Spitfire Prelude

I’ve been trying to compose a certain picture in my mind – and on canvas – for many years.

Inspired by a romantic gesture by my grandfather to his future wife, it’s a painting I’ve wanted to attempt for three decades.

My grandfather, a humble man who achieved so much, was attached to 61 Operational Training Unit, then at Rednal in Shropshire. He got permission for a training flight in his Spitfire over Ludlow, where my grandmother was staying with relatives on a holiday.

He literally became the talk of the town after flying along the River Teme, turning right past Ludlow Castle, over Linney and past St Mary’s House, where my grandmother and her aunt had been ‘instructed’ to go outside about noon.

Three times he flew over, waggling his wings.

Beat that.

So, I’ve been searching out pictures of Ludlow from the family collection, from personal visits and the t’interweb for years. I wanted a scene near St Mary’s House, but suggesting the town’s medieval past and Georgian rebirth. St Mary’s House, bought by my well to do relatives made rich on the coal and minerals trade and the railway, with its medieval cellars and land aplenty was difficult to achieve. Getting the right view was nigh on impossible.

Some 20 yards away, St Mary’s Lane joins the main road into the town, Corve Street, and I had long considered this the best option.

But getting the right picture was a struggle.

I considered a Spitfire banking over the castle. I attempted scenes of Ludlow from Whitcliffe hill, with Titterstone Clee, where I spent childhood holidays, with a Spitfire skirting the skies.

None of these worked for me.

Then I found an old Francis Firth image of Corve Street. It was almost perfect for the image I had in my mind.

 

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Medieval past, Tudor past, Georgian past all intermingled, front and distant, with St Laurence’s Church in the middle distance and housing from the 1500s front right.

Then came the easy bit – or so I thought. Of sourcing a Spitfire image to complete the scene. Easier said than done. The Spit is one of the most photographed aircraft around, and I tried so many angles just to win frustration for my efforts.

YouTube, the pause button and ‘print screen’ function has been my friend and I finally have a Spitfire angle I’m happy with. Not one I would ever have considered before, believing I needed to paint the plane so the viewer would be able to tell what it is.

For me that was unit markings, roundels – the lot.

But then, the Spit has unmistakeable lines.

Problem solved. Painting started.

Of course, there’s plenty to screw up yet, but I’m finally on the right lines.

I hope.

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A letter to my son

This morning, Henry, you surprised me again.

In a nice way.

As I went downstairs to put the kettle on, you were in the doorway of your room, dressed and with a huge smile. ‘Yay, breakfast!’ you cried.

Astonishing.

You were the boy who never ate breakfast, least of all cereal.

When you came to live with me and Shellie in December, the first month or two involved arguments about getting you to even understand how important breakfast was. I know you don’t like cereal, but when I said all there was was Coco Pops, you seemed happy. No moans or pleas for bacon and cheese wraps or hot croissants.

And this is how it goes with you, Henry, aged 10 and a half. The Wild Boy of Cyprus, the anarchic would-be teenager, the boy who wouldn’t do what he asked…appears to have vanished. With a baby brother or sister due any day, you will make a superb older brother.

You’re doing brilliantly at school. They are so amazed with your attitude that you have been chosen to have additional lessons in the morning, competition for which is intense. Your teacher says anyone would be hard-pressed to realise you have only been a member of your student group since January. That’s an amazing effort. Your certificates for learning show your desire to learn and happiness to learn.

That attitude is what marks you out as special. For so long it was hidden and unfortunately your mum, who did so much for you out in Cyprus, suffered, as did people around you.

Despite this, every one of us were still proud of you, still loved you, still hoped one day the penny would drop. That day has arrived.

We’ve had the arguments. Yes, you didn’t want to brush your teeth every morning. Yes, you didn’t see the point of washing your hands after every trip to the toilet or before every meal. Yes, you didn’t like eating breakfast.

