Monday, March 30, 2009

satan vs the macho man

Welsh flag

Do they come much madder than this?

The Welsh Christian Party says having a red dragon - an animal it believes symbolises the devil - on the national flag is at odds with Wales' position as a Christian nation.

It is calling for the flag which has officially been in place since 1959, to be replaced with the black and gold cross of St David.

St David flag

The party's leader, the Rev George Hargreaves, said, "We will not allow this evil symbol of the devil to reign over Wales for another moment.

"Wales is the only country in history to have a red dragon on its national flag.

"This is the very symbol of the devil described in The Book of Revelation 12:3.

"This is nothing less than the sign of Satan, the devil, Lucifer that ancient serpent who deceived Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden.

"No other nation has had this red dragon as its ruling symbol.

"Wales has been under demonic oppression and under many curses because of this unwise choice.

Well, if they're against the red Welsh dragon on the flag, shouldn't they also be looking askance at the notably similar rampant red Scottish lion on the Royal Standard?

the Royal Standard of the UK

To me, this flag is waaaay more offensive. Leaving aside the unmerited assertion of Royal worthiness (being vaguely descended from thieves and murderers seems a poor qualification for adulation but maybe I'm just picky), England gets twice the space of Scotland or Ireland.

It seemingly lays claim to all of Ireland, and - surely a better platform for a Welsh party to fight - there's no Welsh feature at all. Whilst this may be a more accurate depiction of the real state of constitutional bias in the UK, it's hardly what we should be affirming by sticking it all over a new batch of coins.

Anyway, back to the main topic, who exactly is this person who can say with a straight face that Wales has suffered fifty years of 'demonic oppression' because of its flag?

The Welsh Christian Party is one wing of Hargreaves' Christian Party. They were outraged at the recent atheist bus adverts

Bus displaying advert 'There's probably no god, now stop worrying and enjoy your life

So they responded with one of their own

Bus displaying advert 'There definitely is a God, so join the Christian Party and enjoy your life

The clue to what sticks in George Hargreaves' craw lies in considering the adage that there's none more zealous than the convert.

Before he formed the Christian Party in 2006 he'd dallied at the edge of politics, standing for election in the Referendum Party. His own party, though, has allowed free rein to his even less tolerant leanings on abortion and other issues.

For the Welsh Christian Party, the practice of homosexuality will be presented as a sinful activity alongside sex out of marriage.

Hargreaves wasn't always a modern day Mary Whitehouse. Come back 25 years and we find him somewhere altogether different, initiating the revenue stream that funds his bigotry work to this day.

an anti-abortion group contesting every UK seat in the European elections is being directly funded by royalties from Sinitta’s 1980s disco classic ‘So Macho’.

The song reached number two in 1985, sold over a million copies and still generates around £10,000 a month for the man who wrote it, the Rev George Hargreaves, a songwriter and promoter turned Christian.

As it's sung by a woman, So Macho is often taken as an offensively sexist song ('I want a man who will dominate me / Someone to love and protect me / And take care of my every need'). But it was actually a Hi-NRG record aimed squarely at coke-and-poppers gay clubs.

As if to prove the point, the B-side is called Cruising.

back of the cover of So Macho

Well then, Mr Hargreaves. We know what homophobia really says about someone, don't we?

Friday, March 27, 2009

artistic balancing commando

We recently bade an eternal farewell to Lux Interior. Coming so soon after the deaths of John Martyn and Ron Asheton, I'm deeply alarmed. If the good artists die quicker than the bad ones, the proportion of bad ones increases.

So I propose the formation of an Artistic Balancing Commando splinter group of Shoot The Suit. Every time a Levi Stubbs or a George Melly dies, the ABC will take out a Mick Hucknall or a Stevie Nicks.

This will not only help to preserve balance, but in the long term the crap artists' insurance companies will find it worthwhile to stave off payouts by giving free high-quality healthcare to the good artists.


Wednesday, March 25, 2009

oxfam praising biofuels

As I reported elsewhere, in January there was a high-level 'climate question time' in Leeds.

