Sunday, 26 May 2013

Sunday Sounds 72 - Smoke on the Water

This week's Sunday Sound is a track that was released 40 years ago today, in a performance dating to July '73. Telling the story of the fire started by a fan with a flare gun at a Frank Zappa concert in the Montreux Casino during the 1971 Jazz Festival, it's an absolutely classic rock tune, with an instantly recognisable guitar riff. 



Saturday, 25 May 2013

Saturday Six 35 - @miss_s_b, Clegg, Royal Mail, Kimi and a Kitty...

Happy Saturday!

It's gorgeous here in Bristol - since you asked - hope you're having a good one wherever you are. But enough of the small talk, here are a selection of blogs and articles to have caught my eye this week. Enjoy!

The Very Wonderful Jennie Rigg blogged some thank-yous following the vote passing the third reading of the  Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill in the House of Commons.

On Wednesday, Nick Clegg gave a speech about the importance of the coalition keeping on to 2015, and chastising those who wished to divert it from its central purpose with continuous speculation about Europe. Andrew Grice in The Independent praises the speech, argues that it should have been made by the Prime Minister as a put down to his internal party critics and his inability to do so indicates the weakness of his position. Prospect also reports on the speech and, whilst being more nuanced in its assessment of the speech and the political landscape, there was no mistake in its interpretation of the central message: "Can the Conservative back benches please button it?"

Next, a letter showing that the Royal Mail can have a sense of humour, even when advising someone that their delivery service is in jeapardy.

Ahead of the Monaco Grand Prix tomorrow, Kimi Räikkönen has been paying tribute to the late James Hunt whose first Grand Prix was at Monaco, 40 years ago on June 3rd. The race was won by Jackie Stewart, whilst Hunt came ninth in a Hesketh March.

Finally, I'm not sure what I find most amusing about this kittyflix video - the kitty's antics or the Facebook page advertised as being But that's just my puerile mind.*


*I tell myself that knowing the word "puerile" comes from the Latin "puer" meaning boy suggests that it isn't as puerile as I make out.**

**I suspect that a vague knowledge of schoolboy Latin is not enough to excuse me from being guilty as charged.

Wednesday, 22 May 2013

The World at One - What I Would Have Said

At lunchtime I picked up an e-mail from a reporter at Radio 4's World at One looking to call me re a Lib Dem related item on the programme. This piqued my interest but work commitments would have made any contact next to impossible. C'est la Vie...

My instinct was that the report would be on activist reaction to the four Lib Dem MPs who voted against the third reading of the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act and the rather high-profile abstentions of Party President Tim Farron and Deputy Leader of the Parliamentary Party, Simon Hughes. Just as with Secret Courts, many activists will have cause to think twice when it comes to campaigning for these MPs.

It transpires, though, that the piece was in response to Clegg's speech this morning in which he defended the coalition and reinforced his intention it should continue to polling day in 2015. Wouldn't it be better to exit now?

I'm aware this blog has had it's disgruntled moments, but they were barking up the wrong tree if they thought my response would have suited their story. Indeed, my response would have been similar to a Bristol Lib Dem colleague - who was told they had had a number of similar replies and his contribution wouldn't be required!

Whilst there's no denying that coalition hasn't worked out as planned - we've failed over various Constitutional Reform and we're still suffering the fall out from the Student Fees debacle (despite the implantation of a far more progressive system) - the country has had stable Government in a period of economic uncertainty.

Whilst a full-blown recovery has remained elusive - and there is more that could be done on the economy - implementing Labour's (post-election) alternative in 2010 would have left us with much higher public spending and debt, higher borrowing costs, a shrinking private sector and any illusion of growth generated through public spending would probably be wearing thin by now.

True, the economy has stagnated and there are many issues to fix - infrastructure investment and capital expenditure should be increased, for example - but when the Eurozone is in it's sixth quarter of recession, Socialist France has entered it's second quarter of recession in four years and economic indicators remain weak around the world, then the government deserves more credit for progress made towards a rebalanced economy than it is getting.