You do all of them now, and often rush to do them. Since we bought your noisy Star Wars toothbrush I know how well you’re cleaning your teeth!

You say ‘excuse me’ please and wait instead of interrupting our conversations. You say ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ like those words are the most fashionable in the dictionary. We see the real love pouring out of you.

You do what you’re asked to do.

So I question why you can still surprise me.

I’m still learning as a parent and making mistakes. I have the loving support of Shellie and the social work teams we’ve asked to help us have told us we provide a loving, nourishing home for you and Zane, your step-brother, who is also making huge positive steps forward.

You’ve fast become the beating heart of our little family. The positive influence you’ve had over Zane is tremendous.

I’m so proud of you.

We’re so proud of you.

The whole family is proud of you.

 

 

 

Fight For Ourselves (and the NHS!)

What have you done to save our NHS? I mean what have you really done?

I’ve signed local petitions to save local services threatened with budget cuts down the years, publicly written about my belief in the NHS and its staff in newspapers I’ve worked for and what else?

Very little, to be honest.

I’ve never gone on a march, written to my MP, or the health secretary of the day about services.

I’ve never made a point of being near a picket line, junior doctors or whoever, to thank them for their work for me and my family and friends, past, present and future. I’ve never said ‘I’m with you’, so someone could hear.

Last Sunday evening, I began feeling an immense pain in my abdomen. It got worse. The agony was such that on Tuesday morning I went to the GP. Now, back in Coventry, I would have been told I couldn’t have an appointment for another month, such is the overstressed nature of surgeries under the Branson umbrella, Virgin Healthcare. In Coventry, I would have been referred to the associated walk-in centre, also run by Virgin, with its three hour waits to be seen by a triage practitioner. Then? Who knows,. The privatised NHS care in our communities isn’t quite working as it used to, for all its faults.

In St Ives I saw a nurse practitioner within 20 minutes of arrival, despite not being registered at that practice. Soon, a GP was summoned and then I was sent to Royal Cornwall Hospital at Treliske. ‘Go home and pack a bag,’ was the advice.

At St Mawes Emergency Surgery Lounge and Unit I was seen by a nurse, trainee doctor, junior doctor and then a registrar, with nursing staff busily running around looking after me and others.

Then I was admitted. The standard of care was top notch from start to finish.

It was an unpleasant experience for me, but I wondered how these people working there could stand the unpleasant experience they face every time they walk through the doors. And with a smile. And for precious little pennies and respect from their paymasters in Westminster.

These are the every day people who save lives and make lives better; who deal with blood and guts – and some of the guts in St Mawes were most unpleasant, let me tell you – with consummate professionalism.

Once again, my hat is raised to the men and women of our NHS who do such a wonderful job. And whose constant reward appears to be a demand to work harder for less money.

We’re all guilty of taking parts of our lives for granted. Or not doing enough to show those special in our lives how much they mean to us.

The NHS is special. It will have had a big part in all our lives. It’s time I did more than sign petitions and publicly praise it, in what has to be its darkest hour to date.

What about you?

Little Drummer Boy(s)

Drummers. They’re okay, I suppose.

Not the sexy ones. No, that’s generally province of the fretboard fingerers and the microphone stand wavers up front. The hip gunslingers and hip-wigglers dancing about in front of the shells and cymbals.

Yet, never underestimate the power of the neanderthal bashers at the back, laying the foundations for the fancy Dans at the front.

More than a month ago, Shellie and I took my son, Henry, soon to be 10, to an Even Nine gig in deepest Cornwall. He was mesmerised by it all and still wears his T-shirt as often as he can, is delighted he’s found – and subscribed to – the Even Nine Youtube channel and says their two albums thus far are always on his MP3 playlist.

This is a young man schooled in rock. Lizzy, Led Zep, even a bit of Lynyrd. He knows his onions, musically speaking. I thought he was going to become the next Jimmy Page, Slash, Steve Hackett or Andy Latimer.