The non-party politician on the panel was Martin Kirk, Oxfam's Head of UK Campaigns. Whilst he was good on several points, he alarmed me considerably when he said

None of us foresaw the effects of first generation biofuels, but without them we wouldn’t be getting to second generation and that’s the right direction to go in.

The UK certainly could not be anything like self-sufficient in agrofuels. This means we’d be having cash-crop plantations abroad. This, alone, should make us wary of 'second generation' agrofuels. But there’s a lot more that should make us actively oppose them, much of it especially pertinent to Oxfam.

Agrofuels compete with food

The idea that because an agrofuel crop isn't a foodstuff it doesn't compete with food is simply wrong, and misunderstands why global food prices have risen.

It is not just about the staple food crops such as corn being diverted into fuel production. The best land goes to the best crops. In these terms, the best crops are not those that feed the most people nor those that are most sustainable, but those that are most profitable. As those who drive are richer than those who don't, agrofuels will take precedence over food production.

There is the idea that the agrofuel crop could be something not dependent on high quality soil, grown on ‘marginal land’. In reality, there is no such thing as marginal land. It is, at present, often used as pasture for livestock. So to convert it to agrofuels would displace food production on to virgin land. The only alternative is that virgin land is cleared directly for agrofuel plantations at great cost to biodiversity and the climate.

Either way, it means wild land goes under the plough. We know from first generation agrofuels what the impacts of forest clearance are. Food prices go up, forests come down, and carbon emissions are up to ten times worse than if we just continued burning oil. Second generation would be no different. There is no spare half-continent of land lying about for us to use.

The idea that there can be some sustainable agrofuel alternative to oil fundamentally misunderstands what oil is. It is millions of years of solar energy converted to biomass and concentrated. Even at its most efficient, annual agrofuel production cannot begin to compete. Taking a tiny percentage of our vehicle fuel from plants has already contributed to global food price rises and hunger. Moving further down that route would be catastrophic.

Using agricultural waste

The proposal is that second generation agrofuels can be made from agricultural waste.

If we are to move away from oil and gas-derived agrichemicals that cause huge emissions of nitrous oxide - a greenhouse gas 298 times more potent than carbon dioxide - we need to help people move to sustainable agricultural systems. There should be almost nothing we could call 'agricultural waste'.

Organic matter returned to the soil prevents erosion, improves soil structure and water retention and gives the next crop its nutrition. To earmark it all for agrofuel is to effectively mine the soil for our cars. That nutriment will need to be replaced. That means high-emitting agrichemicals, substances that poor farmers elsewhere in the world cannot afford, and even if they could the climate couldn’t take it.

They would not be carbon neutral

It is argued that second generation agrofuels will be carbon neutral, or at least carbon-negative (ie deliver more energy than they take to make).

We know that corn ethanol is carbon-positive. Sugar and palm are carbon-negative (if you ignore the considerable emissions from land clearance and soil degradation) because the tropical sun can invest so much energy into plants. Corn and oilseed rape are far poorer agrofuel crops because they are grown with less solar energy.

This means that for carbon-negative agrofuels, production would need to be focused on the tropical – poorer - nations. We’ll do more of what we've done for production of tea and coffee and other cash crops, on a colossal scale. Importing inappropriate farming methods, ruining soils and depleting water supplies for vast monocultures is something to be opposed rather than endorsed.

Also, much of the ‘agricultural waste’ is in the form of dry matter. Whilst things like wheat straw might make good biomass for burning, they are very poor for production of liquid fuel. It is far easier to convert fat-rich plants. This is part of the reason why corn is so carbon-intensive compared to palm oil.

For what genuine waste oil there is, we should convert it to biofuel. At present, all the waste vegetable oil in the UK would supply biodiesel for about three in every thousand cars. The other 997 have got to find some alternative.

That can only be agrofuels, electricity (requiring a huge investment in renewable generation if we’re to power our cars as well as the present grid), or decreasing the demand by using cars less (public transport and radical social reorganisation would help, but there is considerable hostility to any policy that confronts the car culture).

