Remembering Radio Caroline

March 28, 2019

It is 55 years ago today since Radio Caroline, the first of the British pirate radio stations began broadcasting.  It was an event and a summer I remember well.

In the previous 18 months, the British music scene had exploded, first based on the incredible success of the Beatles but then quickly followed by dozens of groups from all over the country. Unfortunately, the staid old BBC held a monopoly of British radio and so many of us listened to this new music on Radio Luxemburg which broadcast in the evenings. However, the playlists of Radio Luxemburg and BBC TV’s weekly Top of the Pops were more or less controlled by the major record labels and didn’t cover the full spectrum of pop music then available.

Ronan O’Reilly, an Irish entrepreneur, decided to broaden the choice. He purchased an old ship, refitted it with high powered radio equipment, and parked it just outside British territorial waters. On 28th March 1964, Radio Caroline began broadcasting with a Rolling Stones song, and pirate radio — pirates because they were unlicensed — almost immediately changed the entire British cultural scene.

For the next few years, everyone I knew listened to the pirates (a number of other radio ships had joined in the fun) and no matter the laws the government tried to impose, their popularity continued to increase. By 1967, even the BBC had been completely revamped, with BBC Radio One becoming simply a copy of the pirates. That was, indeed, the Summer of Love.

Night Music: Against All Odds

March 28, 2019

Still Seeking A No Deal Brexit

March 28, 2019

I have spent dozens of hours over the last couple of weeks watching the live debates in the British House of Commons regarding Britain’s withdrawal from the disaster known as the European Community; and I suspect I will spend a lot more hours doing the same tomorrow and next week.  After all this debate, and other countless hours reading about it, I remain a fully committed hard Brexiteer.

At the time of the referendum, almost three years ago, I wrote about my joy at the result. I explained then that my reason for supporting Brexit differed substantially from the reasons stated or implied by many other Leavers.

“I am willing to accept that the superficial logic behind the voters’ decision is deeply flawed. Most of Britain’s street-level economic woes are not caused by Europe; they are, rather, a function of the anti-person pro-austerity Tory policies of Cameron and Osborne following on from decades of Thatcherite and Blairite disasters. The vote will do nothing to stop the 150,000 non-EU and mostly non-white migrants that arrive in Britain every year. The vote will do nothing at all to protect the NHS from the ravages of Tory privatization and under-funding.”

I also mentioned my concern for sharing the same stage as certain other Leave proponents:

“I am also willing to accept that many of the leaders of the Leave campaign are intellectual lightweights, Trump-like in their extravagant audacity, and some could even be described as evil (though Cameron and Osborne for Remain are equally bad).”

My reason for supporting Leave then remains the same today:  I am a decentralizing anarchist, believing strongly that power needs to reside at the lowest most local level possible, forcefully in the hands of the people. The broader the institution (city councils, regional authorities, national governments, supra-national associations) the further power is distanced from the individual and the less democratic it becomes as power is concentrated in fewer and fewer hands.

So, I would be happy, over-joyed even, to see Britain leave the straight-jacket of Europe as planned tomorrow (or April 12, or May 22) with no deal in place.

A couple of further points.  We can rightly blame the Tory government under Theresa May for the dysfunctional bargaining that has led us to this impasse today. But the truth of the matter is that the elites of Great Britain of all stripes don’t want to see Britain quit Europe and they have combined to make sure that leaving has been as difficult as possible, and they continue to do so.

Second, the devolved parties in Britain — Scottish Nationalist and Plaid Cymru — are guilty of short-term thinking. They want to stay in Europe because the EU has been good to them in terms of financial incentives, and they don’t want to give up that cash. What they fail to see is that, by remaining in Europe, they will never get independence from England; they will be locked in the Union forever.  One only needs to look at how the EU has treated the reasonable demands from Catalonia and Brittany for autonomy, siding always and forcefully with the national governments of Spain and France.

I am a fervent supporter of independence for Scotland, for Wales, as a start to further devolution. Those dreams will be hard fought to achieve within Great Britain but will be impossible inside the EU.

My guess is that we will end up with a soft Brexit, with strings still firmly attached to Europe; a compromise that will allow the elites to continue to profit and for the people to continue to lose their rights.

Baseball’s Background

March 28, 2019

When I was a young lad in London, many evenings I used to lie under the blankets in the dark listening to American Forces radio. I heard about the 1960 Presidential elections, I heard the News in Special English (what I assume was the basis for Bob & Ray’s wonderful “Slow Talkers of America” skit), and I am pretty sure that was where I first heard Bob Newhart. But mostly I enjoyed the word pictures conjured up by the wonderful commentators on boxing and baseball.

I was aware of baseball in a general way because, in those Cold War days, there was a US Air Force base nearby and they occasionally allowed us to visit to watch inter-service games. For a boy brought up on cricket and rugby and soccer, this game — so much like rounders which in England was only played by young girls — seemed tame, slow, and frankly boring.  For good or ill, I have never grown out of that opinion, even as I recognise that this view is not shared by the millions of the game’s supporters.

All this is to introduce a review of Davis Block’s “Pastime Lost: The Humble, Original, and Now Completely Forgotten Game of English Baseball.” 

“David Block’s 2005 book Baseball Before We Knew It: A Search for the Roots of the Game … persuasively argues that an early form of baseball (known by that name) was well-established in England by the mid-eighteenth century. In his new book, Pastime Lost, published just in time for the opening of the 2019 Major League Baseball season, Block reports on his research in the intervening years, adding a good deal of new evidence …

Baseball in those early days did not include bats. The ball was soft and was struck by hand … Beyond the bare bones of the game—that it included running to bases and returning “home”—we still know very little. But I think any fair-minded reader of Block’s book will conclude that he’s made his case.”

Whether the sport was developed in England or invented by Abner Doubleday, both Brock’s history and the reviewer note that baseball has been subject to constant change. I happen to believe it has changed these days into little more than a way in which vast and unseemly wealth is lavished on a few lucky players.  I am astonished that professional cricketers can now make a million or more a year but that pales into insignificance when compared to the $10 million, $20 million, $30 million a year contracts that are becoming commonplace in Major Baseball.

I remain unconvinced that this change is good for this or any sport.