We drove to Newcastle last Wednesday night through the snow. Occasionally we reached 40 miles per hour. Just once the snow blew so wildly and incessantly across the A1(M) that we had to stop blindly in the middle of the road, with the hazard lights on, hoping the lorries would continue to trundle past obliviously. My vital work in Newcastle went ahead, with only a couple of absentees. My pleasurable music-making in Chester-le-Street was abandoned due to the weather, leaving us with a couple of days trudging through the world heritage site of Durham, impressed by the cathedral and the narrow streets of timeless learning and the green-tinged celebratory students and the obligatory underdressed Saturday night cavorters. We also took in a student production of My Fair Lady (uncut), featuring a number of unwittingly hilarious thespians. Imagine my excitement to find, in the well-stocked bookshop, not only Will Self’s latest oeuvre finally in paperback, but also a collection by David Foster Wallace (“Brief Interviews with Hideous Men”). I’ve just read a 30-page story called “The Depressed Person”, circular and hypersensitive, with footnotes, addictive and funny and depressing at the same time. All therapists should read it!

The thaw is underway in Wakefield. Driving back from Durham this morning felt like returning to the soft south, no proper snow, just grey and damp. A week of choir and jazz workshop and youth theatre and ballet piano and other vital tasks to look forward to. And listening to some new music. Recommendations:

(1) Steve Lehman Octet on Radio 3’s Jazz Now (via iplayer)

(2) We Here Now – Shabaka Hutchings’ compilation of current young London jazz.


poems 2 1 3 4 7

I found a book of poems by Australian poet Jordie Albiston called “Euclid’s Dog” – all based on various mathematical algorithms. These are mine, following the Lucas number sequence (2-1-3-4-7) – but much less haiku-like than hers. It helps to pass the time.

walking out – loudly – no

excuse really – please don’t mind me –

it’s just the jazz is so….so-so


doo bebop – doo – scooby

doo bebop – doo bebop a lula –

does my fockin’ ‘ead in bebop mate


I wonder – why – asunder

and awry – my powers plundered dry –

my temperaments my humours my absence gone


down under – untouched – resistant

impervious impermeable – up the gum tree –

with cross bare anchor hove axe ground


paint me – sweetheart – second

that emulsion – the surface is prepared –

some weatherdamaged man will know your innermost


not butter – margarine – can’t

believe it – noone thought it possible –

the old ennui the royal brie encore!


Council Watch!

I spent an interesting couple of hours this afternoon in the public gallery at County Hall in Wakefield, watching the monthly (ish) full meeting of the Wakefield Council (MDC) – democracy in action, as they say. Composition – 53 Labour, 7 Conservative, 2 Ukip, 1 Independent – so not much doubt on the outcome of any votes, regardless of the quality of debate. An impressive room, late-Victorian municipal grandeur, semi-circle of seats but not much consensus. Some very traditional procedural formalities (prayers, the ceremonial mace, a minute’s silence), and a clear sense of deference to “The Leader” (Peter Box, since 1998), who spoke always with authority and some dry humour. Rugby League (Featherstone, Trinity and Castleford) was mentioned with pride. Food banks, homelessness, and suicide (one in 8 of all deaths – 83% male) were spoken of with less pride, and eventually some passion appeared from Councillors Tully and Rowley, in response to the combative (if repetitive) Conservative leader Nadeem Ahmed (the only non-white councillor, out of 63). Mr Ahmed is up for re-election in May 2018 in the Wakefield South ward.

Once various reports had been nodded through (including a 175-page City Centre Urban Design Framework Planning Document – nothing to discuss there), there was a debate on a motion about Homelessness, which filled half an hour, but offered nothing but anodyne good intentions.

So, what was that all about? Is that all there is? This monthly meeting may be just an opportunity for rubber-stamping and inconsequential political point-scoring, but what does it say about local democracy? I assume the real work of the Council and the Councillors goes on elsewhere, in other even less glamorous meeting rooms, and in “The Cabinet”. But what does a Metropolitan District Council like Wakefield actually control these days? In the old days, the local council was responsible for housing and education and transport and youth work, as well as the environment and social work – so many of these activities have been privatised and de-regulated and outsourced, and the Council’s funds have been remorselessly cut. I wonder what the 63 councillors feel they can achieve, what the limitations are that they operate under, and how prepared they are to acknowledge those limits.

I’ve just started reading a book – “Who Stole The Town Hall? (The end of local government as we know it)” by Peter Latham – perhaps then I shall have more context. In the meantime, as the government inevitably crumbles and collapses, we can hope for a Corbynite Labour future, and mobilising the energies and potentials of the many, and not just the few! (That’s a peroration, I think – this week’s new word.)


Il Cimitero Acattolico di Roma


All now turn outwards, night is omnivorous.
Great revolutions are menacing. See children inspired.

Antiquity nearby threatens ominous noodling. I obey,
Going round a man so casually insistent.

Any new thing often negates its opposite.
Grating retro amusements mask such coruscating insight.





