Sad as

 

What is the saddest song?

Well, apparently it’s Brian McKnight’s “One Last Cry”.

Nice song, sure… but the saddest ever? Hmm. I’m not so sure. What do you think – is it really the saddest song ever?

For sad, I usually turn to orchestral then in turn to country.

However. for sheer Mutterseelinallein, you have to turn to Paul Buchanan’s voice – especially with the Blue Nile.

But where to start?

“Let’s Go Out Tonight” is a good start… from the title on, it describes loneliness mixed with boredom, listlessness, anxiety, longing, love, insecurity and everything teenagery…

But when you are full grown and settled – why does this still connect? Why is there still that connection? Is it hypnotically induced by the slow march? the relentlessness?

Is it when Paul goes falsetto? Is it because the music is perfectly claustrophobic?

“The Downtown Lights” is a different thing – more up-tempo, but the claustrophobic hypnosis remains – as does Paul’s voice, singing those plaintive lyrics. Yep, again, it’s a killer. Then add in harmony and pizzicato plucks, and it’s getting melancholy. Again.

It will be alright, it will be alright.

Sad but reassuring. What a band.

Then you hear stuff like Can’t Get Over (unreleased) by Paul Buchanan – and then you realise it is the voice most of all.

This is confirmed by the pared-down acoustic version of “A Walk across The Rooftops”

Depending on where your “heads at”, any track on any Blue Nile album will be the saddest song ever.

Having said that, there are times when country will be necessary. Country music is more specific, it’s about the situation and the story or lyrics…

One example might be the old Nobody’s Child…

Another example applies to Dads everywhere – it’s a killer for me as I always break down for the chorus.

There are loads of sad songs and love songs, but what makes a truly sad song is when it strikes when you are actually happy, content, fulfilled and at ease. That’s the thing with the Blue Nile – they can creep up and get ya when you’re not expecting it. What’s your sad stuff? Do tell?

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Employmentalism

I have just watched a broadcast on the BBC Parliament channel showing a hearing with chair Damian Collins, various MPs and a bunch of BBC presenters – Paul Lewis, Liz Kershaw, Kirsty Lang and Stuart Linnell. It was FASCINATING.

It also pertained to me on a personal level. So I was interested and vestedly so.

It’s all about IR35. And that means tax.

Liz pointed out that HMRC is going after the “low-hanging fruit” by attacking individuals who are either self-employed or who work as contractors (self-employed but as an incorporated – or limited- company), instead of going after the big tax-dodging multinationals.

It often seemed to be torn between traditional political lines – Labour/ Socialist/  Trades Unionist/ Employee lines versus Conservative/ Capitalist/ Freelance lines.

This comes up time and time again – I recall the Uber thing recently. It’s no good trying to get the modern world to fit ye olde worlde politicale partye crap.

That is not to say that the issue is simple, nor that a solution to the various problems is easy. Not at all. But then again, it’s not terribly difficult either.

I recall Thatcher’s Britain: she encouraged the Self. Companies would pay off 51 % of their staff on a Friday, and they would turn up on Monday to do their exact same job but this time as self-employed or contractors. They would have received a lump sum redundancy payment – this bought them shares in Sid (British Gas), allowed them to buy their council houses, put their kids in private schools, get a mobile cell phone and so forth.

This simple idea – to make people entrepreneurs/ self-employed/ MDs of their own firms – was designed to weaken Trades Unions and provide the engine for home-ownership, and the world as we know it today (for good or ill).

I have been self-employed (Schedule D), but when I work in the construction sector that is not allowed, so I have had to work via Personal Service Companies, umbrella companies, and incorporated – or limited – companies. In addition, I have worked direct (invoicing the client) and indirect (invoicing an agency who invoices the client).

I love it.

I feel free. I am free from office politics, back-biting, arse-covering, career-building, aspirational social climbing, blaming, bickering and laziness. No one, employers, trades unions nor anyone else can tell me what to do.

My tiny wee Limited Company invoices my clients/agents and I take out what I need (not what the company is paid). I pay VAT, I pay PAYE, I pay NIC, I pay Corporation tax, I pay an accountant and I pay an agent to pay me each and every week for each and every hour I worked.