The one that causes the least problems for rich-nation governments is agrofuels. As the problems with them have become undeniable, they dangle the prospect of second generation agrofuels, using the flawed arguments I’ve mentioned above. As with carbon capture for coal, they offer a supposedly imminent technofix that may not work or even happen as an excuse to continue increasing emissions and avoiding tackling the root causes of climate change.

Second generation agrofuels would be comparably destructive to the climate, biodiversity and food security as first generation. Given the scale on which they’re planned, they would be more so. This is something that we should all be opposing rather than adovcating, especially organisations such as Oxfam whose concern is for the global poor.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

alternative medicine

I don't want this blog to turn into Monbiot Watch or anything, but he's said summat again that makes me go 'hang on'.

He points out that many environmentalists are meticulous about their climate science yet get laughably superstitious about things like homeopathy. In doing so, he sweepingly decries 'alternative medicine,' a term too broad to have much meaning.

It's remarkable how agribusiness has us using the term 'conventional farming' for practices that are barely fifty years old and even now only used in certain parts of the world. All other methods are, by implication, unconventional - a bit weird, dippy and/or ineffective, they should be abandoned or catch up.

By the same token, if it's not pharmaceutical-surgical, it's 'alternative' medicine, batty and useless hippy nonsense, unlike the real thing. This attitude prevails even when big chunks of pharmaceutical medicine are seemingly based on shonky foundations.

Prozac, the bestselling antidepressant taken by 40 million people worldwide, does not work and nor do similar drugs in the same class, according to a major review released today.

The term 'alternative medicine' is used to describe a vast jumble of practices. Some of them we have no evidence for and nobody uses, like leeches; these are lumped in with popular yet still evidence-free stuff like crystals and homeopathy, together with ones that do indeed have some real evidence of their effectiveness like acupuncture and herbal medicine.

Herbal medicine is complementary to 'conventional' medicine. If you turn up at a herbalist's with something very serious, they refer you to a doctor. Herbalists can treat a wide range of minor conditions, but as a sole prescription it's clearly for eczema and depression rather than rampant cancer or open heart surgery.

It is so complementary that it overlaps to a sizeable degree. The development of new pharmaceutical medicines is often just isolating the active part of a plant already used in herbal medicine.

Acupuncture can also be complementary to Western medicine. I recently spoke to a GP who refers patients and says that it not only works on minor conditions in a less sledghammery way but can actually cure one or two conditions such as chronic back pain that pharmaceutical medicine often cannot treat, only mask.

Homeopaths, on the other hand, tend to distrust modern knowledge of physiology and believe their medicine can treat anything.

The theory is that the more you dilute the active ingredient, the stronger the medicine becomes. Many pills are so diluted that they would need to be bigger than your entire body to contain a single molecule of the active ingredient. Some would need to be bigger than the earth.

One person I know who studied homeopathy was told by her lecturer that if you cannot get the active ingredient then just write the name of it on a piece of paper and use that instead. Not only can water retain more power of a drug the less it contains, but it can read any language in any handwriting too.

Homeopathy defies all scientific reasoning, and indeed it defies the results of proper trials. There's no real evidence homeopathy works. Despite this, homeopaths will tell you they can treat anything and will happily send you into a malaria zone inoculated with tiny sugar pills.

Clearly the scientific methods used to discern what works should apply to all medicinal disciplines, but when it costs hundreds of thousands of pounds to get a medicine on the EU approval list, you're only going to shell out if you own the patent rather than someone growing valerian root.

This is why so many things from the pills and potions aisle in Holland and Barrett make no claims for themselves and only say they 'should not be used as a substitute for a varied diet'. Some of these substances work, others probably do not, and we don't know which are which or what a real effective dosing regime should be.

Perhaps where there's considerable anecdotal evidence for a non-patent treatment the EU itself should pay to have it properly evaluated. Given how much we spend on health care, and how much we'll save by having cheaper non-patented treatments available, it would likely be a comparatively small sum of money soundly invested.

