Saturday, October 25, 2014

The Happy Red Train

It's hard to explain to a crying child,
Why her Daddy can't go back,
So the family suffer,
But it hurts me more,
To hear a scab say, 'Sod you, Jack!'

Billy Bragg

When I started this blog site back in 2006, I always intended it should be a photographic diary of my life. And that, on occasions at least, the images would dominate, the words coming in second.

In practice, it has been a score draw, with words and pictures achieving roughly equal prominence.

Indeed, I have often ended up fitting the images around the words or vice versa.

Today, though, the photographs are going to dominate.

Laura and I joined tens of thousands of workers on the TUC's Britain Needs a Pay Rise March through central London last Saturday (18 October 2014).

We were marching for a fair deal from a Coalition Government that has utterly failed working people.

The Brighton, Hove & District Trades Council, on whose executive I have been proud to serve for several years now, had chartered a train from Brighton to London (and back) for the day.

A trades council-chartered train is a real treat.

I love seeing anti-Government placards being manufactured in the First Class Compartment, and photographing eight carriages full of joyful comrades.

It was the happiest train I have ever been on.

It was a longer than the usual journey time because of usual weekend works on the line.

We took the two-hour scenic coastal route via Worthing, after gathering at Brighton Station in an excited left-wing throng.

My National Union of Journalists (NUJ) delegation from Brighton brought its own banner.

Our numbers were comparatively small but our spirits were high.

The atmosphere on the Red Train was fantastic - so totally different from that of years of commuting to London on the same rolling stock.

It was a thoroughly enjoyable journey. Big grins, much laughter.

In London, we walked from Victoria to Embankment, had some German fare for lunch and joined the march at a point strategically placed between the nurses and the midwives.

I was applauded by a group of young women for wearing my 'No More Page Three' T-shirt.

Just behind us, out of nowhere, appeared a very vocal youth group.

Their leader skilfully chanted slogans into a megaphone with the supporters responding with the punchline.

We were standing so close that, eventually, he suggested I have a go and I found myself yelling into the loudspeaker: "NO TO ZERO HOURS CONTRACTS." The youths shouted back: "YOUTH ARE NOT SLAVES!"

I shouted into the megaphone: "LOW PAY, NO WAY!" The youths responded: "YOUTH DESERVE A JOB!" My favourite was: "TUC, GET OFF YOUR KNEES" with the youths hollering in reply: "CALL A GENERAL STRIKE!"

Laura and I felt well qualified for the demonstration having, between us currently, one low-wage and one no-wage.

There was tremendous camaraderie on the march.

It was an utterly good natured, peaceful event. The Mirror reported Scotland Yard as saying that not one protester had been arrested.

After marching from Embankment to my old stomping ground at Hyde Park, via Westminster, Pall Mall, Piccadilly, Green Park and Hyde Park Corner, with just three of us carrying the banner, I felt cream-crackered and a bit cold.

We listened to a sterling speech by TUC General Secretary Frances O'Grady and a brilliant one from disabled trade union activist Sean McGovern who ripped into the anti-disability policies of the ConDem Government. Glorious!

There were more speakers to come but the band came on and it started to rain. We headed for the Nag's Head, a favourite haunt of mine owned by a former boxing champ.

Beer and food and back on the Happy Red Train to Brighton, picking up a few hitchhikers.

I hope you will enjoy my images of this historic day as much as I enjoyed taking them:

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Saturday, October 18, 2014

I am a Mod

Things they do look awful c-c-cold (Talkin' 'bout my generation)

I hope I die before I get old (Talkin' 'bout my generation)

The Who  

A hush fell on my fellow secret addicts and you could have heard a pin drop in the room as I made my ritualistic confession: "I am a Mod!"

I'd said it. There was no going back.

For many years I have harboured a desire to ride a Vespa scooter and wear a Parka jacket.

Early this year I finally succumbed and bought a Vespa PX125, a Mod scooter model that Italian manufacturer Piaggio has been making since 1977.

Since then, metaphorically, it has not been an easy ride.

My father, bless him, has always been an anxious chap, even in his prime.

When my brothers and I were growing up, he relentlessly drummed into us the extreme dangers of motorcycling.

