Archive for the 'personal, friends and family' Category

Folk Off! inaugural gig

After my Multiple Sclerosis diagnosis in 1999 ate my fingers, I couldn’t play guitar any more, which pissed me off more than anything else about MS. But the songs kept coming to me, so about 4 years ago I taught myself to play (badly) again so I could write. Encouraged by a friend (thanks, Clara) and my daughter, I decided to do a gig, and last night was the night.

My old bassist from my punk band was meant to play second guitar, but he decided to break his arm and legs in a motorbike accident, so La Daughter taught herself to play guitar and learned my songs for her first ever gig, which makes me enormously proud. About five minutes after coming off stage, she was talking about out next gig, so Folk Off! are available for weddings and bamitzvahs.

Here are some abruptly-edited videos of the four original songs, written across 25 years and never gigged before. Trigger Warning: some guitar mistakes, from both of the players. (More tracks)

Gentle My Love

Gentle my love, gentle my love;
tonight we’ll admit no tomorrow.

Gentle my love, gentle my love;
predict or recall no more sorrow.

Gentle my love, gentle my love;
like the sound of the rain as it washes and cleans.

Gentle my love, gentle my love;
like the murmur of sea that claims everything;

But if we were to ride on the surge of a wave
We would never sink or drown.

Gentle my love, gentle my love;
Don’t hope for, or fear, all that follows.

Gentle my love, gentle my love;
tonight there will be no tomorrow.

Words / music © Bruce Lawson, all rights reserved

(Old demo.)

Kitty Fisher’s Locket

If Kitty Fisher gives you pictures Make sure that you frame them.
“Here’s one I drew, that man’s you; It’s of heaven when it’s raining.
There’s saint Peter in a mac, he’s got two wings on his back. Do you like it?”

If Kitty Fisher, seeking pleasure talks of making love with you.
Softly kiss her, speak in whispers, watch how she moves under you.
Hold her while she weeps when you both come.
Let the silence in to soothe her.

If Kitty Fisher gives you treasure keep it in your pocket.
Memories in filigree That’s Kitty Fisher’s locket.
“That’s me and my mother when I was a little girl.
Do you think I was pretty?

That’s me in a forest, another time, a different place.
Do you like me?”

Words / music © Bruce Lawson, all rights reserved

(old demo with female vocals, Original while-writing demo.)

Calling for the moon to come

When I told you I love you;
we were under the crescent moon.
You smiled; she was smiling above you,
I was scared to be ridiculous or tell you too soon.

Now I have to go; so do you –
It ’s still hard, though we both knew this would be so.
I ache for you; I know you’ll be fine
if I call the moon to watch on you & shine

I’m calling the moon;
I’m calling for the moon to come.
to lighten your load,
and brighten the road for you.

I’m calling the moon;
I’m calling for the moon to come;
where are you going?
where did you come to me from?

I’m calling the moon
I’m calling for the moon to come;
now I leave you here in the sun,
I’m calling the moon

I hope that she’ll guide you
You say that you must walk this path alone.
One day I hope I’ll walk beside you
but there are things that I must do now, and I have to be gone.

I’m calling the moon;
I’m calling for the moon to come.
to lighten your load,
and brighten the road in front of you

I’m calling the moon
I’m calling for the moon to come
at the end of your day,
to comfort you; illuminate your way.

I’m calling the moon
I’m calling for the moon to come
where are you going
where will you come to me from?

Words / music © Bruce Lawson, all rights reserved

(Unfinished demo)

Cinderella, not quite

Here we sit at the edge of the world
and there’s darkness behind us.

Here we wait at the turn of the date
for the new day to find us.

I was watching you, you were listening to
all of the words that were spoken.

You said “a joining of ways for a couple of days
deceives me my heart isn’t broken.

“Maybe I’ll give you love tomorrow;
I’ve got no love to give you today.
All of my love has been begged, stolen or borrowed.”

When you’re dressed up in your rags tonight
you’re Cinderella – not quite.