I could “go direct” and invoice the client myself – but that means I would have to wait until I got paid. Poor cash flow, irregular income and the stress of chasing payments and keeping track is a pain. Sometimes you have to withdraw labour or threaten to, sometimes you have to sell the debt (factoring) at a knock-down rate just to get some income to pay the bills. Working via an agency means I always get paid each week, and they get to chase the client for outstanding unpaid invoices. Lovely.

My wee tiny company pays me when I am sick or on vacation. It can pay me and my family BUPA or whatever other benefits I choose, from mobile phones, Christmas dinner to a company car and everything in between.

However, the BBC presenters presented this differently – that because the client the BBC) doesn’t pay the contractor (the presenter) for sick days or holidays, there is a trade-off; the loss of “security” (as they put it)  is traded off against the higher rate of pay. My view is that it is a mistake to confuse the limited company with a person. The presenter’s company pays them as employees – and should pay them – all the proper benefits; sick pay and holiday pay has nothing to do with their client, the BBC.

It’s a subtle point, I know, but important.

The BBC presenters definitely confused the person with the firm. This is probably because there is an important difference between people who like working that way (me) and those who are forced to set up self-employment or companies against their natural disposition and inclination.

The trouble is that there is no current distinction, and so whatever is decided by the government will favour one over the interests of the other.

IR35 has been the sword of Damocles for 18 years and it seems to be getting near to crunch time due to media coverage of what’s going on at the BBC.  I personally do feel anxious about this direction of travel – the mood seems to be about ruining my life. HMRC is coming after me as a tax dodger! Yet it’s simply not true! I pay all my taxes and take all the risks. I have to have professional indemnity insurance, I have to keep on top of continuous professional development, I cannot settle down to my job and become lazy and complacent at my desk.

Yet I have sympathy for Liz Kershaw having to return to work too soon after her planned Caesarian sections. The life I chose (and like) is not suited to her, and she was forced into it. I get that.

Did Liz do this to dodge tax? No. Did I? No.

The BBC is a publicly owned and funded corporation so it cannot be seen to dodge tax. But why put it like that? Why deliberately confuse the company with the person to score political points?

Why doesn’t HMRC leave us alone and get on with catching the big multinational tax dodgers instead?

Better still, why do we pay all those MPs, MEPs, MSPs, councillors and civil servants? if we cut them back we wouldn’t need to raise so much tax to pay them all.

 

Snowtime

There was a “RED WEATHER WARNING” last week, so I worked from home. Because of Skype, I had to take care of my appearance more than usual, make sure the background was tidy and gave off a semblance of professionalism, and that my children didn’t make too much noise.

So, no, I didn’t sit unshaven in my pajamas all day.

This video call stuff – as well as speakerphone calls, screen-sharing, and conference calls, make working at home possible, but it’s intense; there’re no coffee break chats, no waiting at the photocopier, and no sneaky peeks at the internets.

Of course, when work is finished, it’s equally intense snow stuff with the children. I’m getting on a bit now, so building a snowman, having snowball fights and trudging through thick snow in a freezing white-out blizzard is tough for me. My feet were cold and wet through. My face was rouged and my hands zinging.

Here’s the thing, though. It was probably good for me to get a bit of physical activity. Good to get a bit of fun. Good family time, and a hard day’s work as well.

To then relax beside the log fire as the children did their piano practice, then dozing off to some silly old film makes snow days quite special. Full on, but special.

I have heard people moan about the weather. I know the shops were closed, and that people did a bit of panic buying so we couldn’t get fresh eggs or milk for two days. Well boo-hoo. That’s not the most terrible thing that could happen.

Like everything in life, it’s not what happens to you, it’s how you react to it that is important. What you do about it.

I bet that a lot of people, like us, got more things done and had a great time overall thanks to the weather. Having said that, I am looking forward to getting back to the office – to “normal” – for a rest.

