Thursday, March 16, 2017

Death metal Somerset Maughan

Currently enjoying Europe In Winter by Dave Hutchinson (write-up of his entire Fractured Europe trilogy possibly forthcoming), not least for writing like this.

"Juhan was wearing skinny black jeans, a black T-shirt and a massive black leather jacket with jangly silver zippers, which hung from his shoulders like the wings of a pteroactyl. In appearance, it was as if Somerset Maugham had, in the final years of his life, decided to take up death metal."

Douglas Adams would be proud.

Health-geekery March 2017



Or maybe you didn't, but in any case (with apologies to the Utah Saints) here's the latest list of health and social care links I compile on an occasional basis. 

As ever, the inclusion of a link doesn't mean agreement, just that it's made me go hmm (with further apologies to C and C Music Factory).


MND Association new audit tool for health and social care services based on the NICE guideline launches.


New report from Neurological Alliance based on patient survey finds services to diagnose, treat and provide on-going care are failing patients across the spectrum of neurological disorders.

Budget 2017

National Voices response.

Care Quality Commission

The CQC want to hear about your experiences of poor health and social care - also some useful information about complaining to a service and whistleblowing here too (via National Voices).

Care firms

BBC investigation finds that lack of money is prompting firms to end their care contracts with councils.

And the case for regulating homecare, courtesy of the Guardian.

Continuing Healthcare

Threats to CHC in Leicestershire and the threat of reinstitutionalisation (via MND Association).


Report on delays in wheelchair provision - quotes from Muscular Dystrophy UK and Wheelchair Alliance.

Northern Ireland election and coalition-wrangling special

Worries for charity sector funding in Northern Ireland in the absence of a 2017/18 budget due to election limbo (NICVA).

A handy list of new MLA's (NICVA again).

Video about Northern Ireland's GP crisis.

Devo Manc 

Progress report from The Health Foundation.

King's Fund trifecta

Quarterly NHS monitoring report.
The role of housing in Sustainability and Transformation Plans.
Elective waiting times target may not be reached for first time this year.  

Brexit and health

Record numbers of EU nurses quit NHS (Grauniad)


Good summary here of Project AMBRoSIA on the MND Association's Research blog - the Association's biggest ever research project to date.

Teh datas

Call for a Health Data Lab to improve outcomes (NPC, backed by various charities including the MND Association).

Health Inequalities

Did you know Coventry was a Marmot City? If you think it has something to do with small furry animals, read on and be corrected (RCN Community Health Nursing Journal).

Sunday, March 5, 2017

More contenders from February 1976

There are some more tracks from February that will get the extended treatment on the blog - the gods of Nostalgia know well that with three number 1's in a year I can't not write about Abba. I just can't bring myself to write a contemptuous post about Mamma Mia, because it (and the band) deserve better.

More prosaically, I just can't bring myself to write anything at all about another number 1, December '63 by the Four Seasons. Sorry, fellas.

Meanwhile, here are some hits to note in passing.

Inside America - Juggy Jones - instrumental floor-filler, in some respects more indicative of where disco was going than the outrider fabulosity of Love To Love You Baby. Nice cowbell, and more information about mastermind Juggy Murray can be found here.

George McCrae - Honey I - if you loved his earlier classic Rock Me Baby, than George and his, er, honeyed voice have a similar piece of work they'd like to introduce to you. Simultaneously funky and effortless.

Forever & Ever - Slik - glam fluff which sounds like it's going to be a great lost piece of psychpop for the first 45 seconds of church organ and backwards chanting, before the actual song starts. Notable mainly for being the first appearance of late 70's/early 80's pop Zelig Midge Ure and for being one of the few chart-toppers this year you've probably never heard of.

No Regrets - Walker Brothers - lachyrmose-realist country break-up ballad notable mainly for relaunching Scott Walker's career after the first round of wilderness years in the early 70's. Scott being Scott, he then used it as a springboard to make songs about torture in Latin America two years later. 

Itchycoo Park - The Small Faces - my attitude to this song can best be described as grudging admiration. For all that it is irritatingly twee, it does have a great pre-chorus and chorus where Steve Marriott can really let rip with that big old voice of his. And it's probably a more accurate account of the Summer Of Love - getting stoned at the local Rec' - for most people than any more earnest offering.

What it's doing in 1976 though, other than making a quick buck on the nostalgia market, is anyone's guess. Helping to inspire the mod revival at the end of the decade?

C W McCall - Convoy - Evidence of the UK record-buying public's enduring secret fondness for country music. Especially if it's about a nihilistic cross-country trip by an army of truckers taking the law into their own hands (see heavily annotated lyric here). So influential it became a film, any resemblance to the current state of US politics is purely coincidental.

Love To Love You Baby and the rise of proto-disco

Alright, that's quite enough art-rock. Time to cross the disco Rubicon.

Listening to music from 1976 means working my way through a lot of what I think as proto-disco. The funk and soul rythyms of the mid-1970's are heading towards the insistent pulse of four-on-the floor, the sound towards the ecstatic release of disco, but we're not quite there yet.

