Global Crisis

‘How much is that brainbox in the window?’

Come on now...who doesn't love shopping?

Come on now…who doesn’t love shopping?

I shall scream at the next person who says Christmas has become too commercialized! The other platitude we hear at this time of year is that we have all become “mindless consumers”, drawn to the glittering shopping malls like moths to the light from a plastic torch. Surely it is shopping that keeps us together, gives us power, justifies our existence? Isn’t life a struggle to reach a point where we no longer have to worry about where our next plate of beans on toast is coming from? And if we try hard enough we can all get there, can’t we?

Who's the guy with the fake beard?

Who’s the guy with the fake beard?

Brazil’s ex-president Lula said recently that the aim of his Workers’ Party is not to make the poor richer by making the rich poorer. No way, José! Lula wants to make everybody richer. Pure genius, you have to admit. By “richer” I presume he means giving people more spending power. In other words, more money. And the big shop of the year is Christmas, of course. Which means driving lessons for Dwayne, a fortnight in the Algarve for Courtney and a big new telly for granny.

Paradoxically, perhaps, this end-of-the-year spending spree has made me reflect on 2014 as a year of myth shattering – a time when the money-God has not fared well. In fact, the authors of 2 of my 3 books of the year would be put up against a wall and shot by members of the Capitalist Billionaires’ Club if they had their way. Dare I say that over the past 12 months there has been a bit of a revolution in the way some of us think about life, the universe and property ladders. So, without further ado, here are my fab reading choices of 2014, in no particular order:

"So you're telling me that inequality is part of the deal?"

“So you’re telling me that inequality is part of the deal?”

1) Thomas Piketty: Capital in the Twenty-First Century This is the French economist who tossed an ideological bomb into the swish corridors of big business and somehow got away with it. It takes guts to make such devastating claims about how our economic systems are rigged. Myths like this: there is no mechanism in capitalism for creating equality, as many of us naively believed. The profit motive is not philanthropic – how could it be? The notion that wealth trickles down from the creamy, luxurious top to the grey, muddy bottom is cobblers. The only solution, according to our Thomas? Start taking huge amounts of cash from the very wealthy (money they will never be able to spend) and invest it in education, health and job-creation schemes. I mean, what is this guy on? I hope he uses a police escort.

What Piketty is arguing, based on a mass of historical and economic evidence, is that wealth accumulates and becomes concentrated in the hands of – yes, you guessed – the wealthy. It is inevitable, therefore, that inequality does not diminish, but grows. And grows. Even Scrooge would have to admit that in the last 30 years the incomes of the wealthiest have shot up into the stratosphere, whereas the incomes of you, me and Bob Cratchit have stagnated. Or worse.

"Merry Christmas! What right have you to be merry? You're poor enough."

“Merry Christmas! What right have you to be merry? You’re poor enough.” Scrooge chides poor Bob Cratchit

Recently a Brazilian oil magnate involved in the country’s biggest ever corruption scandal admitted illegally salting away $20 million in a Swiss bank account, money that was “skimmed” from inflated contracts. The miscreant has now agreed to pay back a total of $100 million. My question is: just what exactly did he intend to do with all that money? Nothing, is my guess, because having it hidden away was the thrill: a secret stash of filthy lucre. And this in a country like Brazil, where 40% of the population live on less than $300 a month. Shameless.

Maybe I’ve been deluding myself. Maybe I was a fool to think that “equality” was something to be worked towards. Nevertheless, the gap between the “haves” and the “have nots” will only stop widening when enough people stand up and shout. People like Piketty.

spend spend spend...that's what it's all about

spend spend spend…that’s what it’s all about

2) Paul Verhaeghe: What About Me? The Struggle for Identity in a Market-Based Society What is wrong with us? Why do we feel lonely, guilty, inadequate, unlovable? I used to feel the same…until I let this Belgian professor of psychoanalysis soothe my worried mind. Now I understand the current “happiness crisis”. It stems from the way we judge ourselves: if we are not financially “successful”, we are losers. Over the past 30 years the pressure has intensified for us to “perform” economically as individuals. We have all become “consultants”, trying to sell ourselves on the open market we are born into. We have an identity crisis because we cannot remove the mask, the “marketing” face we put on every day to win approval. All our institutions – schools, hospitals, libraries – are now “businesses”, and making money has become sacred. We are mere pawns on the Monopoly board of life.

And, according to Verhaeghe, these anxieties have led to a worrying increase in psychological problems: self-harm, depression, low self-esteem and social phobias. When we allow market forces to judge our “performance” in life, we are bound to become anxious, even paranoid. In the neoliberal circus we are trapped in, there is little room for spirituality – a space that allows for self-awareness on very different terms. This has led to the blossoming of movements such as ‘Mindfulness’, a meditation-based philosophy which tries to bring our damaged souls back to life so that we can appreciate the small miracles that happen to us every day. But as usual, of course, the culprit for this psychological mess is rampant, free-market profiteering: the only game in town, the only reality we have in front of us. Adam Smith – I hope you are listening, you nincompoop!

It's time to stop consuming and be mindful...

It’s time to stop consuming and be mindful…

And finally…

3) John Gray, The Silence of Animals: On Progress and Other Modern Myths How about this – life is utterly meaningless! An absurdist farce, a sick joke! Surely not…surely there is order in this chaos, surely human beings are still evolving, there is a master plan and the name is “progress”. Erm, well – not according to Mr Gray, English philosopher and retired professor of European thought at the London School of Economics. You see, our ancestors believed in religion – the purpose of life was to be “saved”, to get into heaven. Then came Darwin. After that we put our faith in Science: advances in technology would keep making the world a better place to live in. So, the question is, are we – you and me – better examples of the human species today, after all this “progress”? I can’t see it, myself.

John Gray: progress is a myth

John Gray: progress is a myth

The problem is, we have swapped our faith in God for faith in the “progress” of civilization, as if “improvement for all” was somehow built into the future – a place we will surely reach someday. Gray exposes this kind of mythology as connected to the naive hopes of modern-day “humanists”. According to Gray, “humanists believe that humanity improves along with the growth of knowledge, but the belief that the increase of knowledge goes with advances in civilization is an act of faith”. So we are back to a kind of religious belief that things can only get better.

And all this because, as humans, we kid ourselves that we are morally superior to animals, whereas in fact, “human uniqueness is a myth inherited from religion”. So, if there is no heaven and hell, no progress, no pride in being human, what the devil is the point of it all? Why are we here? Well, one thing we are here for is to learn from John Gray’s book and stop deluding ourselves.

