How simple oats turned into a High Court battle about what we used to call milk…

“Wow no cow!” as it says on the carton. And yet still a whiff of what a dairy-consuming sceptic might call bullshit.

Yesterday, Oatly lost a court case against a family-run farm in Cambridgeshire. Founded in the 1990s, Oatly produces a milk substitute made from oats – enhanced porridge water, if you like.

The firm sent the legal heavies after Glebe Farm Foods, saying their PureOaty plant milk took “unfair advantage”. A High Court judge disagreed, and Oatly was left with oat milk on its face.

Oatly make a big deal of being right-on and non-mainstream. If you look at what goes into their multimillion-selling ‘Oat Drink Barista Edition’, you may be surprised to find  sanctimony unlisted among the ingredients (“water, oats 10%, rapeseed oil…” – plus assorted minerals and vitamins found naturally in cows’ milk).

We have three types of milk in this house, milk-milk, soya milk and oat milk. The two that aren’t milk-milk are not allowed to call themselves milk, hence ‘oat drink’ and ‘soya squirt’ or something.

As the main consumer of milk-milk, being the family relic, I have one foot in a field of cows.

The barista oat not-milk is good in coffee, rich and creamy. I know this because I’ve tried it, before going back to milk-milk. What puts me off is not the taste but that sanctimony.

I have an empty cartoon before me now. “Shake me!” it invites, in the anthropomorphic way of modern advertising, where a thing becomes a person.

“Wow no cow!” it also says, as mentioned a moment ago.

Above those ingredients are the – frankly annoying – words: “The boring (but very important) side.” If this bores you, “flip the carton around and have a wonderful day”. It does and I did.

Then there is an extended joke about the carton being “upgraded to include the latest face-recognition software technology in order to upgrade user security…”

Gosh, I was chuckling over that for seconds.

“Powered by plants” it says on the other side – “What a cool thing to say…” There is more of this holy script, but you get the drift.

There is nothing wrong with all this. If you wish or need to spurn dairy, that’s fine (“Totally vegan,” the carton also says). It’s just that companies like Oatly pretend to be alternative and friendly, when they are just another massive corporation, prepared to bully smaller firms who edge into their shadow. They cash in on our conscience and adopt a “little-old-us” mateyness while churning out millions of those cartoon cartons.

During an earlier hearing in June, the court heard that Oatly had shifted more than £38m worth of that ‘barista edition’ oat milk, alongside £13m worth of other varieties of ‘not-milk’.

Clearly, they guard their trademarks carefully, but Judge Nicholas Caddick QC said it was hard “to see how any relevant confusion would arise” and dismissed Oatly’s case.

Philip Rayner of Glebe Farm Foods said it was “enormously gratifying… to see that smaller independent companies can fight back and win”.

On the BBC website report of the case, a spokesperson for Oatly wished Glebe Farm Foods “total success… moving forward” – funny, that, as the company had just failed in its bid to make the smaller firm move backwards. “We just think they should do so in their own unique voice, just like we do.”

And there was me thinking that it was only Boris Johnson’s spokespeople who are required to spout the most outrageous nonsense.

Right, I’m off to make a coffee using the stove-top espresso pot bought in Paris in the 1980s,  an age long before the words ‘oat’ and ‘milk’ ever snuggled up together.

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How Nigel Farage turned into a brilliant fundraiser for the RNLI…

Nigel Farage being his usual nasty self on Twitter

Nigel Farage on Twitter

I HAVE never seen the point of Nigel Farage, that pimple on the bum of British life. Like the papule in that image, Farage is a painful presence.

Yet nothing seems to shake this awful man. If you must admire anything about him, and it really isn’t mandatory, you may concede that his self-belief is remarkable.

That and his way of diverting British life down narrow and nasty alleyways, like a pinstriped thug. Or standing on the cliffs at Dover and shouting at migrants, while dressed like a male model from the duller sort of leisurewear catalogue.

Still, I was clearly wrong in thinking those unkind thoughts about Nigel. Turns out that the point of Nigel Farage is as a fundraiser for the RNLI. Donations rose by a reported 3,000% thanks to his efforts.

The life-saving charity raised £200,000 in a single day after its boss hit out at Farage’s claim that the RNLI was acting like a migrant ‘taxi service’.

The way that Farage and other rancid-trousered anti-philanthropists have turned on the RNLI for rescuing migrants in the Channel marks a new low in British life. Never mind any number of moral wrongs in our national life, all the likes of Farage want to do is pick on the most vulnerable.

The way they flaunt their lack of humanity should shame them – but it doesn’t because members of that disreputable right-wing club leave their shame at the door.