You were watching the valley below –
not hard to find, no glass slippers for you.

Choosing the language to make our “hello”;
not hard to find in your dust-covered shoes.

I was watching you, you were listening to
all of the words that were said.

You said “Now our paths cross, nothing is lost
if we both forget the lives we have led…

“Maybe I’ll give you love tomorrow;
I’ve got no love to give you today.
All of my love has been begged, stolen or borrowed.”

When you’re dressed up in your rags tonight
you’re Cinderella – not quite.

Words / music © Bruce Lawson, all rights reserved

I’ve got a new job!

TL;DR, I’m moving from Developer Relations to become Opera’s Deputy Chief Technology Officer. Or maybe Deputy Technology Officer, because “Deputy Chief” is almost oxymoronic. Anyway, call me “Bruce”; it’s more polite than what you usually call me.

Co-father of CSS Håkon Wium Lie continues to be CTO, and I’ll be working with him, the Communications Team, the product teams, and my lovely colleagues in devrel, to continue connecting the unconnected across the world.

In some ways, this is simply an evolution of what I’ve been doing for the last couple of years. In a more profound way it’s a return to basics.

My first real exposure to the Web came about working in Thailand in 1999, when I was convalescing after my diagnosis of Multiple Sclerosis. Because M.S. is very rare in Asia, I could find no English language information to tell me how quickly or painfully I would die.

But I’d read about this new-fangled Web thing, and there was an Internet Café near my apartment, so I typed in “Multiple Sclerosis” into Alta Vista and found something extraordinary: a community of people around the world supporting each other through their shared diagnosis on something called a “website” – and I could participate, too, from a café in Pratunam, Bangkok. All strangers, across the globe, coming together around a common theme and helping each other.

I knew immediately that I’d stumbled upon something amazing, something revolutionary, an undreamed of way to communicate. As an English Literature graduate and ex-programmer, I was fascinated, by both the communicative potential and also the tech that drove it. By 2002, I was Brand Manager for a UK book company publishing on books for web professionals, and our first, flagship book was on Web Accessibility.

From accessibility, I began to advocate the general concept of open web standards on my blog and with various employers, so that everyone could access the web. Then, after being invited to join Opera in 2008, I started advocating HTML5, so people could connect to an open web that could compete with the proprietary silos of Flash and iOS. After that, I began beating the drum for Media Queries and Responsive Design so that the people in developing nations (like I was in ’99), using affordable hand-held devices, could connect and enjoy the full web. Then I proposed the <picture> element (more accurately: a very naive precursor to it) so that people with limited funds for bandwidth could connect economically, too. Then I agitated, inside Opera and outside, for Progressive Web Apps, so people could have a great experience on the open web, not those pesky walled gardens.

The common thread is people and getting them connected to each other. This matters to me because that happened to me, 17 years ago (spoiler: and I didn’t die).

A third of a billion people use Opera’s products to get them online, fast and affordably. I want to be part of making that half a billion, then a billion, then more; not by stealing customers from competitors, but by opening up the web to people and places that currently have no access. That’s a lot of people; there’s a lot to be done. It’s a big job. I’m a n00b and I’m gonna fuck up from time-to-time.

Bring it on.

(Yikes.)

Seashell in a box (Moments 6)

Number 6 in a series of poems I’ve been writing for 30 years. Amsterdam, October 2015.

Locked in this box
I have a seashell
that whispers to me
of white foaming surf and starfish,
of sirens and islands,
of sails and whales
and a voyage to see
a ballet of almond trees.

When there is no melody to be heard,
when this silence crushes,
I listen to my seashell —
it reminds me how to sing.

And I can smell oysters and dead fish;
And I can hear the wind groaning in the rigging;
And I can touch seaweed slime and driftwood;
And I can taste salt spray on my lips.

Then I hide it in this box, away, again.