Friday, March 20, 2009

shoot the suit

I had a conversation recently with a climate activist about how some people we feel are onside end up saying something stupid that undermines our good work. Witness Mark Lynas' support for nuclear power and Jim Hansen's criticism of anti-aviation activists. It goes back into the mists of time. I remember well the big chief of Friends of the Earth, Charles Secrett, issuing a press release calling some Newbury bypass protesters 'hotheads and idiots'.

The activist I was talking to posited that these people are sellouts in proportion to the amount of time they spend in suits. Without wishing to sound a bit like 'never trust anyone over thirty', there's something to it.

It is not important to demonstrate causality here. Whether the suit remoulds the mind or the remoulded mind becomes attracted to suits is irrelevant. There is a clear established link between suit-wearing and talking a bunch of unhelpful arse.

The solution suggested was to form a genuine eco-terrorist group called Shoot The Suit. You know how nurses who work with X-rays and stuff have to wear little badges that react to radiation? If their badge changes colour they're taken away from that work before it does any damage. Shoot The Suit would be the activist equivalent, monitoring the amount of time spent in suits and taking out anyone overexposed before they can do any harm.

Personally, I think that's a bit hardcore, and perhaps offenders should initially be given the chance of rehabilitation via another kind of hardcore; compulsory membership of an anarcho-punk band.

Rather like an old-school boot camp that shaves your head and makes you do months of mindless square-bashing, people like Hansen would be given a mohican, doused in ketamine and forced to spend a year or two in squats shouting unintelligible rants about vivisection over brainmeltingly loud guitar that sounds like an avalanche of dirty gravel.

Hopefully this would redress whatever part of them has been knocked out of kilter. If, at the end of this, they are still found to be beyond hope then it's time for Shoot The Suit to take over.

Monday, March 16, 2009

the coal caravan

One of the things that surprised people about last year's Camp for Climate Action against Kingsnorth coal power station was the inclusion of miners union president Arthur Scargill as a star speaker.

It's only surprising if you see it in terms of whether one has an affection for coal as a substance. In the broader scheme of things, it wasn't surprising at all. Not only was he there, but he was treated like the genuine folk hero that he is.

Scargill and the trade union movement come from a position that opposes the monetarist ideology, the idea that economic growth should be the prime purpose of society, that wealth and power should be concentrated into the hands of the already powerful and wealthy at the expense of everyone else.

The alternatives - the strengthening of community, social cohesion and solidarity, a localising of life - to the climate campers these are intangible aspirations for the future, whereas the mining communities know them as concrete reality.

Or at least, they did do. As George Monbiot notes

The black and white photos of the miners' strike have become blurred into the sepia record of centuries past, muddled up somewhere in our collective memory with the Blitz and the trenches.

There is a generation that has no memory of real trade union social ideals. Just as we have a lot to learn from the Dig For Victory / Make Do And Mend generation, so we must learn from and reinvigorate the trade unions social justice and welfare vision, and nowhere was that stronger than with the miners.

But they too must learn. The future of coal must be pretty much the opposite of its past. Scargill's ideas of 100% carbon capture and making carbon-free oil from coal are impossible pipe-dreams that nobody else, including those working on the technologies, think remotely possible. (Even if it somehow were, burning the coal is only part of the problem, as massive amounts of methane are released during mining).

Just as the airline pilots should drop their lies about climate change and instead be seeking a just transition for their members to a fair society based on what we now know to be true, so the last believers that big coal can sit well with social justice must choose one or the other. To talk, to listen, and for both sides to be ready to shift their ideas is essential to building a mass movement for climate justice.

The Climate Camp has not only done the spectacular protests (and is busy lining up more), but there's now a spinoff project called the Coal Caravan.

From 24th April to 4th May, they'll be travelling from the East Midlands through Yorkshire up to the North East, holding meetings with people in areas that were mining communities, visiting Ferrybridge power station, going to open cast mines and meeting people opposing planned new ones, forging links, educating and, hopefully, heading forward together, stronger.

