Sunday 31 January 2010

Britain is a country where old men count birds in their back gardens

Yesterday my friend Del Boy and I took part, along with thousands of other Brits, young and old, in the annual 'Big Garden Birdwatch', organised by 'The Royal Society for The Protection of Birds'. The results are fed to the Society by post or on line and it is then possible to see which speicies are rising in numbers and those in decline. I'm not sure, but I suspect that this is the only country in the world where something like this happens.

It was a fine, crisp and cold day and this was our tally in my back garden :
20 wood pigeon
8 magpie
3 black bird
3 blue tit
2 dunnock
2 starling
1 robin
1 thrush
1 collared dove
1 jay
1 common gull
1 black headed gull
1 greater spotted woodpecker

This last little chap, a greater spotted woodpecker, is rare and 'made the morning' of the two old boys keeping their tally.

Gillingham's Football Stadium is a place for old men

I went to Gillingham's 'Priestfield Stadium' yesterday to see the local team play 'at home' against the London team from Walsall.

I was amongst 4,795 other people in the stadium, most of them fans of the 'Gills' including my companions, our leader Del Boy, Robbie and Kelvin.

I know very little about football, but what I did observe was :

* How young the players were, with most in their 20's.

* How fast the game was, as a consequence of youth.

* How the Old Boys like me sat and cheered in the crowd.

* How the Old Boys were playing their role as supporters alongside their sons or daughters and grandchildren who were also present. It was a family event.

Gillingham occupy a place in the 'First Division'and achieved this in May 2009 with their win against Shewsbury in Wembley Stadium in May last year.

P.S. It was very cold sitting in the Stadium. I wore 2 pairs of socks, a pair of my wife's tights, pants and undershirt, cardigan, scarf, overcoat, gloves, hat and warm shoes and I was still cold.

This is what us 'True Brits' do for our sport. Sacrifice and fortitude and no moaning.

Friday 29 January 2010

Britain says "Happy Birthday" to Tony Blackburn and Andrew Loog Oldham

Andrew Oldham, music producer, impresario and author is 66 today. Tony Blackburn, disc jockey is 67.

Andrew was in London in the Second World War in 1944. His father, Andrew Loog was a United States Army Air Force lieutenant of Dutch descent who served with the Eighth Air Force who was killed in June 1943 when his B-17 bomber was shot down over the English Channel. His Australian mother was a nurse and comptometer operator.

His interest in the pop culture of the 1960s and the Soho coffeehouse scene, led to working for Carnaby Street mod designer, John Stephen and later as an assistant in Mary Quant's shop.

In the field of music he became a press agent for British and American rock & roll acts and in 1963 he was tipped off by a journalist friend to check out a young R&B band called 'The Rolling Stones' and with his business he took over their management.

His moves, which helped propel the group to fame included:

* retaining ownership of the band's master tapes, which allowed greater artistic freedom than a standard recording contract.

* bringing Lennon and McCartney to the recording studio at a crucial moment, which led to their "I Wanna Be Your Man" becoming the Rolling Stones' second single.

* getting the Rolling Stones to write their own material and actively promoting a "bad boy" image for The Rolling Stones as a contrast to the clean shaven Beatles.

As 'The Stones'success increased, he thrived on a reputation as a garrulous, androgynous gangster who wore makeup and shades but relied on his bodyguard 'Reg' to threaten rivals.

He sold his share of the Rolling Stones' management to Allen Klein in 1966, but continued in his role as the band's producer until late 1967.

In 1965 Oldham set up Immediate Records, and released work by PP Arnold, Chris Farlowe and the Small Faces. After the Small Faces split in 1969, he put together Humble Pie, featuring Steve Marriott formerly of the Small Faces and Peter Frampton of 'The Herd'.

Since the 1970s he has worked in the USA and in Colombia which has been his primary residence since the mid-80s, when he married Esther Farfan, a Colombian model. There he became a mentor for local bands.

