Tuesday, 22 November 2016

Bruce Springsteen Part 2- A Difficult Post

A Difficult Post?

A couple of weeks ago I posted about Bruce Springsteen saying what an inspiration he is to people of any age but particularly to those, like me, just entering into their sixties.  Age appears no barrier- the songs are still beautifully crafted and played, the concerts epic in quality and endurance.  To anyone thinking that the best is in the past once you hit your sixties, Bruce is the emphatic riposte.

That was all said in the last post and I indicated that there was more to come. I left the story hanging in the air after recounting how the students' entertainments committee turned down the chance to have Bruce play Warwick University for a pittance and how I ended up with a warped copy of his "Wild,the innocent and the E street shuffle"LP.  Yes, I saw him at Wembley in 1985 and yes, he was amazing, but that's an experience shared by hundreds of thousands of fans.  The next part of the story is 22 years later in 2007. The problem has been that the next part becomes very personal and I think I have sub-consciously been putting this off; not knowing quite how to approach it, maybe not really wanting to approach it at all.

In this respect this post has little to do with retirement. It should perhaps have a different home.  It is personal so I hope you will bear with me on this.  I do not want it to be maudlin or sentimental.  It's more a "public thank you" posting. I suppose it's my way of saying "thanks " to some amazing people.

In 2006 my son George was diagnosed with a brain tumour. Emergency surgery followed.  Devastated by a grim prognosis he soon refocused and was determined to do an illustration degree at Brighton University.  He was accepted and had a fantastic first year keeping his illness as hidden as he could.  He did not want to be defined by cancer and certainly would have hated anyone highlighting it at the time.  

By Christmas 2007 things took a turn for the worse as the tumour returned.  Macmillan cancer support were fantastic; supporting George and the family with practical as well as emotional support.  So first thank you there.  The person who supported us then told us about the Willow Foundation.  This is essentially a charity that aims to give seriously ill young adults (George was 20 at the time) and their families a memorable experience. We thought George would not go for this but he then learnt that this could include going to a concert.  George loved his music and thought it would be fantastic if he and some family and friends could have a special day out at a concert of his choice.  He found out that Bruce was playing the O2 that December and we passed on his wish to Willow.  Willow Foundation - our second big thank you.

Willow Foundation lay on VIP treatment for the big night
Willow contacted Bruce's manager, Barbara Carr.  Now at this point we were hoping that we might get tickets for an already sold out show at the O2.  That would have been fantastic. George had picked up his parent's love of Bruce's music and would have been over the moon at just being able to see Bruce live in concert.  Barbara and Willow had other plans.  Sure we got the tickets; six altogether, but they had laid on so much more. Cadillac pick up, champagne and smoked salmon for the drive, VIP passes and backstage clearance and a one to one encounter with Bruce himself just before he went on stage.  It was a truly memorable day.  George's illness was forgotten that day and we all burned brightly throughout that unforgettable experience; laughing, eating, singing, drinking, dancing and lapping up the whole experience. In short, we were living. Maybe it was living in a bubble removed from the realities of what George was facing but isn't life like that sometimes; finding refuge in bubbles of joy? 

George and Bruce December 2007

George took my warped LP with him and got it signed by Bruce who laughed at the story of how I had obtained the record. Barbara Carr checked in with us throughout our time at the concert.  She is an amazing woman and no wonder Bruce has stuck with her throughout his career.  What we didn't know until we met her is that she had lost a daughter to sarcoma in 1993.  Her daughter, Kristen Ann was 21 when she died and there must have been a real resonance with our son George's story. Barbara Carr started  a charity to fund research fund in memory of her daughter and you can find a link here.

So- thanks as well to Bruce and Barbara.  Between them and Willow foundation we had a brilliant, happy and unforgettable day with George.  Job done. But the next bit is the bit that I find amazing. That concert was in December 2007 and  George died in July 2008.  All who knew him were devastated. That day of the concert, the fun we had, the magic of meeting Bruce, drinking too much in the VIP lounge; all great memories that still mean so much.  Then in 2009 out of the blue Barbara Carr makes contact.  She knows about George but wants to invite his brothers, George's mother and myself to Bruce's upcoming concert in Hyde Park.  VIP tickets again. We were all incredibly grateful but also overwhelmed.  This woman, overseeing a global artist's world tour remembers us and goes out of her way to invite us to another Bruce concert.  When the world seems a dark place such acts of kindness and thoughtfulness really do make the world a brighter place. We were overwhelmed by this act. Celebrity and stardom can affect some people's values and make them removed from real humanity; not Barbara. She is a women who puts people first.   