Internethead

Unhappiness and screentime are related. I don’t want to bring up unhappy children. But there is Peer Pressure, Social Media, and Boredom to deal with. My children weren’t happy with me taking away smartphones, laptops, and tablets, but then studies show that they would be unhappy if I don’t take this stuff away – and worst, I could end up with depressed (and potentially suicidal) teenagers. So I had to do it; as a parent, it’s my job.

The charity Action For Children finds that a staggering one in four parents struggles to control their children’s screen use.

The first thing that had to change was MY use of these gadgets; you lead by example, don’t you? This is also hard.

Insidiously, this stuff has replaced the old ways of newspapers, wandering around shops and looking at clocks. I wasn’t looking to be a new age hippy or getting all Jesuit about it. It’s about increasing happiness.

These gadgets can be useful, as long as they are not addiction driven, or considered the default. People are fidgets – that’s why everyone smoked cigarettes in the bad old days. These days it’s the phone. Bad habits for idle moments.

So I began last November (2017) by coming off social media, leaving my phone behind, and demonstrably using gadgets less. Cookbooks were taken down from the shelf. Clocks told me the time. I used my brain to remember where places were and I figured out how to get there.

Have I got happier? Yes! I would say so. I went onto facebook today – for the first time since – and I no longer need to participate, after all, who cares if I “like” or “share” something that I instantly forget and really only was a knee-jerk reaction to show some level of approval? Vanitas. Bottom line is that my views are not terribly important, the effort is wasted.

So I am relieved and happier to have broken the bad habit. What about my children?

Well, this has been more difficult, to be honest. But it really does make a difference. I have seen it with my own eyes.

It’s all about showing them HOW to use a device as a tool for a purpose, and not to depend on it to alleviate boredom. My wife keeps saying that boredom is good as it makes you more creative; you invent something in daydream moments and similar weird mental states (like the eureka moment in the bath, or when waiting for a bus, gazing out of a train window, or sitting under a tree like Isaac Newton).

I do think it is weird and dystopian when I see crowds of children wandering to school each morning while staring at the screen on their mobile.

The biggest problem for my wife and me is that we slowly allowed the screen to allow us to get mummy-daddy time. The screen was a babysitter. My son now says “I’m bored – what can I do?” and he’s looking at ME. That is the challenge – see the Bob Granleese article below for what’s it’s like to try this.

The other aspect that gladdens my heart is that it reduces all those other risks – grooming, adverts, cyber-bullying, brain-washing, and exposure to radicalisation.

It is hard but rewarding. As a recovering addict, I would recommend less social media and less screen time to everyone. Go do a blog every few weeks if you cannot go “cold turkey”.

The main thing is to say goodbye to being an internethead.

Refs:

“Phone-addicted teens really ARE miserable: Scientists warn young people should limit their screen time to just two hours a day to boost happiness” By HARRY PETTIT FOR MAILONLINE PUBLISHED: 14:11, 22 January 2018 | UPDATED: 19:55, 23 January 2018

“Teens who spend less time in front of screens are happier — up to a point, new research shows” By Tara Bahrampour 22 January 2018

“Why are British kids so unhappy? Two words: screen time” by Bob Granleese The Guardian Thu 7 Jan 2016 12.24 GMT

“Limit children’s screen time, expert urges” By Hannah Richardson, BBC News education and family reporter
9 October 2012

 

Old Dog – New Tricks

One thing about the internet is that it can educate.

Seriously; I have learned new ways to tie my shoelaces, neckties and even how to boil an egg.

However, one thing I have noticed is that when I tell people IRL about something I just learned from the internet, many of them roll their eyes and back off. They don’t want to know!

New ideas rock their world, so they refuse to hear and accept anything that doesn’t fit with their schema.

As for me, I am consciously evolving. I have a long list of things about which I was wrong in the past. So what? Is that a bad thing or a good thing?