We humans are just animals after all

We are just animals after all

Only when we face up to the meaninglessness of life will we be able to get together communally and make the best of it, not live as atomised individuals forever struggling to get ahead in the rat race.

Phew! What a lot of food for thought! I hope you enjoyed the ride. Actually, I have my own philosophy of life. It’s simply this: never stop asking big questions, try to become better informed, and learn to love your fellow-humans as you learn to love yourself. Oh, and don’t forget to get your mum a lovely present at the shopping mall…a very small one, of course. How about a book token?

Categories: Books and Writers, Brazil, Global Crisis | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Passion, politics and personal hygiene in Brazil

Tiririca the clown says: "If elected I promise I will help all Brazilian families... especially mine"

Tiririca the clown says: “If elected I promise I will help all Brazilian families… especially mine”

Today is a big day in Brazil. More than 100 million people will toddle along to their local polling station to cast their precious electronic vote. Today, Brazil’s huge population will not just decide who the next president will be, they also have to choose senators, governors and representatives at a municipal and local level. For weeks, every strip of grassland next to the main roads has been cluttered with billboards, huge photographs of dozens of well-heeled contenders and their electronic numbers. There are no written messages on the pictures, apart from the subliminal and obvious “Vote for Me”, which goes without saying.

Having found myself caught up in all the excitement and, as an outsider, mystified by all these names, numbers and bland photographs, I naturally consulted my colleagues and students to discover how they were going to choose their next political leaders. To my chagrin I discovered that the vast majority of these “delegates” are unknown; anonymous faces with numbers to match. In fact, it wouldn’t be stretching the truth to suggest that many people will vote for the person who, from their photographic portrait, appears to be the most sincere and reliable. I won’t say “trustworthy” as Brazil has a shameful history (one which runs right up to the present) of corruption in politics at all levels, leading most voters to adopt a cynical attitude to the electoral proceedings. It looks like a case of “meet the new boss – same as the old boss”, as The Who’s Pete Townsend  aptly put it in his ironically titled song, Won’t Get Fooled Again.

That's Dilma the president at the top...but who are the rest?

That’s Dilma the president at the top…but who are the rest?

What a daft system! Surely nobody should be voting for someone they have never heard of. But then that is the nature of metropolitan politics where huge numbers of people live together and know next to nothing about how their city is run. It may sound idealistic, but wouldn’t it be great to get to know your candidate, to sit down and have a little chat? Only then would you know if this was the kind of person who best represents your opinions. Not only could you broach all those touchy subjects like poverty, education and corruption, you could get a feeling whether this candidate was understanding, humane, kind – somebody worthy of your vote. You could also check whether they have bad breath and expect you to pay for the drinks (obviously a no-brainer).

The biggest issue, as I see it, is how to make our societies fairer: how to engender more equality of wealth and opportunity. The simple solution – to tax the rich and give to the poor, Robin Hood-style, is surely way too simplistic. Wouldn’t that just make rich people not want to work anymore and, at the same time, make poor people lazy? Well, it depends. Like all political ideals, the answers lie somewhere deep in the darker realms of philosophy. The bigger question is: are we human beings basically good-hearted, sharing, caring creatures, or are we selfish individuals out to get everything we can for ourselves and our precious families? More to the point – shouldn’t all those candidates with the big beaming faces know the answer to these quandaries?

Hobbes: without state control you would be a brute

Hobbes: without state control you would be a brute

Of course they should! So, here’s the thing – all the candidates should be made to sit a philosophy exam and the results made public before the election. You see, I’m full of great ideas! But hang on a minute – do I know myself what the philosophers say about human nature? Well, erm, let me see…

Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679): Here we have a very influential English pessimist who wrote in his impressive tome Leviathan that human life would be “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short” without the powers that be keeping tight control on everybody. That’s because human beings have a natural tendency to fight with everybody else in the name of self-preservation. What Hobbes called “every man against every man” or what we call today, proverbially, “dog eat dog”. (Oh dear…not a good start!)

Jean-Jaques Rousseau (1712-1778) “Man was born free”, Rousseau famously proclaims, “and he is everywhere in chains.” Sounds familiar? Well, the Frenchman’s invention of the term “noble savage” might also ring a bell. But what does he mean? Well, unlike Hobbes, Rousseau is a bit of a romantic. He believes that in our true “natural” state, human beings do not know good and evil; in fact our ignorance of vice makes us unable to do bad things to others. Men and women are naturally peaceful and “passionate”. (Now this is more like it…sounds lovely!)

Adam Smith (1723-1790)

Adam Smith in Edinburgh: 'Just start up a business and everybody will be better off...honest!'

Adam Smith in Edinburgh: ‘Everybody is better off with Capitalism’

This Scottish economic philosopher has got a lot to answer for, my friends. He believed that yes, man is selfish, but that self-interest will actually benefit everybody else. Sounds dumb? Well, Smith argues in The Wealth of Nations that the creation and maintenance of business practices will benefit the whole of society, from the managing director to the cleaner who scrubs his floor. This is the thinking that spawned “neo-liberalism”, a free-market, no-holds-barred economic system which ultimately led to the chaotic global financial crisis we saw just a few years ago. Aggressive capitalism, Adam Smith-style, surely does not benefit everyone. How could it?

Karl Marx (1818-1883) My homeboy, in case you hadn’t guessed, this infamous German revolutionary believed that humans are naturally sociable “self-expressive animals who need one another to survive, but who come to fulfillment in that companionship over and above its social usefulness”, according to Marxist professor Terry Eagleton. Humans are political creatures, in the sense that we always have to organize ourselves and work together in order to produce the things we need. The problem is, in the advanced capitalist societies of today, little people don’t get a chance to voice their opinions or have the power to change the mighty economic system.

The very noble savage

The very noble savage

Which brings me back to the Brazilian elections today. Everyone I have spoken to here has very strong opinions about their beloved country. Brazilians are passionate about politics and have a wealth of ideas about how the country’s institutions need to change. How, for example, the cynicism of corrupt, selfish politicians can be traced back to a woefully underfunded education system which fails to enlighten schoolchildren about the crass limitations of consumerism and economic self-interest.

Luckily, being an ex-pat, I don’t have to vote today, but if I was Brazilian, I would be rooting for the candidate who regularly visited all the areas (including the very poor) of his or her constituency to actually speak with the people; to meet the voters – as many of them as humanly possible. That is true political representation. I would also be tempted to vote for someone who was stunningly attractive, of course – as long as they had read all three volumes of Das Kapital!