Meanwhile the coalition has made important progress in other areas: reforming the tax system by increasing Capital Gains Tax Rates, reducing Tax Relief allowable through pensions and other schemes, increasing the Personal Allowance, extending Stamp Duty to punitive levels for those using companies to avoid it. Introducing a Single Tier Pension, the legislation for which was in the recent Queen's Speech, will simplify State Pension Provision and erase many of the biases inherent in the current one.

In social areas, too, the Government has made some important decisions - the pupil premium which targets additional spending at schools with pupils in most need of it, extending parental rights by allowing parents to split Maternity/Paternity leave in a way that suits them not tradition. Another key area - and a vital lasting legacy for this Government is Equal Marriage - another step change in moving society forward to a new level of acceptance, tolerance and understanding.

So, whilst the Lib Dems may not have achieved the "Big Wins" of coalition government - we have played our part in ensuring the country had a stable government with progressive input at a time of international economic crisis for which the previous government was ill prepared. We should continue that work right up until polling day.

In the end, the World at One didn't run a feature on the Lib Dem attitude to the coalition... perhaps everyone approached said much the same as I would have done...


Tuesday, 21 May 2013

Let's Get Married...

So, the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill has passed through the Commons and now goes on the House of Lords for further consideration. Step by step, we're moving forward to more a equal, a more civil society.

It's not over yet - and the bill is not perfect, even before it's trip to the Lords - but this Government is making progress towards establishing Equal Marriage as a lasting social legacy of the 2010-15 Parliament.

Many thanks are due to Lynne Featherstone for pushing this onto the Government's Agenda. For all Labour's self-congratulatory tweeting tonight, this would never have been before the Commons without Liberal Democrats in Government. (The divisions in the Conservative Party on the topic would have precluded a sole Tory administration taking it on.)

So much done, much still to do; although some of the associated issues - Heterosexual Civil Partnerships, recognition of Humanist Marriages, equality for Trans- people - may be easier to address outside the context of this bill, once rumours of the collapse of civilisation have been proved to be wholly wrong*.

Anyway, I didn't think I was going to get as many words out as this - and instead had prepared a video. So now you get both a blogpost and some music to enjoy. Here's The Proclaimers with Let's Get Married. Look out for the line which (unwittingly) answers those critics who ask why Gay people would want to get Married when they can get Civilly Partnered:

"Yeah, it's just a piece of paper but it says I love you..."


* That's not to say I don't want all those things, or that I don't still want them in this Bill, more a recognition that the way things have gone we need to be thankful for what we have, and continue the fight for the things we don't yet.

Album Review - Texas 'The Conversation'

First, an apology: This review was intended to be the climax of my "A Journey Through Texas" series, which sadly fell by the wayside a bit whilst I was otherwise engaged in March and April. As a result, it lacks the context I had hoped it would have. I have, though, opted to retain the track-by-track style of the entries I made for Southside and Mother's Heaven - and I still intend to complete posts for all the other albums...

The album kicks of with the title track and lead single. In many respects it is reminiscent of the Texas of Southside, complete with twangy country guitars, albeit with more melody and polish. I must confess that I wasn't overly sure of it to start (I felt the chorus sounded like it could have been done by The Sugababes!) but it has definitely grown on me over the weeks and months.

The next track - Dry Your Eyes - also captures a conversation, this time between friends having a heart to heart in emotionally raw circumstances. It's a beautiful number, with a simple melody, pared down acoustic sound and clear narrative.

Like many of the tracks on the album, it's a slight song; of the twelve tracks, half are under 3 minutes long, and the longest is 3 minutes 43 seconds. Like the songwriters of the sixties (whose influence can be heard at times), the band don't go in for over-long instrumentals or extended repeated choruses.

If This Isn't Real, returns to the theme of The Conversation - and the recurring theme of the album - the second guessing of a partner's insecurities. A simple (that word again) drum-based accompaniment, layered with keyboards and guitars is the backing for Sharleen Spiteri's rich and soulful vocal. 

The next track (Detroit City) moves the tempo up again - it's the most rocky track on the album and Spiteri's voice adapts accordingly. It's rollickingly good fun, and a real foot stomper; come the tour in November, it'll be a real crowd pleaser. 

