Wednesday, 22 December 2010

Sunday, 19 December 2010


We're drowning in information, we're starving for knowledge.

Saturday, 18 December 2010


rolling back the years since a blond nine-year-old
swam several lengths of the local swimming baths for charity
over the last couple of weeks
i've been galvanising support
for hannah's sponsored swim
which is in aid of 'save the children'
it started off with the modest target of raising ten pounds
and has ended up with h securing a yet unknown three figure sum
to my surprise
this slightly old-fashioned fund-raising initiative
really seems to have captured people's imaginations
donations accumulating ever faster
like a snowball rolling down a steep hill
until finally one of mum's badminton friends steps up with fifty quid!
today as we were asking h's swimming teacher if he wanted to contribute
we even had a pound thrust upon us from a family we'd never met
i never thought it would be this easy to support a good cause
we've been in training for a couple of weeks now
but this morning is the big event
as h prepares for the off
i become coach, crowd and tv commentator all wrapped into one
applauding and cheering each width
advising on which stroke to use
urging her on
keeping up the tv voiceover
hannah's fifth width (her target)
brings a lump to my throat
and a tear to me eye
it's one of those rare proud parental moments
but she's not done yet
she insists on completing another couple of widths for good measure
a personal best
nice one woodle!

Thursday, 16 December 2010


beyond self-employment
i find myself stuck between a rock and a hard plaice:
elm-filled house
like cowslip's warren
where the rabbits are fat, sleek and well-fed
the wide empty corridors recall the spacious burrows
the church-like atmosphere
fed by saudi oil revenues
and the chinese economic miracle
the invisible shining wire that throttles...
born-vile collage
like efrafa
a vast teeming overcrowded multi-tiered warren
in the iron-grip of a tyrannical dictatorship
home of the downtrodden
where big brother and his spies are always watching...

Wednesday, 15 December 2010


we have to wait an hour and a half after the 9 o'clock watershed
after most weary viewers have turned off
and switched on their electric blankets or filled their hot water bottles
but the wait is nothing compared with what we see
shocking and harrowing images fly thick and fast
iraqi civilians in the crossfire of an apache helicopter gunship
moments before they are ripped to pieces by gunfire
a us soldier carrying a critically wounded 7-year-old from the scene of the incident
as the murderous pumped-up apache crew mocks and sneers
our brave british soldiers abuse iraqi detainees in some rotten hellhole
forcing their chained blindfolded captives to sit agonisingly with their backs to a wall
as they moan and wail sickeningly
'torture by stealth' as a lawyer approprately describes it
we see the mass graves in afghanistan after a us air strike
unidentifiable disassembled and mangled body parts buried together in one giant pit
PR is revealed as little more than a sophisticated war on the public
politicians as professional liars
journalists as niaive and gullible hoodwinked accomplices
miserably failing to hold power to account
what comes across is the numbing desensitising bludgeon of war
unending, sprawling and uncontrollable
casualties become little more than numbers
fuel for the propaganda game
an extra-legal source of vast profits
guantanamo provides a way of laundering people
arms sales are state-sponsored tax evasion footed by the taxpayer
the pre-eminent superpower somehow remains in a permanent state of war
obama approves the largest war budget in history
likewise at the british armed forces memorial in staffs
there is a constant record of war in 'peacetime' since 1948
with the names of the victims missing
john pilger's message is that journalists don't have to risk their lives
but they do need the bravery to uncover the truth
and that means always challenging the official version of events
"never believe anything until it is officially denied"

during the commercial breaks
it is interesting to see what market itv is selling to its advertisers
we want a new laptop for christmas
we warm to jamie oliver
while we'll be heating up frozen christmas snacks courtesy of iceland
was there something about a sony camera?
i honestly can't remember...

Monday, 13 December 2010


not stuck in staccato
not pissed off with pizzicato
not constipated with syncopation
i continue to explore the beatles back catalogue of piano songs
picking up simple playing techniques en route
and feeding them into my latest batch of compositions
mid to late-period beatles songs are fertile territory
case studies in interesting harmonic and rhythmic accompaniment
while being simultaneously accessible to the humble untutored player
and of course great fun to play
i've been through a few now:
strawberry fields forever (originally played on mellotron)
a day in the life
hey jude
imagine (a lennon solo number)...
the latest is penny lane
one of the high points of the beatles' career
the woodle and i have been listening to anthology 2 a lot recently
and i am delighted to report that woodle digs the beatles
she can distinguish and name the four distinct cartoon faces
on the front cover of my philip norman shout biography
she's also curious as to which beatle is singing
though she can't yet tell the voices apart
i tend to be more of a fan of lennon songs
but around the time that penny lane was written
as lennon dozed in his lsd-inspired reverie
mccartney was really coming into his own
as writer, performer and co-producer with george martin
one of the interesting things about penny lane
is the way it's based entirely on simple 4/4 piano crotchets
despite the overlay of all sorts of fancy studio overdubs
and the application of every manner of abbey road production trickery

