Sunday, March 30, 2008

Cheap Booze

As I’m sure my British readers already know, alcohol prices went up by 6% above the rate inflation in the budget, supposedly to combat binge drinking.

That’s 4p on a pint of beer, 14p on a bottle of wine, and 55p on a bottle of spirits. So, now, I can already hear the binge drinkers thinking to themselves. “Fourteen pence on a bottle of Chardonnay. Clearly I will have to drink more responsibly from now on.”

Saturday, March 22, 2008


I’ve been looking at flats.

I wonder how many readers have been in the same position in the last few years?

I was shocked at how expensive they have become, and how little you get for your money.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Prince of Propaganda

You will have seen the photographs. Prince Harry in a baseball cap. Prince Harry on a motorbike. Prince Harry kicking a football made of rolled up toilet paper. Prince Harry having a laugh with his mates. Prince Harry firing a machine gun into the empty desert.

Prince Harry fighting the good fight for justice and democracy in Afghanistan.

On a single day there were 56 pages of coverage in eight national newspapers, with booming headlines like "Harry the Brave" and "Harry the Secret Hero." The Sun included a glamorous poster of the prince out on patrol.

Meanwhile it’s been Afghanistan week on the TV news: a number of short films looking at army conditions in Helmand Province in the South of the country, where most of the British troops are stationed.

Well I‘m a cynic about these matters. Though Prince Harry’s presence in Afghanistan was a closely-guarded secret for a while, it was always a set-up for future propaganda purposes. How many of you actually believed those images? Do you really think that the British army would put him in a position where anyone would get a chance of firing live bullets at him?

As for the TV reports, I watched with increasing irritation as the week went by. How are we supposed to understand such a complex set of issues on the back of a few grainy bits of one-sided footage? The reporter was addressing us in a portentous tone while perched on top of a flat-roofed building in the middle of Kabul, a relatively safe city. These were his exact words, or something very close: “British troops, fighting and dying in Afghanistan to keep terrorism off our streets.”

Hang on now. These are Afghan tribesmen, not international terrorists. They are fierce, wily, savage mountain people fighting with home-made guns, essentially nationalistic peasants. They probably have no idea of where Britain is, and still less care. Their passions are inflamed at the sight of foreign troops on their soil. If there weren’t British troops in Helmand no one would be firing at them.

I must have been one of the last people of my generation to make it to Afghanistan. It's been off-limits for the last thrity years or more. Anybody younger than me - unless he was a reporter or in the army - couldn't possibly have seen it. At least I have some idea who these people are.

This was back in the 70s, when the famous hippie-trail to
India passed through that mountainous, desert land of warring tribes, before the Russian invasion, but during the time of the communist government. Even then it was like the wild west. The Afghans are good at copying things and I was told that there were gun factories dotted about in secret locations. But then you’d see them riding into town on horseback, with a rifle slung across their shoulders, and it was a flint-lock not a machine gun.

It was the Americans who gave them Stinger missiles to fire at the Russian helicopter gun-ships. It was the Americans who trained them in modern warfare and who brought Osama bin Laden in to whip up their Islamic fervour.

Everybody knows by now that the war in Iraq was conducted for the venality and greed of the oil magnates in charge of the White House, so they are repackaging the Afghan war as somehow more “just.”

But Osama bin Laden left many years ago – left to escape while the US engaged in its plunder of Iraq.

Don’t you think its time we left the Afghan people to their own devices?

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Van the Man Meets The Bard of Ely

The following is a picture of my good friend Steve Andrews, also commonly known as The Bard of Ely, due to the fact that he writes poetry and that for many years lived in Ely, in Cardiff. The story that follows, about the time that Steve met Van Morrison, is a word-for-word transcript of a tape I made with Steve, which was later used as the basis of a Guardian column, and later again in my book The Last of the Hippies, in which Steve plays a major part. Apologies for the lack of new content on this site. I've been busy with a number of projects. Meanwhile, enjoy the sound of Steve's distinctly comic voice....

“And we’ll walk and talk in gardens wet with rain,

And I’ll never ever grow so old again.”

Van Morrison: Astral Weeks.

First of all I spoke to Van at Robin’s. I was working for Robin Williamson. This would have been about 1993. I was working at Robin’s as his secretary. And I had to answer the phone and everything, and I answered the phone one day and it was actually, it was Van the Man, and I’m saying, "who’s speaking please," and he’s saying, "Van Morrison." And I’m in total shock, awe, whatever, I’m like, "wow, this is Van Morrison," you know. And that was the first time I spoke to him, and that was a very unsuccessful conversation. I’m sort of gibbering, "oh, um, I’ve always been, well er, a great fan of yours." And he’s saying, "yeah, yeah?" And I’m saying, "yeah, yeah, really, what shall I…?" And he’s saying, " just tell Robin that I’m in the area and if I’m around I’ll give him a call again." I said, "oh yeah, right, right, I’ll do that." And - I remember what he said - he said, "all the best." And that was it. And I thought, "oh wow, wow, Van Morrison has said ‘all the best’ to me, this is brilliant, I’ve spoken to him." And that was the first time that I had any sort of connection with Van.

