Baby, Now That I Found You…

So the Royal baby has arrived and made his first public appearance.
Thinking back to the time my son and heir was born, I was struggling to come to terms with his late show and my own feelings about it.
Henry was born 10 days beyond the birth date. Like the Royal couple, we didn’t know what sex the baby would be. We’d talked about names and my beautiful ex-wife had settled on Henry, if it was a boy. I can’t recall a girl’s name being favourite.
I was more concerned about Susie’s health and well-being. I’d worried that something might be wrong, but the midwives were happy so it was left to nature – and two of the tips to bring on the birth.
I’d phoned the hospital, after Susie had suggested labour had begun, but the advice was sit tight – ‘not yet’. I’d been despatched to run a bath and make a cup of tea, when the contractions started in earnest.
The dash to the hospital. The luck of a midwife nipping for a bar of chocolate and seeing the approach of the car lights to the closed maternity unit – it was about 3.30am. No sooner had Susie placed her hand on the bed than her waters broke and Henry was ready.
He almost fired out into the world. Forty minutes later, the birth plan cast aside, he was born. Friends had told me about the beautiful moment of seeing your child appear into the world, but I was not too keen on the ‘down there’ business. Besides, I was having my hand squeezed off and wanted to reassure his mum.
It was quite strange. Henry was born, taken away to be cleaned and weighed and checked over. Nothing like I’d expected. And ‘Down There’, which seemed so far away in my mind, during the midwife sessions those months before, suddenly was very much ‘Up Here’.
When he was returned I didn’t know what to think. I was so delighted to see the proud smile on his mum’s face, and her hug of her best boy. He stood. On his two legs. We were told this was common in new-borns and they’d lose the ability. Henry never did.
Susie said she’d chosen Henry as a nod to my favourite author. I’d suggested Edwin, after one of my favourite singers (Motown’s Edwin Starr). Seeing our child, his second name popped into my mind. David. That was the name of an uncle, but it just seemed to fit. Having seen the lad, it made sense. Susie agreed.
Then I was ushered out, fearful of holding this eight pound, 10 ounce bundle of flesh, and mother and child were left to recover, sleep a bit and get to know each other.
My focus had been on Susie. Henry had been second-most in my thoughts, until the phone calls to my gran and Susie’s dad. I choked with the emotion of the moment. It suddenly hit home. I walked the four miles back to our house in Newcastle-under-Lyme, Staffordshire, almost floating. Surreal was how it seemed.
I wasn’t like many of the proud dads I’d known down the years. He didn’t strike me as a pretty baby – just big. And active.
In two and a bit months, Henry will turn seven. I love him more than I ever believed possible. He changed my life for the better, as did his mum, although we didn’t manage to stay together.
He is determined, at times difficult, big for his age and extremely active. I wouldn’t change him for one moment.
I guess William and Kate are finding that out now.