Tony Blackburn was also born during the Second World War. He first achieved notice as a disc jockey who broadcast on the offshore pirate stations 'Radio Caroline' and 'Radio London' in the 1960s and was the first presenter to appear on BBC Radio 1 in 1967 and launched the new station with : "...and good morning everyone! Welcome to the exciting new sound of Radio 1". His cheery style and corny jokes ensured his household reputation and made him a popular figure with some, though his dislike of heavy and progressive rock and punk made him a hate figure with others. His fellow Radio 1 DJ John Peel would often derisively refer to him as 'Timmy Bannockburn'.

After a long career as a presenter he hit the headlines in 2004 when he was temporarily suspended from his show on 'Classic Gold' for playing songs by Cliff Richard, in defiance of a ruling by the head of programmes that Richard's music did not match the station's 'brand values'.

The dispute was even referred to in Parliament, with Leader of the House Peter Hain voicing his support for Blackburn.

He was reinstated, amid rumours that the episode was merely a publicity stunt.

Tuesday 26 January 2010

Britain is a country verdant with grumpy old men

Tony Slattery, the Irish comedian is only 51 years old, but he already has the makings of a first class grumpy old man.

I found myself agreeing with him as he gave his take on :

( I've starred my favourites )

Bottled water *
Multitasking companies
Post *
Getting old
Crossing the road
The tube
Weather girls *
Directory enquiries *
Poncy art critics *
Hair *

This blog has made this old man famous in Sweden and perhaps the World.

Britain is no country for old men confirmed

Britain's home alone old men :


And now something to cheer us old men up :

Friday 22 January 2010

Britain's River Medway has a riverside path for elderly joggers

My twitcher friend, Del Boy has sent me some photos of the Medway Estuary and if you ignore the power station in the background, it is astonishingly beautiful. The riverside path is just the place for old men to jog and jog their memories at the same time.

Britain is a country where old men can jog their memories.

Scientists now tell us that jogging makes your brain grow.
Apparently, research on mice shows that running and other aerobic exercise stimulates the growth of new brain cells, leading to enhanced memory recall though the growth of new brain matter.

The new brain cells appeared in a region that is linked to the formation and recollection of memories. The equivalent result in humans could be remembering what you had for dinner yesterday and the day before, or where you parked on different trips to the supermarket.

Can you remember these things ?

Well, if you can't START JOGGING ! ......and who knows, before long you might be competing like this :

Thursday 21 January 2010

Britain's Medway has a riverside walk for old men who like looking at birds

I went for a walk today along the banks of the Medway not far from where I live in north Kent. It is a weekday walk, tailor-made for old men because there are no kids, no cars and very few people.

My companion was my good friend Del Boy, who introduced me to bird twitching a couple of years ago.

At this time of year, the waters and mud baks of the River are full of Kentish residents and winter residents like the brent geese who flew in from Scandinavia at the end of last year.

Del Boy likes making lists of things and so we made a list of the birds we had seen after our walk :

Teal and widgeon and pintail and shellduck and redshank and grey plover and curlew and black necked grebe and common gulls and black headed gulls .

Oh, we saw some 'gnats' on the path, which Del Boy thought should be recorded too.

Del Boy's wife has an affinity to water birds too. She is able to recite the following poem from Kenneth Grahame's 'Wind in the Willows' and is not only word perfect, but also recites it in a sing-song voice. :

Ducks' Ditty

All along the backwater,
Through the rushes tall,
Ducks are a-dabbling,
Up tails all!

Ducks' tails, drakes' tails,
Yellow feet a-quiver,
Yellow bills all out of sight
Busy in the river!

Slushy green undergrowth
Where the roach swim—
Here we keep our larder,
Cool and full and dim.

Everyone for what he likes!
We like to be
Heads down, tails up,
Dabbling free!

High in the blue above
Swifts whirl and call—
We are down a-dabbling
Up tails all!

Here is a rendition by 'The Crossed Swords'.

Wednesday 20 January 2010

Britain's Baby Boomers beware David Willetts : Part 3

Let's begin by reminding ourselves that David Willetts is the Shadow 'Universities and Skills Secretary', so there is a fair chance that he will be a minister in the Conservative Government which will be elected this year.