Yet, when I spoke to him on Skype this week, any notions of guitars were forgotten. I didn’t fret.

No. He wants to be a drummer. Inspired by Brett Stepto, of Even Nine, and not just because the gentleman that he is presented young Henry with a pair of his sticks after the gig.

I don’t think this is anything to do with my forays behind the drum kit, of which Henry has seen little evidence in his life. Yes, drums were always around and he enjoyed making a noise, but this is different. He’s hooked. After one proper pub performance.

He’s not the only one. Shellie and I went to a festival where Even Nine were playing, dragging along her five year old son, Zane, for the afternoon show.

His mornings consist of playing along to the Even Nine Youtube channel on his toy drum kit, insisting he will be better than Brett if he keeps practising hard enough.

Hooked?

Absolutely. Now if I can get them both into Motown, James Brown, Genesis and the double drummer thing, I guess it’ll work out. Anyone know any guitarists?

 

 

 

Even Ten – Out Of Ten

I was very fortunate in a journalism career spanning 25 years to see great bands in their pomp.

Some on the way up, some on the way down.

Pretty much everyone, from established giants like Pink Floyd to Franz Ferdinand, when they were just starting out on chart success.

Last night, I finally got to see Cornwall’s Even Nine in action.

In action is the right description, because this power trio rock. They’d be great company for some of the greats I’ve seen.

The energy in their performance at Wadebridge’s Bridge On The Wool was nothing short of magnificent, in a pub that obviously punches above its weight despite a small stage. Brothers Rick and Jody Martin and the inestimable Brett Stepto, a brother in arms behind the kit, entertained a sparse crowd, which belies their pulling power.

I’ve followed their progress from afar these last two years, with both albums to date firmly established in my collection. Seeing them live was something else.

Singer and bassist Jody was a sweaty mess by the time he swung the band to a halt, with Brett and Rick not far behind. A tight trio who obviously enjoy their craft, which isn’t just about writing stomping tunes, but performing them. And some.

Here’s a link to a track off the last album https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TuYwtTvPw_4

Even Nine? How about ten out of ten? The only downside was the stage was too small for these guys.

In more ways than one.

 

C Change

Politicians and the proles. Never the twain shall meet.

Until Ed Miliband, proof that Blair had ridden the life out of New Labour, or rather new Thatcherism, realised he or his acolytes had zero chance of regaining the keys to Number 10.

Then, in an astonishing show of democracy and political connection, the Labour Party grassroots voted for change in the shape of Jeremy Corbyn. This was a statement if ever there was one.

The proles were sick of Tory-Lite Labour, sick of the political games and greed that seemed to encompass the parliamentary lot. In Corbyn here was a decent man, honourable and truthful. Whether you agreed with his political viewpoint or not, this was a man who caught the Tube to Westminster, who engaged with the common man and woman.

It was no surprise that the Parliamentary Labour Party were scared. Here was a man untainted by the expenses scandal, despite efforts by the right-wing press to prove otherwise.

Corbyn was the anti-Blair.

Blair, who swept Labour into power after decades of T0ry rule. Blair, who promised so much, spun so much and delivered relatively little – cuts in education, education, education; no renationalisation of the railways; allowing the banks to run recklessly free; saddling the NHS and schools with the dreaded Private Finance Initiatives, which led to more debt at the expense of more profits in the private sector; keeping Tory spending plans after winning in 1997; soaring house prices; job cuts; cuts to 999 services and the introduction of zero hours contracts.

The glory days of the modern Parliamentary Labour Party. Power. And we know that power brings rewards. Just look at ‘our Tony’, one of the richest men in the UK following his term of office.

It’s easy to wonder how life would have been different had Corbyn been leader back in 1997. Or John Smith.

Would the country have been taken to five wars on dubious and needless grounds?

Labour would have surely won the general election, even without the Blair smile and spin.

