Je Suis Charlie

January 7, 2015

I had an interesting discussion on a forum earlier this evening regarding the dreadful terrorist attack in France on the offices of French satirical magazine ‘Charlie Hebdo’.

It started off easily enough with a friend merely posting the hashtag of support “Je Suis Charlie”

To which I replied:

Je Suis Charlie too … although I despair at people who deliberately provoke others (and put the lives of innocent people in danger in the process) in order to make a point.

My friend took this to mean that I was condoning, or at least excusing, the actions of the fanatics who had carried out the attack. I felt that I needed to clarify my position: I am certainly not excusing, or condoning, the actions of the terrorists.  But, if you poke a bear with a stick and it attacks you, most people would stop poking the bear. 

I will not change my view that the publishers were acting irresponsibly. That might well be a sad indictment on the way the world is or, at least, my view of it, but there you go.

Apparently, it was I who was poking the bear as I got the response:

“So it is nearly ok for a bunch of terrorists to wreak havoc and terror in a country where freedom of expression is regarded as one of the pillars of their democracy….as is ours.
If this is an example of your “religion” then I’ll stay agnostic thanks.”

Well, no, that is not what I was saying at all. I sought to clarify once again:

That’s not what I said but if that’s how you wish to interpret it,  I can’t stop you. Nowhere did I say it was ‘nearly ok’ for the terrorists to do what they did. But take your argument to its logical, if pedantic, conclusion. The moronic terrorists were merely using their own freedom of expression… which you would not deny them.

I have no problem with people lampooning, by whatever means, extremists of any religion, creed, colour or opinion. Indeed, one of the Charlie Hebdo front pages was aimed squarely at the terrorists and not at the prophet. But others were aimed at the Prophet (along with other faith leaders).

ALL Muslims will have been offended by cartoons lampooning the Prophet, just as all Catholics will have been offended by the cartoons lampooning the Pope. Most have enough sense to complain about it rather than go on a murderous spree. Many will have just shrugged their shoulders and thought ‘sod it, it’s not worth the bother’. The Charlie Hebdo publishers WANTED a reaction. They got one. And I feel desperately sorry for all those involved. But they deliberately baited an insane, murderous bear.

If you think it’s ok to say, do or draw what you want in a deliberate attempt to provoke someone and then say “it’s free speech and you can’t stop me” then I disagree with you. To be deliberately hurtful and spiteful is wrong, is it not? Maybe you disagree and think it’s ok.

I get hurt when people make assumptions about me and throw insults at me (or those things I believe in, or am) because I’m white, middle class, have a faith and come from Liverpool. Does that mean it’s ok for people to carry on doing it cos it’s ‘free speech’ to say/do what we like about/to whom we want and what they may believe in (even if those beliefs have been sadly radicalised).

And, if you think only people of faith (even misguided faith) are violent extremists then, I hate to break it to you, but you’re wrong. Agnostics and atheists have their extremists, too.

So, yes, lampoon the terrorists but not the prophet. Because that is childish, stupid, infantile and pathetic. In my opinion. Which might well be wrong – but it’s mine and you can’t deny me the right to have it. Because that would be an infringement of free speech, too :)

End of conversation… but not of thinking.

Will self summed it up quite well, I think:

will self
It is impossible to condone, or seek to condone, the actions of the terrorists in Paris. But when your choice leads to harm coming to others, should you really have freedom of choice? In Child Protection issues, we teach that you should never offer unconditional confidentiality, that confidentiality is conditional on what we are told not leading to harm continuing to be done to the teller or others.

There is a risk that this might be interpreted as “they got what they deserved”. But that is so very much NOT what I mean.Clearly, they didn’t deserve to be murdered in cold, or rather, hot, blood. I’m not sure where I’m going with this…

The cartoonists, of course, provided the best responses – but the comments underneath say all that you need to know about the world in which we live and some of the idiots with whom we share it, as does this small selection of responses to a Muslim tweeter who had the temerity to say that the terrorists were not representative of the vast majority of Muslims:


I Am Charlie – as long as Charlie isn’t deliberately intending to be offensive to those who don’t deserve it.

2014 in reviewh

December 30, 2014

The stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 480 times in 2014. If it were a cable car, it would take about 8 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

Christmas Charity Gifts – a rant

December 24, 2014

Over the last few years I* have provided a goat for a family in Kenya, books and pens for a classroom in Malawi, chickens for a family in rural India and a provided funding towards training a vet in Mozambique. Apparently.

I know this because I have received Christmas cards telling me that I have done so and, as such, I should feel extra good about myself and full of the spirit of Christmas.

The thing is, of course, I didn’t. So I don’t.

Somebody else did. So presumably they do.

Obviously I have no problem with people donating to charity – and they are all worthy causes but when I choose to donate to charity, I’d like to choose what charity I support.

These AREN’T Christmas presents, at least not to me – they are a way of giving yourself a present by pretending you’ve given a present to me.

