Thursday, 29 May 2014

I Love 50's Rock And Roll (and oh how I wish I had a jukebox, baby...)

Spot the girl not quite dressed for the right era...

For as long as I can remember, I've had a big soft spot for 1950's culture.  The big skirts, the emergence of rock and roll, the jukeboxes and the diners with their malt shakes and chequered floors...  I love it all.  

It all began when, as a child of around 8 or 9, I stumbled upon a cassette tape that belonged to my parents.  It was a collection of 50's rock and roll tunes, featuring classics such as Blueberry Hill by Fats Domino, Hound Dog by Elvis Presley, Chantilly Lace by The Big Bopper and of course, Chuck Berry's Johnny B. Goode.  I unashamedly used to "borrow" that tape and play it over and over in my room.  Whilst my friends were listening to New Kids on The Block and Crowded House, I was trying to perfect my Elvis impersonation; not easy when you're a pre-pubescent girl.

Of course - and I'm trying not to sound pretentious here, so forgive me if I accidentally do - I was raised on all kinds of music and I loved a huge variety.  I'm still the same now; I can go from listening to the Manics, to crooning along to The Carpenters, to attempting to Irish Jig to B*Witched in the space of a few minutes.  And then I need to lie down, because I'm not as young as I used to be...

By the time I was 10 or 11, my parents had become fans of the TV show Heartbeat, with Nick Berry starring as handsome police officer, Nick Rowan.  The show was set in the 1960's and featured music from the period, as well as several songs from the 50's, too.  The show's theme song was a version of Buddy Holly's Heartbeat, which excited me, because I was already familiar with his music, thanks to my love of 50's rock and roll.  Although I quickly grew out of the TV show, my love of the music of the 50's and 60's never dimmed and when the popular musical film Grease was re-released in cinemas back in 1998 (if memory serves me right), I rushed to see it and fell in love with the fashion and the music of the era all over again.

Oh, the dresses...  Did I mention the dresses?!

Recently, I told a friend that La Bamba by Ritchie Valens has never ever made me not want to stop what I'm doing and dance like a mad thing.  Even if I'm driving in the car and it comes on (which it frequently does, because I purposefully put it on a CD...), I break out my in-car moves and I couldn't give two hoots whether people stare at me when I stop at the traffic lights.  Similarly, if It Doesn't Matter Anymore by Buddy Holly comes on, you will see a ridiculous grin appear across my face and a sigh escape my lips, because frankly, that's not only my favourite Buddy Holly song (nudging That'll Be The Day into a close second place), but one of my favourite songs of all time.  Indeed, today I bought a new car and have already named it Buddy in his honour.

Anyway, when I mentioned this to said friend, she simply shrugged her shoulders and replied "nah, that kind of music isn't my thing at all."  And I did this:

I looked better than usual, yes.

How?  I wondered, in all seriousness.  How can these songs not be to someone's taste?!  Rock Around The Clock?  Reet Petite?  And what about songs that I consider to be early prototypes for today's boy band-esque love songs - classics such as All I Have To Do Is Dream and Dream Lover?!  These are utterly inoffensive songs, with simple harmonies and an endurance to them that has made them sound fresh and fantastic half a century later!  How can you not LOVE them?!

And then of course, I remembered that music taste is subjective and that I was being an arse by forcing my tastes upon someone else.  Still, I did spend quite some time musing on it for several days afterwards.  And I reached the conclusion that - and yes, this will sound a bit pretentious to some of you and I can only apologise - the reason I love music from the 50's and 60's is because it feels so much purer than what we have today.  Yes, I love the Manics.  I adore Blur and I like the Kaiser Chiefs.  And yes, I love some modern pop music - Katy Perry, for example and of course Lady Gaga.  But listen to something simple like That'll Be The Day by Buddy Holly & The Crickets and you'll find yourself listening to something unadulterated - a couple of guitars, a bass and a drum.  No auto tune.  No modern-day special effects.  No hiding place.  The songs back then had to be good, because there was less to polish it all up with.  It was instruments and voices.  It was a short - I have a CD of songs from the 50's and 60's that is only 55 minutes long, but has 22 songs on it.  That averages out at around two and a half minutes per song.  Short and snappy - no room for ridiculous histrionics or unnecessary over-production.  And yes, that's somewhat ironic coming from someone who also counts Guns 'n' Roses' November Rain as one of her favourite songs of all time (a whopping nine minutes long).

