom she referred to as her 'frog'. Perhaps he was all legs when he danced the Galliard. Who knows, but it is an amusing thought.