Thursday, 31 December 2009

The Benefits of Recession

One unanticipated side-effect of the recession here has been the virtual collapse of the commercial shoot that has been a bane of our lives for the last few years. Two or three times a week we were subjected to trailers of city folk, dolled up in pristine tweed, blasting birds out of the sky around the house. For our neurotic dog, it was like a perpetual Guy Fawke's Night.

This year even the obligatory Boxing Day convoy turned round and gave up as drizzle pelted down on the sodden fields. The once nightly 'lamping' activity, in which unlit 4x4s crept around the field edges, accompanied by the beam of red flood lamps and the crack of small bore rifles, also seems to be in abeyance.

We are often told that commercial shoots bring wider benefits to wildlife and the landscape, but these are hard to discern. The call of foxes in the woods was once a familiar sound at night. Since commercial shooting began foxes are no longer heard or seen, although the corpses of badgers appear from time to time, lying in fields where they fell, or slung over fences like refuse. Birds of prey are now rare too. Forlorn signs about lost dogs appear on gateposts for pets that have strayed off footpaths and not returned, and rumours of poisoned bait make owners wary. Conversely, the feed hoppers have brought a plague of rats.

Commercial shooting has meant changes to the landscape too. Rearing and release pens have appeared, together with feed hoppers made from day-glow blue plastic barrels. Rectangular stockades of straw bales and alien strips of maize are scattered across the downs like lego. Swathes of woodland have been cut down, whether to accommodate the birds or the guns isn't clear.

I suppose some jobs have been lost. I suppose I ought to mind.

I don't.

Tuesday, 29 December 2009

Parcelforce - 'Thinking Ahead for You'

From Parcelforce’s Conditions of Carriage:

12.6 If any provision of these Conditions is found by any court or administrative body of competent jurisdiction to be invalid or unenforceable, such invalidity or unenforceability shall not affect the provisions of these Conditions which shall remain in full force and effect.

Monday, 28 December 2009

Post Mortem

I became curiously caught up in the attempt to deny Cowell his automatic Christmas No.1, and the cheer that went up from this house that Sunday night echoed across the valley and sent the dog under the sofa. Childish really, but as it seemed increasingly unlikely that we could succeed, I began to feel that not failing was more important than succeeding. It would be absurd to place too much significance on what was essentially a light-hearted exercise, even if there was a serious underlying message about corporate manipulation of the music industry and its impact on original, independent artists. But I suspect that the success of a grassroots Internet campaign to overturn a £50 million media machine, against all expectation, may not have gone unnoticed in government circles here and overseas. Any failure might equally have been noted.

In what was the coldest week for years, one happy side effect of the campaign was the £100,000 odd which the Facebook group members donated to Shelter, to which 'Rage Against the Machine' have promised to add their unexpected windfall income. The band have also announced a free UK gig in 2010, and rumour has it that tickets will be allocated to the people who made a donation to the charity. This may be apocryphal, but there is logic in it, and it would be consistent with Rage Against the Machine's moral awareness. It became clear that only a minority of the million or so people who signed up to the Facebook group actually bought the track. On the other hand, while not everyone who bought donated, everyone who donated most certainly bought.

One odd thing became apparent in that interesting week; the average age of the Facebook campaigners was a lot older than you might think. Whilst the critical voices on the wall and on the rival Joe site spoke in SMS txtspk and looked pre-pubertal, the Rage site spanned every generation. In a bizarre rôle reversal an older generation was encouraging the young to stop listening to schmaltzy covers and turn on to some angry hard-core metal rap. Whatever is the world coming to?

Friday, 11 December 2009

Thea Gilmore, Rod Clements, Rage Against the Machine and Simon Cowell

This is not a music blog. I haven't got the qualifications for that. But we went to another Thea Gilmore gig on Sunday (if there's repetition in the bands I see, it's because not many of them come to Maidstone). The last local place Thea played closed down, no connection, and this one was in the strangely ambienced and faintly effete upstairs room of the local Pizza Express.

It's not an ideal venue. Waiters and waitresses clatter about between the audience and the stage, and the acts look down on people shovelling capricciosas and tiramisu into their mouths an arm's length away. More to the point, a glass of white wine costs £4.40 or £5.75 depending on size, and a beer is about £6. That's maybe fine with a meal, but if you're there for an entire evening, it's prohibitive. Add that to the cost of a meal and the tickets, and you're into House of Commons expenses territory. No wonder the clientele were not very rock and roll.

Last time, K's boyfriend and I whipped out for a pint at the pub next door. We got funny looks, Straw Dogs style, and had to act particularly macho (not normally a problem for either of us). This time, forewarned, I'm afraid I arrived with a flask in my pocket and spiked my soft drinks. Tacky, I know, but needs must. It involved lowering my empty glass into my lap at intervals and bringing it back up full. I hope I didn't put anyone off their meal. (They probably won't let me in again. Pizza Express, I'm the tall cross-dresser with the handlebar moustache).

The Social Secretary had her own difficulties. She went into the windowless Ladies and immediately recoiled because it was untenably...there is no other way of putting it...smelly. In a very SS kind of way she was standing in the corridor flapping the door open and shut in a vain attempt at ventilation (this is the sort of thing that comes naturally to her) when Thea herself came along. Like a-pong-in-a-lift scenario, there is no socially smooth escape from such situations.

But it was worth it. My American Hot was good, and the supporting act was Rod Clements (Lindisfarne), a legend from my Tyneside days, who played guitar like a dream. Thea herself was superb, She has a new album out, 'Strange Communion' (if you look at the sleeve notes through a magnifying glass you can spot my name amongst the sponsors), so it wasn't like a repeat performance. It's not a Christmas album (she calls that the C-word), but an alternative, more pagan take on the season. I think her voice has deepened, and she just gets better and better. The opening song on the album, 'Sol Invictus' has a full choral accompaniment. Not having a choir in tow she sang it a capello, and it was hauntingly beautiful.

Thea's album is sort of relevant to the current Facebook/X Factor battle. I abhor X factor. There is something unsavoury about a promoter with a self-evident financial interest manipulating the public through hours of prime-time TV. Christmas number ones haven't meant much to me since I was a teenager, but the dumbing down involved in the annual inevitability of Simon Cowell's latest karaoke protégé seizing the spot is destructive, and I've joyfully signed up to the Facebook group which is trying to steal it from him with Rage Against the Machine's 'Killing in the Name'. The idea is for everyone to download the track next week. A mere 79p to wobble Cowell's stranglehold on the music industry seems good value. At the time of writing the group had 592,684 members, and it is growing nearly as fast as Cowell's current account. They might just do it.

Sunday, 6 December 2009

Hobo Jones and the Junkyard Dogs

Local boys Hobo Jones and the Junkyard Dogs travelled all the way to a big city recently, all on their own. Someone had suggested they visit 'Britain's Got Talent' and, always eager to try a new pub, they removed their tags and went for it. They never found the bar, but someone let them play a few numbers instead.

I hope they get through and you have the chance to see them on the programme. Hobo Jones is the nicest chap, who has gone out of his way to encourage K with her songwriting and performing. Hearing him singing his 'Tyburn Jig' in our kitchen was an unforgettably moving experience. We have redecorated it since.

'Britain's Got Talent' seems an obvious next step for a band that opened at Glastonbury this year (somewhere between the Main Stage and the cider wagon), and for whom development strategy probably consists of choosing between a new set of strings or another round.

Go see them if you can. They transcend greatness.