The Girl In The Room

The last vanity song for a while, I promise — and this one’s definitely not punk. In my defence, it started life as fucked-folk, like “Femme Fatale” by the Velvet Underground. But as the lyrics firmed up, I started thinking about a serenade (“a musical greeting performed for a lover… an evening piece, one to be performed on a quiet and pleasant evening”) as that’s what the lyrics are about, albeit with a bittersweetness not reflected in the arrangement.

It was written in Cambodia and Barcelona. I wrote an alternate third verse which I don’t remember, and I don’t have the handwritten draft any more. If I do remember, I’ll record it in fucked-folk style.

Footage of the girl is from “Weg zum Nachbarn” by Lutz Mommartz, 1968.

The girl in the room
talks at dusk of musk and sandalwood
Of warm winter mornings
and cool summer nights.
Telling tales without tomorrows
of her yesterdays and ancient times;
of a castle in the birch trees
in the calmness of twilight.

The girl in the room
is thunder-lightning: fiercely beautiful;
weighed down with words, then musical,
with her faces in her moon.
She asks if you could love her
and before you can recover
she needs to be somewhere or other.
Through the trees, the breeze sings tunes.

The girl in the room
talks at sunset in her box of text,
of monsoon rain and games and sex
and the ruins where bluebells bloom.
Lost in feelings like a forest,
there are no certain maps to happiness;
She spills wine on her Chinese dress,
and the breeze brings you tunes.

Words and music © Bruce Lawson, 2015

Commuter train Madonna and child

[From my notebook, earlier this year, on the 15.45 train from London to Birmingham.]

On a packed, hot train
I scrounged space to rest my notepad
To write notes from my London meeting.
Phones chirruped;
Laptops clacked.

And opposite me,
Oblivious in bliss in silence
A woman and her baby
Smiled together
Their gaze unbroken throughout
Enraptured in their wonder and love.

Feel my mighty influence!

The Birmingham Mail has published a totally scientific list of Midlands Twitter users who “have the ability to influence the UK more than most in the region”.

Apparently, I’m a respectable number 101 which means I’m more influential than

  • Black Sabbath (#191)
  • a Personal Beauty Shopper at Selfridges (#188)
  • Sutton Park Donkey Sanctuary (#164)
  • Birmingham city council (#120)
  • James Morris, Conservative MP for Halesowen & Rowley Regis (#115) – ha!
  • Solihull police (#112)

I was pipped to the number 100 post by Drayton Manor theme park. Now we know why they were so damn anxious to build their Thomas The Tank attraction, Thomas Land.

I’m now crowd-funding “William Burroughs’ Naked Lunch Land” to be built in my back garden, and am recruiting mugwumps. I must beat Drayton bloody Manor.

Some lines about daisies

In many songs and poems
I find I mention daisies.
Blake and Wordsworth and the great English poets
wrote about roses and daffodils,
but you don’t hear much about daisies.
So here goes:

“O wond’rous daisy! How lovely thou art!”

No, that won’t do. Rhetorical bombast
before making it simply a symbol of some portentous theme.
A small flower shouldn’t carry such heaviness.

The name means “day’s eye”;
it opens its petals for the sun, and closes them at night.
I think the daisy is a watcher;
it contemplates, quietly, the day that it sees.
It is a witness.

It looks fragile.
But the daisy is strong.
Its Latin name is Bellis perennis
“Pretty”, “everlasting”.

You can trample a daisy,
but only for a short while.
It’ll grow back,
and open its eye
for the sunshine again.

Written after I edited You tread lightly on the world from its 3 a.m. scrawl, and realised I’ve used daisies in at least 4 poems and 2 songs.

You tread lightly on the world

I woke at 3 a.m. one night last week, and scrambled for my bedside pad in which I jot down song/poem ideas. Rather than do my usual trick of making tiny tweaks then reverting them back and forth for a decade, I’m posting it now. It may get carved up for a song, or may not.

You tread lightly on the world.
You like to. You scorn roots.
One foot in front of the other,
you go now:
tread from ocean to ocean
in Brownian motion,
seeing-not-being,
a ghost in the sunshine.
You photograph children;
You want none — you tread lightly.

