Month: October 2010

‘Movember’ – Second Time Around

Apparently having learned nothing from last year’s month-long itchy top lip extravaganza, I am once again growing a moustache. This Movember, the month formerly known as November I’ve decided to donate my face to raising awareness about prostate cancer. My donation and commitment is the growth of a moustache for the entire month of Movember, which I know will generate conversation, controversy and laughter.

Prostate cancer is the most common cancer in men. One man dies every hour from the disease in the UK. This is a cause that I feel passionately about and I’m asking you to support my efforts by making a donation to The Prostate Cancer Charity. To help, you can either:

• Click this link and donate online using your credit card or PayPal account. Or,

• Send cheques and CAF vouchers (made payable to ‘The Prostate Cancer Charity Re Movember’) directly to The Prostate Cancer Charity – First Floor, Cambridge House, Cambridge Grove, London W6 0LE. Be sure to include the person’s name on the back of the cheque.

The Prostate Cancer Charity will use the money raised by Movember for the development of programs related to awareness, public education, advocacy, support of those affected, and research into the prevention, detection, treatment and cure of prostate cancer.
For more details on how the funds raised from previous campaigns have been used and the impact Movember is having please visit http://uk.movemberfoundation.com/research-and-programs.

Thank you in advance for helping me to support men’s health.

Jeremy Rowe

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Desert Island Discs

Some time ago my good friend Edwin Squire posted this item on his blog, which was his stab at the thorny old dilemma of selecting eight records for a hypothetical appearance on BBC Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs. I make no apologies for the self-indulgence of this post as I attempt to do the same.

These aren’t the eight records I listen to more than any others, rather a snapshot of the kind of choice I feel I would need if I were stranded on a rock somewhere for any length of time. I’ve made a point of choosing no more than one song from each artist/composer even though I could just as easily have chosen eight songs by Led Zeppelin. Feel free to launch a critical assault via the comments.

1. Echoes – Pink Floyd This 24 minute epic took up the whole of the second side of the 1970 Meddle album, and for me was the first move towards the seventies Floyd sound that many associate with the band. Prior to Echoes there was a sense that Floyd hadn’t really managed to find a defining sound after the departure (due to a greater interest in LSD) of frontman and creator-in-chief Syd Barrett. It’s fashionable (particularly since his death) to become overly nostalgic for the psychedelic Barrett-era Pink Floyd sound, but any sensible examination of the band’s back catalogue must surely confirm that their best work was done after Piper At The Gates Of Dawn, the only album Barrett recorded with Floyd. The band scratched around for a couple of years producing such oddities as Ummagumma, the soundtrack from the film ‘More’ and Atom Heart Mother, but it was the Meddle album where they seemed to nail the concept of producing something melodic, unhurried and beautifully crafted. This turned out to be the prelude to probably their most famous album of all: Dark Side Of The Moon, which is another great piece of work. But for me, Meddle will always have the edge.

2. Kashmir – Led Zeppelin As I mentioned above, I could quite easily have picked eight Led Zeppelin tracks and been done with it but, for the sake of this exercise, I’ve landed on just one. But what a performance it is. Jimmy Page’s beautifully constructed chord sequence (borrowed a thousand times since), Robert Plant at his very best on vocals, stunning use of the quirky old Mellotron by John Paul Jones and the amazing force of nature that was John Bonham on drums. One of those songs that just gets better every time you hear it – even after all these years.

3. Beethoven’s Ninth – Second Movement I can’t pretend to be a classical music “buff”, but I include this for the sake of variety and a rounded collection to listen to while stranded on my rock. It occurs to me that the Desert Island in question could just as easily be a windswept crag in the South Atlantic as a sunkissed collection of palm trees in the Pacific, so it’s probably just as well to have something a little bracing. This great work from one of the greatest composers of them all was immortalised in modern popular culture by Malcolm McDowell’s drooling, hypnotic reverence of its “gorgeousity” in Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange but, powerful as I find it, it has mercifully not had a similar effect on me.