Categories: Brazil, Global Crisis, Great Minds | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Brazil’s winter of discontent…


Losing is no fun: a Brazilian fan feels the agony of another German goal

Losing is no fun: a Brazilian fan feels the agony of another German goal

An eerie calm has descended on the streets of Brazil – or at least my bit of it down here in sunny Porto Alegre. The World Cup may be a fast fading memory, but the scars haven’t quite healed. There is still a mood of bewilderment. The other day I met an elderly woman who doesn’t even follow football, and yet she told me she has the numbers 7 and 1 going around her brain like a curse (Brazil were hammered 7:1 by Germany in the semi-final). In Brazil, the number of the beast is no longer 666, but seven and one. Nowadays, no Brazilian would buy a car with 7 and 1 on the number plate, and you can bet no-one will gamble those numbers on the lottery.

But the war is over. Germany won and everyone has gone home. We all got patriotic for a few weeks and now we’re back to being global nobodies. We all imagined our blood was better than Johnny Foreigner’s blood and shouted it from the terraces, or from the safety of our living-room sofas. Global football tournaments are one of the only times when nations meet to do battle and the fans can put on their war paint and jump up and down like demented warriors. Of course, it’s not that long since real wars were commonplace. It’s only 500 years since the War of the Roses, for example, that glorious Yorkshire victory! Yes, the House of York (white rose) trampled the House of Lancaster (red rose) and I still have my white rose cufflinks to prove it.

Richard III had a few problems...he wasn't from Bradford

Richard III had a few problems…he wasn’t from Bradford

War or World Cup, men still love the chance to be macho and aggressive. But what happens when the fighting has stopped – what do men do when the war is over? According to Shakespeare, after the Wars of the Roses they started prettifying themselves to win invites into ladies’ chambers so they could try out their amorous talents. But not all men are made for love-making. If you are deformed and ugly, like Richard III, you cannot join in the passion and the poetry. Richard’s response was to avenge himself by killing all his rivals and crowning himself king. It was one way of dealing with his exclusion. But today, for us men who live in peaceful times, we can’t just pick up a sword and let fly: we have to be happy with the bedroom antics. It has led to what some people refer to as the “feminisation” of culture. Men are now more like women. So, the World Cup was a chance for us men to be tough guys again for a few weeks.

Yet more growth at what human cost?

Growth: the only solution in town?

But now Brazilians have more important things to consider. There is an election looming and the country is crying out for change. People are demanding more investment in education, healthcare and infrastructure. Like most economies, Brazil has taken a tumble and the “boom” years appear to be behind. What the politicians tell us is we need more “growth”. It’s funny. The solution always seems to be the same. The magic word is growth – all we need is more people spending and everything will be all right. Well, I agree with Professor Tim Jackson who, in his book Prosperity without Growth – economics for a finite planet, says that every society clings to a myth: in ours it is the myth of economic growth. “The days of spending money we do not have on things we do not need to impress people we do not care about are over”, says Tim. Or they should be.

Here is what all Brazilians should do: STOP. Stop for a few minutes every day. Turn off that stupid ‘Smart Phone’ and think. Reflect on your life. What are you doing with your precious time on earth? Do you just want to be richer and buy more stuff? Who are you when you are not at work? How much time do you have to grow as an individual? What are you doing for the planet?

I'm looking after Number One...that's me and my kids. Sod the rest of you!

I’m looking after Number One…that’s me and my kids. Sod the rest of you!

Most people will tell you that work and money are not so important for them: what comes first is the family. As if “the family” was the panacea for a perfect life. Well, I say STOP that as well! Stop thinking your family is more precious than mine, or any other. It’s another myth, I’m afraid. One that has been so successful ideologically that we dare not even question it. Believe me, it is not “natural” to dote on one’s family; it is “cultural” – and culture is always part of the broader economic system. The truth is that the “family unit” is a divisive little institution. Through our blind obsession with our own families we have simply stopped caring for anybody else in the wider community. Love stops at the front door of our house. It’s every family for itself – like every man for himself. Dog eat dog. Sad, but true.

No, my friends! Consumerism is a blind alley where you lose your soul. Increasing your buying power – the very thing everybody seems obsessed with – won’t make you any happier. What makes us happy is feeling good about ourselves, and we get that from generosity of spirit. Doing good things, helping others. Kindness.

Of course, in Yorkshire – under the shadow of the “glorious sun of York” – people don’t have a problem buying things they don’t need to impress somebody else. That’s because Yorkshire folk are notoriously tight-fisted. Let me put it this way, if a Yorkshireman owned Siberia, he wouldn’t give you as much as a snowball. I met a bloke from Leeds in Rio de Janeiro a few years back. I kid you not, he would walk a mile to save 5 centavos on a glass of beer. I went with him, of course. I had to.

"Eat all, sup all, and pay now't!" Stingy Yorkshire folk

“Eat all, sup all, and pay now’t!” Yorkshire folk hold on to their dosh

And another thing, Brazilians might still be suffering deep down, but at least their boys got to the semi-final. My army – the ones waving the flag of St George – were annihilated. England were atrocious. We lost twice and drew 0:0 with Costa Rica. What a shower! But at least I have plans for my huge England flag – I’m waiting for a fancy-dress party so I can go as Richard the Lionheart. On second thoughts, after looking in the mirror this morning, I’d better go as Richard III. “Now is the winter of my discontent…”

Categories: Brazil, Football, Global Crisis | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Earthlings – I’ve been born again!


What was it? Who am I? What does it all mean?

What was it? Who am I? What does it all mean?

I am writing this like somebody from another planet. A profound change has come over me. I have seen the light. The strangest thing is, it happened at the end of a football match. Like a billion other people, I was watching the Champions League final on Saturday on my television screen. It was an all-Spanish final between Atlético Madrid and Real Madrid. The game wasn’t that great until near the end when I got an eyeful of Cristiano Ronaldo’s body. He scored a penalty and tore off his shirt to reveal a torso, complete with 6-pack tummy, to make any body-builder weep. What a man, I thought! He’s like a god – a hero to millions of kids everywhere. His iconic status and goal-scoring ability earn him the princely sum of $2 million a month. Not bad, eh? It can’t be easy finding ways of spending that much cash.

Cristiano Ronaldo: some guys really need to show off their great bodies!

Cristiano Ronaldo: some guys really need to show off their great bodies!

Anyway, soon after the penalty the game was over and the crowd whipped out their smartphones to film the celebrations and send pictures to their pals via Facebook. It was a truly global event, with images being beamed into homes in countless countries. But the effort of watching all that testosterone caught up with me and I must have dozed off. Then I had the weirdest dream. I mean really weird.