Last week I spent a week working in an expensive private school in Wimbledon. This week I’m doing the same work, but in a church hall in Stockton-on-Tees. Geographically 280 miles apart. I’m staying in the Gresham area of Middlebrough, rows of terraced houses, some boarded up, some clearly empty, some half-demolished and left to rot, and some hosting Middlesbrough’s asylum seekers and other incomers. There are very few cars parked on the streets at night. The centres of both Middlesbrough and Stockton have some fine contemporary paving and mosaics, fountains, and poetry on sculpural features – evidence of money spent on “regeneration” – but are distinguished mostly by empty shops, boarded-up frontages, people left behind. Then tonight I went in search of Pizza Express, and found it, at a massive shopping centre, car parks, shops, cinema, more car parks. I feel like the town centre should be the heart of activity, public space, where people work and live and play, but I realise perhaps I’ve been left behind. These malls are where you find the populations now avoiding the town centres – the shops and restaurants and car parks are full, daytime and evening, and the air of misery and cliched northern deprivation is dispersed. So the question is, is my desire for a vibrant town centre now simply a sad nostalgic hangover, a sign of my age, or a sign of my youth in the 1970s? Shopping malls are not public spaces, they are private estates devoted to consumerism and capitalism, but if they are the future, how do we find the seeds of community and resistance there?

I went to a poetry event at Teesside University on Monday night, poems constructed from verbatim quotes from Durham coal miners over the past 200 years, shedding light on their lives and work and communities, now vanished along with the mines. If you were to interview the workers of the shopping malls, describing their lives and routines and experiences, what poetry might ensue? And what community?


Hope and Resistance

Goodness me, it feels difficult to adjust to this backward-facing world, where a 13:12 vote is described as “the people have spoken”, and the winning candidate in an election received 3 million less votes than the loser. There are voices to follow, to inspire resistance, clinging on to what used to be universally accepted universal values – human rights, individual rights for all individuals as humans, regardless of anything else – Paul Mason, Pankaj Mishra, Laurie Penny, Owen Hatherley, Beatrix Campbell – but resistance and solidarity has to happen in everyday life too, wherever we might be.

Meanwhile musical inspiration remains too – in “jazz”, anything related to the veterans Henry Threadgill and Wadada Leo Smith, anything on the Pi and Firehouse labels, anything involving the young(ish) progressives Mary Halvorson, Ingrid Laubrock, Taylor Ho Bynum, Jonathan Finlayson, and particularly Matana Roberts.

Resist and survive.


Reading list

Following in the spirit of the inimitable Meredith Debonnaire ( ), I shall offer a quick rundown of what I’ve been reading over the last month while working away.

Paul Mason – Postcapitalism : much more analytical of economic trends in a post-Marxist way than I expected, very thought-provoking – he sees the increasing automisation of work as an opportunity to create a fairer organisation of society, to question what the function of paid work is, to institute a citizens basic wage as a starting step to free people from wage labour/exploitation – that the exponential growth in information networks will lead to something beyond what we know as capitalism. Lots of good stuff in there – but even back in the 80s, people were saying that we would soon be liberated from full-time work by advances in technology, and like so many things, backwards has been the direction of travel.

Nina Power – One Dimensional Woman : arguing against populist mainstream so-called feminism based on consumerism and self-exploitation – and for the need to see wider societal struggles around equality, liberation for all, against capitalism, a wider intellectual view. Bracing.

Stieg Larsson – The Girl Who Played With Fire : second in the series, like the first, I read it addictively in about three days – 560 pages. And then I need to make myself wait to read the third one. Slightly like junk food, a thriller for right-on people on the left!

Ooi Kee Beng/Wan Hamidi Hamid – Young and Malay : doing my local research – a book of young people writing about their experiences growing up in Malaysia, where society is increasingly organised and structured and limited on racial grounds by government decree. These young Malays see that it’s not really helping anyone, they feel that what was originally a fairly relaxed multi-racial state sixty years ago is becoming more segregated and less tolerant, to everyone’s disadvantage. I hadn’t realised how institutionalised these distinctions are here. If you’re born ethnically Malay, you are by definition a muslim, and that is becoming less liberal, from above. The contrast with the Chinese and Indian elements is striking and quite peculiar. Similar issues in Singapore and Indonesia too. I can’t quite see how the embrace of western-style technology and consumerist culture fits in.

Laurie Penny – Unspeakable Things : totally inspiring book on women and men, feminism, sexuality, from an impassioned but clear perspective. Lots of issues I feel I was fired up about in the 80s (and since, as a parent/human) – she writes very personally, but with a broader perspective. Everyone should read this, but particularly men, with an open mind and a willingness to listen!

Sunjeev Sahota – The Year of the Runaways : another addictive novel, three young Indian men, illegal immigrants in Sheffield, and a young devout Sikh woman from Croydon – their stories interweave, often disturbing and tragic, or distressing, ultimately on some level inspiring, very involving. The book has a really naff cover (gold-embossed title) and a quote from the Daily Mail, not renowned for their sympathy to outsiders, coming over here and taking those jobs that noone wants to do. The collision of rigid stratified societies/cultures with western so-called liberalism.

John Gray – The Soul of the Marionette : John Gray is an antidote to Paul Mason or Slavoj Zizek or Jeremy Corbyn even, perhaps to anyone involved in politics at all – one of his main points is always that is no such thing as progress, or society evolving in a positive way – that even attempting to build a better society is doomed to make things worse probably – we are better off accepting the innate weaknesses/faults/failings of humans and getting on as best as we can. That all sounds a bit miserable I know, this is only a short book and took a little while to get going – philosophically it’s about freedom and free will, whether ultimately there really is any, and whether ultimately that’s important or not, and how that affects how we live. Why should we aspire to live a good life, what might that mean. The illusion that apparently endless developments in knowledge might lead to a correspondingly better life. He likes to knock down illusions, for what he might call realism. Perhaps this sounds negative, but it’s bracing, and not uninspiring.

As I type, with the ipod on shuffle, I’ve heard some Astor Piazzolla, some Iain Ballamy, some Jonathan Richman, Breeders, Patti Smith – also all highly recommended!