4. Unfinished Sympathy – Massive Attack One of those songs that will always be synonymous with a time and a place for me, and that was Plymouth in the early nineties when I still used to force myself to go to nightclubs. I’ve never been a huge fan of the club scene – bad beer, bad music, doormen suffering from delusions of adequacy – but just once in a blue moon you’d get to hear a little pearl among the dross and this was one of them. Massive Attack became recognised as pioneers of the ‘trip hop’ genre in the nineties but, for me, this song is all about the massive voice of Shara Nelson. Beautiful.

5. No Surprises – Radiohead A difficult one this. Radiohead are another band I could comfortably have chosen half a dozen records from for this exercise, but I settled on this one for similar reasons to the last one – a time and a place. Thom Yorke’s lyric reminds me of 1997, a period of change in British politics which saw the demise of the eighteen-year Tory nightmare and its replacement with the fresh-faced Tony Blair. Such optimism, so misplaced. Yorke knew all along…

6. Bad Moon Rising – Creedence Clearwater Revival Short but very sweet, a classic three chord trick. Jangly guitar and foreboding lyrics squeezed into 2 minutes and twenty seconds – marvellous. Brilliantly used as  part of the film soundtrack for An American Werewolf In London.

7. Southern Man – Neil Young I chose this for the lyric more than the performance. Neil Young’s a clever guy but I wouldn’t stretch so far as to call him a great singer. Nevertheless, Southern Man is a scathing attack on the deeply ingrained racism of America’s Deep South. “Don’t forget what your ‘Good Book’ said.”

8. Need Your Love So Bad – Fleetwood Mac Peter Green’s struggle with schizophrenia deprived popular music of one of the creative greats and, for all their mainstream highpoints and their position as the sound of Formula One, Fleetwood Mac were never the same band without him. The guitar part on this song is not intricate or showy – it’s just beautiful.

I’ve appalled myself with all the marvellous things I’ve left out of this list, and if you asked me again next week the list would probably be completely different, but here it is. As for the two items you can take on the hypothetical desert island, a book and a luxury item, I’ll go with a boat-building manual and a toolkit – I could never survive with only eight records.

(It’s only on finishing this post that I learn that Nick Clegg has appeared on Desert Island Discs this morning – haven’t checked his selection yet although I imagine it’s full of early promise but…)

Britain (and the BBC) discover the length, width and depth of the shaft

Gideon has spoken and the Coalition government has finally passed sentence on the public sector, outlining £81bn of spending cuts over four years. The Chancellor delivered his long-awaited (feared?) Comprehensive Spending Review to the Commons yesterday in a carefully crafted statement aimed at blunting Labour criticisms of the severity of the cuts. Announcing a 19% cut across departmental budgets, Osborne drew a contrast with Labour’s pre-election plans to halve the deficit which would still have involved reductions of 20% across the same areas. (The difference will be made up by an additional £7bn raid on the welfare budget, we are told.)

In many respects the statement was reminiscent of the Gordon Brown Budgets after 1997 – expectation lowered in the press in the lead-up to the announcement, final proposals that don’t seem too bad compared to what was feared, and a well-spun political presentation of the end result. Brown’s Budgets also had a knack of unravelling in the days after the announcement as those in the know started to probe the detail, but we’ll have to wait to see if Osborne’s statement goes the same way.

In spite of the spin, there will still be savage cuts. Police budgets will be cut by 16% over four years, councils will face cuts of nearly 30%, and the Home Office and the Ministry of Justice will see their budgets cut by 6% a year. And, regardless of Osborne’s wearying claim that “we’re all in this together”, it seems very clear that those most well off (including those – like Gideon – who live off £4m trust funds) will hardly see the same destructive effect on their lives as will surely be suffered by those at the other end of the income scale. Indeed, the Institute for Fiscal Studies is already highlighting the review’s harshest impact (surprise surprise) on the poorest in society.

Submerged in all the talk of spending cuts, the details of the Coalition’s shafting of the BBC also came to light this week, thereby completing the first part of the Conservative Party’s Faustian pact with Rupert Murdoch. As the Guardian outlines here the licence fee will be frozen for six years, which represents a real terms cut of 16%, and out of the reduced budget the BBC will have to divert money to the World Service (currently funded in part by the Foreign Office) and Welsh language broadcaster S4C. It’s perhaps quite telling that the BBC had privately feared far worse.