I Will Always, by contrast, put me in mind of the Everly Brothers number - a low key, melodic paean to eternal love. Again, Spiteri's chameleon like voice adapts - dropping a register for a sultry, harmonic vocal. 

Talk About Love reminds me of the Texas of White on Blond or The Hush - but with a Southside style and sound with heavy guitars and a heavy beat. Texas' sound may change but on every album there are examples of the DNA of the band shining through. There is something about the frantic pace of the song which gets under the skin of subject of much of the album: the frustration of being a relationship with someone incapable of expressing their feelings.

The Texas DNA is obvious again on Hid From The Light which feels - to me at least - a bit like a reworking of Halo. But whilst in Halo we really do adore the object of our affection - here all who love her will despair. It's destined to become a fan favourite!

Be True has a sixties sound reminiscent in parts of the Supremes. So much so, it could easily have been a track on Spiteri's solo album, Melody, which was heavily influenced by Motown. Always Forever (Maybe I) moves the tempo down again with a pared back, dream-like vocal against a minimal backdrop.

Spiteri appears to channel to the voice of The Pretender's Chrissie Hynde on Hearts Are Made To Stray - and indeed the song itself reminds be I'll Stand By You. 

At the gigs that launched the album, the band did a version of River Deep, Mountain High (which Spiteri had deployed to great effect on her solo tour in 2009). Big World is, in part, reminiscent of another Tina Turner hit, Proud Mary with more than a knowing wink in that direction. It's an upbeat number about doing what's right for yourself when you can't get through to your partner.

The album rounds off with I Need Time - a torch song with a stripped back track, country guitars and bluesy vocals. It's a slight downbeat ending to the album, which is in keeping I think with the subject matter. It's also an understated ending, encouraging you back to listen again rather than sending you off on your way humming the last track!

The Conversation is an album that's unlike any other Texas album: more melodic than Southside, more upbeat than Mothers Heaven and Ricks Road, more guitar-led than White on Blond and The Hush, more authentic than Careful What You Wish For and more down to earth than The Red Book. The consistent factor - as ever - is Spiteri's voice and lyrics.

Although they've never been afraid to experiment with differing musical directions, sometimes this has led to contrivances - the most obvious example being 2003's Careful What You Wish For. The Conversation marks another change of direction - but this feels more like a band doing what it wants, rather than trying to be cool or populist. Texas are back - but on their terms.

I'd be foolish to pretend the album was perfect. Indeed, I have to confess to being disappointed that there isn't more breadth of substance to the tracks, many of which tackle the same subject in only slightly differing fashion. As with all of Spiteri's work, it's clearly highly personal and appears to be the product of a frustrating relationship.

It's not an album that's going to set the critics world on fire. It's not going to bring a new generation of fans to the band in the way that White on Blond did. But it's an accomplished album from the band content to follow their own path. It's an album that showcases Spiteri's voice and resists the over-production of previous albums, and, from a fan's point of view, it's a very welcome return after an extended hiatus.


Sunday, 19 May 2013

Sunday Sounds 71 - the Pentecost edition (kinda)...

It's Pentecost, so today's Sunday Sounds are on fire*

First, Kasabian, with Fire:

and now, Kings of Leon with Sex on Fire, which I have posted before - no apologies for reposting, though!:


*Acts 2 When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting.They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. [NIV]

Saturday, 18 May 2013

Saturday Six 34 - Poverty, Equal Marriage, Texas and Pulled Pork

It's Saturday, so here's another six blogposts and articles that I've seen and thought worthy of some note over the past week:

First up, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation has published a report into attitudes to poverty and welfare. The Guardian reports that this suggests that attitudes towards those who claim state support are hardening amongst Labour supporters. Over on Lib Dem Voice, Stephen Tall looks at how the figures breakdown across the political spectrum.

The Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill returns to the commons this week, with news that the Government is not in favour of using the Bill to allow Humanists to conduct legally recognised marriages. The British Humanist Association reports on the issue here - and the efforts by 7 MPs (including Bristol West's Stephen Williams) to amend the bill.

Unfortunately, there are a number of other amendments to the bill and some are not nearly so helpful. Caron Lindsay reports on Lib Dem Voice that free votes are to be given to our MPs - although there are some that even those against the bill should not even countenance voting for.