By all means carry on donating to your chosen charity – but not on my behalf. I’d rather have socks.

Thank you.

*somebody else

Consistency would be nice.

July 15, 2012

I am waiting (although not with baited breath) for the FA to charge Terry with the same offence of which they found Suarez guilty last season. If they use the same burden of proof (i.e. none) then Terry will also be banned for at least 8 games.

Anton Ferdinand cannot be charged by the FA as Patrice Evra, in his evidence to the Suarez commission, admitted using abusive and insulting language but was not charged…

Rio, on the other hand, clearly needs to be charged following his agreement with the ‘choc ice’ comment on twitter. He can pretend all he likes that it is not a racist comment but we are not as stupid as he seems to think we are…. Not so long ago Ryan Babbel was charged, found guilty and fined for retweeting a photo of a ref wearing a Man Utd kit… He was charged. Ergo, so should Rio Ferdinand.

All that we need is for the FA to act with some consistency. Maybe it would be best for my health if I didn’t hold my breath….

Job Opportunity – Children and Young Families Worker (Altrincham United Reformed Church)

April 11, 2012

One of the most satisfying aspects of my role is helping churches work through the process of whether a paid employee would benefit their mission to children and young people.

Altrincham URC

Altrincham United Reformed Church are nearing the end of that process and below are the details of the post.

The Children and Young Families Worker post is, initially, a three year contract and salary is in the range £18-21K (depending on experience/qualifications)

To apply, or to find out more details, click the link for an Application Pack (right click, Save Link As – to download a copy of the document to your computer.)

2011 in review – why I must try harder with blogging!

January 1, 2012

The stats helper monkeys prepared a 2011 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 1,400 times in 2011. If it were a cable car, it would take about 23 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

Guitars for Palestine

July 15, 2011

Regular readers of my blog (yes, both of you) will be aware of the initiative started by some friendly strangers on the AcousticLife forum on which I lurk to enable me to buy a couple.of guitars for the Jerusalem Arc children and youth camps.

With their donated money in my wallet, I walked up Jaffa St (guitar shop closed) and into Ben Yehuda St to its intersection with King George St to the second shop I had been told about.

Through the security barriers and down the stairs led me to my destination. With my 2 (non-guitarist) colleagues looking on, I then played every acoustic they had (apart from the Martins which were a teeny bit above my budget!)

Eventually, I settled on a Washburn D10S as the “main” guitar and a lovely, but cheap, Cort AD880. These will be added to at camp by a cheap, but not very nasty, nylon string guitar in blue (!)

Then the bargaining begins. The two guitars alone use up my budget but I want gig bags, spare strings, plectrums (plectri?), capos… well I ended up with all of those plus a joyo tuner and a string winder 🙂 I even got a free set up on the Washburn to lower the action a bit.

To be fair, the guitars picked themselves but it took an hour or so because the shop was air-conditioned and, outside, it was 32 degrees!

I hope my friends in the forum are happy with my choices…

Oh, and then we went to Papa Andrea’s for lunch 🙂


Ninja Gigs – the power of Social Media

March 28, 2011

I don’t get to live music as often as I’d like – it’s one of the issues about working with volunteers; they’re mostly available at evenings and weekends so I have to be, too.

So I was disappointed to find that one gig I could have made, Mitch Benn at the Frog and Bucket Comedy Club in Manchester, was sold out. Oh, well, that’ll teach me to book earlier next time.

For those who don’t know much (or even anything) about Mitch he is one of those rare individuals who can combine comedy with music – and topical comedy at that. You can find out more, as well as watching some videos and listening to his podcast on his own website

Being a fan, I follow Mitch on Twitter (@MitchBenn) I spotted a series of tweets from him on Saturday afternoon:

“Getting a lot of tweets from Manchester twoops sad that tonight at the Frog & Bucket is sold out- here’s the thing…”

“Most of the punters in the F&B tonight will just be out for a night out and not particularly interested in me. That’s fair enough, but…”

“… it saddens me that those of you who ARE interested in me might miss out, so listen up: I don’t have much on before about 9.30pm…”

“… if you can round up enough of you and find a room, I’ll do a ninja-gig this evening. Start collaborating, use hashtag #ninjamitch

Those of us who really like Mitch’s brand of musical comedy, but had been unable to get tickets, went into “Twitter overdrive”. For a while it looked Like Mitch was going to play a front room in Bolton (it was a little far away from his 21:30 gig, though) then I managed to source a room in Eccles (but no bar and no PA) then, at just after 5pm the Kings Arms in Salford joined the party and the ninja gig was on.

You can see more pics on Cat Ashton’s photoblog and also hear a little more about how all this started – it’s she whom we who managed to go have to thank 🙂

Sean Fisher managed to video Mitch’s most recent release and, if you watch it you’ll see a fat slaphead scouser about 40 seconds in 🙂   You can see it here

Obviously I got there in plenty of time – time to get a prime seat and, happily for me, to welcome Mitch as he arrived. I offered to get him a drink (my life is defined by famous people for whom I’ve bought drinks – current running total is 0) but he just wanted a pint of tap water!