You tread lightly on the world.
When the grass you stand on
springs up;
when the gecko you startle
comes back;
when your hollow in the bed
smooths away;
when your footprint in the sand
fills with sea;
when the daisies you flatten
take root again;
who will remember you?

I will.

tread-lightly

(Anna said the last line is superfluous, because the act of writing shows the subject is remembered. I think Anna’s too subtle.)

The misadventures of my meteorological nipples

I awoke this morning to the sound of rain on my window. This is a pleasing, musical sound and although it’s vaguely annoying to work during sunny days and find it raining at the weekend, that’s England for you. Mostly, I was just reassured that my nipples were accurate.

I tweeted yesterday that if my nipples itch, it will rain:

and on Facebook and Twitter there has been a clamour of interest in my nipples (even more than usual). For example:

But my nipples haven’t always possessed paranormal powers of precipitation prediction. This appeared after two misadventures, one to each nipple. They were the mammarian equivalent to Peter Parker being bitten by a radioactive spider, perhaps.

I actually only have one and a half nipples now. My right nipple is a bit of a disaster. (And, for the avoidance of doubt, I mean my right nipple; it will be on your left when finally you and I are lying, brilliantly exhausted, with your tousled-haired head lying on my my chest, dear reader, as destiny commands us to do.)

In 1982, I was at school and my right nipple was a bit itchy (nothing to do with weather; an early chest hair was forcing its way through). I scratched it vigorously and, because I was a crazy kid with long black-varnished fingernails, my nail split the little head of the nipple in two and yanked a piece of it off. It bled a lot for a while. I won’t post a photograph of it, but to use a London skyline visual simile, if my left nipple is like a perfectly-domed tiny pink St Paul’s Cathedral, my right nipple would be the ugly brutalist splodge of The Barbican.

Seventeen years later, misadventure occurred with my left nipple. I’d had my nipples pierced as I was working up to going the full Prince Albert (or, as an extensively-pierced but malapropism-prone friend calls his, “a King Edward”). I’d gone to a posh piercing place in Soho where they froze it with a spray. As I was walking back to the tube, the numbness suddenly wore off and a wave of pain overwhelmed me; I clutched a lamp-post for support. “Are you OK?” asked a passing policeman. “Yes, I’ve just had my nipples pierced” I explained. He nodded as if he completely understood, and continued on his beat.

But that’s not the story. The second nork-cataclysm happened on a beach in Thailand with my infant daughter asleep in my arms. She must have awoken, looked up and seen the ring gleaming in the sunlight, reached up and hooked her tiny finger right through the left ring, and pulled. And pulled. And pulled.

It really is extraordinary how long a human nipple can be stretched. Obviously I had no ruler with me at the time, and even if I had, I would have had no inclination to take measurements, but I’d estimate my nipple extended to at least 3 inches before I managed to unhook her finger and then retired into the sea to allow the salt water to soothe the damaged flesh.

On my next trip to Soho, I had the rings removed. But since those misadventures, itchy nipples has become the unfailing harbinger of rain.

Want my vote? Give me evidence-based policies

This year’s general election is going to be a close one, and a bitter one. For the first time ever, I’ve had representatives of political parties knocking on my door and, although none of the current crop of parties appeals to me, I told the last gang (Labour) that I’m sick of politicians (in this case, Ed Milliband) who react to the moral panic du jour with ill-thought out policies that appease the slack-jawed but actually cause long-term damage.

I’d vote for whoever had the courage to make policies based on evidence and long-term thinking rather than short-term headline grabbing, religious attachment to dogma, or the selfish interests of its core supporters. I doubt such a politician exists, but if any do, here’s my wish-list.

Immigration

We need to politicians with courage to say we need immigration. We are an ageing population: A Survey of the UK Benefit System by Institute for Fiscal Studies, November 2012) points out that a colossal 42.3% of the benefits spend in the Uk goes to “elderly people” (figure 2.1).