All are welcome to join for any or all of the Coal Caravan journey.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

hillsborough: twenty years, no justice

One of the things about getting older is the increasing duty to pass on the lesser known bits of history that you've witnessed. It can be surprising how some things get forgotten, or how the public perception differs from what you know happened.

April 15th is the 20th anniversary of the Hillsborough disaster, when 96 people were crushed to death at a football match at Sheffield Wednesday's ground. There'll be stuff in the media about it. Expect it to focus on the human aspect and to treat it as some sort of dreadful accident, either without proper cause or perhaps the result of some 80s-style football hooliganism. It wasn't.

The crush was caused by criminally neglectful policing compounded by the awful decision to push fans outside the ground into an already overcrowded, poorly laid-out area of the stadium.

Even as the event unfolded the police were denying responsibility, and the years that followed have been a sordid tale of despicable cover-up and intimidation.

I've written a piece about it that's the new feature article on U-Know, called Hillsborough: Twenty Years, No Justice.

Monday, March 09, 2009

the mask of consumerism slips

Mark Lynas has some interesting things to say about the way the credit crunch affects green technology, and indeed there seems to be a lot up in the air and it could go dramatically one way or the other.

The wariness of lending or investing could stifle a switch to new systems, and economic concerns could make environmentalism seem less important. But then, new green-collar jobs can be a way out of the recession, and as we start to see the amount of money government will slosh round measured in trillions, all of a sudden the amount needed to get to a low-carbon economy seem realistic.

I see something similar in the intangible and psychological realms. In this time when the financial game of bluff that underpins our society falters, as the cracks crack open and the crumbs are crumbling down, a mass of people are newly awakened and questioning the fundamentals in ways they never have before.

It is clear to all that the people at the top aren't really in control. George W Bush, Gordon Brown, Angela Merkel and the rest did not get elected with any plan or desire to nationalise banks.

When the Amazon's bestselling paperbacks has Galbraith's The Great Crash in the top 20 for months on end and even The Communist Manifesto in the top 500, there's a real sense of the ground shifting under our feet. Running along with the ratrace has no guarantees of comfort, the whole thing needs reappraising and changing, and surely there are other, better, ways of living.

The downturn has other interesting phenomena. One of the first things to go in a recession is spending on advertising. People who are poor, or worried about soon becoming poor, are no use to people trying to sell superfluous crap.

The average Briton watches about three hours of TV advertising every week. Even a 'serious' newspaper like the Guardian is over 10% adverts. These statistics used to depress me, but I recently heard Alliance for Green Socialism's Mike Davies look at it another way. Our consumerism, the pressure to measure your life by what you buy or else be ridiculed and ostracised, is largely the result of this omnipresent advertising. It takes that much to prop up this bullshit. What happens when it's removed?

If the tide of consumerist propaganda recedes then the foundations of another life become visible. It becomes clearer to us that the chase for material status hasn't made us happy. Quite the opposite in fact. As a study into young people's mental health put it

What is striking is that, in a counter-intuitive way, rises in mental health problems seem to be associated with improvements in economic conditions

The reduction of advertising, a symptom of the downturn, actually contributes to peoples' ability to envision other ways of living.

Obviously a chosen, smooth transition is preferable to crisis and desperate attempts to resuscitate the suicidal consumer-capitalist system. But nonetheless, amidst the chaos I see bright hope. People wanting fundamental change not just in the way power is wielded, but in the make-up of power itself.

Charlie Brooker says of our politicians

they could get away with this bullshit while times were good, while people were comfortable enough to ignore what was happening; when people were focusing on plasma TVs and iPods and celebrity gossip instead of what the politicians were doing - not because they're stupid, but because they know a closed shop when they see one. But now it looks as if those times are at an end, and more and more of us are pulling the dreampipes from the back of our skulls, undergoing a negative epiphany; blinking into the cold light of day.

As well as the lack of smooth transition, there's also danger in the range of other paradigms that can gain ground. The racist overtones of the recent 'British jobs for British workers' strikes could be an overture for something much nastier. And this could be given a distorted boost in the European elections. As with by-elections, they tend to be favourable to protest votes and, as Blairwatch noted, the BNP are the most likely beneficiaries of protest votes right now.