Let's begin by looking at the end of David's argument against us selfish Baby Boomers and our neglect of the younger generation. His article has been political all along , he would deny this and say that he has been dealing with facts. Anyway, he ends by saying : ' This is where politics comes in, the kind of politics that is rooted in fundamental shared human experiences: the pattern of our lives as we move through the different ages of the life cycle.' Well I'm blowed if I understand what that is all about. Do you ?
Apparently 'The family is key to this: it’s there we first learn to help and be helped by others older and younger than ourselves and where the first sense of future obligations — my mother looked after me, one day I shall look after her — kicks in.' Oh I see, we are not talking about politics, as in running the state, but family politics.

Apparently : ' A family is a mini-welfare state — with several key differences. For the welfare state, thanks to the boomer pensioners, will soon be heavily weighted towards the needs of the old. And families traditionally have tended to focus more on the young.' Oh I see, the Bad Baby Boomers have hi-jacked the big, bad Welfare State.

A bit more tosh which lacks meaning follows : 'Indeed, you have only to look at how much people worry about their children and grandchildren’s prospects, their schools and their jobs to recognise the enduring power of the intergenerational bond — at the family level.'

Bit of a lecture now : 'Now we need to be more than just good parents; we need to be good citizens, broadening out this concern for the young so it includes our obligations to the next generation. If we are to tackle the mess created by the big generation, we all need to think big in our turn.

So that is his staggering conclusion. I'll extract the substance of his argument before he reached this by first giving his :

Points about Bad Baby Boomers in comparison with the youngsters :

* Are wealthy with assets from £40,000 to £160,000.

* Belong to an occupational scheme and have 'built up some pension rights that are inflation-protected with provision for their widow or widower too.'

* Spend a lot of money, as is proven by something David calls 'the average age of consumption.' This has apparently gone up to 48 and is still rising as the baby boomers age. David says : 'This is important evidence — because it backs up my intuition that over the past 20 years Britain has seen a real shift of power and wealth to the baby boomers.' Well we can't argue with that can we ?

* Have a lot of housing wealth. About four-fifths of boomers are owner-occupiers who ' came to think of their houses as not just places to live but their own personal gold mines that could pay for holidays or cars, or be their pensions'.

David is generous, apparently he does 'not believe that this is because the boomers are unusually bad and selfish. I think it is rather that we have lost sight of the importance of the contract between the generations that holds any society together. The breaking of this contract is above all what is broken about our society. It is what links the fragility of our families, the decline of social mobility, the burden of government debt, and even the costs of climate change.' Blimey, what a powerful insight that is. It's all about broken contracts.

Points about hard-done-by youngsters :

* Had to pay for a university education. Started work in debt. Has no assets.

* Has jobs which are likely to be temporary and modestly paid.

* Is in debt.

Well, fellow Boomers, this man, who will be sitting at the Cabinet table in the not-too-distant future doesn't like you and I'm quite sure that he shall not be alone.

I let the man speak for himself, albeit on another topic, but I think this gives both a flavour of the man and a measure of his stature as a towering figure in our next government :

Britain's Baby Boomers beware David Willetts : Part 2

Just a reminder that David has said : Big bang: baby boomers are blowing the future for us all
A reckless post-war generation is not only crippling its children with debt but is the force driving broken Britain.

In Part 2, I shall examine how he supports his argument by developing an extended 'hunter-gatherer' society metaphor, which goes something like this :
* This is a society in balance. The young and old are fed by the able bodied just as the old once fed the young and old and the young will feed the young and old.
'Over the course of each life everyone is both a contributor and a beneficiary, so the food you catch and the food you consume roughly net out to a balance'.

* But, oh dear : 'Our tribe is stable until some mild winters mean more babies survive infancy. It has a baby boom. What happens?'

* For a start,everything is 'hunky-dory' : 'more hunters means they can hunt more mammoths. There is a greater feeling of prosperity as each has to distribute less to other members of the tribe.
David gets quite poetic here : 'They can devote more time to cave painting. They can cut back on the frequency of hunting and gather exotic berries that make them feel good at their tribal festivals. It is an age of plenty and of experiment'.

