Can we put the civil back in civil society?

Can we put the civil back in civil society?

‘Why do we scream at each other? This is what it sounds like, when doves cry’. Prince

The culture wars, from Brexit to Trump and beyond, have driven deep wedges between different sections of society. We now communicate on cultural and political issues with the caps lock PERMANENTLY ON. This is most obviously played out in the snake pit of social media, but it can also result in a cab driver screaming at a bicyclist (me). We seem to operate on a very short fuse or in many cases on no fuse at all. We blow up in each other’s faces.

Whether social media has caused this or whether it just provides the perfect forum for abuse is tough to say.

I remember when we first came back to London having lived in Asia for eight years, being struck by the latent anger that everyone seemed to carry about with them. Asia is quite different, and people don’t tend to lose their shit in a microsecond. If you start screaming at people out East then their reaction is generally no reaction and if you are screaming at them to get something done, then good luck, because you’ll get nothing. Unfortunately, the anger I noticed in London on my return is still there, but now I just take it for granted.

Perhaps social media has jacked us all up to screaming pitch, but I wonder if there is any way we can disagree with a little more courtesy.

If you go back to my second Little London Life blog titled ‘Hey Londoners: Be better’, I was talking about something similar.

It’s embarrassing to admit that there are many people in my part of London who I meet and interact with on a regular basis, but about whom I know absolutely nothing. I may well see them more often than I see my friends, but I don’t even know their names. It works like this.

 Perhaps you’ve found a café that sells a decent flat-white close to your office, you generally get served by the same bloke who becomes ‘your barista guy’. You are starting to behave like an aloof millionaire not wanting to interact with the servants – despite only having £10 in your bank account to last you to pay day. You are morphing into that person you hate, the one who is unpleasant to waiters.

I ended the piece by saying: Be better, be courteous.

Recently, I was listening to Politics on the couch, a podcast by Rafael Behr and he came up with an interesting analogy. Global warming has heated the seas and when the water becomes too warm, corals will expel the algae living in their tissues causing the coral to turn completely white. It’s called coral bleaching and the coral will likely die. Our public discourse, and yes, I am thinking of President Trump, is now so heated that it’s bleaching out our ability to have civil conversation.

I may profoundly disagree with your politics and you with mine, but we have to find a way to have a conversation without screaming at each other. When you scream nobody is listening and the culture war wedge is driven that little bit deeper into our already divided society.

It may seem incredibly old fashioned but courtesy and civility lie at the heart of a decent society. Why do we scream at each other? Let’s talk instead.

Blasting guns from a Thames barge

Blasting guns from a Thames barge

It was the kind of email I would have deleted in a microsecond in normal times. A scrappy piece of marketing bollox that found its way to my already crammed email in-box suggesting I shoot guns from a boat on the Thames.

Whoever sent me the ‘Clay pigeon shooting fun day on the Thames’ which promises guns, instructors, clays and beer probably broke GDPR restrictions. Not really the thing I could imagine myself signing up to given I have a deep loathing of guns of any kind. If this was meant to be targeted marketing, it missed the bullseye by a mile.

But wait a minute, (brain becomes feverish due to lack of activity) they’re offering bacon rolls on arrival and hold on, we’re in complete lockdown. Have these charlatans found a way that I can legally take a trip on a Thames sailing barge, blast a 12 bore over the side and drink beer for three hours? Well, of course the answer to those questions is no, no and no.

Close scrutiny reveals that the fun day is planned for May of this year and the beer and guns are not a cocktail that’s allowed to mix. Damn spoilsports they’re also depriving me of a ‘hot fork buffet lunch’ (not entirely sure what that is) while taking a breather from terrorising other boats  and wildlife just beyond the Thames Barrier and all for just £299 plus VAT. Now what am I doing in May? Looks at blank diary. Where’s the sign-up sheet?

All the things I love are shut

All the things I love are shut

Here are some of them:

  • Ronnie Scott’s Club
  • 606 Club
  • Tate Britain
  • My gym
  • Franco Manca (Victoria Branch)
  • Brixton Ritzy
  • Banh Banh (Brixton)
  • Natural History Museum
  • Clapham Picture House
  • St John’s Smith Square

Don’t worry this is no anti-lockdown, anti-vax, Bill Gates and 5G Networks control the world rant, it’s just me listing and missing what I love. Make no mistake I’ll be rolling up my sleeve to receive a vaccine as soon as one is on offer.

I’ve lived in central London for most of my life because I love it. I’ve always felt sorry for those who were forced to live in town, hated it, but had to do so because of their job. Then I’d say well at least you’ve got live music, theatre, museums to which many would reply well I don’t go to them much anyway. Now I hear several of my friends and colleagues are moving out of town because they’re working from home and will be for the foreseeable future. And those who had three-hour daily commutes are spared that grind and can remain rural. Covid has put rocket boosters on remote working and we’ll be living with the consequences for many years, many of which are not all bad.

As for me, will I be moving to the countryside? Not a chance. I like to take trips out of town on a weekend but come Sunday evening it’s time to head back to civilisation. The problem is of course that civilisation as I know and like it is pretty much closed.