I was watching the crowd again playing with their gadgets when everything went pitch black. Darkness descended. The crowd were screaming and groaning in horror and confusion. In the distance I saw a bright light in the sky heading towards the stadium. It soon got bigger and so bright that I had to put a hand over my eyes. Then it descended into the middle of the ground causing the players and officials on the pitch to run for their lives. The blinding light started to dim until we could all see a figure standing on top of a kind of pedestal. It seemed to be in the shape of a man – a cross between a druid and Leonard Cohen. Slowly the screaming and wailing subsided and after a short while there was silence. Then the figure began to speak in a deep, soft voice. Luckily for me it spoke in English as my Spanish is a little rusty. This is what it said:

“Earthlings! Humans! Fear not, for I come in peace. But I bring to you a dire warning of danger if you do not mend your ways. You have turned your backs on the gods. You humans have become vain, hedonistic and selfish. Your consumerism has made you spiritually empty, believers in nothing but material riches. How you have shamed the gods! Yes, your behaviour has been truly shameful.” At this point, with my jaw suitably dropped, I watched the reaction from the crowd. I saw that many were on their knees, weeping and begging for mercy. I noticed that Cristiano Ronaldo in particular looked very penitent. He was sobbing uncontrollably and looked nothing like the boastful sports icon of a few minutes previously. There was a pause. Then the figure began to speak again.

Everything went dark except for a blinding light on the pitch...

Everything went dark except for a blinding light on the pitch…

“I have watched you all this evening, enjoying yourselves at this sporting festival. But at what cost to human life has this expensive spectacle taken place! Many of you here are wealthy, while others are poor and hungry. You sportsmen amass wealth and riches as if this was the purpose of life. Have you forgotten that your time on earth should be spent working to improve the lives of others, and by so doing improve your own lives? Have you forgotten that you all face death and will then have nothing, not even the fine clothes that you wear?”. By now everyone that I could see by the dim light was pale and trembling with shame, especially the players. Some of them seemed to be shouting “Please take my money! I will give everything away, I promise!”

The voice continued. “I have some decrees that I must enforce before I leave as I do not trust that you humans will repent. So mark you well the following changes to your life and make good to follow them to the letter.” Suddenly, all the TV screens lit up and began to display the message as if it was being dictated by the galactic visitor. It was like a global Powerpoint presentation, complete with bullet points. It went like this:

  • FOOTBALL will be an amateur game, played for the love of sport and friendly competition with your fellow-humans. It will be a recreational activity that comes after your work is completed
  • HOMES: your houses and apartments will no longer belong to you alone. You have forgotten that all property is only given to you temporarily by the grace of the gods. You will open your homes to the poor and the sick, or to anybody who needs shelter 
  • FACEBOOK will vanish. You will no longer have virtual friends. You will learn to love and cherish your real friends, not squander your lives with images of vanity and foolishness
  • No more internet porn guys - you have been warned!

    No more internet porn guys – you have been warned!

    INTERNET PORN: this has most displeased the gods! You human men have become slaves to lewd images of lust and debauchery. How many hours you spend pleasuring yourselves in grim solitude! From today porn sites will be no more. Instead, you must seek love with other humans before engaging in the fulfillment of sexual desire. This will teach you to be patient, compassionate and considerate in your lovemaking

  • MONEY – the days of paper money, banks and interest are now ended. You will all relinquish your petty, worldly goods and learn to live simple but purposeful lives, guided by charity and great sympathy with your fellow humans

Suddenly the screens went dark again and the only visible light rested on the figure in the middle of the pitch. The presentation was over, but the visitor still had something to say. “Now mark my words and heed my calls for change”, he said. “I am very wise to all human trickery, of that you can be sure. I know another great sporting spectacle is about to begin, what you call the Worldly Cup. I shall return just after the final of that corrupt and corporate extravaganza to see what you earthlings have learned. Until then, the gods and I will pray for you. Farewell.”

Leonard Cohen: was it really you dressed as a druid?

Leonard Cohen: was it really you dressed as a druid?

What happened next is a bit of a blur. I woke up shivering and hungry, desperately in need of human company. So many images were flashing through my mind. What a revelation! Now I’m a bit worried about the World Cup in Brazil. What if there’s a blinding flash at the end of the final? And it’s funny, although I can no longer remember everything the visitor said, I could swear that, whatever the creature was, it spoke with a Yorkshire accent.

Categories: Brazil, Football, Global Crisis | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

I’m alright Jack – keep your hands off my stack!

"Don't give me that do goody good bullshit"

“Don’t give me that do goody good bullshit”

Never trust anyone who keeps banging on about the evils of “capitalism”. Just nod and pretend you agree, but remember: such people are secret members of the dark and dangerous “loony left”. Their arguments may sometimes appear cogent and convincing, but leering beneath the rhetoric is a nutter who secretly dreams of overthrowing the state. These crypto-Marxists are living in cloud cuckoo land. Have they forgotten how Ronald Reagan buried all that socialist nonsense the day he proudly announced to Margaret Thatcher and the House of Commons that “freedom and democracy will leave Marxist-Leninism on the ash heap of history”? Well said, Ron, my man!

"The reds are everywhere, Maggie. I checked under my bed last night but only found Bonzo the chimp"

“The reds are everywhere, Maggie. I checked under my bed last night but only found Bonzo the chimp”

Capitalism – if I must use the word – is a natural thing, like the trees and the birds. It’s just plain common sense. Think of all the wonderful things it has provided for each and every one of us. TV sets in every room. Isn’t it great to watch TV in bed? Not to mention computers all over the house just waiting for us to surf the web and window shop on a global scale! Then there are those magical shopping malls we all love, full of glittering new products to pile into our giant trolleys. Don’t forget – it’s shopping that keeps us together. Where would we be without gadgets and stuff? And services have improved so much these days. Here in Brazil if we want a pizza, even at midnight when it’s pouring with rain, we just get on the blower and 15 minutes later it’s delivered to the door by a funny little guy on a moped. And nowadays we have maids to clean the house, cook the meals and look after the kids. Yes, folks, we have come a long way since those dark days of slavery.

Have I mentioned freedom yet? I don’t think I have. Do you know what gives us freedom today? Well, it’s private property, of course! Buying a place of your own gives you the glorious freedom of not having a rip-off landlord sucking away all your hard-earned cash every month. Freedom from those lazy, messy flatmates – the ones who didn’t clean the bath properly and kept stealing your yoghurt from the fridge. It’s so nice to feel the safety of my private space, secure in the knowledge that I won’t be bothered by nasty neighbours and that the police are out there catching those good-for-nothing criminals who seem to multiply like rabbits for some reason. In fact, I’m thinking of investing in security equipment to keep the scum off my property.