* Oh dear, trouble round the corner : 'Then this big generation of hunters starts to grow old and hands on its spears to the younger generation. There is no avoiding the fact that there are more old ex-hunters to be maintained. So the next generation of hunters finds that more of what it catches needs to be taken for other members of the tribe. Life seems tougher.'

* And oh dear again, they have democracy : 'There is a final, crucial twist. The clan is run by a democratic tribal council. That big generation therefore has the most votes and power and uses this to protect itself.'

* 'Younger hunters face a double squeeze — with more retired hunters to support and more expected from each one of them. They have to spend more time hunting. They want to raise their kids in the same generous way that their parents raised them but it seems harder and as a result they don’t have so many of them.'

* David isn't modest and says that : 'Our thought experiment shows a society that worked until a big generation came along that took more of what it produced during its prime and then tried to take more from later generations when it was in need.' Hold on a minute it's not 'our 'thought experiment' but 'his', whatever you want to call it.

* He is philosophical : 'Maybe the problem was size. Maybe it was the way it used the power that came with its size. But, whatever the reason, the principle of fairness across the generations was broken. And it threatened to break that society'.

Part Three to follow.

Monday 18 January 2010

Britain's Baby Boomers beware David Willetts : Part One

This is David Willetts, he is the 53 year old, 'Shadow Universities and Skills Secretary' in the Conservative Party. Yesterday he had an article in the 'Sunday Times' entitled :

Big bang: baby boomers are blowing the future for us all
A reckless post-war generation is not only crippling its children with debt but is the force driving broken Britain.

He begins his article by painting the image of parents returning home to their broken house after a teenage party and then 'ever so cleverly' says : ' The image plays to a deep-seated fear that the young will not appreciate and protect what has been achieved by the older generation. But what if, when it comes to the big things that matter for our futures, it is the other way round?

What if it’s actually the older generation, the baby boomers, that has been throwing the party and leaving a mess for the next generation to sort out?'

He defines 'The boomers' as those born between 1945 and 1965, in other words, the 44 to 64 year olds. Hold on. That can't be right, surely a 'boomer' was a baby, like me, born after the War and not during the War because their parents postponed having a baby because of the War. The War lasted 6 years and ended in 1945 but rationing continued for another 5 years, so that means those born between 1945 and 1955 - the 54 to 64 year olds. So born in 1956, David 'generously' defines himself as a 'boomer', but he isn't, if you know what I mean.The Willetts argument Part One :

The boomers, have concentrated wealth and power in the hands of their own generation. There are a lot of them - 17m and 'they have presided over huge social change and prosperity.' Now they are getting old, the bills are coming in, and it is the younger generations who will pay them. 'We have a good idea of what some of these future costs are — boomer pensions and servicing the debt that the government has built up, to name but two.'

Hold on a minute David, you can't blame government debt on the boomers too . That's a bit unfair.
Now we are in a court of law : 'The charge is that the boomers are guilty of a monumental failure to protect the interests of future generations.'

The boomers are wealthy : 'There is about £6.7 trillion of wealth in our country, and my personal rough estimate is that the boomers — those aged between their mid-forties and mid-sixties — own about £3.5 trillion of this, with the older generation owning most of the rest.' So they are not short of a bob or two.The old pattern was that the young always earned less but caught up but : 'The younger generation today has much worse prospects of building up wealth in the same way. The ladder has been pulled up. That is the real injustice.'

Don't worry youngsters, you have a brave knight in Sir David who is championing your cause.
Part Two : 'How we can learn from hunter-gatherer' societies, David will enlighten us tommorrow.

Friday 15 January 2010

Britain said Happy Birthday yesterday to Richard Briers and Warren Mitchell

Richard Briers the actor was 76 yesterday. He will best be remembered for playing Tom Good in the BBC sitcom, 'The Good Life', from 1975 - 78 He played a draughtsman who decides, on his 40th birthday, to give up his job and try his hand at self-sufficiency in their suburban home with his wife, played by Felicity Kendal.

