Some Might Say

I was on a kibbutz in August 1996, milking cows at four in the morning and hiding out in our bomb-shelter-turned-bar of an evening, drinking vodka and smoking ‘noblesse’ cigarettes, that constituted the sum total of our weekly purchases, with the 50 shekels we volunteers earnt each month.

Over at Knebworth, not that far away from where I’d grown up in the UK, the most famous band in the world at the time, Oasis, kicked off a two-day concert, attended by 250,000 people.

I watched the documentary, about this historical spectacle, earlier this week, and have spent all morning, so far, transfixed by the album produced from that weekend.

There is a mesmerizing nature to the documentary itself. Not least because it re-kindled, for me, many teenage memories. From the hours sat in my bedroom, live taping off the radio, to the ordeal of dialing up for concert tickets (in an era pre-internet, pre-social media), to the songs themselves – enduring anthems that followed me from school to university, and which give me goosebumps even now.

A year after this concert, Tony Blair’s ‘New Labour’ administration took office, to a euphoric fanfare of support from huge swathes of the country, speaking out against the long bout of Conservative rule.

Regardless of your political or musical persuasions (Tony Blair’s tenure was fairly topsy turvy, and Blur were a pretty decent band in the 1990s, too) it feels, 26 years on, that the UK is in need of a seminal moment, similar to Oasis‘ Knebworth weekend.

A 2022 version of what that Knebworth concert encapsulated, would do everyone very well at the moment: the regaining of dignity it might kindle, perhaps; the coming together of people, collectively exhausted from another long stretch of Tory reign.

Bring it on.

I’m yet to read anything that points to anything positive that has come from the 2016 Brexit referendum. I do alter my news feeds as much as possible and so, of course, I could find positive commentaries about Brexit out there easily enough.

Thing is, I am not convinced by any of them.

It is from that particular moment, back in the summer of 2016, that I believe today’s current crises have manifested.

A “complete disaster” are the words a dear friend of mine used, only yesterday, when reflecting on the trials and tribulations of living in the UK these last 6 years, as someone originally born in Europe.

Where are the economic gains promised by the Leave Campaign? Where is the accountability, for any of what went down during Brexit, from those politicians responsible, and still in power?

Across today’s glut of online perspectives, it’s not difficult to pluck out reliable data about the UK’s diminishing trade exports last year, or the 1.2 million UK jobs currently not filled. The Government’s recent tax cuts, that led to an ugly fall in the UK’s already compromised and weak currency, and which have hoicked up borrowing costs and will inevitably result in inflation, seem to me to have been well and truly poorly orchestrated. A bit like Cameron’s decision to let the country vote on Brexit.

The stark chasm that exists the UK Government and the UK public is stretched, once again, to breaking point.

In the first episode of the TV show “This England”, recently launched, we see a Prime Minister (Boris Johnson) well and truly out of touch with reality. Johnson is not alone in this, although he’s very often a convenient, and highly plausible, scapegoat.

Personally, I’ve no sense of excitement, no hope, that any of the current UK political parties are anywhere close to the pulse of the mood of the country. Nor do they want to be. Which is, perhaps, part of the issue.

All of which doesn’t mean a change isn’t desperately needed on the part of British politics. The tidal swings between Labour and Tory governments in power is a hopeless prospect, in my opinion. Nor would a decent music concert suddenly iron out all the UK’s economic troubles.

What a music concert, or a movement, or some kind of people’s ‘moment’ in time, would achieve, would be to try and replace the unique identity – for a long time now smothered in a stew of economic and political mush (curated by self-centred politicians who have lost their sense of duty to the public they serve) – of what it means to be British.

Sounds cliched maybe, but that’s exactly what Oasis managed to do that weekend.



Fancy dress time. Labour Day weekend in New Orleans.

It feels like today – Friday 28th September 2018 – could go down as historic, as the confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh into the Supreme Court of the United States will be voted on, after Christine Ford testified against him yesterday for his attempted rape of her 36 years ago.

1 in 3 women in their lifetimes will experience sexual or physical violence at the hands of men. That this statistic is not “industry specific” has been proven to be palpably clear time and again. Sports, politics, education, religion, and international development – choose your sector, the facts are clear cut.

However, although it feels this week (and, let’s face it, for a while now) that American political leaders sit at the top of the guilty pile, this post is not 100% dedicated to that. Instead, this post is about New Orleans. This post is about celebrating what can be curated when human beings channel their ‘decency genes’.

