Music this past week/My Retirement Party

Had two rare record playing sessions today. I have long decided I need to spend less time on this computer, and set aside some time to play some of my records, CDs and music DVDs more often.

This morning I played some Slim Whitman and vintage Little Richard from LPs, and singles by Jesse James (South’s Gonna Rise Again), Theme From Dixie by Duane Eddy (an album track)  and Ronnie Hawkins’ great long version of  Down In The Valley, which I picked up at a Memphis record sale once.

Tonight I had a great Jerry Lee CD session with three of his greatest albums – Live At The Star Club Hamburg from 1964, the extended version of the first show at Panther Hall, Fort Worth, Texas (with the outrageous full two-part X-rated version of What’d I Say; orgasmic sex live on record!) from 1966 (my penfriend Screamin’ Dee Snoble wrote me that she turned bright red with shock and embarrassment when she first heard this track!)

Of course I had to come right up to date and finish the evening off with Jerry Lee’s fantastic 2006 duets CD Last Man Standing. Stands up well with the earlier vintage recordings.

Earlier in the week I saw Ike Turner at the Jazz Cafe, Camden Town. A lot of my music friends (the so-called Woodies) were at the Hemsby Weekender, but a few of us were there for Ike’s gig including Nick Cobban and Chris de Bruin. I was a little disappointed as once again, as at the Barbican, Ike insisted on letting his latest Tina Turner substitute take over the latter part of his set, and this one wasn’t nearly as good as the previous ones.

What he did play/sing solo was good, but considering he was sitting at the keyboards most of the time I’d like to have heard more piano from Ike. He didn’t do Rocket 88, but did do Johnny B. Goode, playing guitar much better than Chuck Berry does nowadays. Get shot of this latest ‘Tina Turner’ Ike, she’s not much cop. Anyway we paid to see Ike, not some third rate Tina impressionist. Ike’s two sets at Ronnie Scott’s a few years back were the best I’ve seen him.

Friday we had another of the Tales From The Woods jam sessions down at the Caxton Arms, The Highway, in the Shadwell area. Not the easiest place in London to get to. Not a great turnout this week either as Ken and some of the others are in the States for the New Orleans Jazz Festival, etc., and Keith was in Malta, Corliss in Amsterdam. But those who were there had an enjoyable evening.

 Next TFTW gig will be my Retirement Party (coupled with Brian Jessup’s birthday party).  I sent out 33 postal invitations this week asking people to let me know if they are coming. This included most of my relations, George’s relations and various friends not on email. So far I’ve only had 3 replies, two to say they are not coming and one to say he’ll come if I can pay his fare as he’s short of cash. My brother hasn’t said if he’s coming or not, but seems to be away at the moment. However I had already been informed that three of George’s nephews/grand nephews will be coming down for the party.

Well, they’ve all been invited, so just have to see who turns up. None of the people in my team at work have said they are coming. Sylvia, who’s been my work colleague the past 21 years, says she can’t come, even though I told them all to keep the date clear months ago. So far two people from my whole department of nearly 20 people have said they will come. Seems unless you organize something at the workplace, or in a nearby pub, around 5pm on a weekday, few people at work will come to any retirement party.

I believe they are organizing a few drinks on my last day – just hope I can come to my own leaving drinks and won’t be stuck on Reception as usual till 6 or 6.30 pm!

Retirement Party plans/Pensions

Invitations are now being sent out to my friends, family and work colleagues, via email and regular post. I’ll send reminders by email about 2 weeks before the event on May 26th. Will also put the color illustrated flyers up around work: they couldn’t be emailed as they are in Microsoft Office 2007 format which most people can’t open/read.

Someone pointed out May 26th is the late May Bank Holiday Weekend, so a lot of people will be going away. This is a pity, but too late to change the date now. We have a great line-up, so I hope we get a good turnout.

After 57 years non-stop (apart from weekends, holidays and illness) I have been daily going to work, college or school, so I feel I’m now ready for retirement, plus I want to spend more time with my mother who’s 93 later this year. None of us are getting any younger.

Instead of raising the retiring age to 68 or 70, as the government proposes, surely it would make more sense to bring it down to 60 for both men and women. People can still work longer if they wish. OK, they’d have to pay our State Pensions earlier, but they’d create more jobs for the unemployed, who are often claiming for families/dependents as well.