So there we have it.  I have told that little tale.  Bruce and Barbara are not saints, they are real people who have not forgotten how to connect with other people.  They have "kept it real" and that is part of the reason why Bruce Springsteen has such devoted fans.  He connects and may he long do so. He surrounds himself with others who share his values.  How we need those values in the world right now.

So thank you Macmillan cancer support, The Willow Foundation, Bruce and Barbara. People and organisations that do what they do not for money or glory but because they care.  So a little request.  As it's coming up to Christmas why not order some cards from Willow Foundation or just make a donation to either the Willow Foundation, Macmillan or the Kristen Ann Carr Fund.  What they do really makes a huge difference.  

Thanks for reading.


Thursday, 17 November 2016

The Holy Trinity of Retirement- Oh Sing Choir of Angels

Bruce will have to wait- sorry Boss

I know I said I would get to the second part of my Springsteen story but it will have to wait as I have to report on last weekend and some reflections I want to share based on that weekend and these first few months of retirement (or as I now like to call it, using the far more positive Spanish word, "La Jubilacion").

Explain the title please!

Let's start with the title- the Holy Trinity of La Jubilacion.  It's true that I am really enjoying life after my salaried slavery and I have my Holy Trinity to thank for that. It seems to me that three things have to be in place for people to enjoy a happy and vibrant Jubilacion. You can probably guess these three amigos. They are:

1  Money- ie a decent pension and some savings
2  Interests/Activities/Projects/Work of one's choosing
3  People to interact with

Of course each one of these in the Holy Trinity of happy Jubilacion is subjective and open to interpretation; how much is a "decent" pension, how many people does one need to interact with and so on. I am not going to go into the detail now, I just want to indicate that in my experience these are the three crucial components and that I am fortunate enough to have these in place and that having these things in place has made my first few months of Jubilacion varied and rewarding. I am also very aware that not everyone who retires is lucky enough to have all three things in place at the same time. In particular isolation is a real threat to the well-being of many retirees and a subject deserving of its own post. So that is for a later date.

The respectable face of a staff choir weekend-all little angels
For now I want to focus on the positive side of interacting which often combines with the second key element of the Holy Trinity; namely interests and activities.  

Last weekend - Oh Sing Choir of Angels
Whilst working at my last school I became involved in a staff choir.  Last year we went away for a weekend in Suffolk; had input from an amazing musician and vocal coach and sang at a church carol concert attended by the whole school community and parents. Lovely, but that was part and parcel of being at work. It was in the past and unfortunately retirement can mean losing some positive aspects of work as well as the negatives.  Then came an invitation,"We are off to Suffolk for another choir weekend, why not join us?"  Would it be appropriate to go back and join my former colleagues for a weekend singing? Yes. Would I be the outsider, the colleague that couldn't let go? No, of course not. It would be great to see old colleagues, the setting was away from the school and most importantly the wine would be flowing. (If by any chance parents of children attending the school are reading this let me point out that no one drank excessively or disgraced either themselves or the school- and I say that with a straight face and I supply pictures as proof)

I kept telling them- all these things are bad for you!

 It was a lovely weekend; catching up with ex colleagues and doing something we all love- singing.  I have to put in a big mention here to Andrew Quartermain and his team at Pro Corda.  Based at Leiston Abbey, Pro Corda is not only a music training centre for some brilliant chamber musicians, it also runs courses for children with special needs, for adults learning or improving piano and many other activities based around creativity in music and other art forms.

The weekend of singing, socialising and planning how I will fit in with their rehearsals back at school, reminded me how important this type of contact is in retirement.  Whilst at work we have a ready made source of contacts and interaction but in retirement one has to work at either maintaining networks or creating new ones.  It also reminded me how much I enjoy singing.  It seems that whenever people get together and sing; laughter, fun and real connections within the group spontaneously emerge. Singing takes us away from the everyday and reminds us that we are capable of being part of something wonderful and uplifting ( well maybe after a few more rehearsals). It is certainly something I will add to my list of things in which to become more involved. 
Yeh- that's right, the fat old  bloke on the right is me

The choir of angels from Kingswode Hoe at the amazing Leiston Abbey

Non, je ne regrete rien

Now after all this gushing about seeing old colleagues and singing, you might think there could be regrets about leaving my job, my career. Not at all. The job carried too many restrictions.  It left little time to pursue my other interests and left me sometimes stressed and exhausted.  Yes, I miss aspects of my work, but in totality, leaving full-time work counts as one of the best decisions I have ever made.  One thing I did miss though was teaching drama and I am really pleased that the lovely people at Pro Corda have asked me to join them as a drama teacher on some upcoming weekends, working with both young people with special needs and then with the siblings of these youngsters.  Perfect- doing something I love in a wonderful Suffolk setting with some talented colleagues in a time-limited burst.

