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Messages from Europe: Postcard/collages 1974/75

After we left school, a friend and I spent 6 months travelling around Europe. Nowadays it would be called a gap-year. Then, it was a road trip.

We picked grapes,busked and handed out flyers for dodgy nightclubs. Most notably, we worked nights cleaning at NATO HQ. (We were offered a job at EU parliament but it didn’t pay as well…)

During this trip I made some postcard collages some of which I have just rediscoverd.



Bruxelles. Molenbeek has of course become infamous but in 1974 it is where my great uncle and aunt lived and had an allotment. We pitched up our tent there and slept during the day as we worked nights at Nato. We would come home at 7.00am and have a beer.. I have no idea why I included  sac de paie….


Paris. Over-priced drinks (we fell for it), sleeping in the rain in a park outside the Gare du Nord, camping in the Bois de Boulogne. It was francs then and Frank. The year that Zappa did not visit uk after Albert Hall case. Live at Roxy Tour. Magnificent fun. And where is the Mona Lisa? We were in our Dada phase so it would have been the Duchamp version…


Italy.  I can’t comment much on this except everything seemed to be free! Memories include heating cans of ravioli in hotel sink- fine dining.


Spain. Still under Franco. But still a British colony in parts. Should have had a separate Cataloniac card. It was forbidden to speak Catalan. We were chased by youths for speaking to local girls… another story. Perhaps a sound collage.


Zurich. Tidy, clean. An incredible vending machine beneath the train station. And the home of Dada.

I made more but these are lost. They say something but not all. Reminders of stories I have.


UK General Election 2017: what happens now?

At around 10.00 today my twitter timeline became alive as announcements were made that Theresa May was due to make an announcement at 11.15. There was much speculation. Rumours that she would announce war on North Korea, direct rule in Northern Ireland, pulling out of Eurovision and the resignation of Arsene Wenger amongst others. Laughably, some suggested that May would announce a snap election despite all her previous pronouncements.


There then followed cries of: “What about the fixed term parliament act”? Shortly followed by Labour, SNP and Lib Dems all “welcoming” the election call. So that’s the FTPA sorted then.

But what happens next?

Some say that Theresa May is calling an early election so that she can deliver a softer brexit without having to concern herself with her own hard-liners. I find this difficult to believe. It depends I suppose what you mean by a hard brexit but she has committed herself to leaving the Single Market and therefore any chance of Freedom of Movement. It is possible of course that she does a u-turn on this as she has done over an early election but I doubt it. I believe that she believes that a stronger mandate domestically will also strengthen her hand in negotiations, something that experts on Europe are dismissing. Whatever, we need to force her to commit to confirming or denying that our negotiations take us out of the single market and the customs union.

There are many calls for a progressive, anti-brexit alliance. Unfortunately Labour have ruled themselves out of such an alliance by 1) stating that they would make brexit work for the British people (whatever that means) and 2) their utter contempt for other parties. The current leader and his entourage can barely work with other members of the Labour party so it is hardly surprising that they won’t work with others. What I want from Labour is to not only to state what they want but how they are going to go about and get it. Jeremy Corbyn has said that he has spoken with socialist parties across Europe. What are the results of these talks? Are there any strategies in place? Many of their other policies, far from being hard left, are radical and can be seen in other progressive parties. If Labour could declare to be anti-brexit and work with others, I believe we could defeat the Tories. I also don’t think it can happen.

The Lib-Dems were very quick out of the blocks. If you want to remain, vote Lib Dem. I would firstly point out that we are still operating in a first passed the post electoral system. It is the number of seats that count. I also saw a tweet suggesting that to say that you can’t vote Lib- Dem because of the coalition is a “dumb argument” is really not helpful. Many are disgusted at the betrayal of the Lib-Dems (I had expected a Lab/Lib Dem coalition) over tuition fees and benefit cuts and these take time to heal. Many will need persuading and the way for the Lib Dems to do this is to be totally clear what they stand for. If they gained an overall majority (bear with me on this..) would they stick to a second referendum call or will they be bold and stand on reversing article 50? I think the latter should be their starting point. But they also need to state what they would do if in a position of being in a coalition again. I would expect them to state that they will not work with anyone for less than an EEA agreement. And I expect them to stand aside if a Green candidate had a better chance of success.