Of course, there were some bloody awful songs released in the 1950's and 60's too, just as there are today.  I'd be lying if I said I liked everything from the era.  But for me, the excitement of rock and roll in its infancy has never dulled.  Without Elvis or Buddy Holly, The Beatles might never have been the band they were.  Without The Beatles, we wouldn't have had Oasis, one of the most important bands of the Britpop era - another musical period important to me (although I was a Blur fan!).  The songs from the 1950's and 1960's influenced music for decades to come and continue to inspire bands and artists right up to the present day.  Why?  Because back then, people were taking chances, creating something new and exciting and yet keeping it relatively simple at the same time.  You listen to the songs now and they're so evocative of the time that you're immediately transported back to the days of shiny Cadillacs and big skirts.  It's still fresh.  It's still exciting.  And honestly, I do wonder how much of today's music will be held in the same high regard fifty years from now.

Given a choice between One Direction and Elvis Presley, for me there's no contest.  I know which is a bigger heart-throb and whose music I'd rather be dancing around to.  So whilst I'm happy with my Manics albums and I still love a wide variety of bands, artists and genres, classic rock and roll will always have a very big, very special place in my heart.  Rave on.  ;-)

Tuesday, 6 May 2014

I'd Rather NOT Vote Than Vote UKIP

Once upon a time, UKIP were a joke party; derided as racist and given very little thought when it came to election.  Now, however, they are gaining support and are looking increasingly likely to top polls in May's European election.  They may not yet have any MPs in the House of Commons, but with more and more people becoming frustrated with our current immigration system, there is a real danger that that could change.  And yes, I mean "danger."

UKIP are not a party for the people.  I understand political frustration.  There are marvellous benefits to living in the UK, but our country hasn't been fantastically run in recent years, to put it mildly.  So it's easy to see why people, sick of the Tories, disenchanted with Labour and no longer trusting the Lib Dems, might think "ha, I'll vote UKIP.  That'll show 'em."  But that protest vote, which was once merely that, is now becoming a genuine tick in the box for a party who have been embroiled in more accusations of racism, misogyny and homophobia than any other in recent years.

When people think of UKIP, the word "racist" crops up a lot.  Whether it's their supporters insisting that the party is not racist, or their detractors arguing the opposite, there is no getting away from the issue.  This is because, whatever Nigel Farage wants to claim, the party is known for one "policy" and that is its stance on immigration/our membership of the EU.  

The party's website claims that "anyone in the EU can come to the UK and...claim welfare."  In fact, it's a bit trickier than that.  Here's a quick screen grab from the Citizen's Advice Bureau's website:

If you're having trouble reading that, I can tell you it says that if you're from a country in the European Economic Area and you move to the UK to work, having never worked here before, you will not be able to claim income support, income-based jobseekers allowance, child benefit, housing benefit or council tax reduction.  There are also currently plans afoot to ensure that as of July, any immigrants to the UK will have to prove that they've lived here for at least three months before they can apply to claim child benefit at all.  So...  No, UKIP.  It's simply not the case that anyone can come to the UK and claim welfare.  To say as much plays upon the fears many people have regarding immigration.

Do we need tighter controls on our borders?  Quite probably, yes.  I passionately believe in helping those who come to this country for asylum, but I also am aware that we can't have an open-door policy to absolutely everyone who wants to move to the UK; we're a small island, after all.  But what UKIP have done is feed upon the concerns people already have about immigration, in order to sway those people into voting for them.  That's in spite of having precious few other policies and a rather skewed version of the facts when it comes to this policy, as the above screen-shot proves.

And that's not the only warped version of the truth UKIP has been harping on about, when it comes to the EU.  Just last month, The Sun newspaper had to print a correction, having published a letter from UKIP, stating that thousands of UK MOT test-centres were being threatened with closure due to EU proposals which would force motorists whose cars failed their tests to go to a different garage for repairs.  Following publication, the paper were forced to print an apology, after it turned out that "no such EU proposals exist."

Indeed, UKIP's obsession with the need for the UK to leave the European Union has led to them rather childishly voting against almost all proposed laws from Brussels.  Whilst I believe that - most of the time - a country is best governed by laws made by those living in the country itself, several of the laws UKIP have voted against prove that they are not considering the people living here, nor are they considering basic decency or compassion.  For example, in the past few months, UKIP have voted against:
  • A resolution to combat the illegal ivory trade, to work towards wild elephants no longer being at risk of poaching.
  • Updated rules on cab design and safety, enabling lorry drivers to spot cyclists and pedestrians more easily.
  • Higher level of protection for people who buy package holidays.
  • New legislation to prevent money laundering.
  • Greater public access to EU documents.
Lest we forget, several UKIP members voted against equal marriage, too.  Oh and they want to scrap the Human Rights Act.  I know.  Pesky bloody rights.  I can't wait to get rid of mine!  Oh, wait...

