Slowly but surely… the new album

Currently listening back to the latest mixes of my next album, “Spirit Level”. The title is taken from The Spirit Level, an influential book by Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett on the consequences of inequality in societies. With one or two exceptions, the tracks are all sounding jolly good, even though I do say so myself. Still a long way to go though, now hoping for a 2014 release.

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Monty Oxymoron, Tim Burness, Fudge Smith and Keith Hastings

We made a big step forward in March, with around ten days with Julian Tardo in Church Road Recording Studios in Hove. Having originally worked on around thirty rough tracks since 2010, some ruthless decisions have been made, and it’s now down to ten or twelve. More than ever before, I have tried to put as much of my self into this album as possible. I’m trying to give it absolutely everything – I might not have many albums left in me! Musically, as with most of my material down the years, it is a mixture of “progressive rock”, pop, and electronic and experimental elements. A fair bit of my dubious sense of humour is in there too.

A few general influences on the album have been a fascinating biography of The Beatles by Sean Egan, the stunning opening ceremony of the 2012 Olympic Games, and a number of books such as the recently published The Future by Al Gore. Musically I have gone back over much of my own work down the years, aswell as listening very very carefully to many of my all-time favourite classic rock albums and artists.

There are scrillions of people making music these days, and much of it is of a high standard. A lot of great stuff is only heard by a very small audience. At this stage, I am just grateful for the opportunity to have a lot of fun expressing myself, with the help of some great musicians and friends. Drummer Fudge Smith and bassist Keith Hastings came down to Brighton for their final contributions in March. The next step is a bit of compositional homework with keyboard maestro Monty Oxymoron, then back into the studio in a few months time.

The Future by Al Gore

TheFutureAlGoreThis is a powerful and brave book from the former American Vice President. Al Gore attempts nothing less than a current overview of the whole human condition and our situation on planet Earth, suggesting the choices we have to make and where they will lead us. He is neither overly optimistic nor overly pessimistic.

Gore carefully covers all the complicated big issues in plain language. The current crises of global capitalism and democracy are explored in great depth and from many angles – “Democracy and capitalism have both been hacked.” Interconnected topics include the dominance of corporate elites, the corruption of politics, internet security, the origins of mass marketing, the ethics of modern science, the harm done by excessive use of antibiotics, population issues, the inability of GDP to account for the true consequences of economic growth, the depletion of topsoil and water supplies, the pros and cons of the rise of China, and the politics of the denial of climate change.

AlGoreIn the conclusion, perhaps inevitably, Gore makes the case for America leading the way forward. I must admit that’s probably the only bit of this visionary volume that doesn’t quite ring true for me. But, as with just about all the suggestions in this book, his “priority goals” for America’s recovery make sense – limit the role of money in politics, and reform old laws that allow a small minority to stop legislative action in the U.S. Senate. “The world desperately needs leadership that is based on the deepest human values.” Al Gore deserves to be taken seriously. Here’s hoping this book makes at least a small difference to the mess we are in.

15 years of agency care and support work

My main income since the late nineties has involved just about every form (apart from more specialized and highly qualified roles) of care, nursing and support work that there is. It has been, and continues to be, an “interesting” journey, to put it mildly.

Like many people in care and nursing, I began with home care. For a couple of years I had three regular characters who I would cook and shop for, and in the case of the blind young man, occasionally take him down to the local pub. The retired chef from Bangladesh was always keen to tell me about his experiences with prostitutes. The self-styled “bastard in a wheelchair” of my own age was another great character, but I wasn’t surprised to hear that he later drank himself to death. From there I gradually moved into nursing homes and geriatric wards at a local hospital. Commonly known as “the poo wards”, they were wisely shut down some years later.

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Modelling an NHS incontinence pad, around 2003

Having already had experience of helping the mentally ill with both my mother’s and a friend’s troubles, next came extensive experience at two NHS psychiatric hospitals for a few years. Ah, the joy of death threats from psychotic schizophrenics. Round about the same time, I also started work at an excellent NHS neuro-rehab unit, some of my most enjoyable and genuinely rewarding experiences – partly because a lot of the patients would actually get better. They would come in with a stroke, or in a coma from a failed suicide attempt, or a brain haemorrage brought on by an extreme lifestyle, or a recurrence of multiple sclerosis symptoms. Even though I was still working for an agency, I felt very much part of the team. One actually made a difference in helping many people recover, even if only partly. Good times.WithStaffNurse

For several years I considered qualifying as either a general or psychiatric nurse. For a number of reasons I decided against it. As an unqualified “healthcare assistant” or “nursing auxiliary,” one is hands-on caring for people, not endlessly filling in paperwork and dispensing products from the pharmaceutical industry.

Other work involved experience of autism and challenging behaviour, general wards in several hospitals, also children’s homes. Round about 2007, I gradually moved into supported housing and working at homeless hostels run by the local council. Most residents at these places had a mix of mental health and drug and alcohol (“substance misuse” as they like to call it) problems. As nice as some of them were, dealing with heroin addicts on a regular basis will quickly wipe out any of the more romantic notions that anyone might have had about helping the homeless!

Following big management problems with my last agency (the local branch closed down), over the last year I have re-established myself through two different agencies – in care homes, some different NHS psychiatric units, hospitals and a few other places such as a home for the blind. It’s okay, mostly I do actually feel I’m making a difference. I wish it paid a bit more, and of course it can be physically and mentally exhausting at times. At least as an agency worker I get a bit more than many regular carers – many are on £6.50 or less an hour. Something not quite right there?