The room started to fill up and the gig was on!

It was a great evening – I doubt that the folk in the Frog and Bucket had as good an experience. And it was a ninja gig (no idea where that name came from – but Mitch used it) so not everything would go smoothly. Indeed, half way through he had to stop and answer his phone – just in case it was the Frog & Bucket asking where he was!

But it also reminded me that, as well as responding to international events (such as the Tsunami in japan or the conflict in Libya) Social media can also be used for local events and interests.

As Mitch himself tweeted afterwards:

“I’m still agog at how the net in general and twitter in particular lets you organise things INSTANTLY in ways that simply weren’t possible…. I had the first hint of an idea for a #ninjamitch gig at 3.35pm; by 5.10 I had a venue & an audience. Mental.”

But it was also a reminder that sometimes, if you go the extra mile for people and are prepared to put yourself out a bit, then rewards can come. I doubt that Mitch made much money on the gig (he passed a pot around and sold a few CDs) but he’s certainly gained some new fans – and validated those of us who’ve been following him for a while.

What a top bloke.

Yew’ll Never Walk Alone – but Olive Would

March 23, 2011

You know my guitar? The one that’s being built for my 50th?

Remember how everything was sorted and I had decided on the woods?

I’d even decided on the soundboard inscription (Dave gets a quote, translates it into Gaelic and inscribes it on the inside of the soundboard – it can’t be seen; but you know it’s there). I’d decided on “You’ll Never Walk Alone”

Well, Dave White ( contacted me yesterday to let me know that the Tasmanian Olive Wood had arrived – along with a really nice set of English Yew – what did I think?

Well, I can’t make up my mind. this is what a guitar with yew back and sides can look like:

Yeah, I know, gorgeous, isn’t it? And Yew has such a ‘religious’ history – being planted in many church yards to ward of evil spirits.

It was also used to make English Longbows and is, I am told, the wood of choice for wands and ‘anti-vampire’ stakes.

It is a fairly rare wood to use in guitar making as the Yew tree doesn’t grow straight and, to get a piece that’s big enough for a guitar means that the tree from which it came must have been hundreds of years old – and most of them were cut down to make Longbows. I am reliably informed that it’s not a particularly easy wood to work with, either.

And there’s something quite edgy about playing a guitar that’s poisonous…

So, what do I do? Tasmanian Olive Wood (which, by the way, isn’t really Olive Wood – but when we sent our criminals over there, they just named it olive wood because that’s what it reminded them of most) or English Yew?

Below are the two samples – Olive wood on the left and Yew on the right. What do you think?

Olive Wood

English Yew

4,6,8 ..

March 21, 2011

The numbers above relate to the strings on my primary instruments. My ukuleles have 4, my guitars have 6 and the mandolins have 8.

There are a couple of numbers missing – my banjo has 5 strings (but is in such shocking condition that it doesn’t get played very much at all) and I don’t own a 12 string guitar (although, some day …)

But they don’t get lower than 4, right?

Wrong. The Russian Balalaika has only 3 strings – and so does the latest addition to my stable of musical instruments – a Cigar Box Guitar. Why is it called a ‘cigar box’ guitar? Well, ermmm, it’s made out of a cigar box.

I was visiting the guitar show in Haslingden, Lancashire last Sunday with Sara (she came along for the ride, really) and, whilst there were some lovely instruments on display, there was also a great deal of rubbish. The thing is, a lot of the ‘rubbish’ was trying to pass itself off as genuine craftsmanship (anybody else ever have a K guitar from the catalogue?). From the corner of the room came this incredible sound – really bluesy. I wandered over to see this ageing hippy type playing, quite literally, rubbish. A 3 string guitar made out of an old cigar box. He’d just added a pick up and a neck and he was off. It sounded fantastic.

Now, I’m not a blues player – and I’ve never been the sort to plug a guitar in to anything – acoustic all the way, that’s me. But this was different. This was just fun and recycling and music all rolled into one. we had a bit of cash on us so …

It (I can’t bring myself to refer to the instrument as ‘she’ yet) is made from a box of Montecristo cigars from Havana (sadly empty). The cigars cost £303.00. The guitar didn’t. It has a Mahogany neck and the fretboard is from reclaimed English Oak with a gunstock oil finish (25.5″ scale length). The only ‘new’ bits on it are the nickel silver frets, the machineheads, the bone nut and the pickup – even the volume and tone controls are old bottle tops.

It looks a little forlorn next to my other instruments – but I know who I’d back if it came to a fight 🙂

The seller (‘chicken bone’ John) had a number of instruments on sale, from 1 string Diddley Bows to 6 string guitars. You can see some of his instruments (and buy them!) on his website

Like I said, I’m no blues player and this instrument is brand new to me but, to give you an idea of what it can sound like, I slaughtered a well-known tune.

THIS is what a well played CBG can sound like (played by Chickenbone John himself)