Faith, Hope And Clarity

TO misquote from Greavesy: ‘It’s a funny old world.’
And it is. The oddities spring up more often now than they’ve ever done. The workplace has been increasingly populated by style over substance, quality and customer service has fallen. As if reality TV has taken over all our lives.
I could sit tapping away at the keys here in a moment of navel gazing. I’ve gone from commanding infantry soldiers, running newsrooms, being part of a ‘higher’ social scene, and decent standard of sport, to picking litter at a music festival. Fall from grace? Maybe, but ‘grace’ was hardly the word I’d use.
You won’t catch me being too sorry for myself. I still have hope. I still believe in the work ethic and ability that people have ascribed as positive traits of mine. People still believe in me.
That’s gratifying.
Life is very different. Money is really too tight to mention. Yet, I’m healthy and happy.
Good friends, with considerable ability, are in difficult corners. None of us in stable employment, all of us unsure of our future earnings.
It makes a difference, knowing that our lives, in terms of work, are secure. Today, few have that security. Even those in gainful employment.
Standards have fallen and the good guys are fallen with them.
A friend with more talent in his finger than many I’ve worked with in journalism, has had another knock back this week.
Another, honest, intelligent and a credit to any workplace, has tried various jobs and failed to impress. This no-nonsense good guy has been surrounded by colleagues more at home with shirking than working, the hugs to improve team spirit, rather than commitment to success and common goals.
Both continue to smile, to apply for jobs and to hope. Britain, in 2013, seems to have little to offer. Part-time work, poorly paid and without set hours, is in vogue. Otherwise, firms are looking for experience. Except in the industries we’re experienced in.
It’s a mish-mash. The survivors in industries, like journalism, my own and my photographic friend’s, have been the smiling ‘yes men’ for the most part. The hard-bitten editors, news editors, subs and reporters have been lost. The internet is blamed for dwindling sales, rather than the loss of quality in the constant bid to pay back the banks and reward the shareholders (also the banks).
In our forties, we’re the forgotten generation.
Things have got to get better. It’s a mantra people like my friends use. I use it, too. I believe it. I hope it will be true. For my son’s sake. For my friends’ sake. For my country’s sake.
Populist politics, selfish politics and the capitalist dream have failed my country. I can’t see any change coming soon.
The banks, who led us into recession by falling standards, dishonesty, and turning the screw on industry and individuals, continue to survive.
Jobs continue to be shed.
But there’s so much to be positive about, to be hopeful about. And I’m not talking about the mask that the Olympics, Sir Bradley’s courage and history-making win in Le Tour, back in 2012, or the Lions, Chris Froome’s ascent to the record books or the Ashes dominance of Cook and Co, put on the UK’s gloom.
I’m talking about real people, in times of huge difficulty, who continue to show their mettle and refuse to give up hope. Their pride in themselves, their families and their goals.
Something that money could never buy.

Where Is The Benefit?