Being put through our vocal paces by Andrew at Pro Corda
Before my retirement I was worried that I would miss work, feel a bit cut off from people and not find enough intellectual and creative challenges.  I needn't have worried. Through a mixture of luck and planning I am taking part in activities that stimulate, challenge and give me real pleasure and purpose but I also now have the freedom to organise my days as I wish.

It was fantastic spending the weekend singing with my ex colleagues. That little choir of angels. Even better was not having to go to work at 8 am the next day. My holy trinity of retirement is thus far looking out for me very well indeed.

                      Springsteen next, I promise.

Important Addendum- I published this post yesterday and in the middle of the night woke with a rasping cough and an aching knee.Then it hit me.  The Holy Trinity of retirement was wrong.  There was another key element; health. How could I have forgotten thatIn hindsight I should have gone for the four horsemen of retirement: Financial security, Interests/activities, people to interact with and reasonably good mental and physical health. Apologies.

Wednesday, 9 November 2016

It could never happen, could it?

Dear Blog readers, I know I said I would bring you the next part of the Springsteen story but I have to put that on hold. You see I'm very excited and I need your help.  I have decided to write a spoof political TV series. Yes, I'm branching out. It's going to be satirical take on what's happening in the world of politics. A kind of ridiculous spoof.  

Now, before I submit my proposals to the major networks I want to try out the outline to the first couple of episodes on you out there, see what you think, get some feedback, you get the picture.  The main thing I need your help with is in getting feedback on whether I have gone too far with the satire, because even a good spoof has to have a bit of credibility.  Look at Spinal Tap; a spoof rock documentary, ridiculous in parts but it worked because it was not too far fetched. It could have happened. That's where I need your help.  Have I kept my ideas within the bounds of credibility or have I gone too far? Could the events I outline really ever happen or has my wild imagination got the better of me?

Let's get straight to it.

Episode 1 

OK, so this is set in the near future.  It starts in a country not that dissimilar to the UK. Let's give it a name, this country, something like the "Federal United Combined Kingdom of Entitled Districts" or F.U.C.K.E.D for short. Now in the opening episode we learn that this country has previously joined up with other nearby countries and they have this great idea that they will work together, form a union where goods and services can be traded freely and the people in each country can work and travel freely in any one of the member states.  Sounds great doesn't it, although maybe a bit idealistic. Anyway the people of F.U.C.K.E.D. enjoy relative economic progress despite the effort of a bunch of bankers to crash the economy of the whole world a few years previously. Now F.U.C.K.E.D. benefits from workers from the nearby countries coming over and filling the gaps in its workforce.  These workers are not that important, they just keep the hospitals going, pick the fruit and vegetables and build houses whilst paying more taxes than they receive in social spending.  What a good deal for the land of F.U.C.K.E.D. I hear you say.  Now comes the funny part.  The people of F.U.C.K.E.D. have a referendum and this right wing, cigar smoking, beer swilling nutcase together with some ex public school toffs persuade lots of people to vote to leave this union, pandering to their bigotry, xenophobia and racism.  No-one thinks it will happen, because it will really mess up the country, it's a crazy idea. But it does happen. All in episode 1.

The people of F.U.C.K.E.D. vote to leave the union and completely mess up their country, their economy and their future because they don't like workers from abroad coming in and helping them out and they don't want to enjoy peaceful cooperation with the other countries.  What do you think? Have I gone too far?  I think maybe I have. As if any of that could happen? People would never commit such self -inflicted damage would they? No, you are right, it is too far fetched.  It's not credible.  OK let's leave episode 1 and go to .........

Episode 2

Here we change the setting.  We imagine a country, no, let's have a superpower, a bit like the USA but we will call it States Harmoniously Inter Twined or S.H.I.T. for short.   Now just like in Episode 1 it relies on there being a big chunk of formerly proud working class people who have had their traditional industries and communities ravaged over the years and who, looking for someone to blame, are manipulated by let's say a billionaire who himself has exploited these very same workers. Already too far fetched?  Stay with me.  This man convinces a major political party to let him run for president even though he has no experience of public office .  He also convinces the electorate that all the problems of  S.H.I.T. are caused by Moslems, Jews, women, Mexicans, in fact anyone who isn't straight, not handicapped and doesn't likes carrying guns. 