So, if we know that UKIP stand against the EU and immigration, what do they stand for?

Well, according to their website, they would like the scrap the 2008 Climate Change Act.  You know, the act that aims to avoid dangerous climate change and hopes to cut carbon emission by 80% by the year 2050.  Because hey, who cares what happens to the planet, eh?

Almost every other policy on their website - and there are very few - is linked to their desire for the UK to leave the EU.  In other words, they are a one-policy-party, with almost nothing to say beyond "EU BAD.  UKIP GOOD."  Even their local election manifesto is littered with references to "unlimited numbers of people" coming to the UK from Europe and putting a squeeze on local services as a result.

And for all their "we're not racist!" protestations, in the face of comments about "Bongo Bongo Land" or telling Lenny Henry to move "to a black country," it's in UKIP's refusal to campaign on any other issue that the really worrying question of whether or not the party is racist is brought into harsh light.  For example, they feel the need to tell us on their website that "28,000 Romanians are held for crimes in London."  It won't shock you to learn that this was also a statement gleefully reported by The Daily Mail.  However, it may surprise you to learn that the Metropolitan Police - stunned and disappointed by the way the information in their recent presentation on fighting crime in London had been manipulated and distorted - contacted the Romanian Embassy to apologise after reading the Mail's report.  You see, in reality, only 13 in every 1000 Romanians living in London are arrested for crimes in the city.  In case you're wondering, the figure for British people is 26 in every 1000.  Twice as many.  Indeed, the Home Secretary has confirmed that crime from foreign nationals is in line with their representation in the population.  ie, there is no Romanian crime spree.  It's just more scaremongering from UKIP and this, even without the revolting comments from their supporters and party members, is why people refer to the party as racist.  Because they're manipulating facts in order to scare people into being more concerned about immigration than about anything else.  And to do that?  They need to make the immigrants "the baddies."

The party also claim to care about the environment and our loss of green spaces (ironic, seeing as they want to scrap the Climate Change Act), which they also attribute to... You guessed it, immigration.  And yet, whilst housing for those who move to this country from the EU and beyond does factor in the need to build more homes, so does the fact that there are many schemes being put in place in order to try to help people buy their first home (touchy subject for me, seeing as I still can't afford to even rent by myself, but hey ho). According to a report in November 2013, the UK is well over halfway towards meeting its target of 170,000 new affordable homes - to enable British citizens to get onto the property ladder - by 2015.  We are a growing population and by that I don't mean due to immigration; people are living longer and having big families.  There need to be homes for those people to live in and of course, new housing developments mean jobs for builders, plumbers and electricians in the area.  Yes, we should be concerned about the loss of green spaces, but that UKIP can take a genuine concern such as this and attribute it solely to immigration is deeply distressing and shows little beyond a totally blinkered attitude.  Again, it's "EU BAD.  UKIP GOOD."

Yes, UKIP say some good things on their website (I know, I was shocked too), such as a declaration to save our public libraries and to upgrade public transport and maintain British highways, but there's no explanation of how they intend to do this, beyond their claims that being members of the EU costs us "£55million a day" and of course, that's a cut they're desperate to make (conveniently ignoring the fact that the £55million may be the "fee" we pay for being members of the EU, but we get over £20million back in rebate which is distributed to various sectors, including the agricultural sector, meaning that we wouldn't suddenly be "£55million a day" richer if we left, however hard UKIP try to convince us that we will.

Essentially, UKIP have very few real policies beyond wanting to leave the EU and any suggestions of policies they may have are almost exclusively centred around using money from our potential EU exit, rather than looking at real ways to change things in this country, should the people of the UK decide not to leave the EU.  Because after all, if we ever do leave Europe, it should be as a result of a national referendum in which the people have their say, not as a result of UKIP enforcing it on us, regardless of whether we've voted for them or not.  Their website doesn't say they'll hold a referendum should they become elected.  It simply says "we'll leave the EU."

