Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Layer 175 Return to Base, Nihilistic Despair, The Alpajarras, Jeem, Jamming, and Healthy Living.

Trying to get your head around what's happening in the world when you've just spent two weeks off the planet is a bit like trying to open a memory-intensive word processor on your computer when you only have 5 megabytes of RAM available. There's just too much information needing to be uploaded, assimilated and processed, with far too little processing power on tap.

It's very tempting to just switch off, close the curtains and stay ignorant.

What's happening in politics on these sad little islands was pretty well summed up by Marina Hyde in her usual excellent column in the Guardian on Saturday:

A new politics? Let's revert to a state of nihilistic despair

Do you remember "A new politics"? It was that turn-of-last-month movement for restoring faith in the way in which we are governed. It sort of coincided with the vague tetchiness that capitalists had just blown up capitalism and the plebs were expected to foot the bill.

Once upon a time – June, basically – a series of scandals made it voguish to go around saying that not only ought the public to be exempted from funding lavish accommodation for MPs' ducks, but that the whole rotten system needed reform. Even some members of parliament themselves were saying it. Honestly, they really were.

She goes on to describe a typical debate in parliament:

You need hardly be told that the debate played out to a typically underpopulated chamber, or that government engagement tended toward the half-hearted. Indeed, one had the overwhelming sense that the home secretary really just couldn't be done with the hassle, and anyway the argument was way over his head. "I accept that I am not a lawyer," Alan Johnson declared blithely. "I am a hack politician. I go by the advice I get."

This man is home secretary. It's all very well for call-centre operatives and Little Britain characters to drone "Computer says no" at the public, but when you hold one of the great offices of state, and are in charge of an annual budget of £10bn, it does make you look a bit of a spanner. Can you imagine Roy Jenkins addressing the house during the debate on capital punishment with the words: "Don't look at me, luv, I just work here"?

Wednesday's "debate" . . . seemed to crystallise so much of what repulses the electorate about their representatives. The secretary of state . . . seemed to wear staggering incompetence as a badge of honour.

This pretty much sums up what I've come to understand about how our governance works – politicians (i.e. 'our' representatives) at both local authority level and nationally have no wit, no imagination, no wisdom, no experience of real life, no guiding philosophy or ideology, no level of enlightenment whatsoever. All they do is put their signatures on documents drafted by bureaucrats who have no wit, no imagination, no wisdom, etc, etc.

Marina then quotes from a letter written by the appalling Denis MacShane MP (nee Denis Matyjaszek):

“The Commons will survive this scandal as it survived earlier scandals ... The great historian Macaulay wrote that there was nothing 'so ridiculous as the British public in one of its periodical fits of morality'. The British public is in one of its fits of morality right now but this will pass."
Do excuse our ridiculousness, Denis. We are now back in our state of nihilistic despair, and you will find that rather less of a caprice.


I suppose we have to give honest broker Alan Johnson at least a little credit for his admission that he's just a hack politician who has no particular expertise or even any critical faculties - who just does what he's told by his 'experts'.

Read here what Wikipedia has to say about 'MacShane', his record as a parliamentarian, and his expenses claims:


This ridiculous shithead wrote a column in the Guardian last Thursday in which he actually advocated Tony Blair as the first 'president' of the European Union. It's like he's living in a parallel universe, let alone on another planet.


A realistic assessment of Blair's suitability for the post is given in a column by John Palmer:



Since returning to base I've been catching up with some spiritually refreshing music, and thanks to Spotify have been listening to the entire output of the divine Webb Sisters. Out of curiosity I also tried “Webb Sisters Radio”on last.fm, which is a curious Internet vehicle for listening to music. This is an outfit that started life in Shoreditch, whose aim seems to be to feed you music that's supposedly similar to the artists you actually enjoy. All I can say is that the solo female singers they send to your computer – supposedly lyrical, melodic, original, etc; supposedly similar to the Webb Sisters – just highlight the sheer brilliance of the Webb Sisters themselves, whose work is outstanding in every way: vocally, lyrically and musically.