The Episode will look at his madcap attempts to become President.  I bet you are thinking it's already crossed the line of credibility; like what are you going to do next John, give him a cartoon hair comb over, an ex model wife who steals other people's speeches and a set of quotes such as:

"We won with poorly educated. I love the poorly educated."

"You know I’m automatically attracted to beautiful — I just start kissing them. It’s like a magnet. Just kiss. I don’t even wait. And when you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything. Grab them by the pussy. You can do anything."

 "I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody, and I wouldn't lose any voters, okay? It's, like, incredible." 

 ‘You know what I wanted to. I wanted to hit a couple of those speakers so hard. I would have hit them. No, no. I was going to hit them, I was all set and then I got a call from a highly respected governor... I was gonna hit one guy in particular, a very little guy. I was gonna hit this guy so hard his head would spin and he wouldn’t know what the hell happened... I was going to hit a number of those speakers so hard their heads would spin, they’d never recover. And that’s what I did with a lot – that’s why I still don’t have certain people endorsing me: they still haven’t recovered."

Now you probably thinking that I have just gone for pure comedy, making up quotes that no politician would ever make.  It's too preposterous especially as the person who does become President of S.H.I.T. has complete control over using the country's nuclear weapon capability. But it was fun making up such ridiculous quotes. Anyway, moving on. For full comic and satirical effect this crazed, egomaniacal billionaire with no political experience wins the election. 

I wanted this episode to be as crazy and as funny as I could make it. He wins the election by manipulating and pandering to the base instincts of the electorate (bit like that German guy in the 30s I suppose) and the only one opposing him is a woman that not many people like either.  Again you will probably criticise me on this- am I expecting my audience to believe that in a country of 350 million people, the electorate only had the choice between two ridiculously flawed candidates??? Well, remember this is a spoof, a comedy so I think artistic licence allows the improbable.  Bottom line is that by electing this man to be president  the people of S.H.I.T. completely mess up their country, their economy and their future. Sounds a bit like Episode 1 doesn't it? Except after this election everyone else in the world is worried too.  What a hoot! A laugh a minute.

And there you have it. My plot outlines for a new political spoof.  The West Wing meets  Airplane and Naked Gun. An, "In the Thick of it" without the subtleties. I know it's made up and ridiculous but remember it's a comedy. Not meant to be taken too seriously.


Now where's the gin?

Friday, 4 November 2016

Bruce Springsteen

First Things First

What's in a word?

Doesn't that sound better than Retirement?
In my last post I mentioned that I did not like the word "retirement." It has negative connotations of withdrawing from the world and suggests a person is used up and redundant.  I needed a new word, a new term.  The wonderful Janis reminded me in her comment on my last post that the Spanish word for retired is "jubilado," which I'm sure must be derived from the Spanish word "jubilo" which in turn means joy.  I think it's great that the Spanish word for retired is linked to the word for joy and happiness; a much better connotation than our dreary "retire." As a result I have decided that I am no longer retired, I'm "jubilado."  Great. The only trouble with "jubilado" is that in colloquial Spanish it apparently means, "to get rid of." Oh well, back to the drawing board.  
Can you imagine a wine labelled "retired"?- I don't think so

A new snappy phrase for retirement?  (Probably not)

What we have to take into account is that there are many people in their 50s and 60s who work but who don't see it as work because they enjoy it so much.  The sense of freedom, of "jubilo"  that so many retirees experience is freedom from working to someone else's agenda, having to be there when you would rather be doing something else, having to do a job on terms that are set by someone else.  I will work and volunteer but I will do so on my terms and for that reason I'm going to think of my retirement as "Freedom From Salaried Slavery" or FFSS for short.  What a catchy little phrase that is. Bound NOT to catch on. Oh well, let's get to the tenuous link.

Tenuous Link 

Let's now think of people, maybe in their 60s who still work at their day job even though they don't have to and who do it because they love what they do.  These are the lucky ones. The blessed. But who fits that bill?  Oh, I know, someone like say, Bruce Springsteen.  (There, that's my tenuous, tortuous link).

Oh Bruce What's wrong with you?

