Niki Lauda R.I.P.

I’m not a fan of motor racing. it doesn’t do much for me, and the last time I actually took genuine interest in a race was the one in which Lewis Hamilton had the chance to win his first World Championship (and because I had to go collect my younger stepson from his mate’s, I missed the moment he won it by seconds).

But I remember the crash that nearly killed Niki Lauda, that burned him unmercifully. And I remember that he was back behind the wheel before that season ended. You don’t forget that sort of thing. Respect is too small a word for the man who can do that.



**** Off And Die

A Br**it Party leaflet has just been shoved through my letterbox by the Post Office, ahead of Thursday European Elections, demanding I vote for them to save Br**it. I voted Remain.

For the first time in my life, I have deliberately spat on something.

I am putting the leaflet in the bin rather than the paper-recycling pile. I wouldn’t want anything to escape from it and contaminate paper that might have something decent printed on it.

**** Farage and the snake he slithered in on.

Thirty Years

I am a Manchester United fan and proud of it.Both as a Club and a City, our most intense rivalry is with Liverpool. So much so that at the moment I am willing on our local rivals to win the Premier League, rather than the Scousers.

But all that animosity fades away to nothingness in one area. That is Hillsborough, and wanted happened there thirty years ago today.

Like those of my parent’s generation, for whom it was the Kennedy Assassination, I will never forget where I was when I learned about Hillsborough. I will never forget putting on my car radio, an hour after the match, unknown to me, had been abandoned, and the first thing I heard was silence. No-one was speaking. All I could hear was the crowd. I had an instant, sick feeling that something had gone horrbly wrong. It was the same sound that I had heard when I’d put on the TV for the European Cup Final at the Heysel.

Rivalry was forgotten then. These were people I understood, people who but for their affiliation were me, with a different scarf, different badges.

Thirty years on, the loss remains undiminished, an awful disruption to lives and loves. Justice has come to the 96 and their families, but even now the bastard who was responsible, who allowed it to happen, has escaped conviction. Given thirty years, he may end up escaping permanently, without suffering the least punishment for his craven stupidity.

Thirty years today. Our hearts are on the ground for our brothers and sisters.

Oh, not again… Ranking Roger RIP

Any time two people who have meant something in my life die within a couple of days of each other, I flash back to that awful year of 2016, when at times it seemed we couldn’t go even a day without the cannonball impact of another loss. We lost Scott Walker only a couple of days and now the news arrives that Roger Charlery, aka Ranking Roger, has passed away. Once again it’s that bastard killer, cancer, coupled with brain tumours.

Ranking Roger was an essential part of The Beat, that Birmingham band that arrived in late 1979, in the immediate wake of the ska revival boom instituted by Coventry’s The Specials. The band top tenned with a sinuous, wriggly version of the Smokey Ronbinson classic “Tear of a Clown”, and went on to a three album career with a string of brilliant singles, including three other top 10 hits.

The band’s commercial impetus didn’t last that long, and by 1981 their singles were struggling to even reach the top thirty. There was a kind of musical schizophrenia at times: second album Wha’ppen? took their reggae/dance fusion into rootsier directions but third and final album, Special Beat Service, recorded with an expanded line-up that introduced a piano into their sound, was more bright and poppy, with a cold, formal production that didn’t suit their style, and with fewer great songs.

The obituries are describing Roger as a vocalist, but properly his role in the Beat was as a toaster. Dave Wakelin was the singer, and Roger interjected in and around his lines, in the classic form of the Jamaican MC style toasters. The contrast between his and Wakelin’s voice made The Beat’s sound unique.

I saw the band live once, at Manchester’s Apollo Theatre, and they were brilliant. After half a dozen straight performances, the band then began to slyly and subtly extend each song, effortlessly eliding from the ebullient song into a twisted, loose and darker sounding dub version, there on stage. I loved it. The second time I went to see The Beat, a year later, at the same venue, I arrived to find the Theatre dark and closed, the gig cancelled, no forewarning, no explanation given. I’m afraid I asumed it was cancelled because not enough tickets were sold. Remembering the performance I’d seen, I had been looking forward to the gig eagerly.

Roger went on to have a number 1 single with Pato Banton, but whilst it was good to see a goood guy do well, “Pato and Roger a go Talk” couldn’t for me be held up against his stuff with The Beat.

If you want to hear an example of Roger’s style, listen to this clip of the band in their earliest days, the 12″ version of their second single, “Hands off… she’s mine”. And regret. Dammit, he was seven years younger than me. That’s no age.