Last week I met a guy called Jeem who plays the piano accordion. He's tall and thin, has long hair and a crazy kind of Dali moustache.

He was playing in a little square outside a cafe called El Tilo, in a village called Capileira, up in the Alpujarra mountains, which lie next to the Sierra Nevadas.

He was playing some Spanish tunes, and I sat down and started to video him. He then switched to playing a great arrangement of “Season of the Witch”, which he also sang. Sitting on the terrace of Bar El Tilo (the lime tree) we were treated to a range of different styles and tunes, including some 12 bar blues.

At the end of his ‘set’ the people in the cafe gave Jeem a good round of applause. He then came round with a hat and collected cash from the customers.

It turned out he’s from Arizona, having been brought up initially in Chicago. He decided to leave the US 17 years ago, feeling disgusted at the turn to the Right the country had made under Reagan and Bush The First.

He now spends his time travelling by bus between places in the mountains and places on the coast, playing in squares and markets and streets, spreading the happiness.

He said he’d loved Donovan’s ‘Season of the Witch’ from the first time he’d heard it, way back in the sixties. I said his version sounded a lot like the one recorded by Brian Auger and Julie Driscoll, which he’d apparently never heard.

(Type “Season of the Witch” into the search box on Spotify and you can hear about 10 different versions. I still love Brian Auger's Hammond instrumental.)

He said he’d started playing the accordion when he was 6 years old, though it seems unlikely he could even have picked up a full-sized piano accordion at that age.

Jeem’s the kind of guy who really appeals to me – laid back, laconic, talented, humorous, thoughtful and idealistic. It feels good to be around people like that, as they go around raising spirits.


We bumped into him again later that day, sitting on a bench, his accordion in its case beside him, plus his folded stool. He chatted some more about his musical influences, and how he intends to learn to play in the classical French accordion style of Bal Musette. I’d have liked to have chatted more, and listened some more, but the hour was getting late.


The Alpajarras are definitely my kind of mountains – high, but not too high; lush and warm and accessible. The kind of mountains with well-established paths that enable you to walk up to the tops and the ridges, and not have to scramble or rock-climb.

It would be good to go back there next year, rent a room somewhere, and spend several days, maybe even a month, exploring the region on foot. I'd also like to get back to Granada and the Alhambra, and get to know those places better. Learning some Spanish would be a good idea as well.


Jeem talked about hanging out with other musicians and having jams that go on late into the night. The ability to play an instrument and jam with others is an absolute gift. It's too late now for my kids, but I'll try to make sure my grandchildren get hold of instruments at an early age and learn to play them.

Imagine a world in which every home, and every market and square in every village, town and city was enlivened by live music. How great would that be? Instead we buy our kids TVs, DVDs, Playstations and Wiis. These things have their place, but their very ease of use takes up time and opportunity that could be put to much better use.

The only public singing that takes place spontaneously in Britain is when drunk people and/or sports spectators lose their inhibitions and let rip with cacophonies worse than frustrated cats and dogs.


This was the first time in ages I've been in Spain during the summer months, and the first time I've paid some attention to the way the Spanish people use the beaches as places to gather at weekends and after work.

I guess it's similar to the other places around the world that enjoy 'Mediterranean' types of climate – places like Australia, California and Brazil, where descendants of the original colonists get together by the sea and hang out in the same fashion as their European forebears have done for centuries – informally and joyfully soaking up the power of the sun in beautiful places where whole communities can meet and mingle.

Last week, down at the little bay, there were still more than 30 cars parked each evening till just before sundown, with at least 60 – 80 people scattered along the shoreline enjoying the sun, the sea and one another. Some had barbeques and little fires, with fish and meat grilling on little sticks pushed in the ground. Others would head off to eat in bars, cafes and homes. There's a deep simplicity, enjoyment and relaxation in such a social lifestyle. Being able to sit on beaches and terraces in the open air and to eat and drink every day al fresco has such huge benefits.

Back in London, these days, smokers in particular like to sit at tables in the streets. But let's be honest – what is point? In coats. Near traffic. Polluted. Noisy. Sucking poison into lungs.

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