Today is a fascinating day in the history of modern Britain.
The benefits scroungers are having their financial rewards for sitting on their backsides limited.
And the senior party in the coalition government, the Tories, are also calling for a limit to housing welfare paid to teenage mums.
Pat yourselves on the back, the 40 Group of True Blue Conservative MPs in the 40 constituencies with knife-edge majorities.
Except, what about the impact on people’s lives? Where are the jobs that these moves are intended to encourage the lazy, work-shy graspers to apply for?
Let me be clear. I’m a worker. In fact, I’ve been a workaholic for much of my adult life and I don’t like the idea that people can do damn all and have more money than me in their pockets at the end of each week.
It’s primeval jealousy that the politicians – of all parties – are targeting.
I know first hand that some people on benefits in Coventry can afford to smoke, drink, run several cars, have a season ticket to the football, a Sky subscription to watch on their 42 inch plasma television and all the gadgets you can imagine.
I’ve heard the boasts of those living the life of Reilly on benefits and heard the horror of those being asked to work for £6 an hour.
I don’t doubt that action – and tough action at that – needs to be taken. But the problem with this government and the previous Labour administration, that for my money was simply a wolf in sheep’s clothing, or Tory dressed up in the last rags of any pretence to its working class roots, is that it sees things in black and white.
Spurred on by spurious headlines in the tabloids, with little real responsible reporting and precious little honesty in the spin of government departments, these governments have tarred all benefits claimants with the same brush.
Trained as a soldier and journalist, I’ve been unemployed. Or is that a jobseeker? I’ve been humiliated on my trips to sign on. I’ve been humiliated in my applications for work.
I’m currently working as a binman for Coventry City Council on a zero hours casual contract, introduced during the previous Labour administration and kept by a Labour-run council. It’s hard work, not that I’m moaning. It’s comparatively poor pay, not that I’m moaning. I’m grateful for any chance to work and not claim Jobseeker’s Allowance.
The harsh reality is that there aren’t the jobs out there. I know. I’ve tried. I’ve significant experience, although I was low on confidence. It seems the experience counted against me and if I’d been confident with little experience, I’d have been snapped up.
But if I wasn’t able to live in the family home and have the bulk of the utility bills paid by family, I wouldn’t be able to afford to live.
Zero hours casual is enough to leave you marooned. I don’t work enough hours to be able to claim tax credits. In fact, even if I did, because it’s not in my contract that I work 32 hours or more, I’d still not be eligible.
I’m not eligible for Jobseeker’s Allowance either.
I don’t qualify for any welfare handouts, although, based on my average wage, I’ll clear £10,400 this year. Just £10,400.
Iain Duncan Smith, the empathetic minister for Work and Pensions in the ConDem coalition, claimed £98,077 in expenses in 2008/9, the last full year for which figures are readily available on the website. That was when he was in opposition. And just his expenses. He gets an MP’s salary, along with a minister’s pay cheque. He’s a millionaire from an influential family.
In the days when he claimed what was then unemployment benefit, the rules were very different. And there lies the big problem for me. This ConDem crowd are stirring up the passions of the mob, sitting back and letting the rumour mill of falsehoods and Chinese whispers make their job of slashing services and selling off their grannies that much easier.
Little has been done to discourage the ‘want’ attitude by successive governments going back to Wilson’s first sortie into Downing Street.
I’d love a full time job. I desperately want a full time job.
IDS and his pals believe that a move to reduce benefits will suddenly see every ‘scrounger’ suddenly in work. It’s a Utopian vision at odds with the real world.
If someone hasn’t worked for decades because they didn’t want to, they’re hardly going to be ‘encouraged’ by rule changes.
If someone can’t find work because they’re not qualified enough or too qualified, or maybe too old, how is cutting their benefits going to help them?
The biggest concern – and again this happened under Labour before being seized by the ConDems as the best route forward – is the ‘sell off’ of responsibility to pay-per-result companies, like Atos in its mission to cut the disability benefits bill.
Austerity is seeing jobs go, and more councils and companies are resorting to zero hours casual contracts.
The squeeze is on, especially in Coventry, Warwickshire and the West Midlands. Budgets are tightening; more people are finding their way to the scrapheap. I can’t see where the jobs are going to come from.
Utility bills jump each year on average three times inflation. Petrol prices continue to creep up. House prices, and rent, are on the rise. Wages increases are often either frozen or pegged below inflation, as was the ‘hike’ in benefits, including pensions, from April. Benefits increased by one per cent, amounting to pennies, in a move agreed by MPs, fearful of the need to reduce costs based on flawed research.
The reality, in my eyes, is that there aren’t the jobs. Now there isn’t the welfare.
There isn’t the hope anymore.