More migrants may be trying to cross the Channel, but general migration in this country is down. Farage & Co (Purveyors of Nastiness to the Nation) like to rant about how migrants in the Channel should follow ‘legal’ routes into Britain. Well, basically there aren’t any for many of those fleeing conflicts. That’s why they risk their lives in overcrowded boats.

Fortunately, Farage had not reckoned on the bullish Mark Dowie, chief executive of the RNLI.

In a series of interviews, Dowie said that it was his charity’s moral and legal duty to rescue migrants in danger in the sea, adding that he was proud of this humanitarian work. As he should be.

In one interview, Dowie said that most people in Britain and Ireland, where his charity operates, were kind and decent and respected this rescue work.

The ‘kind and decent’ people seem too often to be cowed by the shouty, woke-bashing brigade, the nasties whose views end up having too much sway. Why do we listen to the most shouty men in the room or the TV studio?

Nigel Farage recently parked his mouth in a new barking bay at GB News, where he says the RNLI is “doing the wrong thing” by rescuing migrants.

It would be a dark day indeed if rescuing poor and afflicted people who hope for a better life became the “wrong thing”.

Still, Nigel Farage is quite brilliant at raising funds for the RNLI, so he does have one use.

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Men Without Shirts: an unhappy anthology

THE man running along the pavement is young and fit and knows it. His body is lean and sculpted, with no unwanted flesh to encumber movement.

Off the bus comes another man, older and much less fit, with the weight that masses inconsiderately when you are not paying attention. The day is uncomfortable with heat and so is he, by the looks of it, red in the face and full in the belly.

The man on the bicycle sits somewhere between the other two, older than the first, slimmer than the second, with straggly hair that trails behind as he pedals along.

These men are linked by one sorry trait: they are topless in the heat, the young runner flaunting his perfect physicality, the older man flaunting his imperfect physicality, and the third man flaunting something in between.

These men were not seen at the same time, but I have gathered them here in clammy assembly, and I do hope you’ll forgive me.

The young man ran if to say, here’s what you get if you spend hours at the gym. I wondered about lifting my T-shirt in riposte, as if to say and here’s what you’ll get in 40 years’ time. But I carried on running slowly, trying to recover from a bout of T&T Syndrome. That’ll be tummy and tendon, the one larger than it used to be, the other too taut and prone to alarming twinges.

I’ve been walking briskly and running, then walking briskly again. The longer this goes on, the more the difference between the two paces will be eroded. Is this walking or is this running, I may well ask myself.

I can  understand, but not forgive, the young man, as he was proud of his body. The weighty man coming off the bus was something else. Other passengers had been forced to sit too close to his uncovered torso, and that can’t have been congenial.

It’s a weird thing to do. I barely even take my T-shirt off in the garden these days. As for beaches, remind me – what and where are they?

Keep your tops on, guys. No one wants to see your flesh, whether it’s sculpted or looks like a slowly melting pack of butter. Sweaty, unpleasant and, in some circumstances, threatening. Keep a lid on it, why don’t you.

There was a man used to run around these streets, older than me, slim and balding, with flyaway wings of hair. He never wore his T-shirt but carried it, as he sweated to wherever he laid his hat, and that unworn T-shirt.

“That’s gross,” my daughter said once when younger, as we drove past.

She wasn’t wrong. It was and still is.

That’s got that off my chest. A chest that’s otherwise staying covered.

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NHS fears? You literally couldn’t make this sh*t up. Look at how water was privatised…

Picture of a drop of water to illustrate privatisation of water industry

A drop of water…

IS privatisation always bad? I can think of at least one example where it’s been a shit idea, but we’ll come to that in a moment.

The NHS Bill passed last week  raises worries about the acceleration of health privatisation. There has always been private provision under the NHS umbrella, so fears about privatising ‘our NHS’ die away after a while, as the process is incremental and, from the outside, everything seems the same, even if it isn’t.

One difference now is that some members of the party in charge dislike our NHS and want a US-style insurance system. Lord Hannan has long been one such critic, and for a while used to be a regular on Fox News in the US, where he popped up to denigrate the NHS.

Some in the US see the NHS as ‘socialist’, whatever that means in this context, and the likes of Hannan pander to that prejudice.

Will Hutton, the Observer columnist and academic, has a better description, calling the NHS a “a fairness institution”, adding…

“Illness is a piece of brute bad luck ­– you can pre-empt some health risks, with exercise and not smoking, but the big diseases like cancer are really bad accidents which could fall on any of us.