So there's a need to mobilise, and to ensure that the climate imperative isn't shuffled to the bottom of the deck.

On April 1st the G20 group of nations meet in London, and there'll be a range of actions to meet them, all under the banner of G20 Meltdown.

For the climate conscious, there's an action at 1pm at the European Carbon Exchange at Hasilwood House, 62 Bishopsgate. It is, as the name suggests, the hub of European carbon trading, the fraudulent and ineffective (but hugely lucrative) uber-offsetting scheme.

Their touted climate solution is lots of complicated financial instruments as an effective means of clear dealing without scams and sleight of hand. Have we learned nothing from the credit crunch?

See you there, in the words of Climate Camp, because nature doesn't do bailouts.

Friday, March 06, 2009

the 80s bass player dance

That Teardrop Explodes performance featured in my last post is great when you've got the view from inside Julian Cope's head. What caught my objective eye, though, was the over-agitated bass player Alfie Agius.

There was this thing in the 1980s, the Bass Player Dance, a sort of smooth disjointedness seemingly pioneered by Andy McClusky, of which Agius' Top Of The Pops performance is a notably vigorous variant.

What was it about the time that made background musicians like bassists and keyboard players try to be more kinetic than the guitarist?

I mean, those slung-round-the-neck 'keytar' keyboard thingies, sheesh.

Keytar player leaping in the air like a guitar hero. And looking a right twat doing it.

Anyway, Youtube doesn't just have that Teardrop Explodes performance, it also comes up trumps with the man who is, to my mind, the king of 80s bass player dancing, Mick Anker out of Blow Monkeys.

I don't expect you to sit through all four minutes of this, obviously, but check him out at 1.13-1.17, 2.38-2.42, and his peerless masterclass at 3.57-4.02.

Were Blow Monkeys really big enough to warrant the accoutrements of the overpaid 80s band; the keyboard player, backing singers and percussionist? Or was the ubiquitous Steve Sidelnyk available as cheap labour on some government training scheme?

Amazingly, evidence points us towards them having real clout. A little dig around finds a single they recorded with Curtis Mayfield! Curtis Fucking Mayfield!

I wonder if Anker was his real name. Imagine going to school with that, how every written incidence will get its W prefix.

Maybe it's what put the fire under him. There's that cliche about the disproportionate number of performers who had a parent die at a formative age, or else those who were done down at school. I remember an Oasis interview - their records are worthless, the interviews priceless - where Noel said his music teacher had told him he'd never amount to anything, and 'if you're watching Mr Taylor, would you like to borrow a tenner?'.

By the same token you can imagine Mick Anker thinking 'I'm on stage at fucking Wembley, try putting a W on the front of my exercise books now'.

I raised the issue with a friend, who picked up on Anker's Clockwork Orange overtones.

That Mick Anker was a veritable Sum Total of all '80s moves done on bass AND he's a hard-looking bowler hatted geezer who would've consumed Alfie Agius, Gary Tibbs and Pino Palladino for breakfast!

Achieving such a crap sub-sub-Ashes To Ashes sound is created by a thumb-and-forefinger technique known as 'pulls', which is why bassist James Eller - on the promotional material for Julian Cope's World Shut Your Mouth single - declared that he 'knows no pulls'! Quite astute for the time.

Pulls - those hard metallic cling noises, really prominent in the medium paced instrumental bit of 99 Red Balloons (0.54-1.05) - were another variant of 80s bass trying to overstep its mark and grab unwarranted limelight, like thumb-slaps and fretless slides, all of them sort of audio equivalents of the bass player dance.

In the 1950s people in jazz bands must've thought the same thing when guitar came forward from a feel-it rhythm instrument to a loud lead. But hell, twenty years on we had Jimmies Hendrix and Page, whereas twenty years on from 80s bassists what have we got in bass prominence? Another fucking Level 42 reunion.

I say again, sheesh.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

passionate friend on acid

Issue 3 of the mid-90s drug zine Heads And Tales had an indispensable little feature called Ten Rules For Tripping.