Nellist’s Example Cost Us Dear

The BBC feature about former MP Dave Nellist’s attitude to his Westminster salary provokes a number of questions.
He gave half his pay as an MP to charity and needy causes. A socialist who stood by his word and honour.
I knew this, being a Coventry kid who has interviewed him a number of times down the years.
The biggest question for me has to be why has the honesty and integrity of the erstwhile Labour member for Coventry South East been so sadly lacking in his former colleagues and successors? I mean by that all MPs, but particularly those who claim to represent most closely the working man (and woman).
With Parliament increasingly populated by millionaires and public school alumni, why do some rich MPs even need to claim expenses or their Westminster wage?
This month, we’ve seen Denis MacShane, who held Rotherham for Labour and was one of Smiling Tory Tony Blair’s chosen few with a role as Minister for Europe, charged with false accounting.
The fact is that politicians are so reliant on spin and treating the general public as total fools that they glibly trot out any old line.
While a court will decide whether MacShane was guilty of false accounting, he quit as an MP last year.
The BBC News website stated: “Although he had repaid the money, and he insisted that he had made no personal gain from the expenses claims, he said he was resigning to show that MPs should take responsibility for their mistakes.”
I’m confused. He repaid the money. Was it after this that he made no personal gain? If it was before, why do it? There’s obviously an admission of ‘mistakes’.
Presumably, he couldn’t get by on his ministerial salary, or that as an MP, and ability to charge meals, drinks, transport, mortgage on his second home and items to furnish it to the public purse in acceptable expenses.
If he’s guilty, of course.
He’s not the only Labour MP to have milked the Parliamentary system and I’m not one of those easily swayed to excuse Honest John Prescott’s transformation when deputy prime minister, playing croquet at the Dorneywood mansion in Buckinghamshire with the line ‘why not?’ or ‘you’d do the same, wouldn’t you?’
No, I wouldn’t. I’ve lived and worked in Hull and know well the depression, the struggle for work and a decent living. Prezza turned his back on his roots, the very roots that elevated him to Parliament in the first place, just as Smiling Tory Tony tricked the general public into believing he was an alternative to Thatcherism.
I couldn’t imagine Dave Nellist following Prezza’s example either.
It’s a pity he was ever expelled from the Labour Party – basically for standing up for its principles – and then, showing that democracy in the UK is based on out-dated party dominance, lost his seat. This was after, if memory serves me right, his Constituency Labour Party was suspended after backing their man rather than the national executive.
It’s a pity more MPs aren’t like the down-to-earth former factory worker.
And where is the Labour Party of my youth?
I must admit, I’m with rubber-faced latest leader Ed Miliband on his decision to allow union members to decide whether they fund his party or not, but against his lack of challenge to Con-Dem policies, including the flawed Austerity programme.
The three major parties now all seem aligned to one goal – and to me it’s not to represent the best interests of the country or its people.
Where are the champions of the working man (and woman)? And why aren’t they electable at this moment in time?
With disillusionment in politics and the lack of belief that our vote will change a thing taking us back to the era of the Rotten Boroughs, who will tackle the rotten MPs? Let me be clear that by rotten, I mean the evident moral corruption of the grasping hands in the gravy train of Parliament and all the benefits it brings. Not claims of legal wrong-doing.
MPs were already out of touch before Cameron and Clegg collaborated.
Yet, even despite UKIP’s rally on the back of public anger, it’s likely that the next general election will see a grinning Labour or Tory face installed in Downing Street, with the Lib-Dems again playing any game to hold onto that sliver of power that has seen Cleggy turn his back on the manifesto promises from last time round.
There’s a great website – – which allows people to find out how MPs have voted, what they’ve claimed and other interesting snippets. But the title is a reminder that MPs are supposed to represent ‘us’, the people. Even ‘us’ who didn’t vote for them.
The latest full-year figures for my MP, Labour’s millionaire ‘Champagne Socialist’ Geoffrey Robinson, are for 2008/9. They show that on top of his MP’s salary, he claimed £137,606 in expenses.
Not a bad job if you can get it, eh?
And that was without claiming for a second home.
What makes it worse, in my eyes at least, is that he was ranked 483rd out of 650-odd MPs. In simple language, 482 MPs in 2008/9 – the last days of the Labour government with more Labour MPs than those of other parties – claimed more than £137,606.
Mr Nellist’s successor in Coventry South, Jim Cunningham, was positively Scrooge-like in his expenses spending by comparison. For the same financial year, he ranked 622nd in the league table of claims – but still racked up £104,996 on top of his salary as an MP.
I earned £30,000 a year once. And had to pay my own rent, transport costs, items for the home. I also worked an average of 12 to 14 hours a day, on shifts, with no overtime payments. Why should MPs, currently paid £65,000 a year, be any different?
Instead of IPSA, the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, arguing that MPs should get an 11 per cent pay rise, I’d give the role of determining their financial rewards to Atos, which could also determine whether they were fit for purpose or not.
Mr Nellist was widely respected by his constituents, of all political leanings. He understood them because he was one of them. He lived among them, fought for them and won friends among them. In a previous blog, I said how he was one of the few honest politicians I’d met in a 25 year journalistic career.
Being a good MP, standing up for his beliefs and representing his constituents, was enough for the Labour leadership to decide he had no place in the party’s future.
After being kicked out, he narrowly missed an upset and the perfect response to the Kinnock-era acolytes. A decade as a Socialist Party member on
Coventry City Council followed before the muscle of the major parties won out again.
Ironically, a Labour Party candidate pipped him to the post in May last year.
The man with the courage and honesty of working class politics losing out again to the party that once encapsulated all he believed in.
Shades of Orwell again?
Politics is poorer for it; the Labour Party is poorer for it; we’re poorer for it.
And we still believe we are a democracy.