Because this is going to be a tactical election. If we want to stop Brexit, or even want to remain in the EEA (which many brexiteers wanted) we are going to have to defeat the Tories. If we are to have any hope of doing this we must be tactical and demand clarity from the parties. We need to state clearly what we expect from the EU and the positives it has achieved. We need to not pander to racism and xenophobia but to present and agree on policies that address the insecurity and anxiety of many people.

I know I am tired and many others will be too. Many of us have spent the last 11 months saying “we warned you about that…” But now is our chance, however slim, to do something about this. We need a high turn out, high voter registration-particularly amongst the young- clarity and clever tactics.

Dear HMRC-a few comments on my contribution.

Dear HMRC,

Thank you so much for sending me a breakdown of how my tax and NI contributions have been spent in 2015-16. I have just a few questions and comments if you don’t mind.

  • I notice that less than £100 has gone towards the cost of the EU. Could I continue to pay this and remain a member of the EU? I personally find this great value for all the benefits membership of the EU gives me and my family. Frankly, I would be prepared to pay a bit more if you like.
  • If this is not possible, I look forward to receiving information as to how much I am contributing to the cost of Brexit over the coming years. I trust that this will be less than the amount I am paying into EU.
  • I notice that the largest sum I pay is towards welfare. I am a strong believer in a generous welfare system but I am concerned that a large proportion of this is being paid to scroungers- to private landlords charging exorbitant rents for substandard housing subsidised through Housing Benefit, to large companies and their shareholders paying low wages via in work benefits. I am sure that you agree we should tackle these scroungers and reduce the bill.
  • Health is another large sum I have contributed to and again, I believe fully in the NHS. I wonder though if you could break down the amount spent? I would like to know how much of my payments went to 1) the profits of private companies who are benefiting from the internal market and 2) the crippling cost of PFI
  • I would be grateful if I could swop the amount I pay for defence (about £450) with the amount I pay for overseas aid (about £100)? I think I would feel safer and better if these sums were reversed.
  • Business and Industry- what does that involve? Hopefully you get some of this money yourselves to adequately pursue tax evasion and avoidance schemes. Perhaps you could even save yourselves some money by bringing the tax regime up to date to take into account the changing nature of work and employment.

There is much more I could say but I realise you must be very busy. Have a great year and I hope you all the best in pursuing the big tax avoiding scroungers.

Why I use an adblocker.

I am being increasingly admonished by news sites for using an adblocker. I am reminded, quite rightly, that good journalism costs money. We need good journalism- as the panamaleaks have demonstrated- and it is becoming rarer and more difficult to find.

I also admit that I use adblocker indiscriminately and I should be more selective and will be from now on but…

I need to explain why I installed adblocker in the first place.

I often refer to my local paper, The Derby Telegraph– I am interested in local politics and events and comments on the Mighty Rams. I buy the paper copy during term time as I like to share it with my students. But the web site is totally unreadable without an adblocker… try it. The home page is bad enough but try clicking onto a story….

So dear news providers: I will try removing adblocker from your site but in return I would ask you

  • Not to inundate your pages with pop ups
  • Not to autorun videos
  • Consider the balance between the needs to generate money and the need to develop repeat visits.

If you don’t then I’m afraid that I will simply not visit your sites at all.

Between us, perhaps we can get the balance right.

Derby County- from year of the Ram to year of the Monkey

It’s not often that I feel compelled to write a post about Derby County. There are so many decent blogs and blog posts out there that I usually leave it to them. Tonight though, I feel compelled to add my view to the torrent of opinions that will be spewing forth tonight. I am not a football expert, I am a Derby County fan. I sit close to the pitch and don’t have an over view of the game. But I have my view….

Steve McClaren let us down. More interested in watching whether Newcastle would go down than getting Derby promoted, he was rightly sacked as we even failed to get the point that would get us into the play offs.

I feared we would get a recycled usual suspect as our new manager, but we made a bold, and in my view, good decision to bring in Paul Clement.

After a dodgy start, the results started to come.Not always the performances, but the results. So we were relatively happy.