Even at that time, membership in Labour was falling. Corbyn has changed that. But it’s still not good enough for the Parliamentary Labour Party. Let’s not forget they didn’t want him in the first place. He’s a danger to them; a figure who could end the gravy train once in power. A man who could show that MPs can live without claiming hundreds of thousands in expenses for anything and everything.

A man with backing from the growing grassoots membership in Labour. And the unions.

Maria Eagle, who is set to oppose Corbyn, is Blairite through and through. A professional politician who was tainted by the expenses scandal, who used £3,500 of taxpayers’ money to refurbish the bathroom of her Liverpool home before flipping her second home to a London flat, to claim higher sums on her mortgage.

An MP who voted to exempt Parliament from the Freedom of Information Act, so that MPs, ostensibly working for us, the proles, could do their dirty business in secret and keep us in the dark over their expenses claims.

An example of the ‘them and us’ schism in Labour that Corbyn is seeking to tackle. An example of the ‘them and us’ schism between Westminster and the average man in the street. If ever a referendum showed how the public is fed up with British politicians it was the Brexit vote.

Corbyn is struggling to survive, a lamb in a pack of wolves; but he’s the one the proles chose. Instead of the Parliamentary Labour Party trying to oust him, isn’t it time the local associations decided to distance themselves from the traitors to both Labour and their leader? I don’t think there has ever been a shortage of candidates.

MPs – aren’t they supposed to work for us?

 

Europe In The Rain

The fact most ‘older’ people voted to quit the European Union is no real surprise.

That’s not to say I agree. I erred on the side of caution, the ‘ better the devil you know’ scenario, but have been bombarded most of my life with anti-European sentiment. And it’s not just the Daily Mail.

I was born when Britain was supposedly still Great, when the Commonwealth’s heart was still beating, albeit barely, and the Common Market was something the politicians and money men wanted to be part of, but everyone else greeted with distrust.

This was an age where people who had fought in either world war against the Germans remembered the enmity. It coloured their lives, their future. In many ways, their futures had been robbed by war. There was a real suspicion of Europe. Casual racism? Yes. In much the same way that some people in other nations remember their history and conflict with England, it was hardly surprising that the British people distrusted Germany and France when I was growing up. The British were more nationalistic back then.

I remember my great grandfather, veteran of the first world conflict, telling me you could always trust the Germans more than the French and the Belgians. ‘The German would stand in front of you and stab you with his bayonet, the Frogs and Belgies would smile at you and stab you in the back,’ was his wisdom.

There were plenty like him.

The passage for this ‘little island’ to become part of Europe was a difficult one. We had to change our money system, and adopt and adapt to metric in weights and measures. As a child it was easy. For older people used to one system, it was a touch more difficult.

Then, when we finally joined the European Economic Community in 1973, there was controversy from the off. First of all, there was a referendum asking us if we wanted out. We hadn’t really been asked if we wanted in, except to vote for a political party’s wider policies.

Leading political heavyweights gave us all very good reasons to be out of the EEC. The counter argument seemed to be simply that we had to be part of it, for not very good reasons. I remember studying it in geography and economics.

We saw French farmers burn British lambs in the 1970s and even back in 1990. Not quite true to the principles of free trade.

We saw British firms decline as German imports dominated the stereo, television and car markets.

We saw the pound drop and balance of payments deficit soar.

There were the wine lakes, the butter mountains, the failures of the hated Common Agricultural Policy, which seemed to favour Belgian, French and German farmers at the expense of the British.

Then we saw the raft of legislation handed down from Brussels. Rarely has there been a week in the British press since we joined without criticism of the European gravy train, the strange and stupid rule-making and the fact that the power lay with the bureaucrats more than the elected Euro MPs.

Europe has always been onto a loser in the British media.

Even before the spectre of immigration could be blamed on Europe.

So I understand why older people voted overwhelmingly to quit the European bloc. I just don’t agree. People should have been voting for a future rather than a past.