I am changed daily by the internet (youtube – Alex, Rick, Scott, Phil, The Brothers Green, Gordon, The King of Random, ProHacker, this guy, and this, TED talks and more), I am constantly amazed by podcasts such as (The Tim Ferriss Show, Planet Money, 99% Invisible, The Science of Success, History Extra, WTF, The Adam Buxton podcast, Criminal, Radiolab, Risk, Beautiful Anonymous, The Partially Examined Life, The Allusionist, Death Sex and Money, The Psych Files, Malcolm Gladwell’s Revisionist History, Here’s The Thing,  and more again).

The only TV that comes close is BBC Four.

Maybe I am of a “certain age” that likes to learn, needs to relearn, and wants to change and grow.

If you have any recommendations leave a comment – I won’t let it be seen if you prefer.

Gibsonique

I have a loan of a Burny Les Paul.

I have not played an LP for decades; I bought an American Classic Strat way back in the last century, but my first electric guitar was a Les Paul gold top.

I swapped out the bass humbuckers on the gold top with a Dimarzio twin humbucker and added a toggle and it rocked and ripped. What an instrument that was.

Sadly I slipped on a patch of ice and tossed it under a lorry.

I still can’t “go there”. Let’s move on.

So, after years of whammy bars, and twangy-ness, I have a guitar on loan that weighs a lot more, is curvy, and the neck is not bolted on. My first job was to put on a set of 9’s.

So how did it feel to be back on a Les Paul?

Amazing. Different.

The first thing I noticed was the sustain. Wow. Just wow. Then it was the possibilities of the settings – two pickups and two volumes and tones – plus the inbetween position and all that could give.

Wonderful and empowering.

I missed the whammy, but the sustain made up for it. The superbly low action and low frets meant I was doing long slides, legato runs and playing at greater speed. yes, it makes you play differently.

The neck felt more like an acoustic – and it played well with open standard chords like people do on acoustics. It stayed in tune and all in all a happy experience. I have already written and a couple of things as a result.

But who can afford a Les Paul? I  was thinking of maybe an ES 335 in my dreams and one day  – but that day never comes. Should I get a Burny or other version? Hmmm? I hear that Gibson is almost bankrupt, so maybe now would be a good investment opportunity to go for the real thing, plus this loan has made me think I need something of that ilk to fill what is so obviously a gap…

 

Guilty Until Proven Innocent

I was always told that people were innocent until proved otherwise.

It’s about something called “The Benefit of the Doubt”.

It’s a default position. It puts the onus on the accuser so that we can all get on with life without having to defend ourselves constantly.

It’s a good idea; the bad guys get caught and the good guys that are wrongly accused are safe.

Except that it’s no longer true.

It worries me that “allegations” and “accusations” have predominance in the media these days.

As far as I can tell – at this point in time nothing has been proved against Jimmy Savile, Kevin Spacey, Woody Allen, James Levine, Harvey Weinstein, Louis CK and many others.

So – in law and supposedly IRL – these guys are safe and innocent until a jury decides guilt. Right?

 

Stroke!

It was a perfect storm.

In the run-up to Christmas break, everyone was busy and self-absorbed. I stopped shaving and soon a beard was evident. Then there was the festive break, during which my beard flourished.

I ate too much and drank too much and did not exercise enough during the festive break, so I resolved to lose weight in the New Year — much like everyone else.

I returned to the office with a beard and on a diet.

Over January I lost over 5kg by skipping bread, potatoes, and alcohol. (protip)

On the last day of January, I shaved off my beard. That was when the problems started. I woke up on 1st February with a crick on my neck. It was very painful and I had to tilt my head to the left to gain pain relief.

I now think it was the head tilt, the beard loss and the weight loss – whatever it was, my client looked at me and freaked out.

“Do you feel alright, Dave?”

“Yeah, why?”

“Come with me”

I followed him to the main boardroom where a meeting was going on.

“Sorry guys, sorry to interrupt, but look at Dave – what do you think?”

I stood there, ignominiously, as people stared at my face, intently, deliberately and solemnly.

“Oh dear!”

“Not good”

“Get him to hospital”

My eyes widened.

Suddenly I was told to go straight to the nearest hospital. I was also told to leave my car and they got a colleague to drive me to the hospital right away and without delay.

Scary. Serious. WTF?