As soon as the results dipped though our previous concerns about performance started to become more urgent. My twitter name @overhere3 comes from me shouting over here at the games but that precedes current regimes. We seem to buy wingers and never use the width. The main problem seemed to be however- apart from that ball in the final 3rd- was the negative or sideways passing. Lots of possession but no end product. The fans were on it. Warnock in particular got the abuse of the fans who wanted to see us play forward all the time.

I didn’t boo- I don’t- but I was one of the thousands who became frustrated despite our earlier results.

The home game against Preston was probably the nadir. We saw improvements against Man U and, although we still drew, against Fulham. I heard Christie actually push forward..

But Paul Clement responded to our objections to the backward/sideways passing. He pointed out that if there wasn’t a way forward we should at least keep possession. My point to Clement would have been that the players didn’t look up for the forward pass, didn’t anticipate it… and I think he would have taken that point, and worked on it. But he wasn’t given the chance.

So with 16 games to go we were 5th. Dawn of a new era. When commenting on the game this afternoon it was 2-0 to 10-00 the Rams. It was not to be. Surprised?

The commentary on Radio Derby was interesting. Having criticised the lack of forward passing in previous games, the criticism today was that we were playing the long ball. Hey ho.

Dismissing Paul Clement for football reasons was a disgrace. If it was not for footballingg reasons, we need to know.

There is no point in having a go at Darren Wassall for today- we now have a meddling Morris who thinks that, as a fan, he knows best. Unfortunately, unlike the rest of us, he has the money and the power.

I hope this ends well.


Holiday in Berlin- Brussels stop over.

I hadn’t intended writing about our Brussels stop over in this series of posts on our rail trip to Berlin. The events of this weekend however changes things.

I stated on twitter that I was saddened by the lockdown in Brussels and I was asked why…

I was born in Brussels but never lived there. To me Brussels was a holidays. A stop over with my Gran before we travelled on for a 4 week stay in the Ardennes. I have an old postcard some where of the old Place de Brouckere pre tram. Where we waited for trams, saw Dr Zhivago (and, yes, it was cold)


The trams went underground and now the cars are going too.. We stayed at the Metropole

and sat at the terrace drinking beer.The next morning, we walked down the Boulevard AnspachSAM_5898

Street society… And had breakfast at the Grand Place


The Grand Place, where my mum and dad got married.Which is currently in lock down. So yes, I think it is sad that this city, my place of birth, is in lockdown.  Molenbeek for me is summers, picking wild strawberries from the allotment. Here is a story of a Christmas tree

.Later, as a teenager, it was where we pitched a tent and worked nights at Nato during a year off before university. Working nights, we lived the weekends at night,


I remember coming here at night and listening to Frank Zappa whilst drinking a Stella or two..Another reason I am saddened by Brussels lockdown…

I know all the arguments- that we we should care about the quality of life and the deaths of all across the world. I have followed and retweeted events in many countries since the Arab Spring.

That doesn’t stop me from feeling sad that my  birth place is in lock down  does it?



Courgettes: a European problem.

On the first day of our holiday in the Limousin, France, we were innocently shopping in the local village when a woman parked up her van and hailed us. She brought out two large courgettes and came over, pleading with us to take the courgettes-nearly marrow-sized- as she had had enough of the things. Apparently her freezer was full of variously prepared courgettes and she could take it no more.

I couldn’t think of a polite way of refusing, so we took the courgettes off her hands.

We did what we could in the limited confines of a holiday cottage but we still only managed to get through half of one courgette. We even tried to pass one off to the owners of our cottage but they too had a glut.

In the back of my mind I was thinking of our own courgette plants in Derby and, knowing that our house guest would probably not be harvesting our crops, I feared the worst.

And I was right to-


This is the crop I came back to… Now at this stage they are too watery to do much with so I will have a goat making some soup.

But the incident reminded me of the good old EEC days when we were regularly (or so it seemed) regaled with stories of European food mountains; mainly milk and butter. But we should now revive the mountains and add a courgette mountain. I’m sure some of British papers could find a way of blaming faceless EU bureaucrats for the excess of courgettes- or would that be making a mountain out of a, well, pile of courgettes?

More posts on our French holiday to come.