The second, and potentially even more alarming part of the Murdoch appeasement plan is still to come and relates to the media giant’s desire to assume complete control of BSkyB – a move which will be decided on by the Business Secretary (and erstwhile darling of, well, just about everybody) Vince Cable. As David Puttnam passionately argued in The Observer last month, the delicate balance of the British media and therefore the framing of debate in this country is under serious threat from this proposal.

These are pivotal moments for the future of the media in the UK. Commercial broadcasters have always complained about the dominance of the BBC, often with some justification, but the Murdoch approach is a rather different beast altogether. Not content with a simple wrecking ball approach to the Corporation (enthusiastically wielded by the Coalition) he also wishes to consolidate his grip on the British commercial media at a time when no one is really certain about how broadcasting or the press will evolve in an age when the internet continues to expand at an almost exponential rate.

As the FT’s Martin Wolf argues, Vince Cable has a golden opportunity to try to restore some semblance of ‘fairness’ to the Coalition’s already tarnished reputation. One can only hope that he puts a stop to the impression of the timidity of the Coalition (and indeed, every government since 1979) around the Murdoch empire. The government has showed its willingness to ‘fearlessly’ wield the axe on public services – an ounce of that determination should now be directed towards resisting Murdoch. The consequences of the cuts are not yet fully understood, but protecting the plurality of the British media surely has to be that rarest of bonuses for the Coalition: a relatively easy win.

The Wisdom of George

Steve Richards of The Independent tweets that we should not be surprised if George Osborne performs a u-turn over the controversial Child Benefit cut for high earners announced at the Tory Party Conference this week. The point Richards makes is that, while in Opposition, Cameron and Osborne quite frequently ‘flip-flopped’, to use the dreadful American parlance, at the first sign of serious media scrutiny of policy. “They are weak” he writes and, for all the tough rhetoric on tackling the deficit, there is more than a grain of truth to the remark.

My sense from the outside is that Osborne will probably stick by the announcement on child benefit, in spite of the rage from certain sections of the press, and try to paper over the cracks by making the sort of vacuous, moralising intervention on marriage that has already been indicated. I may not know a great deal about Osborne’s mindset but experience demonstrates that, given a range of options, instinct normally leads him towards the wrong one.

Perhaps the middle class outrage at the (frankly quite messy) changes to Child Benefit is the start of something faintly encouraging. I don’t mean in the sense that Women’s Institutes the length and breadth of Britain will start to become more politically engaged, but that – finally – there is a flicker of scrutiny of Tory policy from the party’s friends in the right-wing press. This is unlikely to unleash a full-scale examination of the darkness at the heart of the Conservative world view – the Mail, Telegraph and Murdoch propaganda sheets know where their bread is buttered – but the press may yet find it hard to supress their natural instinct to hunt down an individual when they scent weakness. Osborne may have some difficult months ahead of him.

It’s hard to see how Osborne can find himself in a position to pull any rabbits out of the hat. The economic situation is bleak and by any measure he was a strange choice for Chancellor given the options available to David Cameron when the Coalition was formed. Both Vince Cable and Kenneth Clarke were clearly better qualified for the job and there can be little doubt that Osborne holds his position (arguably the first ‘proper’ job of his life) purely as a result of the personal loyalty of the Prime Minister. Such loyalty is worth a great deal of course, as the continual, bewildering survival of Andy Coulson demonstrates, but is it really doing anyone any favours?

The coming months will test the Coalition to breaking point. The government will inevitably become increasingly unpopular as the cuts start to bite, and much pressure will fall on the Liberal Democrat involvement, depending on next year’s elections and the outcome of the AV Referendum. Crucial at such times is the work and vision of the Treasury, as the fulcrum of the business of government. The biggest worry for the Coalition must be that so much therefore depends on the wisdom – or otherwise – of George Osborne.