There’s no such excuse as ‘no money for pensions’. As with all public services, pensions are essential, and the money has to be found thru taxation and NI contributions. When people have worked all their lives for over 40 years they are entitled to a State pension of at least £100 a week after any rent/mortgage is paid. Deductions should be made from their pay when working to pay for this, but due to inflation it is always going to be the present generation paying for the pensioners of their time. I earned £4.50 (£4.10s0d)  a week when I first went out to work, and my mother would have earned a few shillings a week if that. We couldn’t possibly have contributed enough to cover our pensions in the 21st century. But like insurance, and indeed wages during our working life, pensions have to be paid for. It is all a question of priorities – low taxes/NI contributions or decent pensions, Trident nuclear weapons of mass destruction or decent public services, etc.

Still unrecognized – gay ‘widowhood’

I think of us as the four ‘widowers’. We were living with our gay partners for many years, caring for them till they died. Yet we are totally unrecognized in law, and by society as a whole.

Every time I fill in a form and have to put my marital status, I am flummoxed. What am I? Married – no, Divorced – no, Widowed – legally I’m not, Single – if I put ‘yes’ to this and ‘no’ to ‘widowed’ it is like denying my partner and our long relationship ever existed – I refuse to be so disloyal. In a Civil Partnership? No, we were never given this opportunity. I usually end up ticking the ‘widowed’ box, because that is how I feel.

The four of us, friends who went around together for years, are now ‘gay widowers’, totally unrecognized as such, with no children to show for our long gay ‘marriages’ and in most cases no ‘widower’s pensions’ either.

Many of us experienced great financial hardship when our partners died. These were not ‘fly-by-night’ relationships, we all met about the same time – in the 1960s or, in my case, in 1970. We lived with our partners till they died, in sickness and in health, looking after them when they got ill as they looked after us when we were poorly. All this counts for nothing in law. Our partners are invisible, our relationship unrecognized.

Frank and Lenny (together about 40 years), Brian and Noel (about 40 years together), Tom and Norman (about 30-odd years together), George and Tony (21 years together). Only Tom got a ‘widower’s’ pension when his partner died. The rest of us not only suffered bereavement, possible loss of the home we built together (all we have to show of our long ‘marriage’ apart from photos and things we bought together), and severe financial hardship.

When George died, I immediately told the local council housing department that the joint tenant had died. I was told: ‘Then you are living in the flat illegally’. That was it – no sympathy, no condolences, just threatened with eviction from the home we had built together. Had I been evicted, I think I’d have commited suicide. The home means so much to me, containing not only things we bought together, but precious collages on the walls which George spent hours doing. How DARE they say I was living there illegally. We’d paid our rent regularly in advance - I could now have bought the place with all the money George and I have given the council in rent since 1978 when we first became council tenants.

In the event the joint tenancy was transferred to me as the single tenant, but with strict conditions. I could not ever have another joint tenancy, even if I found another partner – he would be evicted if I died first. If my aging mother moves in so I can look after her, she would be evicted if I died first. Then they put my rent up! Not only was I immediately faced with double expenditure for everything – responsible for paying all the utility bills (George always insisted on paying half of these, even when he was unemployed) but my rent would have doubled  anyway simply because George wasn’t around to pay his half. Yet they had the audacity to put it up even higher because it was a ‘new tenancy’. Remember I’d had no financial help after George’s death – no ‘widower’s’ pensions, and unfortunately he died without any life insurance policy. We had made our simple home-made Wills to each other, which was a Godsend. At least nobody could raid the home we’d built up together and take things from it because George and I, in law, were not related. There was just enough money in his bank account to pay for his funeral.

When Noel died, Brian faced similar problems. They didn’t have a joint tenancy, and he was faced with eviction from the home he had lived in for about 40 years. He was in his 70s – he couldn’t cope with it all. In the event the private landlord let him stay, but he faced a massive rent increase. With no ‘widower’s’ pension and with almost everything in their home in the name of Noel or his family, Brian faced a bleak future. In the event Noel’s family let Brian keep the furniture, etc. which was in the flat, and eventually, after his £10,000 life-savings dwindled into a £4,000 bank overdraft, he got some financial help in the form of benefits.