In truth I have wanted to write about Bruce for some time and I think this blog is a legitimate place to talk about The Boss.  After all he is well into his 60s, he did retire from some menial jobs, albeit in his 20s and I am sure he reads this blog in between taking out the recycling and kicking his heels at home when not playing huge gigs, writing successful  books, touring the bloody world, making astute political comments and generally being the "coolest" guy on the planet. Are you picking up some simmering resentment?  It's true, I hate to admit it.  He is just too bloody perfect!  

 No More Heroes?

In England we like to knock our heroes, build them up only to then knock them from their pedestals.  Not only do we demolish our heroes but we enjoy it too, we love it. It's just,well, there's nothing to knock down and demolish with Bruce. He's a spoilsport. If you are reading this Bruce , please take note: demolishing heroes is our national past time -so play the game, please. Release a rubbish album, walk off stage after 45 minutes, do something crass, support Donald Trump. For inspiration look at some other artistic heroes:

Paul McCartney, great in the Beatles but since then; wings and the frog chorus, do me a favour.
Eric Clapton, steady decline since the days of the Yardbirds and Cream.(ooh controversial)
Shakespeare, a one-hit wonder with Hamlet.  

You get the picture.

And then there's Bruce.  Try as I might I cannot knock him off his pedestal.  The man has consistently produced great albums throughout his career.  He continues to be relevant.  He is mega-famous and rich but is still authentic and genuine.  As a performer he continues to deliver fantastic concerts, connecting to his audience and giving them high octane, high sweat,value for money performances which last much longer than they should. He's kept it real. He's written songs that are timeless. There are not many artists you can say all that  about.  Bruce, please give us something with which we can knock you!

Bruce, I love you!

The truth is I love Bruce.  Unconditionally, completely and yes,I'm expecting his baby any day soon.  First and foremost I love Bruce for the reasons outlined above.  Great songwriter and performer who hasn't let fame and fortune turn him into a monumental pain. In terms of this blog and writing about a new phase of life in your 60's, Bruce is pure inspiration. He is the embodiment of the phrase, "age is all in the mind." In August this year Bruce, 66 years old, and his band set a new record for longest gig on American soil- 4 hours and 1 minute in East Rutherford.  His longest show ever was 4 hrs 6 minutes in Helsinki in 2012 when he was 62 years young (apparently he also played a 35 minute acoustic set a  few hours prior to this gig). That is a million miles from retiring.It is a majestic two fingered salute to ageing and notions of, "taking it easy." A regular guy becomes legend. But this legend is not just "out there," removed from the real world.  His is knee deep in the swamp of existence and I, like many others, have my own personal connection or relationship with Bruce.

The Beginning of a Beautiful Relationship-Bruce and I 


Relationship you say? Well, let's add a proviso.  Me and Bruce don't catch up regularly; we don't hang out on the boardwalk knocking back beers and playing pool. We met briefly just once.  In fact he probably has not heard of me, but there is a connection; a personal angle in my love and respect for Bruce that for me is very real. 

Let's go back in time. It started when I was at university in 1975.  His album, the "Wild, the Innocent and the E Street Shuffle" had been sent to the entertainment committee at Warwick University.  I was helping out on the fringes of this committee and we would be sent lots of albums from record companies trying to promote their acts to get bookings for them at the student union.  Bruce's album arrived along with many others.  There was also some blurb about Bruce (who was unknown to most of us at that time) proclaiming that he was the next Dylan. (Poor Bruce would have cringed at this crass marketing I'm sure).  Not a great way to promote a relatively unknown  artist at that time.  I had never heard of Bruce Springsteen so I asked if I could listen to the album.  I was told to take the album and keep it as the committee had no intention of booking this upstart Dylan wannabe.  I took the album but when I went to play it I noticed that it was extremely warped as it had been left on top of a radiator. I put a coin on top of the stylus to stop it from jumping around the warped record and listened.  I was blown away.  This album had everything, sweet acoustic numbers,  Latin infused songs , a great band and I suddenly got the Dylan reference: the lyrics were incredible, the songwriting sharp.  I think we could have booked and have had Bruce Springsteen play Warwick as his first UK concert but we had turned down the opportunity.  We turned down Bruce! I seemed to be the only one saying, "This guy is great, I think he's got a future."  Now there's an understatement.  A few months later ,"Born to Run" came out, Bruce played the Hammersmith Odeon and the rest, as they say, is history. It would be 10 years before I got to see Bruce play live for the first time and 33 years until I actually got to meet him. But that can wait until next time.

An unwarped replacement which Bruce signed for my son in 2007
The handwritten set list for his December 2007 O2 show is on the right