"Stop begging and try selling some firewood, woman!"

“Stop begging and try selling some firewood, woman!”

Freedom to make as much money as I want and keep it all for my family for generations to come. That’s what’s great about money. You can invest it and it grows and grows! It’s called profit, the best invention since the internal combustion engine. Profit for me means disposable income which I can spend on all those little luxuries. Like private schools and hospitals for my kids. My kids deserve it because they’re special. Making money gives me a thrill because life is competitive and I want to be with the front-runners in this world. It’s a jungle out there, we all know that. Dog eat dog. If I make a stack of money it’s up to me what I do with it. If I want to buy my kids an apartment each and a new motor, that’s my decision. There’s no law against it. It’s all about looking after number one. As Pink Floyd once sang:

Money, get back.
I’m all right Jack keep your hands off of my stack.
Money, it’s a hit.
Don’t give me that do goody good bullshit.
I’m in the high-fidelity first class travelling set
And I think I need a Lear jet.

OK, to be fair, not everybody can be filthy rich. We still need a few people to do the dirty work, be they Vietnamese, Polish, African or whatever. And to be honest some people have a knack of making piles of money for doing very little. Take bankers, for example – they make millions. But remember: it’s not their fault. They were just lucky enough to go to the right schools and meet the right kind of people to help them launch their careers and make a killing on the stock market. You wouldn’t say no to a Swiss bank account, would you?

Something tells me we are still in the tadpole stage...

Something tells me we are still in the tadpole stage…

And if the richest 85 people on earth own as much wealth as half the world’s population put together, so what? Believe me – those people must have worked really hard for every bean. Good, honest, hard work. They deserve to be billionaires and have lots of servants and security guards. And if they want to use their money to buy politicians, it’s up to them. That’s the freedom wealth gives you. It’s up to each and every one of us how we live our lives. Some of us seem quite content to have a crummy job with no prospects. I even see poor people laughing sometimes, so they can’t be that unhappy. People need to stop complaining and do some hard work for a change.

There are just not enough sticks in the world to go around...

It’s a dog eat dog world out there…with just not enough sticks to go around

Here’s a start-up idea I’ve just thought of for a really poor person, but in fact anybody can do it. Scrape together a couple of dollars to buy a bundle of firewood – that’s $2, right? Now here comes the stroke of genius: you sell that same bundle of firewood to some sucker for $4 and make 100% profit! Isn’t that amazing? And so simple – that’s the beauty of capitalism. There’s only one more thing to remember: just make sure it isn’t you that’s being conned.03 Karl_Marx

Categories: Global Crisis, Musings | Tags: , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Dear President Dilma…

Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff is carrying the weight of the world on her back

Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff is carrying the weight of the world on her shoulders…

Brazil has taken a dive. For the last few years, ‘Brazil’ and ‘boom’ were synonymous. Not any more. The tropical honeymoon is over. Even this year’s World Cup won’t save the country from economic decline. The global crisis has finally hit these shores and the shockwaves are shaking the coconut trees.

Comrade Dilma prepares to be condemned for her socialist convictions

Comrade Dilma prepares to be condemned for her socialist convictions

This year is election year and the Brazilian Workers’ Party (PT) are hoping their “iron lady” Dilma Rousseff will win the voters’ confidence for a second term. Dilma has impeccable Marxist credentials: she fought as an urban guerilla against the military dictatorships of the 60s and 70s, earning herself a spell in prison where she was allegedly tortured. But comrade Dilma now has big problems. So much so, that I reckon she should listen to some sound advice from a straight-talking Bradford bloke like me. So, for the purposes of this post, I am recasting myself as an old lefty pal of Dilma’s from way back when. So, I have made a list of items she needs to address. Here goes:

IMAGE: Dilma, baby, you look ridiculous. Have you looked in the mirror recently? Your hair looks sculpted. Who are you trying to frighten? Think natural; look natural; be one of us again. And all that power dressing! What happened to the old jeans and jumpers you used to wear? You know, the communist clobber? Stop trying to look like Angela Merkel…you’re Brazilian, for god’s sake! Stop hiding behind a corporate mask, comrade. Ditch the designer wardrobe, get off your cardboard pedestal and come back down to the people – your people. And try to lose some weight: you’re beginning to look suspiciously like a self-satisfied bourgeois.

Now which one looks like a former leftist agitator? Erm, good question...

Now which one looks like a former leftist agitator? Erm, good question…

COMMUNICATION: Have you talked to any ordinary Brazilians recently to find out what they expect from the government? I thought so – hiding in your office again, behind a barrage of empty rhetoric. Stop acting. You are not a two-dimensional technocratGet out and meet the people.  Every struggling Brazilian would love to tell you about their plight. Remember this is supposed to be a democracy. How can you make policies if you don’t know what the people want at grassroots level? Imagine being able to make an election speech where you can say that you have “spoken to hundreds of families and understand their needs”. Don’t be shy – you know it makes sense.

Brazil's state schools: when you pay teachers peanuts, what do you get?

Brazil’s state schools: when you pay teachers peanuts, what do you get?

EDUCATION: Oh dear, what a sad story. You are proud to boast that every Brazilian kid now has a chance to go to school…but what kind of school? Some of them are a disgrace. For this, there is NO EXCUSE. Income and import taxes are ridiculously high, so you’ve had plenty of money to spend, especially in recent years. Education has to be your number one priority from now on. That’s number one, right? Top doggy. Listen to me: illiteracy and ignorance are rife. Are you proud of that? Without a greatly revalued and revamped education system, one which encourages and esteems academic achievement, Brazil will never be able to compete with other major economies and will continue to hang its head in shame.

Please, Ms Dilma, is there an honest politician in Brazil?

Please, Ms Dilma, is there an honest politician in Brazil?

CORRUPTION: OK, Dilma, you’ve been a tad unlucky. A gang of your own party members – people who claim to be socialists fighting for the rights of the poor – have been caught embezzling on a grand scale, lining their own pockets with tax-payers’ money. It must be so embarrassing for you, I know. But don’t bury your head in the sand. Have the courage to stand up in public and condemn those convicted of fiddling. In fact, go a step further: set up a commission to investigate corruption at all levels of government. Remember, you have nothing to fear but your own safety.