“In this sense, the NHS is a ‘protect me from brute bad luck’ institution. In my view, that is not socialism.”

A sound defence, yet if you dip into the acrid chatter on right-wing Twitter accounts, where the crud collects like the grease off a kebab, a common theme is that the NHS hasn’t handled Covid-19 well and should be replaced with an insurance system, even though the US system is much less fair than our own.

As you may recall, the pro-Brexit brigade promised us £350m a week rebate for the NHS if we left Europe, a pledge that evaporated as quickly as an off-the-cuff lie does from Boris Johnson’s slippery tongue.

Johnson praises the NHS with one forked tongue and invents huge investment and phantom new hospitals with the other – all while overlooking the years of austerity his party imposed, leaving the NHS a relatively weak position when Covid-19 struck.

Anyone wondering whether privatisation is good or bad will eventually fall over Margaret Thatcher’s sell-off of the water industry. And anyone who knows me, or must endure my grumbles for family reasons, will know that I hate the unnecessary use of ‘literally’ that people drop into sentences literally all the time.

But I will allow myself this exception.

The privatisation of the water industry was literally a shit idea in that companies such as Southern Water now find it more profitable to pay a £90m fine for literally pumping shit into the literal sea than to invest in infrastructure.

Last week, Mr Justice Jeremy Johnson imposed that fine after the privatised water company admitted it had discharged raw sewage into some of the most delicate environments in the country.

It literally put literal shit in the sea because even that £90m fine was apparently a ‘better investment’ than spending money on sorting out how they dealt with our shit.

Since Thatcher privatised water, it is reported that firms have run up £48bn in debts to line the pockets of shareholders (analysis by Philip Inman, The Guardian, July 10, 2021).

To seemingly put shareholders above customers and the safety of the environment shows how privatising water was a terrible idea. And as it’s a monopoly, as you even can’t shop around for rival water.

That surely raises a concern that every time another part of the NHS is privatised or handed to an insurance company, there will be lines of shareholders who want their cut first. And queues of private companies looking to be indirectly propped up by taxpayers who fund these deals.

Has anyone ever totted up just how much privatisation has cost us all? And I haven’t even started on the railways.

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Appalling racists and politicians trying to cash in on the football…

FIRST, a muddy warning. Don’t turn to me to learn about football. That has always been the case, but here are some thoughts anyway.

I watched all the England games in Euro 2020. Last night’s final was frustrating in a manner I recall from down the years. Hopes were raised and dashed, and penalties were involved. To this occasional football tourist, these things are familiar.

Much less familiar is the nature of the England team, admirable young men working together and doing their best, even if their best last night wasn’t as good as it might have been (but it was the final and we were in it).

Yes, the result was disappointing, but nowhere near as deeply disappointing as the racist abuse on social media hurled at three players, Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho and Bukayo Saka, who failed to score in the penalty shootout, resulting in a 3-2 loss to Italy.

In response to this mistreatment, Boris Johnson popped up on Twitter, saying the “England team deserve to be lauded as heroes, not racially abused on social media”, adding that “those responsible for this appalling abuse should be ashamed of themselves”.

Decent enough words, but still problematic, as this is the same man who condemned England players for taking the knee before their matches. Johnson wants it all where the England team is concerned. He nods to his backwoods backbenchers by being critical of players who support Black Lives Matter, as does his home secretary, Priti Patel. Then both don England shirts and gurn for the cameras while urging on the team.

Bizarrely, Johnson was shown outside Downing Street surrounded by England flags and England bunting, with the St George limply fluttering everywhere. He even unfurled a flag. I say unfurled, but he looked as if he was removing a letter from a soggy brown envelope.

This, remember, is the man who said once that he doesn’t do gesture politics – a statement to which you may wish to add your own gesture. This, remember, is the former columnist who loved to entertain his readers with racist jokes about watermelon smiles and the like.

Johnson has few candid moments, but not long ago he admitted that football meant little to him although he understood that the game was important to others. For once I thought, fair play to that man.

Yet as soon as England started doing well, Johnson was all over the team, wanting a bit of reflected glory.

Perhaps you can take this England team as a symbol of whatever you wish. To me it’s a symbol of a multi-cultural country in which the benefits and opportunities of immigration are represented by splendid young men such as Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho and Bukayo Saka, and that charming weaver of the ball, Raheem Sterling.

In the past, Sterling has suffered endless newspaper hostility, with the Sun criticising his “love of bling” and calling him “OBSCENE RAHEEM” in June 2016. A headline eclipsed by the more recent: “55 years of hurt never stopped us Raheeming.”