First bike ride of 2021

I’ve just come back from my first bike ride of 2021. A 17K spin around Pimlico, Victoria, Hyde Park, Oxford Street, Chancery Lane, the City, over Blackfriars Bridge and home to the Oval. I’ve never seen London so empty, which is a big fat lie as it was just as empty in March when I was doing the same ride albeit in more pleasant early Spring weather. Despite there being virtually no cars, I still manged to give a Black Cab driver apoplexy with him shaking his fist at me for reasons I’m a little hazy about. One of the things he probably hates are all the new cycle lanes that have popped up all over town. They are a godsend to us two wheelers and another unexpected Covid bonus, though that’s not a view often shared by the four-wheel community. You can now pedal safely up Park Lane which used to feel like joining an F1 starting grid.

Low-traffic neighbourhood

We now live in a new low-traffic neighbourhood which means our streets have become virtually pedestrianised. I see families with very young kids pedalling around in safety in a way that could never have happened before. Once again car drivers don’t much like the look of LTNs, but to me they are another bit of lockdown luck. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not anti-car, I don’t own one, but we use Zip cars on a regular basis.

I always detest January and February; they seem to holdout so little chance for fun. This year more so than ever. Mrs Preen is engaged in dry January which always seems such a poor month to stay off the booze. I’ll be endeavouring not to drink during the week but may get on the outside of the good stuff over the weekend.

This seems rather a bleak post to start the New year, but with vaccines ready to be jabbed into our arms things will hopefully improve and perhaps 2021 will be a Happy New Year even if it takes a little time for the happiness to arrive. I’m sat here waiting for London to wake up once again.

‘Holy Joe’ a charity song for the homeless

‘Holy Joe’ a charity song for the homeless

A bunch of musicians, not sure if that’s the right collective noun, who are also mates of mine have released a song called ‘Holy Joe’ to raise money for the homeless.

I wrote the lyrics and I’m hoping with a little arm twisting on my part you might be persuaded to open your purses and wallets and direct a bit of your hard earned in Joe’s direction. If you’d like to cut to the chase, skip the rest of the story, and hear the song just click here. That’s fine with me.

Just before coronavirus hit, I’d started writing songs with an old chum of mine. His name is Simon Webb. He’s conducted the Cats orchestra, was the musical director for The Who’s Tommy when it appeared in the West End, and scored and played the music for Sir Nicholas Hytner’s celebrated Royal National Theatre production of Henry V. On occasions he can be found playing keyboards in deafening rock bands.

For reasons best known to himself he said he fancied writing some songs with me. I sent him some lyrics which by my own admission were mostly terrible, but Holy Joe had something about it. It’s a simple song about a homeless man I’d seen drifting around the streets near where I live in London.

Here’s a snippet:

My name is Joe, Little Joe Monroe

No one asks, no one says hello

I’m just another drifter, just another drifter in the snow.

Simon wrote some beautiful music that perfectly complements the words and there we were with a lovely song, unsure what the hell to do with it.

It was staring us in the face for weeks, before we finally realised it would make a perfect Christmas song and a fine way to raise money for the Joes and Janes of this world who are destitute.

Time and talent

Because of the pandemic, musicians, actors, bar staff, waiters and in fact everybody involved in the night-time economy have had a dreadful year. Many are suffering right now, but only in extreme cases does their suffering match the suffering of those who live on the street.

Simon started putting together a pretty sophisticated demo of the song and sent it to the musicians he regularly uses for his projects. Despite some of them having a tough year, they all agreed to give their time and talent for free.

Lockdown meant they couldn’t all get together in a room to record the song, so they recorded their individual parts at home and sent their musical brilliance to Simon who wove the whole thing together like a wonderful musical tapestry.

It sounds like making the record that way is incredibly easy, but trust me it’s not. I got Simon to explain how it all works but he started talking about musical stems, digital audio workstations, deverb, gating and logic and frankly I got a little lost.

Donate and share

To finish, if you like the song please donate what you can and share the link with your friends on social media. Every penny will go to a homeless charity. Early in the new year we will divvy up and let everyone know where the money has been placed.

Please make a donation here: https://www.justgiving.com/crowdfunding/holyjoe

You can also listen on Spotify.

Want to know more about the band?

 The Spiderhawks

Robert Hart is the singer. He is currently fronting Manfred Mann’s Earth Band and has toured with Bad Company and The Jones Gang, the group run by Faces tub thumper Kenney Jones.

Guitar player Jay Stapley’s credits include Roger Waters, Mike Oldfield, Scott Walker and Shakin’ Stevens, but I like him best because he played guitar on perhaps the finest British film: Withnail and I.

Drummer John Trotter sent his drum part all the way from Australia where he now lives. John has worked with Robbie Williams, Hot Chocolate, Cliff Richard, The Corrs, Georgie Fame, Ruby Turner, The Three Degrees, Boney M and The Platters.

Sax player Al Stewart has worked with Tom Robinson, Cliff Richard, George Michael and Bert Weedon (Google that name kids).

Pete Jagger played the harmonica. He’s a singer and guitar player who tours extensively playing his own brand of folk, blues and ragtime.

Steve Stapley and Lynda Hayes provided the backing vocals. Lynda has sung with Barry Manilow, Nik Kershaw, George Michael, Lloyd Cole and the Commotions, Meatloaf and many others. Steve is a gifted singer songwriter. He sang in the rock choir on Evita for the film and soundtrack album and has worked with Sir Tim Rice.

John Gordon played bass, is one of the funniest people on the planet, and has worked with Alan Price and Wanda Jackson among many others.

Please make a donation here: https://www.justgiving.com/crowdfunding/holyjoe