It left a mental block, I guess.

And so it was that at the age of 52 that I first took to two wheels, at first having to negotiate myself through a hellish ordeal known as the CBT - not Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, on this occasion, but Compulsory Basic Training.

I can honestly say that my CBT was the most terrifying day of my life. I will not describe the horror of that experience in detail - I will leave that for another occasion.

Suffice to say, it was a miracle - or at least an extreme combination of diplomacy and spin - that the motorcycling instructor in Eastbourne reluctantly awarded me (and the other candidate that day) our certificates so we could ride.

As we left his workshops, he turned to us and said doubtfully: "You are going to be all right, aren't you?"

Unfortunately, I could only get through my CBT on an automatic machine. I just could not master the gears. I must have stalled a hundred times. (The other guy was better but had no road experience whatsoever.)

And, yet, my PX125 has manual gears.

For the first few months I found it so hard that I never left the conclave of my 'hood: a little circuit of Brunswick Street East, Lower Market Street and Waterloo, almost bereft of traffic.

The regulars at the Bottom's Rest public house were amused and then grew tired of me passing every five minutes at speeds between five and 11 miles per hour.

I never got out of first gear!

My Mod career would have been doomed if it were not for the intervention of Mr Cheeky (who else?)

Mr Cheeky had befriended Django, the local black cat, and it was because of this I met Nick, Django's owner, who was also embarking on life as a biker, albeit on a 125cc motorcycle rather than a scooter.

Nic, an urbane, young VATman and musician from Isle of Man, offered to take me out on a motorcyling trips to build up my confidence. He has been brilliant.

A few months on, I am still a little nervous on the bike, but I get around and was confident enough to join the thousands of other bikers at the Brightona rally last weekend.

I hoped to hook up with brother Mods but, on this occasion, they were in fairly short supply. The August Bank Holiday rally is their big day.

However, I take the view that all motorcyclists are my brethren and confidently nod to Hell's Angels and generally talk to anyone on two wheels.

Everyone is very friendly.

Nick and I met some very pleasant Harley Davidson riders including one gentleman who was almost seven foot tall and showed me his massive bike.

A lot of these guys ride 1,700cc machines - bikes with much larger engines than many motor cars.

Despite my Parka, one biker even let me sit on his new Harley. It was incredibly comfortable and heavy. Like a mobile sofa.

I liked the way that the stages at Brightona alternated between rock music and ska - to please both the rockers and the Mods.

In reality, there is no war between them any more.

They get on like a house on fire when they meet.

There were so many amazing, beautiful machines at Brightona.

Bikers are incredibly creative and hardworking at customising and preening.

You could spend the whole day just admiring other people's motorbikes.

I rode back in the rain, which I hate. It is uncomfortable and you have to keep a constant eye out for manhold covers that can unmount you in an instant.

I loved the day, though. I need to get more experience on the Vespa.

My mentor Nick has driven more than 1,000 miles on his bike in the time I have clocked up 100 on mine.

Scootering is also economical. Much less expensive on fuel that driving a car - very useful at this time of personal austerity.

I also love the sound of the two-stroke engine and the clunk of the gears that the 1970s design still makes - authentic signs of having achieved Mod-dom!

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Saturday, October 04, 2014

Early Autumn in Brighton and Hove

Winter, spring, summer or fall
All you got to do is call
And I'll be there
Yes I will
You've got a friend

Carole King

Early Autumn is always a favourite time of year for me - the cusp betwixt Summer and Autumn proper when one enjoys the best of both seasons.

This year, it seems to have been particularly wonderful in Brighton and Hove, possibly because I am at home, rather than away 12 hours to 14 hours every working day on a London commute.

Indeed, I have been at home for some five months now and have not missed going into the Smoke one jot. I feel a lot closer to nature.

In the mornings, I try to go for a cycle ride along the seafront before starting my day's endeavour. I never tired of the skyscape and seascape. It is different every day and often spectacular.

I work long hours at my desk at home and, in truth, it is a struggle. When you try to find work, you realise the UK is not out of the woods of recession yet.

However, I am spurred on by the card on my wall - "A winner is just a loser who tried one more time" - and the overall improvement in my lifestyle.