A Voyage Of Disc-overy

I’m a romantic by nature. Music has always been one of the major ways to stir my emotion. And imagination.
Or maybe that should be art, in all its forms, including music, literature, sculpture, photography…
There was always a certain magic about discovering music. While I was born in the days when The Beatles were still going – I possibly knew the words to She Loves You before I even registered the song – there was excitement in getting my ears on their other stuff as an adolescent.
Habit forming, I guess.
I did the same with groups and solo acts most people have never heard of, or at least are unfamiliar with their music.
Camel, early Ultravox, Anthony Phillips, Brand X, Stiff Little Fingers to name a choice few. They’re all, apart from Brand X, still going, still being discovered by new generations. And their music never gets old.
I’ve also enjoyed my journey back into the past with artists I never really got first-time round for some reason or another. About a decade ago, I found myself buying the Depeche Mode back-catalogue and loving it. There are other examples, from Motown men like Edwin Starr to Hall and Oates. Some artists, of course, I kept in touch with and bought every new release like a crazy addict. Gerry Rafferty in the 1980s and 1990s, for example. After I’d gone searching for his back catalogue, of course.
While I don’t want to debate the merits of vinyl, cassette, CD, MP3, WAV or other weird and wonderful ways of listening to music, the way I discover music has changed. I interviewed Warren Cann, Ultravox’s drummer, a few years ago and just mentioned that I bought the band’s first three releases, Ha! Ha! Ha!, Ultravox! and Systems Of Romance on cassette tape, vinyl (along with the Peel Sessions EP), then CD. And then the remastered versions, not forgetting a fifth time with the remastered versions with bonus material. Talk about getting your money’s worth out of a fan! My introduction had been the playground, then the listening booths and then the anticipation of needle on vinyl.
No moans or groans from me, because it was worth it just to get those live takes, those different versions of songs and those songs I’d never heard before.
Fast forward to 2012/3 and my return from the musical wilderness of North Cyprus – where I lived and worked for nearly five years.
I had felt that the fascinating voyage of musical discovery had well and truly ended, that the ship had docked, or worse, capsized. I was shipwrecked, but at least had my tens of thousands of albums to keep me entertained.
The music shop in Coventry remains HMV (only just) but it’s a shadow of what I had in my teens, when we had listening booths in Paynes, Woolies, HMV and other shops, like Boots sold records. There was Revolver Records and, for out of print stuff, Hits, Misses and Vintage Records.
In the dark, almost subterranean floors of the old HMV store, now a Poundland shop, you could flick through the cardboard and find records of antiquity – some even two years old and which had never troubled the album or singles charts.
Today, it’s all about mass sales. Try to find Camel’s The Single Factor, or anything by Anthony Phillips. You can’t.
Some make-believe boyband, whose hits I wouldn’t recognise if you locked me in a room with them for a decade, will have a shelf full of stuff. I’m not interested. I want different, interesting, clever music.
Enter YouTube. For years I’ve enjoyed watching old footage of bands I love on YouTube, but now, coupled with other social media, I’m learning about music being produced today. Intelligent, catchy, quirky, lovely music.
Two years too late, but I’ve finally caught up with Gotye’s Somebody That I Used To Know
I remember thinking that it was something that John Foxx, the trail blazer in that first incarnation of Ultravox! and a Godfather of British electronica, would be pleased with.
I hear a touch of that Ultravox! and indeed Foxx’s significant solo output in that song. Of course, the wiley Mr Foxx has never had the same sound, constantly seeking out new boundaries. I’ve everything he’s ever done, too, but he’s evolved and others have evolved thanks to people like him.
He is still working in different directions and managing to come up with fresh sounding music today. And that goes for his reworking of classic tracks – not forgetting new music with his latest collaboration pals, The Maths.
And my introduction to this latest journey on the ship of music is no longer Top Of The Pops, the school playground or hours whiled away in music shops, but places like YouTube and social media. is an example of where I can get to experience John Foxx And The Maths without moving from the comfort of the armchair or three-piece-suite or bed.
Not only that, but through his Facebook page, he’s putting me onto other new music, like his Maths cohort, Hannah Peel.
It’s brilliant. I’ve lost 30 years of my life in an instant.
It’s not only pages, but people. A fellow musician friend, Alan Hudson, linked a YouTube video to his Facebook page, of a singer called Beth Hart performing a tribute to Buddy Guy with Jeff Beck
The hairs on the back of my neck were dancing. I said, honesty being my watchword, that I’d never heard of her before. I’m putting that right, slowly.
I’m smiling again. The magic of discovery and adventure has returned for this 40-something who still feels like an adolescent.