Warren Mitchell, actor was 84 yesterday. He will best be remembered for playing Alf Garnett in the BBC sitcom 'Till Death Do Us Part' in the 1960's.

Of the two men, Warren bears closer inspection :

* He was born Warren Misel in Stoke Newington, London and is of Russian Jewish descent.

* He describes himself in interviews as " an atheist who sometimes believes in God."

* His father was a glass and china merchant.

* He was interested in acting from an early age, and attended the Gladys Gordon's Academy of Dramatic Arts in Walthamstow from the age of seven.

* He did well at school and read physical chemistry at University College, Oxford, for six months. There he met his contemporary Richard Burton, and together they joined the RAF in 1944. He completed his navigator training in Canada just as the war ended.

* Burton convinced him that taking up acting would be better than completing his chemistry degree and so Mitchell attended RADA for two years.

* He went on to feature in roles on radio and television and in film.

* He is best known for his role as the bigoted cockney West Ham United Football Club supporter, Alf Garnett, but ironically, his real life persona is quite the opposite, being a left-winger, Jewish, and a staunch supporter of Tottenham Hotspur Football Club.

* The show ran from 1966 to 1975, in seven series, making a total of 53, 30-minute episodes.

* In his personal life a 'Distinguished Supporter' of the British Humanist Association.

* He has been married since 1950 Constance Wake. They have three children.

* He is a naturalised citizen of Australia.

* For over twenty years, Mitchell has suffered pain from nerve damage, caused by a virus, and is a supporter of the Neuropathy Trust.

Wednesday 13 January 2010

Why is Britain no country for cold, old men ?

My research tells me that :

An increased death rate associated with the winter months is a widespread international phenomenon, but Britain has one of the worst records in Europe. A World Health Organisation report published by its European Regional Office states : 'The magnitude of the excess in the United Kingdom, at over 40,000 deaths every winter is the highest in the European Union… A large component of excess winter deaths is preventable. Recent analysis suggests that the seasonal variations are related to indoor rather than outdoor temperatures… that excess winter deaths are related to poor housing conditions—insufficient thermal insulation, ineffective heating systems and fuel poverty.'

In Britain a one degree drop below the winter average will lead to an additional 8,000 extra deaths. This was a higher proportion than in countries such as Russia and Finland with much more severe winters than Britain.

'Help the Aged' linked fuel poverty to the high level of winter deaths. Their press statement explains that over one million households containing an old person were classed as being in fuel poverty. Fuel poverty is defined as spending more than 10 percent of income on fuel to heat the home. “Many are forced to make the critical decision between heating and eating during the winter months. For 25,000 older people each year this decision is fatal.” It spelt out the reasons for fuel poverty :

* low incomes
* houses that are energy inefficient
* the high level of fuel prices

So, there you go.

More of Britain's old men die in the winter, not because it is cold outside but because they are poor and cold inside their poorly insulated accommodation.

Britain is no country for cold, old men

It's cold and it's snowing again.

I heard a doctor on the radio the other day say that, in the cold spell from December 2008 and February 2009, there were 36,000 more deaths than usual and I wouldn't be surprised if the lion's share went to old men.

The 'New York Times' published this article in 2008 :

Does age affect people’s ability to endure cold?

Studies have found that the body’s response to cold changes significantly over a lifetime, with older people, especially men older than about 60, less able to maintain their core temperature at a given cold exposure than young people.

A 2002 Finnish review in 'The International Journal of Sports Medicine' also noted that older people had a reduced skin sensitivity to the cold and a reduced subjective perception of how cold it is, thereby making them slower to react to protect themselves and more vulnerable to death from hypothermia.

The skin’s protective reaction of constricting surface blood vessels is slower with age, and the cold-induced rise in metabolic rate is also weakened in older people, but the mechanism is unknown.

Cold sensitivity at any age is related to general ill health, especially an abnormally low body mass index and other factors like thyroid malfunction, so older people with these problems may feel more uncomfortable in the cold.