Frank, like me, had come into an inheritance. This disqualifies us from any benefits in our old age. After Lenny died, Frank was allowed to keep their council flat for which they also had a joint tenancy, but after his rent and council tax are paid he has precisely £8 a week left out of his pension to live on. Frank is 75, and hasn’t had a holiday for years. Yet he was told by an official that not only was he not entitled to any benefits, but the money he inherited from an aunt could not be spent on a holiday, a car or some other luxury. It had to be kept in the bank so he could pay his rent and other expenses. Only when it was nearly all gone would he be entitled to benefits. If he spent some of it on a holiday or some little luxury, he would deny himself any benefits for a long while.

These are old-age pensioners, who have not only lost their life-partners, but who have either saved up for their retirement years, or luckily come into some inheritance to help them in their last years on Earth. Nobody in their old age should be forced to try and live on £8 a week and dip into their life-savings in order to survive. A decent pension of at least £100 a week after rent/council tax/mortgage payments should be guaranteed for everybody, and it should NOT be means tested.

I retire next month. Because I’ve taken early retirement to look after my 92 year old mother, I have to wait nearly 3 years to get my State pension. Even then it will be a struggle to pay the council rent and survive. For the next three years I’ll get about £92 a week pension from my present employer out of which I have to pay £114 rent plus council tax. So I have to dip into my savings just to pay the rent, let alone other living expenses. I could apply for financial help as a carer for looking after my mother, but any money I received would be deducted from her Attendance Allowance, so we’d be no better off. I’m not really complaining, as it was my decision to take early retirement, but certainly a ‘widower’s’ pension would have been a great help. Tom received his even whilst he was still working and earning a wage.

So there you have it, the story of four lonely old men, struggling in their old age to survive, totally unrecognized as ‘widower’s’ by society. Frank’s depression since losing Lenny last year is unrelieved – the counseling he has so far received was of little help. After all, as far as society is concerned we have ‘just’ lost a friend – why are we so upset, so devastated? We were not married, we haven’t lost a spouse.

 Oh yes we have, and it’s about time it was recognized in law. A new term should be created to describe those who have been in partnerships for long periods, living with their partners for 20, 30 or 40 years till they died, but unable to get married or form a civil partnership because the law didn’t allow it at the time. Some sort of ‘widower’s’ pension for us should also be provided by the State.

None of us feel able, at our age, after living so long with our life-partners, to enter into another live-in relationship. We are set in our ways, we have too many happy memories of our deceased partners, who many of us feel are still very much with us in spirit. Civil partnerships have therefore come too late for us. We are the ‘forgotten’ ones – gay men and women who have lost their life-partners, never got the opportunity to register our relationships as civil partnerships, and get no financial or other recognition for the fact that we lived with our partners for a lifetime, caring for them till they died.

Easter weekend and what it means to me

Very good weather for this time of year, so mum and I took advantage of it. Good Friday sat by the River in Battersea for a while. On Easter Sunday we did this again, then I took her along one of our favorite trips along the River into Battersea Park. One of my mother’s favorite parks because of the variety there – the Old English Garden, the tea house overlooking the flower beds and fountains in the center of the park, the area around the lake, parts of which could be miles from London.

 Easter Monday we spent quietly watching TV, and having an afternoon lunch.

What is Easter all about? To Christians it is about Christ’s death and resurrection, but really this is just a continuation, like Christmas, of a festival much much older than Christianity. Spring is the time of renewal, of ‘resurrection’ as the plants and trees come to life again after the Winter. It has always been celebrated as such, in pagan and now Christian festivals.

As to the story of Christ, I believe the most likely explanation, which I learnt from a BBC TV program recently, was that he was indeed a great Spiritual teacher. At his birth the Bible says he was visited by wise men from the East. The program suggested these men were looking for a reincarnation of an Eastern Spiritual leader. Between the ages of 14 and 29, there is no mention of what Jesus did. The program suggested he may well have gone to the East to learn about Spiritual things and his mission in this lifetime.

Certainly when he reappeared in Galillee and the Holy Land, he was full of teachings more akin to Buddhism and Eastern religions than Judaism. The Sermon on the Mount, for instance, was full of Buddhist-type teachings about pacifism, etc.

According to the program, Jesus did not die on the Cross. Crucifixions lasted much more than the 6 hours he was on the Cross, but he was taken down because of the oncoming Sabbath. Normally the victim’s legs were broken to speed death in these cases, but with Christ this did not happen. The oils and herbs brought into his ‘tomb’ were not for embalming a dead body, but for healing wounds. Jesus survived Crucifixion, this is quite obvious. He appeared to several people, including his disciples, and it was obvious he was no ‘ghost’ or ‘spirit’ but quite solid.