How weird did I feel? Imagine how you would feel. They thought I was having a stroke!

Minutes later, and  I am in the A&E department of Monklands Hospital. I am Whisked into a bay, the curtains were drawn. Blood was drawn too – and a catheter installed in my right hand. I was tested for mental agility, I got an ECG print out, I had a sip test. All sorts of things were done and I was thoroughly checked over.

All in all I was whisked from my desk at 1pm and eventually made it home alive at 8pm. That’s a long, stressful shift. My wife and children arrived to relieve my colleague. And what was the verdict?

I’m OK.

Officially.

Nice to know.

On the other hand, people think I have had a stroke just because I am ugly.

Nice.

Oh My Gawd!

We got a new Mitel phone system installed in the office.

I connected the wires. I logged in. So far so good. I set up 30 odd other phones. I’m a helpful guy.

Then I noticed that I had to set up my voicemail. I pressed the appropriate buttons.

“Input your voicemail password” … Easy – login password 4 digits plus three more as provided in the email.

“Enter your new seven-digit password”… Oops (I wasn’t prepared for replacing the password)… 0000000

“Say your name as you like it to be said”… OK, no problems.

 

“Please say your outgoing message”… So I said “Sorry I am not available – please leave a message and I’ll get back to you as soon as I can”.

That was it. Simple enough – until I noticed that when tested, people calling in only heard: “Sorry I am not available – please leave a message and I’ll get back to you as soon as I can”… not my name. I ought to have said my name in both recordings. Damn.

I tried to erase and re-record the “Sorry I am not available – please leave a message and I’ll get back to you as soon as I can”, but it wouldn’t let me. Never mind.

I overheard a colleague trying to do the same thing I had just done, so I said, “You have to be careful; if you get it wrong, you cannot change it”.

Unknown to me, the daft lassie admin person was in the middle of doing the same thing. When she heard me saying you cannot change the message recorded, she exclaimed, “What? Oh! My! Gawd!”

And this is what was recorded as her outgoing message.

When people call her and get voicemail, they are greeted with, “What? Oh! My! Gawd!”.

And she cannot change it.

 

Christmas Songs

Christmas Carols aside, there are a LOT of Christmas songs out there, yet we only hear the same cycle of songs that form the canon.

I like to explore a bit at Christmas, and this year I came across a Bob Dylan Christmas album. Yes. Bob Dylan. I know.

According to Wikipedia today….

“Christmas in the Heart is the thirty-fourth studio album and first Christmas album by American singer-songwriter Bob Dylan, released on October 13, 2009 by Columbia Records. The album comprises a collection of hymns, carols, and popular Christmas songs. All Dylan’s royalties from the sale of this album benefited the charities Feeding America in the USA, Crisis in the UK, and the World Food Programme.

“Dylan said that, although he was born and raised Jewish (he converted to Christianity in the late 1970s before returning to observing Judaism[), he never felt left out of Christmas during his childhood in Minnesota. Regarding the popularity of Christmas music, he said, ‘… it’s so worldwide and everybody can relate to it in their own way.'”

For me, the most fun track is “Must Be Santa”. I encourage all to enjoy this one; it’s daft. It was written by William Fredericks, Hal Moore, but listen out for the Dylan subversion!

Fredericks/Moore had:

“Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen,
Comet, Cupid, Donner and Blitzen”

Dylan changed this to:

“Dasher, Dancer,
Prancer, Vixen,
Eisenhower Kennedy,
Johnson. Nixon,
Dasher, Dancer,
Prancer, Vixen
Carter, Reagan,
Bush and Clinton”

Seemlessly.

In this treat, Dylan is backed by a klezmer band! And… it’s a Schitzelbank song! Oh! trust Bob Dylan to be so complex – Jewish/ German/ Christmas/ Christmas/ American Politics/ Charity and good works – and the video is set in an American deep south colonial mansion where adults frolick and party and also have some fighting and destruction – and the video is shot so well that you are surprised at coming across Dylan after a cinema verite style one-take sweep. Genius! and – what a complex package of sheer silly funness! Classique!

Anyway, Merry Christmas!