Donna Summer's Love To Love You Baby is too slow, to sinuous to be disco as it was later codified, but as the herald of both an emergent genre and a new medium (the 12' extended edit) it's second to none. Even if it's barely a wakka-wakka guitar away from soundtracking an adult film.

A thought not remotely helped by the thought of co-writer Georgio Moroder's moustache. Brrr.

Like most works of genius, Love To Love You Baby has absolutely no right to work as well as it does. The song is a deeply silly one seemingly born of the participants mucking about in the studio, with single-entendre lyrics delivered in a breathy whisper by Summer, topped off with additional moaning and groaning, perhaps for clarification purposes for the particularly obtuse.

It takes the previous year's more delicate but thematically similar Inside My Love by Minnie Ripperton and makes it look positively understated. In fact, the BBC refused to play or even initially to promote Love To Love You Baby - that's how outré and scandalous it was deemed to be. In your face, Sex Pistols!

What makes the song more than a Carry On Affair? First and foremost, it's Donna Summer. The purity of her gospel and musical theatre-trained voice means the song gets away with a lot more than it could than with a more grounded vocalist, of course. But the contrast between the voice and the lyric also pushes LTLYB into the innocence/guilt, spirit/flesh, push/pull dynamic that's powered so much great art, high and low.  

Not to mention a whole lot of great dance music over the years.

And then there's the extended 12' version. As a 7' LTLYB is a good novelty record by a great singer, but it's when Moroder and his crew extend it out to nearly twenty minutes of baroque dancefloor commentary, strings, flutes, Europop choirs and breakdowns circling around Summer that the song takes off, transcending its own limitations.

Great songs have a knack of suspending time and whenever I hear the long edit of Love To Love You Baby I never want it to end. Yes, I can feel a new genre coalescing around your ears. Yes, I would love to have been there when people first heard and danced to it for the first time.

But above all, I do not want it to end. I rewind or refresh and play it again.

Monday, February 20, 2017

A quick note on the Hugo nominations

As it's featured heavily on the blog these past few years: yes, I'm nominating for the 2017 Hugo Award shortlist (deadline mid-March) as a paid-up voter from last year. 

I'll be interested in seeing the final shortlist and may well sign on again as a voter so that I can experience some of the year's best work in fantasy and SF for myself.

And fingers crossed, it looks as if the last couple of years of controversy and gamesmanship has subsided amid exhaustion, reforms to the Hugo voting system and real world distractions.

Here's hoping... 


- The Hanging Tree, Ben Aaronovitch
- The Nightmare Stacks, Charles Stross
- All The Birds In The Sky, Charlie Jane Anders
- The Lie Tree, Frances Hardinge

Dramatic Presentation Long (i.e. Best Film, more or less):

- 10 Cloverfield Lane
- The Girl With All The Gifts
- Ghostbusters
- Arrival
- A Monster Calls

Fanzine (or online equivalent):

- File 770
- Pornokitsch
- Eruditorium Press

Fan Writer:

- Camestros Felapton
- Phil Sandifer


- Rivers Of London series, Ben Aaronovitch

New Writer:

- Natasha Pulley, The Watchmaker Of Filigree Street

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Paul, the Liverpool South Parkway station cat

On my way home from a work event I met a friendly cat claiming a railway station as his territory and accepting the greetings, head scritches and acclaim of passengers as his rightful due.

Monday, February 6, 2017

Michael Fabricant is right

From last week's Lichfield Mercury: our local MP Michael Fabricant on Trump:

"Whatever we might think of President Donald Trump, the United States is a democracy and our strongest ally both economically and militarily,"

"And with our leaving the European Union, our global friendships are even more important."

His analysis is right up to a point, but it also raises more questions than it answers.

The unfolding logic of Brexit points the UK towards deepening our other political and trading relationships. All other things being equal, this means moving closer towards our American friends, partly from long-standing custom and habit (as Fabricant suggests) but also because leaving the EU seemingly leaves us little choice in the matter.

Under normal circumstances, say a Bush or an Obama administration, this would have probably implied a minor variation on business as usual, but not a massive change. Depending on your politics, you might or might not have liked what that shift meant, but it wouldn't have radically affected circumstances here in the UK

I'm no mind-reader, but I think this is the image of America my MP is invoking here.

The thing is, though, that circumstances are decidely not normal in the US right now. On immigration, on trade, on law, on climate and more, the Trump administration is already venturing beyond existing American political norms into unknown territory.

As you can probably tell, I'm couching my commentary here in neutral terms as I'm not looking to make a partisan point. You can add your own here if you wish or re-read your commentator of choice. :)

In any case, wherever we stand on the political spectrum or on Brexit we should be wise to ask ourselves what an increased dependency on the US at this time - to be drawn closer into the orbit of the Trump administration - might mean for the UK before we commit ourselves further by default.

Because we do have a choice about the kind of future we want - there is no deterministic iron law of Brexit that says it has to be this way. 

And if I've drawn one conclusion from the last nine months or so of (to paraphrase my old colleague John Kell) 'history moving quickly' it's that creative solutions are needed right now rather than resorting to the autopilot.