FIFA: Stop boasting that the 2014 World Cup will be the best ever – it’s defensive and plainly not true. The stadiums have already sucked billions in public money and many are doomed to be white elephants. That’s hard-working Brazilians paying for gilded arenas the inside of which they can never afford to see. So the people are angry and have every right to be, don’t you see? So prepare yourself for more protests, baby! What to do? Don’t let FIFA run off with all the profits – that would be silly. You need to redirect some of the money back into the local communities – housing, health and other social programmes. If you really want to make the World Cup “the best ever”, use it as a development tool to empower poor, struggling Brazilians – not FIFA executives.

Hey FIFA - forget football! Brazil needs proper public services...

Hey, FIFA – forget football! Brazil needs proper public services…

I could go on, Ms President…I could talk about the dreaded inflation that seems out of control, import taxes that make cars here vastly over-priced, a bloated public sector with its mindless bureaucracy and Russian-style protectionism, an impoverished and shoddy public healthcare system…but I won’t say any more.

Only this: Dilma, you are our sister, fellow-worker, comrade – a mother, a woman. Of course you are proud of Brazil – the country is wonderful in many ways. But rich and poor are staring at each other across an ever-widening abyss. Don’t be an also-ran. Don’t be Brazil’s first woman president who became an irrelevance. Be great. I think you can do it. But you have to be bold…very bold. And you have to be human again.


Categories: Brazil, Football, Global Crisis | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Beauty and the Beast

Football is no joke - even in Brazil

Football is no joke – especially in Brazil

Imagine what you could do with a million pounds: yes, £1,000,000. New house, new car, trip around the world? Your life would never quite be the same. Now imagine giving 85 people the same chance of freedom from financial hardship. That’s a lot of very rich people. Or better still, imagine being able to invest £85 million in the education system or health service (that’s more than R$300 million if you’re a Brazilian). New hospitals, new schools, better-paid nurses and teachers. In some countries it could make a huge difference to the welfare of the people.

"It's not a bad life playing footy" Madrid's new god - Gareth Bale

“It’s not a bad life playing footy”  Madrid’s new god – Gareth Bale

Now come slap bang down to earth. One football player has just been bought for the princely sum of…yes, you guessed it, £85 million. Welshman Gareth Bale was sold by Tottenham Hotspur to Spanish giants Real Madrid. Who paid? The fans, of course, some of whom struggle to pay for the latest club T-shirt (£95 pounds-worth of nylon, made in China for about £4). But who cares? Football players have always earned pots of money. It’s all part of the “beautiful game” we know and love.

When I was a kid there were the boys (not girls) who liked football and those who didn’t. That seemed normal. Now if you don’t support a football team and are unable to rattle off the names of this season’s top scorers and the latest transfer news you are boring – a bit weird, actually. And that includes women. They have realised two things: firstly, that knowing a bit about football will get them in with the lads (ie totty) and secondly that footballers themselves are gorgeous specimens of manhood. Well, some of them.

Beauty and the Beast - but which is which?

Beauty and the Beast – but which is which?

Yes, we have to admit football is the new rock ‘n’ roll. But aren’t we becoming blind to what is really happening? The Marxist academic Terry Eagleton said recently that anybody who really cares about political and social change has to agree that football must be abolished. But that’s preposterous I hear you say. It will never happen. Maybe. But to even mention the idea takes some courage. Why?

Football stadiums have become our places of worship. Fans all in blue or red rub shoulders together like members of a tribe, grunting and shouting at their gods like Romans in the amphitheatre. Humans seem to have this need to join a band of brothers and then find another rival band to taunt and leer at. It’s a cultural need. Now that communal rituals have disappeared, we meet the other members of our tribe in the stadium (or rather in the pub beforehand to drink a magic potion and feel the fighting spirit). We also have this need to let out all our natural, instinctive aggression. We used to do it fighting wars to annihilate the enemy and protect our king and country. Now the enemy is the people in green or brown or purple. 

"Listen FIFA - we want hospitals here in Brazil..."

“We want hospitals that are up to FIFA standards”

But all this fun costs money. Poor people used to give their hard-earned cash to the church, believing it might buy them a place in heaven. Now they spend thousands of pounds on season tickets and expensive TV packages so they can pay homage to their new idols. Nobody seems to realise that football clubs are sucking the marrow out of local communities. Fabulously rich football players regularly drive their luxury cars out of the stadium, only to pass streets full of decaying houses where the occupants don’t know where their next meal is coming from.

It's time to stand up and fight

It’s time to stand up and fight

When football began, more than 100 years ago, footballers used to live in the local area, near the ground which served as a kind of community centre. They lived in the same kind of houses as the fans and often drank in the same pubs. Now no footballer would be seen dead in the mean streets where the fans live, unless they were in a blacked-out limousine surrounded by body guards. What does that tell us about the modern game?

In Porto Alegre where I live, one of the local clubs, Grêmio, has just built a magnificent stadium a little way out of town. The aerial view is breathtaking. But the people who live next to the stadium will never be able to go inside. That’s because they are living in squalor; their dwellings are little more than shacks cobbled together from tin and old bricks. When you drive to the stadium the locals stand in a long line next to the road, swinging their arms and urging you to park your car on their patch of litter-strewn scrubland. The saddest thing is their appearance: many look malnourished or deformed. It’s a shocking disgrace.

Grêmio's new stadium in Porto Alegre - a rich spectacle in the midst of abject poverty

Grêmio’s new stadium in Porto Alegre – a rich spectacle in the midst of abject poverty

Thousands of football fans will descend on Porto Alegre for next year’s World Cup. The FIFA promotional video for the city shows a more glamourous side – naturally. Because if tourists saw that an ambitious football club had been allowed to drop a jewel in the middle of a human swamp they would stay away.

Forget the beautiful game: football just got ugly. Or, to put it another way, beauty and the beast are the same thing.

Categories: Brazil, Football, Global Crisis, Musings | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Hey, Brazil – stop complaining!

Brazil, the sleeping giant, has woken up and taken to the streets...

Brazil, the sleeping giant, has woken up and taken to the streets…

You may have heard there’s been a bit of bother in Brazil, with crowds of people taking to the streets to air their grievances. The protests became international news, prompting a series of articles in the British press. In the Times, one journalist took it upon himself to have a little dig at the Brazilian middle classes who formed the major part of the demonstrating hordes. Hang on a minute, he said, the middle class in Brazil has “never had it so good”. So, he implied, they should count their blessings and stop moaning. What blessings?

Brazil trounced Spain in the Confederations what is there not to like?