But then, I’d taken my son to his pottery class. And it was closed that day. And it was in the afternoon by now. Robin Williamson was doing the midsummer solstice concert at the Celtic folk museum in St Fagan’s, which I obviously knew about. I had an invite to be there. Because the pottery thing wasn’t happening, I said to my son, "well let’s go along and see Robin." So we went to the folk museum and it was an appalling day - it was one of these midsummer absolute piss-down days, it was absolute torrential rain going on - and we got there quite late anyway, and when we got there Robin’s gig was just about finished. And because of the terrible weather, they had to move the open air thing into one of the marquee tents. And Robin finished his set, and I could see a couple of people, one of whom was Van Morrison. And Robin went over and he was talking to them, and I thought, "wow, that’s Van Morrison again." And then I heard in the conversation, it came up that the other guy who was with Van was from Ely. And I thought, "wow, wow, Van Morrison is actually with someone who’s from Ely. This is my cue to go over and say something." And I went over and I said - the first thing I said was just utterly ridiculous - I said, "so you’re Van Morrison then?" And he said, "er yeah?" And I said, "oh yeah, I spoke to you once before, from Robin’s." And he said, "yeah." I said, "And I’ve always been a great fan of yours, I love your music." And he said, "yeah." And by this point I’m thinking, I’m not making much success here, I’m not having much success in having sparkling conversation with my hero here, all he ever says is "yeah."

At which point my son came over to me, and he’d just been outside the tent, and he came in the tent, like, we were at the edge of the tent, and Robin is stood one side, and Van’s stood here, and there’s this other guy from Ely stood there, and Isaac just comes in under the edge of the tent, and he says, "Dad?" And I says, "yes Isaac." And he says, "you see this rope?" pointing to the guide rope coming off the marquee tent. And I said, "yeah?" And I’m starting to sound a bit like Van Morrison, I’m saying, "yeah?" And he said, "well, can you put your head by it?" And I said, "yeah." And he said, "well go on then." So I’m moving my face down by the rope, very naively, in my usual way, and not expecting anything, and not being on my guard at all, I’m just putting my face down by this rope. At which point he grabbed the rope and twanged it, and all the water that had collected on the tent roof flew all over my face and down my neck and all over my clothes, and I just didn’t know what to do or say or anything, I’m just completely and utterly freaked out with utter embarrassment, cos this is right in front of Van Morrison. And I just muttered something, "er, oh, er, Isaac, um, we’ve got to, er, we’ve got to go and, um, come on," and sort of grabbed his hand and went. And I didn’t look back. I just sort of went out into the rain outside and headed for the exit as fast as possible. And that was it.

Bard of Ely at MySpace

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Brave New World

The following words are from the 1946 introduction to Brave New World by Aldous Huxley.

I only offer them as particularly appropriate at this moment in history.

"A really efficient totalitarian state would be one in which the all-powerful executive of political bosses and their army of managers control a population of slaves who do not have to be coerced, because they love their servitude."

And again:

"Great is the truth, but greater still, from a practical point of view, is silence about truth."

Today there is a holocaust. The holocaust is upon us again. A people are being killed. A people are being targeted. A people are being subjugated. A restless army roams amongst a population, killing at random. Children are sliced down in their own homes. Their cries are echoing up to heaven, but no one hears. We are all silent. No one listens. No one hears. All is silence except the echoes of gunfire.

You ask, "Why do they hate us? Why do they target us? Why do they murder us at our business in our own towns?"

You ask this, but you do not ask, "Why do we hate them? Why do we target them? Why do we murder them at their business in their own towns?"

The child's cry echoes down an empty street. Why can we not hear it?

The Mother's cry falls on deaf ears, a dead baby in her arms.

Why can we not hear the pain?

You listen to the arguments. Listen, listen, listen, really listen. The argument is for a racially pure Israel, for racial purity, for a racial state. And within that state a separated ghetto with a racially distinct people inside, hidden behind fences, and subject to arbitrary attack.

Zionism was the original Nazism.

The Zionists worked with the Nazis.

They are one and the same.

Last week we heard that torture flights had passed through British territory. This sort of information has become so routine now that hardly anyone notices.

This week it was reported that Prince Harry had been in Afghanistan. Then we get pictures of him with his "mates" kicking a football made of rolled up toilet paper, rolled out for us, as it were, on demand, another item of ass-wipe news to wipe out the reality of what's happening around us. Routine propaganda.

Routine torture. Routine murder. Routine lies.

A routine war.