To support more older people, it’s obvious that we need more young people to work and pay tax. However, the birthrate in the UK seems to be falling:

The number of live births and the total fertility rate (TFR) fluctuated throughout the twentieth century with a sharp peak at the end of World War II. Live births peaked again in 1964 (875,972 births), but since then lower numbers have been recorded. The lowest annual number of births in the twentieth century was 569,259 in 1977. The number of births is dependent on both fertility rates and the size and age structure of the female population.The total fertility rate for England and Wales decreased in 2013 to an average of 1.85 children per woman from 1.94 in 2012.

Women are having children later. Tellingly, Coalition austerity policies – a prime example of dogma over evidence-based policymaking – are likely to be contributing to the lower birth rate. The UK government’s Office of National Statistics writes:

Other factors which could have had an impact on fertility levels in 2013 include:

  • uncertainty about employment and lower career and promotion opportunities (such as temporary, part-time, or zero-hours contracts), which can significantly reduce women’s demand for children (Del Bono E, et al.,2014; Lanzieri G, 2013)
  • reforms by the Government to simplify the welfare system, which have resulted in some significant changes to benefits that may have influenced decisions around childbearing. The changes were announced in 2011 and 2012 and included; reduced housing benefit from April 2013 for those living in property deemed to be larger than they need. Children under 10 are expected to share a room, as are children under 16 of the same gender; removal of child benefit where one parent earns over £50,000 from January 2013 and a 3-year freeze on payments for those eligible from April 2011; and a cap on the total amount of benefits that working age people can receive from April 2013, so that households on working age benefits can no longer receive more in benefits than the average wage for working families.

Therefore, the current austerity policies will have a long-term effect of reducing the workforce so making more elderly people dependant on fewer working people. Without immigrants working here, this will result in cuts to the services the elderly receive, or a higher tax burden on those in work, neither of which are desirable – particularly to the successors of the current Conservative government for whom elderly people are more likely to vote, and for which tax reduction is an article of absolute faith.

Immigration also brings us skilled workers. A good friend of mine works recruiting nurses from overseas for a big, nationally-known UK hospital. She doesn’t do this because she is part of a dastardly plot to flood Britain with highly-trained, hard-working Filipinos whose English language is better than that of many “indigenous” residents (to get a visa, non-EU applicants are required to achieve a higher score in their English language tests than EU applicants for some odd reason). No, she does this because hospitals need nurses, and there aren’t enough British nurses.

According to the Daily Telegraph, last year

5,778 nurses were recruited from overseas in the 12 months to September… This compares with a figure of just 1,360 reported by 40 trusts in the previous year. Experts said a lack of trained British nurses meant hospitals were forced to hunt abroad for trained staff, with the costs of global trawls vastly inflating the cost of recruitment. Hospitals pay managers and recruitment agencies to go abroad to seek out staff, while offering bonuses to nurses who come here. In total, 91,470 nurses – around one in seven of those now registered to work here – trained overseas, official figures show.

Why? The Telegraph – a highly conservative newspaper – reports

The surge follows cuts to NHS programmes to train nurses in this country, with 10,000 training places cut since 2010.

Anecdotally (from my friend who does the recruitment), many British people don’t want to become nurses. The Royal College of Nursing (the profession’s representative body) notes that the Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, said in his 2011 autumn statement

all public sector wage rises should be capped at an average of one per cent for two years from April 2013. This comes after a two year policy which saw all NHS staff earning more than £21,000 facing a pay freeze, while those earning up to £21,000 received an award of £250 in both years.

The RCN continues:

the supply of nursing staff is being seriously threatened as NHS organisations attempt to save money by cutting posts and by the reduction in commissioned training places for nurses. Commissioned places for pre-registration nursing has fallen by nearly nine per cent from 2010/11 to 2011/12. This is particularly worrying at a time when 12 per cent of the nursing workforce is aged 55 or over and a quarter is aged 50 or over.