 He probably then went East again, well away from the Roman Empire and those who sought to kill him. A Spiritual teacher with a similar name appeared in Kashmir about this time, and is buried there alongside two other Eastern Spiritual leaders. It is likely that Jesus died in Kashmir aged about 80. It is almost certainly his grave – by it in the stone are representations of his footprints, complete with the marks left by the nails which went thru his feet.

But Christians can take comfort in the fact that Jesus Christ, like everyone else and all living things, survived death. He is still around, and if they wish they will meet him some day.  He may or may not have reincarnated on this or other planets several times since, but he will still be recognizable, as he is still the same spirit. We all go thru this process, but some, like Jesus and the Buddha, are more developed spirits than others.

I watch Colin Fry’s ‘6th Sense’ most days of the week in which he contacts spirits on the Other Side, and there can be no doubt whatsoever that we all survive death. We are living in the Psychic Age and are much more aware of spiritual things. Science too is slowly coming around to the realization that there are unseen worlds all around us (the quantum parallel universes/alternative dimensions), and increasingly atheists/agnostics, medical staff, etc. are becoming convinced by the overwhelming evidence that there is, indeed, life after death.

Nurses and doctors are familiar with ‘near death’ experiences, and often know when a person is going to die because ‘they’ve had a visit from friends/relatives on the Other Side’. ‘Out-of-the-body’ experiences of those near death and then revived are also extremely common, especially now medical science is able to bring people back from the brink so often. Medical staff are familiar with these events, which often verify facts the unconscious patient could not possibly have known unless they were really observing and hearing events from a vantage point outside of their unconcious, near-dead physical bodies.

Anyone who can watch mediums like Colin Fry, Tony Stockwell, etc. and claim it is all a hoax, a trick, coincidence or perhaps telepathy is denying the facts. Colin tells people things they didn’t even know, until they go home and check up, and find he was right after all. Other mediums do similar things, but the fact that these sort of programs are now on TV mean the message is finally getting out: we all survive death.

That is the Easter message for me. When we die, like the flowers and trees in the Spring, we will bloom again in that alternative dimension which is all around us, and which mediums like Colin can sense and communicate with so accurately.

How long before scientists develop an inter-dimensional videophone to send/receive messages to/from these alternative dimensions where our loved ones now reside? I predict it will happen one day, because there is nothing supernatural about the powers of mediums like Colin Fry; it is just phenomena which our present scientific knowledge cannot yet explain or harness.

Recent events in Cyprus


The ‘Cyprus problem’, like the ‘Irish troubles’, has been going on for as long as I can remember in some form or other. But in recent years there has been very slow progress in Cyprus, and some setbacks.

The Annan plan for reunification of the island was rejected by the Greek-Cypriots, but at least now it is possible for both communities to visit each other across the Green Line.

A few weeks ago the Greek-Cypriots demolished the Nicosia wall across Ledra Street. This forms part of the barrier between the Greek Republic of Cyprus and the Turkish Republic of North Cyprus. The barrier has been there in some form or other since 1955, before Cypriot independence. British soldiers erected barbed wire across Ledra Street to separate the two communities. Even now the border is not open at this point, as the wall was quickly replaced by a plastic barrier.

I understand a bridge across the UN buffer zone at this point, built to facilitate a new border crossing in the center of old Nicosia, was also demolished by the Greek-Cypriots. Their motive in demolishing this section of the Nicosia wall was apparently a gesture to prove they were willing to allow a new crossing point in Ledra Street, but they demanded mainland Turkish troops be removed from the North first.

This is clearly an unrealistic demand. Of course Turkish troops must be removed from the North, but this can only be done by serious negotiation, and they need to be replaced by an international security force to protect the Turkish-Cypriot population. This could be a UN or more probably a EU force, assisted by a Turkish-Cypriot security force. The Greek-Cypriots already have their National Guard, and two huge British military bases which effectively protect them. But they too could negotiate an international security force to protect them if they felt it necessary, being the majority population.