Regular readers will know I love me a bit of Texas - whose new album comes out on Monday and whom I have ticket to see in November. Last week they performed a couple of gigs as party of the promotion of the new album - here's a review of the Glasgow gig at legendary venue, King Tut's Wah Wah Hut. They also did  a turn on BBC2's Later... with three songs from the album, and Spiteri and Holland covering "How Sweet It Is" - it's worth looking it up on iPlayer.

Finally, my friend Jo relates the latest details of her next charity dining event... The Stars and Stripes Supper Club. Having been one of those at the Pulled Pork tasting, I'm looking forward to it more than ever now.


Thursday, 16 May 2013

Once Upon A Dream...

The other day at work we were discussing dreams. Although they fascinate a lot of people, I've never paid particular attention to them - indeed for years I swore I never had any!
This wasn't true, of course, but I genuinely never (or at least very very rarely) remembered them. In more recent years, I have become more aware of waking from dreams but they always dissipate rapidly. Sometimes I regret not writing them down but only if they have been a good story - I'm not interested in psycho-analysing them!
At times I've had dreams that those who do seek to interpret them would describe as classic stress dreams. At other times I've had serial dreams with recurring characters on a regular (or semi-regular) basis. Once or twice I've had dreams where I've woken up at the moment of my death and these remain the most memorable - and my favourites.
Well, I say they're my favourites but they're actually my favourites bar one, which a former colleague of mine had and related to me the following morning. This was it:
She was at a party in a huge mansion which in her dream was the home of my parents. The party was in full swing and everything was going well when a fire broke out. As she was a fire warden at work, it was second nature for her to ensure the building was evacuated and everyone was safely accounted for.
Once all the party-goers were assembled on the lawn outside my parents' burning mansion, it was identified that I was missing from amongst them. The Fire Brigade arrived and the fire was brought under control, all the while attempts were being made to find me. Once the building was deemed safe to enter, the Firefighters duly did so...
On entering the gutted shell of the mansion, they found me hung in the stairwell of the newly charred grand staircase.
For some reason, I've always loved that story - and the various reactions of people when I (gleefully) recount it...

Tuesday, 14 May 2013

#LibDemExercise - top tips for fit activists

Tonight saw me return to the gym for the first time in a couple months. Getting back to it, after spending my period of absence electioneering, inspired a number of tweets:


Featured on Liberal Democrat Voice

Monday, 13 May 2013

4 new roads to the widow's world...*

How did you get here? Did you follow a link from another blog, from a blog aggregator, from Twitter or Facebook? Did use Blogger's "next blog" whilst viewing something else? Did you search for a particular story or item? Where you looking for an image? Or did you type "" into your browser address bar?

Whatever you did, however you got here and whatever you're here for, welcome...

...and if you should choose to come back, there are now 4 more ways to find these pages:

In time, I hope to use these addresses in a more extensive fashion, but for now they are additional routes to the widow's world.


*who says the coalition doesn't do infrastructure spending?!

Saturday, 11 May 2013

Saturday Six (well, Seven) 33 - The political landscape, bad journalism and Nadine Dorries

Well, after a break for the election campaigning, Saturday Six (and my other regular strands) will be making a comeback, starting now... and, as a bonus this week, Saturday Six is a Saturday Seven.

In his Archives, Alex discusses the rise of UKIP - and the demise of Participatory Politics. Put simply, it's a self-perpetuating cycle: as long as established politicians play to their own gallery, the disengaged will find alternative outlets for their frustration.

One of UKIP's main policies is opposition to equal marriage - which Charles Moore discusses in a Telegraph piece lauded by Nadine Dorries. Jae Kay at Freedom Is Not The Problem gives it to them with both barrels.

Ms Dorries is also the subject of this lengthy piece which starts with the simple premise: "Why hasn't her appearance money for I'm a Celebrity appeared in the Register of Members' Interests yet?"...

Meanwhile, Caron has been reading the Daily Mail and, somewhat unsurprisingly, hasn't liked what she's read. Specifically, Quentin Letts being disparaging about international lawyer Miriam González Durántez on the basis that she is married to Nick Clegg and is Spanish.