after labouring for a while under my own steam
trying unsuccessfully to work out the subtleties of the chords
i seek assistance by looking up a piano tutorial on youtube
as i did when i was struggling with day in the life
my pal piano john comes up trumps again
with a step by step dissection of the song
he nails the elusive major-minor chord changes
but there's a problem
although piano john is playing the song in the key you hear on the record
the chords move rapidly from b major to c sharp minor seventh
to f sharp seventh to b minor seventh and so on
hardly the most straightforward thing to play
with black notes (sharps and flats) everywhere!
and there's another problem
piano john fingers the chords with up to four or five digits on each hand
making what he's doing practically unplayable for the layman
the beatles fan in me immediately starts to think uh oh
are these really the chords a self-tutored rock and roller like mccartney
would have chosen for his latest pop number?
fortunately i have one advantage over piano john
something which helps me to compensate for my lack of technical skill
i have access to ian macdonald's revolution in the head
a volume that brilliantly documents
the ins and outs of the beatles' recording process in meticulous detail
sure enough macdonald has an important insight to offer
like many other beatles songs of the 1966-67 period
the various piano parts for penny lane were recorded in a different key
and then varispeeded to match other instruments
my guess is therefore that mccartney actually composed the song
a semi-tone higher in c major
and that his piano part was then slowed down slightly after recording
this simplifies the chord shapes a great deal
suddenly we're back in the familiar harmonic territory
of c major and g seven
as with day in the life
the other key issue seems to be what the left hand is up to
because the left hand provides the harmonic interest and rhythmic motion
day in the life taught me a basic but indispensible left-hand technique
the little finger and thumb alternate in quavers an octave apart
once i start playing i soon discover the same thing works for penny lane
with the help of a little variation in the thumb to add syncopation
and by gradually paring down piano john's elaborate chord suggestions
i start to get in touch with the essence of the song
another nice thing in common with day in the life
is the lovely descending left hand pattern
best of all is the upward surge in the chorus
at the point where it goes 'penny lane is in my ears...'
from an orthodox b flat to the same chord with an underlying low d
played by the left hand
i've no idea what chord this is
(perhaps it's a polly chord)
but it's all part of the magic
little by little
thanks to john, paul, piano john
and some perseverence
i am belatedly beginning to uncover the secrets of this new instrument as a songwriting tool

Sunday, 12 December 2010


the death of kyoto
it seems to have precious little to do with preventing climate change
and much more to do with money
and the future of capitalism
all the horse-trading behind closed doors
configures the economics of future decades
the growth at any cost
the corporate profits needed to stop the whole damn system from imploding
as one high-profile delegate is rumoured to have said
of the peasant protesters excluded from the conference proceedings:
"no prawns?
let them eat lobsters!"


If journalism is good, it's controversial.

- JA

Saturday, 11 December 2010


Dear Harriet Sherwood

I am writing on the subject of Israel's current policy of near-starvation for Gaza as outlined in independent media watchdog Media Lens' latest 'alert', which can be read in full at:

I was encouraged to see that, unlike a number of other journalists, you went to the trouble of responding to Media Lens' concerns about the plight of Gazans. However, I must agree with the editors that your casual response was inadequate and entirely incommensurate with the enormous levels of suffering deliberately being imposed by the state of Israel on the people of Gaza.

I also believe that you have a clear duty to the public to report on the brutal and inhumane nature of Israel's policy as revealed in the documents obtained by Gisha rather than allowing the courageous work of this human rights organisation to be merely swept under the carpet.

Yours sincerely

A concerned member of the public


be warned
this post may well infect your computer
and automatically be forwarded to all of your contacts
its purpose is to hack into the servers of those corporations
who have withdrawn their support
for a well-known transparency activism organisation
so do not read this post
and if you already have
close it down immediately
or you may be liable to arrest by the us government...!

Wednesday, 8 December 2010


Julian, Julian
Tell me was it a set-up?
What is it like in Wandsworth?
Will there be no let-up?