Brazil trounced Spain in the Confederations Cup…       so what is there not to like?

Well, first of all, they don’t have to suffer the evils of rampant inflation anymore. The first time I caught a bus in Rio, in 1992, I paid around 30 cruzeiros. A few weeks later I was paying 300. Before long I needed a sackful of money just to get to work. One of the catastrophic consequences of runaway inflation is chronic instability in the banking system. In other words, no credit cards, no personal loans. In the old days, you kept your dollars under the mattress. Now, following the currency stabilising ‘Plano Real’ in 1994, credit is freely available. So much so that Brazil is swamped with new cars that the middle classes have been able to buy on the “never never”. It’s the same with property. Now you can get finance for a new apartment, something virtually unheard of 20 years ago.

Let’s face it, having a mortgage and a car are pretty basic when it comes to quality of life. So what else is there to be thankful for if you’re a bourgeois Brazilian? Well, there’s more choice of products to buy, domestic or imported. Although Brazil operates a strict import tax system, there are now plenty of goodies in the stores if you can afford it. But there’s the rub…if you can afford it.

Forget the World Cup - this is what we want (and we're good at English!)

Forget the World Cup – this is what we want (and we’re good at English!)

Unbeknownst to that Times journalist, the prices in Brazil are nothing short of astronomical. In fact, the middle classes are expected to pay through the nose for the kind of things that in England are well within most people’s budget. Cars, for instance, are more than double the price. And it’s not only luxury goods – even food prices have rocketed in recent months. The professional, corporate class is also being squeezed in their pay-packets with high levels of income tax. No wonder they feel caught between a rock and a hard place. And for the poor, it’s even worse.

The rumpus started when public bus fares went up. Paying $1.25 to catch a bus doesn’t sound much, but when you’re a cleaner and have to catch six buses a day (all packed like sardine cans) to get to the wealthy suburbs it soon mounts up, especially when your salary is less than $500 a month.

Q: "What's wrong with the school roof?" A: "Erm, we'd like one, please".

Q: “What’s wrong with the school roof?”
A: “Erm, we’d like one, please”.

And what does the government do with all the income tax? Spend it on new football stadiums, of course. Brazil has to look slick and sophisticated when Johnny Foreigner comes over next year for the World Cup. It’s a good job the Brazilian government didn’t bother to ask the people if they minded about the R$7.6 billion reais (nearly $3.5 billion) it was investing in state-of-the-art stadiums . If they had, Fifa would have been sent packing. That money would have seriously improved Brazil’s dire public school system, a shamefully underfunded education sector which forces the vast majority of middle-class parents to go private (another tight squeeze on the monthly budget).

To say nothing of the embarrassing public health system, where hospitals can look like war zones and seeing a doctor can take forever. So what do the middle classes have to do? You guessed it – go private.

"You tackle corruption through education"

“You tackle corruption through education” And for that you need decent schools

All these upbeat reports about the booming Brazilian economy ignore the fact that the middle classes have been sucked into the credit trap, over-stretching themselves by buying all the glittering goods in the swish shopping malls. And that’s on top of their monthly mortgage payments, bills for private schools and hefty health plans. As we have seen throughout Europe, there is nothing more treacherous than living beyond your means.

The price of living in Brazil is so high, only the wealthy can enjoy the fruits of economic growth. And those in power who have the wealth have built citadels to protect themselves from the mob, employing family members and other cronies in a corrupt mafia-style system of back-scratching and money-syphoning.

"Infamy, infamy, they've all got it in for me!"

“Infamy, infamy, they’ve all got it in for me!”

So when the hard-working middle-class doctors and teachers take to the streets to protest about corruption, lack of investment in public services, blatant over-spending on the World Cup and ridiculously high prices, they have a very valid point. A social revolution it may not be just yet, but it’s satisfying to imagine the greedy, shame-faced politicians retreating into their gilded lairs as the Brazilian people shout out loud that they just won’t take it anymore.

Categories: Brazil, Global Crisis | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

Laughing all the way to the bench…

"Another Ferrari if you score a goal, OK?" Wayne Rooney and Sir Alex

“Another Ferrari if you score a goal, OK?”
Wayne Rooney and Sir Alex

Last week one of England’s most famous footballers got angry after the manager left him out of the team for a massive game. The story made the front pages of the newspapers. Now, it seems, Manchester United striker Wayne Rooney and boss Sir Alex Ferguson have made up. But what caught my eye was the magnitude of Rooney’s wage packet: £250,000 a week. Enough to buy a three-bedroom house (something young couples in the UK can only dream about) every week. That’s a million pounds a month. Is he worth it? Of course not. But United would argue that unless they give him that much he will move to another club. Here’s my answer: nobody else can afford him. More importantly, Wayne Rooney would play football every Saturday for £250. Why? Because he loves football and doesn’t know how to do anything else. There’s the madness – he doesn’t actually do it for the money.

I cannot wait for the day when the bubble bursts in football; when more fans get sick of seeing overpaid prima donnas prancing around and start staying away from the stadiums. Fans who are struggling to pay the mortgage and monthly bills while their “heroes” live like Caligula. The world economy is in meltdown but our precious footballers need millions of pounds to play with. Oh, and bankers too. They also need millions. Same argument: if you don’t pay them 3 million a year they will go abroad. I say let them go. After all, it was the bankers who triggered the economic collapse in the first place. It was they who gambled with people’s savings and lost it all, only to have their lavish lifestyles saved by government bailouts with taxpayers’ money.

Footballers can lose, but not bankers

Footballers can lose, but not bankers.

Now I’m not saying I wouldn’t mind a few million quid myself. I would be a hypocrite otherwise. If I won the lottery I would rush out and buy a big flashy Range Rover, a farm, a barrel of beer and a big diamond stylus for my record player. But would it make me any happier? I doubt it. What makes us happy is not consuming more, but – and this is going to sound mushy to some of you – doing good things; helping other people; being unselfish. There is nobody as unhappy as a millionaire with no friends.

Leonard Cohen knows the system is rigged

Leonard Cohen knows the system is rigged

Actually, you’ve got to hand it to the rich. They’ve still got the power and always have had. As Leonard Cohen puts it so aptly in his song Everybody Knows: ‘Everybody knows that the dice are loaded/ Everybody rolls with their fingers crossed/ Everybody knows the war is over/ Everybody knows the good guys lost/ Everybody knows the fight was fixed: the poor stay poor and the rich get rich/ That’s how it goes/ Everybody knows’.