There is presently circulating a Greek-Cypriot inspired petition calling for the return of Famagusta/Varosha, the until now derelict town and closed tourist area which has been in the Turkish zone since 1974. From talking to Turkish-Cypriots I understand parts of this area are now being developed with new tourist hotels, etc. No doubt, having waited over 30 years without making any attempt to open up and develop this once popular tourist area, the Turkish-Cypriots felt that since the Greek-Cypriots had rejected the Annan reunification plan, and seemed in no hurry to negotiate a new one, there was no point in just holding on to Famagusta/Varosha as a derelict bargaining chip, much of it frozen in the time of July 1974. 

The petition is positive in that it calls for the return of Famagusta/Varosha, rather than for the dismantling of the TRNC and absorption of North Cyprus into the Greek-Cypriot administered Republic of Cyprus. But no parts of the TRNC will be handed over to the Greek-Cypriots without negotiation and an agreed plan.

The way forward is for both communities to come together in serious negotiations to solve all these problems. They have come a long way already. There needs to be a federal solution, with Turkish-Cypriot and Greek-Cypriot states within an reunited Republic of Cyprus.

For areas like Famagusta/Varosha there are various possibilities. It could be handed over to the Greek-Cypriot state, or it could perhaps be a federal area administered directly by the Greek/Turkish Cypriot federal government of the Republic. A place where Greek and Turkish Cypriots coexist peacefully, along with the returning tourists.

Then there is the question of the return of refugees to their former homes (this applies to both Turkish and Greek Cypriot refugees), compensation for lost homes/land, etc.. By negotiation and agreement a solution can be found which protects the minority Turkish Cypriot population from being swamped by Greek Cypriots and made powerless again.

One way would be for Greek-Cypriots, wherever they lived on the island, in the Turkish or Greek states, not to be able to vote in elections for the Turkish Cypriot state assembly, only for the Greek Cypriot state assembly, and in federal elections. The opposite would apply to Turkish Cypriots living in the Greek Cypriot state.

It is now high time some serious negotiations went on, and the whole island was reunited as a member of the EU. But gestures like knocking down walls and replacing them with plastic barriers, creating petitions, etc. is not going to change anything. Both sides have to show they really do want a solution and reunification, before it will happen, and before all the problems of refugees, compensation, EU membership for the Turkish Cypriots, etc. can be solved.

If Northern Ireland can do it, and the DUP’s Ian Paisley can sit in government with Sinn Fein’s Gerry Adams, then Turkish and Greek Cypriots can also come together in a joint administration for a Federal Republic of Cyprus.



Jammin’ at The Highway

Friday nite we had another great jam at The Caxton Arms, The Highway, East London. It was worth the effort to get to this isolated spot in the strange nether reaches between Wapping, Shadwell and The City. The great Woodie House Band consisting of the talented teenagers Jaron and Rolen on keyboards and drums (Jaron also does some great vocals), with Trevor on bass guitar and John Hills on lead guitar/vocals, plus their guest musicians on sax, drums, etc.

 These guests included Andre with his wonderful slide guitar sounds, all the way from what we must now call St Petersburg, Russia (but which I still think of as Leningrad. Why go back to the German name, and not to the Russian name Petrograd I wonder?)

 Michael T.  Clayton doing Jerry Lee-style boogie on the ivories, also vocals, and Corliss Randall giving us a taste of her raunchy New Orleans Blues and Soul. Plus Jay Chance and Rockin’ Gerry Champion.

 Corliss Randall

Corliss Randall

Most of these will also be appearing at my Retirement Party in May, along with Jerry Lee’s niece, MaryJean. Keith Woods certainly has a good thing going with this band and these great jam sessions, plus the yearly events like the 50 Years of Skiffle and 2I’s Tribute nights. And he keeps discovering new talent.

 Meanwhile, the older legends like Jerry Lee rock on. Just having completed a very successful tour of Continental Europe, he is now booked for shows in the States (including the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival) and then a further European tour. He has never been more popular since the 1950s, with many appearances on U.S. TV over the past few months, his best-selling album ever, Last Man Standing, duetting with other legends, now heading for gold record status, and now an accompanying DVD ‘Last Man Standing Live’ with some other legends not on the CD. Part of this mammoth 2 hour DVD was shown on PBS TV stations in the States in March.

So it was a shock to read Jerry has canceled all his concert dates and is going into semi-retirement, till I noticed the date – April 1st. The Killer Rocks On!