Julian, what have you started?
Julian strikes fear into the heart of power

Julian, Julian
What have you set in motion?
As the wounded beast bears its teeth
Among the commotion

Julian, what have you started?
Julian strikes fear into the heart of power

Fighting for transparency
Courting more controversy
You sacrifice your liberty
To save the sins of humanity

Julian, Saint Julian
Tell me is it a witch-hunt?
Will downing you on the ducking stool
Prove that your innocent?

Julian, what have you started?
Julian strikes fear into the heart of power


dust gathers imperceptibly
a silent decay
metal tarnishes
mould forms
tiny cracks open up
dirt collects on the mirror glass
impermanence is permanent

Tuesday, 7 December 2010


she tells me in a cheerful and spirited voice free of bitterness
she tells me she entered the uk as an asylum seeker
she tells me she has no passport or official status
she tells me she is not permitted to work in this country
she tells me she fled somalia at the age of 5 or 6
she tells me she saw things that a small child should not see
she tells me how piles of corpses littered the streets of the city
she tells me how heads were severed from bodies
she tells me how her mother tried to cover her curious eyes
she tells me how her father struggled to explain what had happened
she tells me how they reached the kenyan border on foot
she tells me how she went to yemen to train as a doctor
she tells me how it was too expensive to pay to remain there
she tells me how her parents live in a united nations refugee camp
she tells me how her father needs urgent treatment for parkinson's disease
she tells me somalia is a lawless state where violence is entrenched
she tells me she would dearly love to go back as a doctor to help her people

Thursday, 2 December 2010


as i always tell the woodle when she complains
there are two very different kinds of snow
first there's the fine powdery stuff that has been falling this week
it's crisp underfoot, relatively 'dry' and falls in colder weather
marvellous for sledging and hopeless for making snowmen
then there's the coarser stickier stuff
it crumples underfoot, is wetter and turns to slush more easily
not so good for sledging as the sledge gets stuck in it
but great for making snowballs, igloos and snowmen
because the snow naturally binds together
snow on the ground can move from one kind to another as the temperature varies
i wonder if anybody else classifies snow this way?

Wednesday, 1 December 2010


i watched a disturbing documentary last night at ma and pa's
it traced the run-up to the may general election
when nick griffin and several local councillors stood for the bnp in barking
in opposition to the new labour candidates
including sitting mp margaret hodge
it was well crafted
it told its own story without the need for a voiceover
pieced together from short interviews with the major protagonists
occasional insightful off-the-record remarks
and fly-on-the-wall fragments
interspersed with footage of tense street scenes
full of aggro, unpleasantness and malice
bnp candidates being spat and sworn at by aggressive local youths
before eventually retaliating and weighing in with kicks and punches
amongst the nastiness there were some genuinely moving moments
the tearful father, a bnp supporter, who breaks down in tears
after he learns of the death of his nineteen-year-old son
killed while serving in afghanistan
two somali asylum-seekers, a mother and a son
tell of how they fled to britain after their husband/father was murdered
a mum permanently holed up on the umpteenth floor of a council tower block sobs as she talks of being forgotten
of how her small child has nowhere to play outdoors...
next to the nasty, petty, spiteful, crass thuggishness and ignorance on general display
and the sense of entitlement by dint of skin colour or genes
the new labour people look whiter than white
though one bnp policy does stick out from the general squalor like a sore thumb: the "bring our boys home from afghanistan" strapline
which sadly none of the main parties are willing to subscribe to
during the muted commercial breaks
the three of us exchange reactions
mum has a certain sympathy with elements of the bnp's rationale
the "we should look after our own" argument
it's a perpetual area of disagreement in our discussions
then there's a surreal moment during one of the breaks
when mum casually reveals that her father was briefly a member of the national front
(back in the late sixties or early seventies)
i guess there was a certain logic to this affiliation
as he lived and ran a business in an area of brum
largely taken over my the immigrant population from the fifties onwards
but it does make me wonder what he would have thought of a korean
(and potentially a burmese-indian) marrying into the family!


at one with the flow of time
trimming the garden hedge
cycling sedately through a snowy landscape
typing steadily away at a computer keyboard
composing the melody to a new song at the piano
cobbling together a piece of poetry


the present moment
always here
but so hard to find
a cinderella of the mind
a poor relation
relegated to the wings
as the mind pores obsessively over past events
interpreting and analysing what no longer exists
or projecting an imagined future onto its internal movie screen
a 24/7 running documentary of what is past
and what is yet to come
meanwhile in the backround
a naked luminous presence remains hidden
buried under layers of winter clothing
waiting to be appreciated