In memoriam- boy, do we remember you!

And now it is two years ago. He is still in my thoughts every day.

A year ago today, my best friend died. Suddenly, but not unexpectedly, from myeloma  . I have known him for 51 years-unfortunately he only knew me for 50 years- because I continue to know him, even though he is gone.

It has been a hard year for everyone who knew Stephen as anniversaries and memories continue to resurface every day.

As we holiday in France, just me and H, memories inevitably go back to the countless family holidays we had together, especially in Wales. Stephen was the bbq king, the entertainer… and much more….

I’d love to be able to say RIP but I can’t. Stephen didn’t believe in an after- life and nor do I.  If perchance he was up there in heaven- or hell- he’d be entertaining everyone with his blues playing, his outrageous comments (with a mischievous smile on his face), his farting, his generosity of spirit….

No; the after life is that Stephen lives on in the memories of all those who knew him or even just came across him.

He wasn’t a brilliant musician but he had great enthusiasm and was a great showman- here he is at his 50th birthday party. playing Mustang Sally.

Stephen was also generous with what skills he had and encouraged our son to learn to finger pick and also the joys of performing live as he demonstrated above!

We carried his coffin into Tunbridge Wells crematorium to the tune of Peaches en Regalia by Frank Zappa, probably a first for them but he’d have loved it. By day a quiet, dedicated accountant- good at his job- but in his leisure time a fan of the absurd, artist, musician, noodler and dedicated family man and loyal friend to all those who took the time to know him.

Stephen Mason: September 1956-August 2013

Thank you Stephen for sharing your life with me and so many others.

PS. If you know of any children, struggling with bereavement, I can recommend Badger’s Parting Gifts, by Sue Varley. Good reminder that it is the memories that live on…

New Blog- Simple Solutions.

I have just created a new blog, simply entitled, Simple Solutions. I quote:

Welcome to my blog! I felt the urge to start this blog as I have become overwhelmed by the number of problems that seem to assail us and I don’t think I am the only one. Some of these problems appear huge- clean water, the current ebola epidemic,  Gaza- some societal- how do we make individual lives better and enable people to lead an active life- yet others, minor irritating problems that have an accumulative impact on our daily lives.

What I am hoping to do here is bring together some simple, elegant solutions that are out there, somewhere.

By simple I don’t necessarily mean easy to put into practice- dominant narratives, mindsets and political and economic interests often get in the way. I’m also looking for solutions that don’t involve big business but which can be implemented by small organisations, groups o people and individuals.As an example- I have no objection to GM foods per say; but according to my criteria this is not a solution as ownership of the seeds belong to corporations and not to individual farmers.

Perhaps what I want  to say is : “Look, there is a solution, lets just get out there and make it happen!”

Your comments, suggestions and further solutions will be more than welcome! ”

There are obvious links with this blog, particularly the political. But I hope that Simple Solutions will remain positive and specific.

There is not a lot of content yet but I hope it will grow and hopefully build a momentum to offer and adopt solutions rather than grumbles about problems.


Same sex marriage. Some uncomfortable thoughts.

Firstly I need to say that I am totally in favour of same sex marriage. If I were an MP I would vote in favour. But I do question whether this is any of my business.

Some background. I am a heterosexual who has been in the same partnership for nearly 28 years. I am an atheit and do not want to make pretend vows to a God or Gods in whom I do not believe.

Nor do I want to get “married” at the local registry office. I am happy that people recognise that we are a couple who renew their vows on a daily basis and the lack of some certificate has not stopped us from weathering the ups and downs of a long term relationship.

However there are tax implications when we reach the ever near retirement age. The obvious solution? A civil partnership. Oh. Hang on. As a heterosexual couple, we are not entitled to a civil partnership….

I don’t want a ceremony. I would like equal rights to a married couple- whether heterosexual or same sex.

It seems that there is a simple solution…

Any couple- but also every couple- sign a legal document confirming their status and this is registered at the local county court.

If a couple subsequently wish to hold a marriage ceremony, in the church or location of their choice, then so be it.

Simple. It would help of course if we separated church and state so that these issues became less emotive and we did not have to waste parliamentary time debating matters of the state church…