Both the RCN evidence and the staff side evidence draw on results from a joint trade union survey of members which found that almost two thirds of nurses said they had seriously thought about leaving their job, and a third would leave for a post outside the NHS. The top two reasons for considering leaving the NHS are stress/workload and staff shortages. Two thirds of respondents said morale had declined in the last 12 months, while 71 per cent said staff shortages have frequently occurred in their workplace over the past year.

The starting salary for graduate nurses is £21,338 (with an additional £4076 for inner London, as if the extra £78 week before tax makes up for living costs there), but it’s a 3 or 4 year degree course to get there. The current government raised the cap on university tuition fees, so the tuition alone for a 4 year nursing course could come to £36,000 – for a £21,000 pre-tax salary. If the government were genuinely concerned to reduce reliance on overseas nurses, it would either raise salaries, or subsidise tuition fees for socially vital jobs, such as nurses. But it won’t, because it’s unable to make sensible policies that might have the desired outcome due to its dogma of not interfering in markets, and its antipathy to the public sector.

Rent Caps

In 2012, the UK benefits spend was £159bn (up by 1.1% on the previous year). The single largest part of that was state pensions to the elderly – £74.22bn, or 47% of the total spend. The next largest item in the budget is housing benefit £16.94bn. That was up 5.2% on the previous year, and will reach a new high of £25bn a year by 2017, according to new government estimates. Housing Benefit is money paid by the government – sourced, of course, from me and my fellow taxpayers – to people on incomes too low to allow them to meet the cost of their housing themselves.

Incomes are low because of austerity policies, and housing is preposterously expensive in the UK because there’s an inadequate supply. It’s my belief that the main reason for this under-supply is the ideologically-driven “Right to Buy” sell-off of social housing by the Thatcher government – councils who owned social housing were required by law to sell it at deep discount to tenants (and weren’t allowed to use the funds raised to replenish the housing stock).

The stated goal was to make Britain a nation of home-owners; the actual result is that a third of ex-council homes are now owned by landlords. One inner-London council now pays £500,000 a year to rent back properties that it was forced to sell, a situation described as “utterly ludicrous” by its housing chief; it’s hard to disagree with this assessment. (Note that David Cameron proposed re-invigorating Right to Buy in 2011.)

Whatever the reason for the under-supply of housing, though, if the government really wanted to reduce the housing benefit spend, it would simply cap rents. Housing Benefit is nothing more than a government subsidy to landlords, who charge high prices because they know the government will pay them. If rents were controlled, the housing benefit spend would reduce. But it wouldn’t dream of doing so because that would be regulation in the free market (it’s religious dogma that the invisible hand is always right, whether it pickpockets your neighbour and hands her purse to you, or pokes you in the eye). It’s also the case that landlords tend to be Conservative voters. Upsetting loads of nurses and public sector workers is one thing – they mostly don’t vote for the Tories anyway – but landlords are part of the clan who rule us. After all, Charles Gow, the son of Mrs Thatcher’s Housing Minister during the council house sell-off, owns at least 40 ex-council flats on one South London estate.

Politicians of all political hues seem happy to talk tough on immigration, as if it were a bad thing rather than an economic necessity. They all seem to agree that austerity is required, while pumping billions into the City under the cloak of “Quantitative Easing” (which has failed, according to its inventor). This nutrient-free flatulent miasma of stupidity appeases the Daily Mail and Express readers, yet it damages the country.

Give me some joined-up, evidence-based thinking, and you’ll get my kiss on election day.

Update Sun 4 Jan: It seems that fewer than 10% of British people are against mandatory legal limits on housing rents.

Update 7 Jan: Great minds think alike. From the Daily Telegraph (of all places!) on 5 Jan, Ten ways we could fix broken Britain suggests paying people to do degrees we need, more tenants rights, more housing (and using the tax system to punish those who sit on land reserves, like supermarkets or volume builders), and other sensible policies like tripling the congestion charge and legalising drugs.