PS, forget to mention, the day Maggie Thatcher resigned, I couldn’t wait to get home, put on Stand Down Margaret and skank around my living room in joy.

Scott Walker R.I.P.

I won’t pretend that I know anything about the music of Noel Scott Engel, aka Scott Walker above the commercial successes, the Walker Brothers’ singles, the solo singles that charted. I’ve never even tried to move beyond this extended handful of songs, and especially not the experimental, ‘difficult’ albums of the long back half of his career and life.

Scott Walker, as one-third in number of but of far greater significance in The Walker Brothers recorded that incredible trio of singles, ‘Make it easy on yourself’ (lead by John Maus, aka John Walker), ‘My Ship Is Coming In’, and ‘The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine Anymore’. Ballads all, middle of the road, your mother’s music, yes, but each of them going deep into love, and the shapes it takes. And concluding with a masterpiece of creating space and sensation out of sparsity, and that big voice.

For that alone Scott Walker became immortal, and I salute him in the passing of his mortal frame. Another good man gone.

To die on Nanga Parbat

The bodies of British climber Tom Ballard and his partner Daniele Nardi have been found on Nanga Parbat – “Killer Mountain” – in Pakistan, a fortnight after they went missing. That they had died was obvious days ago, but the search for the bodies went on, as it should. The bodies will be hard to recover, but recovered they will be. The poignancy about Ballard’s death is that his mother, Alison Hargeaves, also died in the great mountains, descending K2 in 1991.

There was controversy then about Hargeaves’ death, about whether, as a mother, she had the right to risk herself, and there will be controversy about Ballard, for risking being the second of his family to lose his life this way.

I am no climber, norwere my parents, exccept in a very limited, scrambling fashion. But I am the son of parents who looked to the high hills, who read avidly the books of mountaineers, and though I never read more than a fraction of their books, I know something of how climbers and mountaineers think.

And much as I regret the tragedy, and the misery of these two men’s families, they died doing what they lived for. All walking and climbing is, in greater or lesser part, a test of yourself. Can I do this? Am I strong enough, agile enough, athletic enough, to go where only a fraction of people even want to? Am I fit to stand in the high places, the steep places, the places that only will and effort can take you to?

Alison Hargeaves and Tom Ballard stand a million miles above me, but in my small and personal way I am still a part of their world, and I mourn and celebrate them, and I say, do not ever tell them they should not have done that. Not now, not in the future, not to anyone who goes out there. Never say never to them. Only ourselves can say that Never, and for ourselves alone.

Re-Planning a Lakeland Expedition

Maybe (again)

Yesterday, a temperature of 20 degrees Celsius was recorded in Britain, in winter, for the first time ever.

Today, that record has been broken.

The skies are an unbroken blue, albeit with a tinge of white haze around the horizons. I was hot coming in to work and since my shift started I have been sitting here in a short-sleeved polo shirt, and about five minutes ago I was feeling unconfortably stuffy.

This is Britain in 2019: everything is broken.

Of course, I’m not complaining in the short term. This is nice weather and I’m happy to revel in it. On Sunday, one of my neighbours was out in shorts, sunbathing outside his front door. People continue to deny there’s something wrong with the Earth’s climate.

And the weather, if it can be relied upon and there isn’t a backlash in the immediate future, is tempting me to a day out. And when I say day out, I usually mean a Lake District Expedition: is Patterdale possible yet on current steamer schedules?

The answer is yes: depart Pooley Bridge 12.50, return 15.35, with thirty five minutes stopover at Glenridding. Not great, but feasible. But I can get a bus from Penrith at 11.20 outside the Rail Station, arriving Pooley Bridge 11.50. There’s a much bigger delay on the return, with the only bus leaving Pooley at 17.25 and returning to Penrith Rail Station for 18.09.

And I can do the train journey as two singles (08.47 from Manchester Piccadilly, 18.50 from Penrith), total £27.80 this Saturday coming. I can save £1 by going on Saturday week, but if I book for four weeks in advance, I can reduce the train fares to £21.00, by taking a slightly later train from Penrith.

Hmm. This is doable.

The problem is daylight: it’s starting to be light after 5.00pm now, but it still makes any outing at this time of year a bit too like a Birthday week trip. And if the skies are going to be this clear, and bright, I want all the access to daylight I can get. Nevertheless, with a, say 5.30pm cut-off point for daylight, I’d just about be on the bus at Pooley Bridge when the views vanish.

I wonder if the weather’s going to last…