When I visited “NOLA” recently, it was Labour Day weekend and, for added spice, it was also the annual Southern Decadence celebrations and festivities – a 48 year old tradition now known as the world’s largest “Gay Mardi Gras”. This year attendance broke records with over 250,000 gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender participants, and (according to the event’s website) an economic impact estimated to be in excess of $275 millon.

Celebrating the city’s “Second Line” phenomenon.

The main event of the weekend took place on the Sunday, with a series of parades through the city’s French Quarter. There was no violence. In full tourist mode, with my colleagues nursing hangovers, I spent half of the day soaking up an atmosphere that could be described as the polar opposite to that which has been witnessed over the past days leading up to, and during, the Kavanaugh trial.

The continued hate-filled polarizing of the Democrat-Republican dynamic has reached fever pitch. The lying, the fakery, the anger, the seismic, self-centered vacuity of it all. An arena full of flawed power-holders, bigots, misogynists, and cold, calculating egos. A constant narrative of allowing wrong-doers a free passage, based on their rank and file. An inevitable and incensing circling-the-drain tempo of decision making, back-stabbing and profiteering.

And we know all this. It is allowed to play out, thus, today and tomorrow, on and on.

It’s not that the content of the quarter of a million characters who visited New Orleans, and with whom I paraded on that Sunday, is perfect. I can’t, equally, claim that the remainder of the city’s citizens are flawless human beings (I would certainly hope that not to be the case, in fact).

What I can be assured of, however, was that a more enriching, uplifting and contented time would be hard to come by, than the one I experienced in New Orleans.

Of course, the life of the entitled political elites is no doubt stressful. There is no live jazz music soothing the ear-drums everywhere you go, no “second line” spontaneity, no special NOLA cocktails, or the puttering of boats along the Mississippi River.

It’s a one-sided battle of environments, no doubt. The exquisite recipe and blueprint for sharing in “good times” for which New Orleans is renowned, cannot be topped. And I’ve not even mentioned the cuisine.

However, and here is the thing, in addition to all of those ‘enablers’ that New Orleans has in its armoury, the people living there are just so decent minded, and so, human.

From the Lyft drivers whose rapport and genuineness made you feel like you were in a car with your closest of relatives, to the clarinet player who mesmerized us all in the street, reducing one man to tears with her solos, and who then told us with a smile not to worry about our tip money getting wet in the rain, because “we all of us going to get wet.”

French balustrades and palm trees.

Over brunch one morning, we met an old college friend to one of my team, Matt “Slushy”, now a journalist for The Advocate, covering stories about inmates on Death Row. Matt explained to us, over pots of brewed coffee, about the challenges of the penal system in Louisiana. To be honest, it felt like being in a John Grisham novel and I was hooked on his every word.

His anecdotes set up what then unfolded as a quite life changing immersion the following week, in Alabama, which I wrote about here recently. And, without re-visiting some of the heavy issues which sit at the heart of why so many young black men continue to face injustices in America, I’ve reflected that part of the compelling nature of talking to Matt that weekend was not only down to his commitment to pursue justice, plying his trade as a writer, but in how he authentically and calmly went about understanding the different perspectives and forming his arguments in a way that, again, contrasts so radically to the way in which the country’s politicians appear to be going about their work.

Taken up as I was by the sensory overload that New Orleans simply is, I cannot recall feeling so at ease and in step anywhere else I’ve travelled to in America. Shaped over generations by a cultural DNA of sharing, of resilience – in the face of events such as Hurricane Katrina – and a genetically rich and spiritual love for music, it was (and I am sure it is not this simplistic, but I don’t care) it was a window into a form of social utopia.

Granted, there are other places in the world where these characteristics, this ‘state’, is no doubt mirrored. My whimsical memories will remain just that. What is so tragic to me is how many worlds apart from even just a diluted down slice of what I’m describing are so many other versions of the country’s society right now.

This post won’t help any of that. All I know is that if anyone is waiting for the evolutional arc of men to somehow take hold in a way that redefines, in a way that recognizes equity, power, compassion and humanity – if that is what we want to see, then the true changemakers amongst us are not anytime soon going to be the country’s political leaders.

No doubt that sweeping generalization does a dis-service to many in politics. Again, I don’t really care. And, I am absolutely sure that, as an alternative, placing hordes of Southern Decadence-parading men, dressed in tight-fitting shorts and draped in rainbow livery, into political positions of power, would also result in a fair share of issues and challenging times.

But I know who I’d vote for.

Time for a drink? A NOLA special – a “White Negroni” with Suze and Lillet Blanc.