In the USA, the Congress is full of white, conservative men who block everything that President Obama tries to do. Here’s my solution:

More women in power! Hilary Clinton and Aung San Suu Kyi

More women in power! Hilary Clinton and Aung San Suu Kyi

replace these dinosaurs with intelligent women who are active in their communities and understand people’s problems first-hand. In fact, I would go further. I would replace all the men in government in all the countries of the world with women. There would be no more guns, bombs and wars. No more rich and poor. Taxes would be spent on creating the conditions for people to live together as equals. Wayne Rooney can continue playing football, but he would earn the same as nurses and teachers.

Karl Marx believed that one day the poor, exploited workers would overthrow their masters and run the show themselves. Then George Orwell’s Animal Farm showed how the new bosses quickly become as bad as the old bosses. But does that mean it is always better to allow the rich and powerful to keep their millions? Try asking that question to some young people in Spain, Greece, and Portugal where jobs are virtually non-existent and future prospects bleaker than ever.

Just a flimsy fence separates rich and poor.That and cast-iron power structures

Just a flimsy fence separates rich and poor.
That, and cast-iron power structures.

So come on, Wayne Rooney, buy a few houses for the struggling, hard-workers of Manchester. Oh, and a Range Rover for yours truly while you’re at it.

Categories: Blighty, Football, Global Crisis, Musings | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

The day the music died…

Nipper is now a stray dog...

Nipper is now a stray dog…

The news that HMV – the UK’s only chain of so-called “record” shops – has gone bankrupt and closed its doors hasn’t caused much wailing in the streets. Nobody liked the shops any more. Expensive CDs and DVDs, no atmosphere, supermarket-style checkouts and no personal touch. In short, a dull and empty consumer experience. But hey – it wasn’t always like that.

Way back in 1974, an 18 year-old long-haired youth gingerly entered a branch of HMV in Bradford, Yorkshire, and asked for a job. So began a six-year period of my life which not only formed my musical taste but seeped into the very fibre of my being. On my headstone should be written “Martin Fletcher, HMV Bradford, RIP”. Everything about the shop and the people who worked there appealed to me. My previous job had been fitting tractor wheels in a factory, and suddenly I was in heaven. Now I could go to work in my high-waisted flared trousers, platform shoes, cheesecloth shirt and a smirk on my face.

The happy staff I left behind. HMV Bradford, 1981.

The happy staff I left behind. HMV Bradford, 1981.

But it wasn’t all sugar and spice. We had to be respectful in those days. We had to call the manager ‘Mr Walker’. Then, lo and behold, at my first Christmas party, my naughty colleagues plied me with so much whisky that I got fuzzy and headstrong, letting my working-class roots show through. So what did I do? I only went and called the manager, Mr Walker, a ‘bastard’. That didn’t go down very well, I can tell you. I literally got down on my knees and begged to keep my job.

Turkey No 1 - Slade in Flame...

Turkey No 1 – Slade in Flame…

Turkey No 2 - Elton John, Rock of the Westies...

Turkey No 2 – Elton John, Rock of the Westies…

But I digress. You see, this is the story of six LPs. Six records that I encountered in my early days at HMV. Let’s call them the ‘Turkeys’, the ‘Naughties’ and the ‘Gems’. I discovered the Turkeys on my first day, when I went upstairs to look for the toilets. On the way I passed two huge piles of records gathering dust in the corner. These were embarrassing examples of bad buying by the management. Expecting huge demand, they had ordered hundreds. But these two – Slade in Flame and Elton John’s Rock of the Westies – hadn’t sold well at all. In fact, they had both gone down like a bag of spannersSoon I learned that one of my jobs was to send a few of them back to the record company as “faulty” every so often – and hope they didn’t notice.

Art or pornography? Roxy Music's odd choice of cover for 'Country Life'

Art or pornography? Roxy Music: ‘Country Life’

Never mind the WHAT? Censored, please!

Never mind the WHAT? Censored, please!

The Naughties were LPs that had such obscene or outrageous covers that we had to put stickers over them to avoid upsetting the public. It seems laughable now in the highly sexualised, four-letter 21st century. But HMV was part of EMI, part of the establishment, and we had to be seen to be decent and upright. The offending albums were Roxy Music’s very strange (pornographic?) choice of cover for Country Life, and the more obvious Sex Pistols Never Mind the Bollocks. Another of my duties was to stand like a guard over the LP racks to make sure nobody tried to remove the stickers and peep inside. You had to be married to see nipples in those days (usually after closing time on a Friday night).

What a voice! Honey for the ears...Gino Vannelli

What a voice! Honey for the ears…Gino Vannelli

There is NO OTHER album quite like this gem from Gene Clark

There is NO OTHER album quite like this gem from Gene Clark

And now we come to my favourite category, the Gems. The manager had a habit of playing records in-store that he wanted to promote. Often it was because he had taken a gamble and ordered five copies and nobody had bought them. So, as I strolled around the shop, flirting with the girls at the counter and nodding to the customers, I was treated to the exotic and irresistible sounds of Gino Vannelli’s Powerful People and Gene Clark’s No Other. These two LPs have turned out to be a couple of my very favourite records of all time. I’m quite sure that if I hadn’t been there at that moment in time, in HMV Bradford, I would never have heard such cracking music. Thank you, Mr Walker, wherever you are.

I left HMV in 1980, just at the right time. I don’t think I missed much in the 1980s. Of course, some of you will be thinking I’m an embarrassing dad-rock dinosaur, hopelessly stuck in the 70s. But I was warmed by a recent interview with an artist who made his name during the 1990s – Ian McNabb (remember If Love was Like Guitars?). He was asked who he thought the new pioneers of rock were; which artists were the most innovative today. He said: “I don’t know – it was all over by 1980, wasn’t it?”

All together now: "Spent the last year Rocky Mountain way, da daa da da..."

All together now: “Spent the last year Rocky Mountain way, da daa da da…”

Certainly for me, the music died a long time ago. And so, in a way, did the people. I met a lot of great characters during my six years with the firm. Now they have all vanished into the ether. So, if anybody is mourning the demise of HMV, I would like to put in a word for all those eccentric, witty, music-obsessed weirdos I had the pleasure of meeting all those years ago. Luckily, the records remain to remind me of those happy times. Records, not CDs. Please – no CDs. LPs. Albums. Gatefold sleeves. And I still have the very first LP I ever bought at HMV in 1974: Joe Walsh, The Smoker You Drink The Player You Get. And if you think you understand the title, it means you weren’t there in the Seventies.

Categories: Global Crisis, Music, Vinyl | Tags: , , , , , , | 8 Comments

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