In mapping the temperature sensitivity of the body surface over the life span, a 1998study reported in the journal Somatosensory & Motor Research found that the greatest age-related changes took place in the extremities, especially the feet, where sensitivity thresholds often become too large to measure.

Oh dear, not much cheer here.

Saturday 9 January 2010

Britain says "Happy Birthday" to Clive Dunn, Jimmy Page, Susannah York and Scott Walker.

Clive Dunn, actor and comedian is 90 today. As Corporal Jones in the sitcom about the 'Home Guard' called 'Dads' Army' and set in Britain the Second World War between 1939 and 1945, what pleasure he gave us when we watched on black and white t.v. on a sunday night.

How convincingly he played Jack Jones the butcher in Wilmington-on-Sea , who remembered Army Service in the Sudan under General Kitchener and the 'fuzzy-wussies' who did not like 'it', the 'bayonets' up them.

Jimmy Page, rock guitarist is 73 today :

Susannah York, actor is 68 today :

Scott Walker, singer, is 67 today

Wednesday 6 January 2010

Britain is a country where yesterday's radicals are today's Establishment

Merfyn Jones is the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Bangor in Wales. The Deputy and Pro- Vice-Chancellors report to him and he chairs the weekly meetings of the Executive as well as the Board of Academic Heads and the Senate.

Merfyn was an undergraduate at Sussex University and a postgraduate at Warwick before being appointed to his first research post at Swansea in 1971. In 1975 he moved to Liverpool where he taught at the University for fifteen years and served as Director of Continuing Education and Dean. He transferred to Bangor and became Head of the School of History and Welsh History, Professor of Welsh History, Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences and Pro-Vice-Chancellor. He was Acting Vice-Chancellor during 2003 before becoming the University's sixth Vice-Chancellor in August 2004.

His volume on the North Wales Quarrymen won the Welsh Arts Council Prize for Literature and he has been awarded a BAFTA (Cymru) award for his contribution to history on television. He has served as a member of the Broadcasting Standards Commission and the Board of Governors of the BBC, and as Chair of the Broadcasting Council of Wales. He recently served as Chair of Higher Education Wales and a Vice-President of Universities UK, which represents the higher education sector in the UK.

He is currently chairing a review of higher education in Wales for the Welsh Assembly Government.

I first met Merfyn 45 years ago at Sussex University when he was 17 and I was 18. So bright was he, that he passed his 'A' levels a year early. Looking back, I suppose we were both outsiders at that 'terribly middle class' place, he as a Welsh speaker from the valleys and me as a cockney from South London. 
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Here you can see me sporting my goatee beard which he told me was " a sad, bad little beard". In the other photos he is feigning to push Tim Brooks into a moat and is striding out on the campus wearing his blue denim jacket, a shirt and tie and a folder of notes under his arm.
I remember we walked out to Stanmer Park one afternoon in December 1965 and sort inspiration to write poetry, as young men did and no longer do.
Mine was :

Damp grass lilts to hill brow,
Where beeches balance,
raped by an october gale.
Below, labourers lop an oak,
Further a youth kindles fire,
Beneath blocks of stump and roots.

And I would be the "sir",
Who, horse-backed,
With boots flashing in the weak sun,
Once rode toward the blue twisting smoke,
This december afternoon.
Who passed a moment with coarse company,
In honest talk,
Then turned down to Stanmer,
Into the hill's cool shadow,
Where Prince's warm breath cut the chill.
Into the womb of my valley,
Where sweet scent of dung,
Bound cows and fodder,
Mud,brick and stable into one.

As I read it now, these 45 years later, I see it as the piece of adolescent pretence that it was. Merfyn wrote a poem too, but tore it up as worthless. I am sure, if I had read it, it would have surpassed my poor offering.

In the second and third year at Sussex we drew apart as he drew close to the left wing radicals and I made new, conservatively inclined friends.

I know that he took part in the Grosvenor Square demonstration in 1968. As a protest against the Vietnam War a disparate bunch 'radicals' attempted to rush the American Embassy. I wonder if he can spot himself in this archive film ?

P.S. I see he still sports a beard, albeit grey.