Wanting some control over immigration in this country isn't racist in itself.  Manipulating data and distorting the facts in order to suit your anti-immigration agenda is.  Yes, there are things wrong in this country.  No, they are not all down to immigration.  As I said earlier, we do need to have a sensible discussion on immigration and our membership of the EU, but that needs to be done without UKIP sensationalising the subject.  We need facts, not propaganda.  

No other political party feels the need to refer to itself as "non-racist."  UKIP does.  Consider why.  One of the party's latest posters reads: "Twenty six million people in Europe are looking for work.  And whose job are they after?"  The picture onto which this words are embossed is of a hand, pointing out at the reader.  The British reader.  So, no racist scare-mongering there... 

UKIP are affiliated with a group called Europe of Freedom and Democracy.  The EFD may have a charming sounding name, but they are a far-right organisation, whose members described Anders Breivik (the Norwegian mass murderer who blamed feminism and multiculturalism for the breakdown of society) as a man whose "ideas are in defence of Western civilisation" and a man with "excellent ideas."  Whilst Nigel Farage threatened to cut ties with the EFD unless an apology was issued, no apology was forthcoming.  Instead, one of the members who'd spoken positively about Breivik's anti-multicultural ideals went on a rant, saying "long live the whites of Europe."  Nigel Farage did not cut ties with the EFD when no apology was given.  He is co-president of the group.

UKIP, particularly with their insistence on voting "no" on perfectly reasonable proposed laws to help make life easier and safer, simply because those laws come from Brussels, are not a party who care for the people of this nation, regardless of the flowery words in their campaign material.  They are twisting one very divisive issue and using it to their own ends.  And every now and then, the mask of "respectability" slips and one of the party's members says something that shows the unpleasantness at the heart of the party.  Even their campaign material hints strongly at scaremongering and racism:

Although this section of UKIP's manifesto has been removed thanks to the bad publicity it generated, note the final part:  UKIP will end support for multiculturalism.

Let's get personal before I end this rant.  My grandfather came to this country as an immigrant.  He was Greek Cypriot.  He worked hard, paid taxes, married a British woman and was very much a British citizen.  But he was proud of his roots.  Now, two generations on, I am proud to be a quarter Greek Cypriot.  It is our family traditions - our differences - that make us so unique as a nation.  Yes, there is a British identity, if you want to stick to a stereotype.  But we are a multicultural society, made up of people who, on the whole, are accepting of those who are different and enjoy learning from them and adopting aspects of their lifestyles. We are a modern society, in which all cultures and religions are given the space to thrive; not at the detriment of any of us, regardless of what the right-wing press would have you believe.  One, common British culture?  Does anyone else think that sounds like something from 1984?!

UKIP, particularly with their insistence on voting "no" on perfectly reasonable proposed laws to help make life easier and safer, simply because those laws come from Brussels, are not a party who care for the people of this nation, regardless of the flowery words in their campaign material.  They are twisting one very divisive issue and using it to their own ends.  And every now and then, the mask of "respectability" slips and one of the party's members says something that shows the unpleasantness at the heart of the party.

UKIP are a one policy party.  They have precious little to say, beyond "close the borders."  Well, no.  They do have a few things to say.  Such as...

"Muslims are breeding ten times faster than us.  I don't know at what point they'll reach such a number we are no longer able to resist their demands."
UKIP peer, Lord Pearson.

"The apologists for Islam are really very similar to Holocaust deniers."
Oxford Council Candidate, Julia Gasper.

"No employer with a brain in the right place would employ a young, single, free woman."
Godfrey Bloom, MEP.

"(we need) Compulsory abortion when the foetus is recognised as having Down's, Spina Bifida or similar syndrome which, if it is born, could render the child a burden on the state."
Council candidate Geoffrey Clark.

"As for the links between homosexuality and paedophilia, there is so much evidence that even a full-length book could hardly do justice to the subject."
Oxford Council Candidate, Julia Gasper.

"Eastenders is so unrealistic.  A Paki family planning to actually go home..."
Maggie Chapman, agent for UKIP candidate Peter Hollings.

They have a lot more to say besides, but to be honest, writing this stuff is making me feel rather sick.  Whatever protestations UKIP may make, I believe there is a rotten core at the heart of the party and their ability to turn every issue around and make it about immigration - with "foreigners" the "baddies" of course - does nothing to change my point of view.

I will of course be using my vote when it comes to both the next local elections and the national ones.  But I will never tick the box for Farage's party.  I'd rather not vote at all than vote for a toxic, nasty party like UKIP.