1 - Cars can hurt you.
2 - You cannot fly.
3 - It's never 'a good day to die', no matter how amazingly dramatic it sounds.
4 - Taking your clothes off will draw attention.
5 - Keep mouth shut at all times in public.
6 - Although you may see things that are not there, you won't NOT see things that aren't there.
7 - Don't forget how to burp.
8 - Only carry a house key, some loose change, and your address in your shoe.
9 - Nobody can tell you're tripping till you tell them 'I'm tripping'.
10 - No matter how fucked you think you are, you'll eventually come down.

It's rule 9 that we're going to illustrate here.

On the surface, this appears to be just Teardrop Explodes doing Passionate Friend on Top of The Pops in September 1981. Because, unless singer Julian Cope tells us 'I'm tripping,' we're none the wiser.

In his autobiography Head-On, Cope describes what was going on from his perspective.

= = = = = = =

We piled into the Toppy studios for what was to be a 'live' broadcast. Of course, we were still going to be lip-synching but it was screened directly to its regular 10 million viewers.

Gary [Dwyer, drummer] and I took huge hits of LSD during the afternoon and our dressing room had a vague narcotics lab feel about it, what with Droyd and Bates and the head of [record label] Phonogram TV punishing large quantities of powder.

We lurched over to our set. I was going to perform the whole song on top of a grand piano, in bare feet with leather pants and a shit embroidered top that I'd made from a Columbia hotel pillowcase.

I climbed on to the piano and freaked. No way. I could barely stand up on the ground. Up on the piano I felt like Basketball Jones, the cartoon kid from the Cheech and Chong video who keeps getting bigger and bigger.
I looked up into the ceiling of the studio, the lights twinkled like distant stars. From my elevated position on the piano, studio technicians and members of other groups looked grotesque.

The acid heightened the fake tans of everyone in the room and only accentuated the paleness of the Teardrop members. Of course, if they'd had a chance, Alfie, Jeff and Gary would have been sun-worshippers, but I had to keep those bastards in check.

We ran through the camera rehearsal and loped back into the dressing room. The next few hours were spent smoking spliff and everyone trying in vain to persuade me from wearing the orange pillow case.
'Okay, Copey, five minutes and you're on'. Uh? Wow, Batesy was right. I sat, head down, with the front of my leathers undone. Sweat coursed down my belly and I mopped it up with my shitty top.

I was paranoid as hell. The BBC make-up woman had scared the shit out of me. They had asked me if I'd just come back from the Bahamas and said they loved my tan. Of course, irony is lost on someone who's tripping his brain out, so I figured that I must be turning brown.

'I'm not too dark
really, am I?'

'Fuckin ell Copey, you're dead pale, honest'. Gary was trying to make me feel better, but what did he know? He was tripping too and I didn't want people placating me. It was time to go. I wasn't ready. We had to go. I wasn't ready. Why aren't you ready? I don't feel tall enough. Well, you're gonna be standing on top of a piano. Is that tall enough for you. Eh?

They led me reluctantly out to the studio floor. It was total chaos out there. People were running around and freaking out and winding everyone else up. I suddenly felt very becalmed. A group called Buck's Fizz were doing their thing on the other side of the studio. They were a two-boy, two-girl, fun group with cutesy expressions and dance routines. We were to follow them.

[The Buck's Fizz song was One Of These Nights. The TOTP performance doesn't seem to be archived online, but it must've been pretty darn similar to this one]

I watched fascinated. Then as time moved slowly on I felt sucked into their scene. God, they were brilliant. I wanted to be in Buck's Fizz. I rushed over to Gary and hit him with the idea. The two of us should join. Imagine an acid-soaked dance group with showbiz routines, it would be incredible.

It was two minutes to our performance. We had to be exact as it was live, so no mistakes. Bates dragged me to the grand piano. Shit, it's like an ocean liner. The piano was exquisite and moved gently past me as I walked around it.
Little girls ran over towards me as I climbed aboard the piano. I smiled my most ridiculous and inane grin and, after much manoeuvring, scrambled to the top of this vast and polished plateau.