Music Was My First Love

My name is Mark and I’m a music addict. There, I’ve said it.
Music courses through my head and heart, charting my life’s ups-and-downs, hopes and fears. It provides a library of feelings and memories that little else comes near touching.
I had a thing about a girl at school. Andrea Penn was her name. Actually, she had a thing about me, too. Our meetings, like a game of chess where both of us were scared to give too much away, were generally on the upstairs back seat of a double-decker bus. It was one of five laid on from the school, to spare the general public the swearing, smoking experience of school-age teenagers.
It took expert timing to be on the same bus as a friend, because you queued and teachers monitored how each bus would fill up.
We seemed to manage it quite well.
And why am I remembering a ‘romance that never was’ from 30 years ago? Eddy Grant’s Can You Feel My Love? came up on my Windows Media Player shuffle. One of the tunes first heard at the school disco. They were magical musical times for me, before I really settled on being a fan on bands that I still love today.
And a love that far outstrips that teenage crush on the delectable young Miss Penn.
I remember asking a local radio DJ friend to play a record for her every now and again, which was particularly impressive. We went to local Greenpeace meetings together and she once asked me out, but never shared as much as a kiss. Not even on those school bus journeys or at the school disco.
It’s a nice memory. I often remember people or events through music, often forgotten until a particular phrase plays through my mind.
Franz Ferdinand, Al Green’s Let’s Stay Together and a number of Motown songs always bring back memories of my romance with the lady who would become first my wife, and then my ex-wife.
Certain Mike And The Mechanics, Don Henley and Joe Walsh tunes, too.
But it was the Elvis Presley version of Always On My Mind that stopped me in my tracks last night. He recorded the song within weeks of splitting up with Priscilla and it was an instant hit. The words were written for him, you could tell that by his performance.
Yet, they were also written for me and a million other men (and women). If I could have only sat down and been able to put across such feeling to the former Mrs Forster, maybe I’d have saved a marriage. Well, that’s how it makes you feel, such is its power. It’s the beauty of music that can’t be beaten, a fusion of emotion through words and sound.
Sometimes the memories are bittersweet, other times delightful.
I haven’t listened to Always On My Mind for years. It’s there, on my laptop with tens of thousands of other songs. Windows Media Player tells me, for instance, that I have 207 ‘Various Artist’ albums, with 4,077 songs on them. I’ve 56 Genesis albums with 586 songs, including Evidence Of Autumn, once played on Coventry’s long-gone radio station Mercia Sound for Miss Penn, and the Music folder has more than 170 gigabytes of guitars, strings, keyboards and drums merging together in the name of art.
The shuffle function throws up gems and digs at buried treasures of my mind and soul. It’s a journey through life that I love.
My name is Mark, and I’m a music addict.