Sadly, though, I have had to give up lunchtime basketball.

My knees have become a real issue and for months have woken me up at night with searing pain. The basketball - a hard contact sport - made it much worse, so now instead I cycle every day, which makes it better, and take some painkillers and sleeping pills. I hope I will not need an operation.

It is funny the things you see while cycling around, such as a little doggy at the steering wheel of a car.

My new life has allowed me to do a lot of thinking.

I want a sustainable way of working which cannot just end at any moment.

I want to be able to do work I am proud of and which I enjoy.

I want to do the sort of work my kids would be proud of.

Life may be a bunch of compromises but there comes a time when you have to put your health and sanity first.

Therefore, I have to be very careful about my next move.

It is always interesting to see people's reactions when your situation and supposed status suddenly changes for the worse.

True friends are solid and there for you; most people, however, are not seen for dust, not wanting to be infected by whatever has felled you. In this parlous and fickle world, I don't suppose one can blame them for putting self-interest first.

My partner, Laura, has been a great comfort as has Mr Cheeky.

He has become a local character in his manor, the four streets near our home.

Mr Cheeky and his dear friend Django spend a good deal of time in the local pub, entertaining the regulars.

He also likes to have a good sleep on the pub mantelpiece.

One of the regulars told me a funny story about Mr Cheeky. He said that his bedroom is on the top floor of his house and that he first made Mr Cheeky's acquaintance when he slept in one morning and awoke to find Mr Cheeky sleeping on his chest.

Mr Cheeky had apparently somehow got onto the roof of his house, jumped down onto his balcony and climbed in through the open window, before settling down for a kip on top of him.

Now he regularly enjoys tuna at his house!

Another local I also did not know came up to me in the street that said that Mr Cheeky often visited her and her small children at their home. "They absolutely adore him," she purred.

Mr Cheeky seems to have an enormous appetite and gallops everywhere, like a tiny racehorse.

He has put on some weight and matured, making more effort to avoid moving cars and generally look after his health better.

Mr Cheeky and I put a certain effort into campaigning (online) for a No vote in Scotland - to keep the Union together.

He took the name, Mr McCheeky Wilson, for the period of the campaign, producing his own manifesto to persuade wavering Scots. I like to think we did our little bit for the United Kingdom.

The McCheekster has developed a desire to go on trips in Laura's car, jumping when the window is open and making himself comfortable, sometimes falling asleep.

I was almost late for an interview the other day because of having difficulty getting him out of the back of the car.

We go to see my dad and mum every fortnight.

To be frank, Dad's condition is not good. His memory is very poor now. Real confusion has set in.

All the same, I enjoy our trips to see him and Mum. They are coping well, despite all.

My brothers also visit regularly so that there is one of us there every weekend.

Nic comes over from Ireland as often as he can and it is always good to see him.

He and his wife have taken on a dog, like their late daughter Emily always wanted.

Life is a strange, hard-to-tame beast.

You can only make the most of the cards you are dealt.

The year will go into free fall: Hallowe'en, Bonfire, Christmas, New Year, the misery of January to March. It could be tough.

I heard from my old friend, Midders, the other day. He says he has a serious health scare (the usual one), so I am hoping and praying he gets through it.

The other day, I saw a very good poster on social media. It read: "Never let the sadness of my past and the fear of your future ruin the happiness of your present". Another one for the wall, methinks. Every moment is precious and sacred.

One piece of great news is that the Battle of Hove Park was won!

The political animal of a head teacher switched sides at the last minute in, my considered view, to save his own skin.

Hove Park School will not become a wretched Academy!

We were invited to a joyous victory celebration at comrades Natasha and Mark Steel's home.

It was great! We oldies chatted outside while the kids danced to Freebird and Let's Dance inside.

I was very impressed that the kids of today know these great classics of my era.

My moderate drinking regime is going very well. It is now 38 weeks since I last drank too much or had a hangover. Now I am in the groove, I am a truly committed moderate drinker.

Well, that's about it for now.

It is almost my bedtime. I will do the dishes, read a bit of my Saint novel (excellent bedtime reading) and get an early night.

I am off to Oxford bright and early tomorrow morning.

I just hope Mr Cheeky does not sneak into the car.

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