The finish of the piano was unbelievable. I waded in its high gloss black syrup, my bare feet sinking deeper and deeper into the surface like hot wet tar on a newly completed road. It was all I could think about.
'Don't jump around too much, Copey. It'll cost us a fortune if you wreck that thing'. Oh, thanks a lot, Batesy. Thanks fucking loads. That's just what I want to hear when I'm tripping on live TV.

The boom camera swung away from Buck's Fizz as their song faded out. Everyone was in position and I forgot to duck as the camera crane whizzed past my head, nearly knocking me from my dubious perch. Okay, I'm not in Buck's Fizz. I'm not. Better remember.

'The friend I have is a passionate friend, but I can't see you buying...'.
Passionate Friend doesn't have an intro or anything. It just starts - vocals, drums, guitar, everything. All together. In a split second, I was fighting for my life up on the piano. I looked back at Gary who was off his head. His blond quiff was hanging straight out over his face, jiblike and starched and strong like a newly creosoted fence. I wanted to climb on to it and walk along its length, like a sailor walking the plank.

Around me, the song waged war with itself. So much going on. How can I keep this together? Who cares, I'm doing fine. I looked down at Jeff, thousands of feet below me at the piano keyboard. He looked ridiculous to me, like the phantom of the opera or some such shit.

Now, Passionate Friend is also one of those songs that has a reprise. See, the whole song builds to a climax then we come to a stop, and start the whole thing again. Suddenly, I was miming, 'the friend I have is a passionate friend, but I can't see you buying...'.
Hold on, I thought. What's all this? My mind did double-takes and I battled for some sense of reality. Maybe this was the real start of the performance. Maybe I'd imagined the first half of the song. What the hell is going on?

I felt the song disappearing into a tunnel. It was fading out and the Top of The Pops audience was cheering. I felt as though I had been up there for days. But I'd done battle and I seemed to have won.

Sunday, March 01, 2009

bottling out of recycling

Come dive into the vast ocean of uncritical wonder that the Daily Telegraph's Julia Hailes pours upon a 'dreamland' plastic bottle recycling facility.

the recycled plastic produced will use half as much energy to make than virgin material

I saw a London council poster saying the energy saved by recycling a single drinks bottle is equivalent to leaving a low-energy bulb on for over 24 hours. I find the amount surprisingly large, but plausible. So, surely we should be recycling them as much as possible, right?

Apparently not.

it doesn't make sense for bottles to be made from 100 per cent recycled materials - 50 per cent is probably the ideal amount.

More than that makes the bottle end up with a slight yellow tinge. This means that either it has to be put into a plastic sleeve, so you can't see the colour or a small amount of blue dye is added.

So, we're to keep on producing 50% virgin plastic bottles - meaning half the bottles we use won't get recycled and so will go to landfill - because we can't tolerate a slight yellow tinge?

Another issue is that completely recycled bottles are actually a bit of a problem in the recycling system. Given that there aren't that many of them, I was a bit sceptical about this until Chris explained why.

All the bottles are chopped into small flakes. If those flakes are have some virgin and some recycled plastic that's fine. But if they're all recycled it affects the quality of the end bottle, in the way I've described.

Hang on. The only problem with recycling full of recycled bottles is that dreaded intolerable slight yellow tinge? That, then, is not 'another issue'. It's the same one. And it's just as much bollocks second time around.

That's not an easy message to get out to consumers - bottles made from 50 per cent recycled plastic make more environmental sense than those made from 100 per cent.

From what she's said, they do not make more environmental sense, merely more cosmetic sense.

Look at those dastardly 100% recycled bottles you get at the Co-op.

Label of bottle of Co-op tonic water with '100% recycled PET'

They get around the tinge issue by having them be tinged a bluish colour.

The battle to increase recycling and decrease overconsumption is largely a struggle between cosmetic values and resource-valuing ones. There is no starker illustration than the desire to squander untold amounts of oil and, as we've just been told, double the energy on fresh plastic so we don't have a slight yellow tinge in our bottles.