Much has been made lately of how much - or how little - a person can live on. Aethelread The Unread takes to pieces a particularly bad piece of "journalism" from the BBC website that purported to prove £1 a day wasn't just feasible but could provide a wide and varied diet.

Finally, much has been made about the local election results, the Queens Speech and what they mean for the parties and the coalition. Here are two responses, one by Linda Jack and the other by Stephen Tall. I'll leave you to judge whose views I'm closest to.


Friday, 10 May 2013

Pomp, Circumstance and Humble Addresses...

Parliamentary copyright images are reproduced with the permission of Parliament
As much as I am a republican, I do like a bit of Pomp and Circumstance - and few occasions have as much of either as the State Opening of Parliament when, for a few minutes each year, the Palace of Westminster pays host to Her Majesty the Queen.
After a horse-drawn procession from Buckingham Palace to the Houses of Parliament - and a few minutes donning the full Royal Regalia - she enters the House of Lords to address both members of both houses. She then reads out a short speech which outlines the Government's legislative programme for the coming year.
After the Queen departs, parliament returns to normal with MPs returning to the Commons to debate the speech... but not before two of their number give an "Humble Address" - a vote of thanks to Her Majesty and a semi-serious look at the issues raised (or omitted) in the Speech.
This year, one of those on whom that honour fell was Bristol West's Stephen Williams MP - and you can read my summary of his address over on the Bristol Lib Dem's website.

Wednesday, 8 May 2013

Bristol and Blogs

This Blog is unashamedly fond of Bristol. It is, after all, a great city with fantastic urban art, varied architecture, lively bars and clubs (I'm told...), tea emporia, artisan coffee houses, various independent shops (and an independent Mayor).
It's a hub for creative industries, the home of Deal or No Deal and featured in Dirk Gently, Dr Who and (soon) Sherlock. It's home to one of the UK's (and the World's) top Universities and is a key centre for the Aerospace Industry.
It's a city of Festivals: from the Harbourside festival to the Balloon Fiesta, from Upfest to Brisfest. It's a vibrant, diverse city with a rich history of incomers enriching and developing its cosmopolitan culture.
It's the home of Wallace and Gromit, and the home of Banksy, Brunel and John Cabot. And it's my home.
Aside from the all the above, it is also the home of a great many blogs which, along with this one, are collected together on the Bristol Blogs aggregator site. Go and have a look - and if you're not local, be sure to put Bristol (as well as Bristol Blogs) on your "to visit" list!

Friday, 3 May 2013

On being a Bristol Lib Dem today

It's not been a great day to be a Lib Dem in Bristol. We've lost 9 seats, and lost our position as the largest party on the council. 

The party's maxim - where we work, we win - has never been so wrong in the case of some of our hardest working councillors. Two losses were particularly galling: Jon Rogers who came third behind the Greens and Labour in Ashley ward and Steve Comer who lost by one vote in Eastville.

It wasn't just existing councillors who worked hard but didn't win; for example, Alex Smethurst pounded the pavements of Kingsweston for months but lost out to both the Independents for Bristol Party and Labour.

It wasn't all doom and gloom, though, with holds in Clifton East, Cotham, Henleaze and Redland as well as in Cabot ward where I so spent much of the past weeks since the bitterly cold, wet night back in March when we started canvassing. Having invested so much personally, I was delighted that Dr Mark Wright was re-elected: he is a real asset to the Council as a whole as well as the Lib Dem Group.

Politics can be cruel and harsh - but it is also cyclical. When these wards were last fought, four years ago, the Lib Dems benefited from a rising tide against Gordon Brown's Labour government. Some of today's losses represent not much more than the receding of that anti-Labour tide.

That's not to say that there are not lessons to learn, of course - and the group and local party will seek to learn those. It's been a hard few months and an even harder few hours but Lib Dems are nothing if not resilient and I can confidently assert that whilst we may be down, we are not out.

There are now elections at all levels over the next 3 years, so if you're a Liberal (with or without a capital "L") in Bristol and you want to get active and help us bounce back in the build-up to the "all up" elections in 2016, e-mail me.


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