There’s praise for you, with a side order of hypocrisy. Pudding steamed both ways is a popular dish at the Ye Olde England restaurant. Around those tables, many proud Englanders sing the praises of the England team, while overlooking that most of the star players are black and arrived here due to immigration. Those diners have a sort of white-washed view of England that is hilariously undone by the nature of the team they support.

And then some of them turn on three young players who missed penalties and douse them in racist abuse. How charming.

Personally, I’d like to thank the all the players, white, black and any shade in between, for giving us a human-spirited team to be proud of, even if they stumbled at the end. They will have other chances.

England manager Gareth Southgate takes the blame for those missed penalties, as you would expect from an honourable man, saying he chose the penalty takers, so it was on him.

With such honesty, Southgate will never make a real leader. Just ask Boris Johnson. Find someone else to carry the can is his first rule of survival.

So, don’t turn to me to learn about football. Or tennis come to that. After all that sport, I am going to enjoy not being a spectator for a while.

 

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There are clear benefits to staring out of windows…

The view out of my window at the time of writing

MY name is Julian and I like staring out of windows. It helps to settle the mind and puts thoughts in order. Also, something might be happening on the other side of that glass.

Normal people have always looked out of windows. Anyone who writes is likely to have done their share of gazing through the double-glazing.

There is even a quote from a writer; there is always a quote if you search hard enough or do a quick Google.

Mavis Gallant was a Canadian who moved to France to be a writer, and I like to think she had that idea while staring out of a window. She once said: “A short story is what you see when you look out of the window.”

This is rather good, as is captures the essence of the activity, the just looking, while also summoning up the nature of the short story, which is something glimpsed, a snatch of a life or story.

People sometimes say a story should have a beginning, a middle and an end. Good short stories are sometimes all middle, in that you don’t know what came before or what will happen afterwards. All you have is what you can see before you.

I confess to never having heard of Mavis Gallant, but may now try a book of her short stories. William Trevor was always a favourite writer of short stories, although I’ve not read them in a while.

Anyway, staring out of windows. This is an uncontroversial pastime unless you are a pupil at a school in Melton Mowbray.

Luckily, age and geography separate me from John Ferneley College, where the incoming headteacher has introduced a new set of school rules. As well as banning window-gazing, Natalie Teece says pupils must always smile and ask permission if bending to pick up a pen. And they must learn to respond to whistle commands from their handlers; sorry, members of staff.

They must enter the classroom in single file, “never forget to say Sir or Miss” and thank their teacher at the end of each lesson.

Turning around in class is forbidden, whatever sound might be heard, and pupils must sit up straight. Their replies to teachers should always be “upbeat”.

Some parents complained on social media and the story spread, while Ms Teece was reported as saying she’d received “overwhelming support from a majority of parents”.

Such rules are a mystery to me and seem sad and life-limiting, designed to suppress individuality. And pupils responding to whistles is just bizarre.

Reading this story through the comments on Twitter and Facebook is only to see one side and may lack nuance or context. But some rules are set for the sake of setting rules. What sort of adults do we wish to create from such rules? Compliant, unthinking people who don’t ask questions or ever allow themselves to be creatively diverted, perhaps.

But then we have in Gavin Williamson an education secretary who wishes to cut arts subjects at university to concentrate on subjects that “target taxpayers’ money towards the subjects which support the skills this country needs to build back better”.

What qualifies as building back better – and, please sir, better than what? Such statements are puzzling and profoundly depressing. As droned on about on this ledge previously, the creative industries earn a fortune for this country, adding £115bn to the UK economy in 2019.

Anyway, I appear to have wandered. This is what happens when you look out of windows for ideas.

Incidentally, when lecturing in journalism at a university in Yorkshire, I prepared a session on looking out of windows, encouraging students to look out of the window and then go outside in search of a story, any story will do.

When I turned up to teach that session, the room had no windows.

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Not sure about that Diana statue… a royal symbiosis… and a local election for local people

IMAGINE there was no royal coverage. The papers would be thinner and BBC royal correspondent Nicholas Witchell would have nothing to say.

Witchell never does have anything to say but says it anyway with his frowny face frowning and his ferrety voice ferreting away. And the newspapers rarely have anything to report but bellow it anyway into the echo chamber of nonsense that passes for royal news.

As we live in the age of the statue, arguing about whether they should stay or go, the media today gathers around a new statue.

Your appreciation or otherwise of the statue of Diana, Princess of Wales may depend on various factors, including the strength of your stomach.

Not being an expert in statuary, I thought it horribly naff at a lazy glance, awash with easy sentiment. The Guardian’s art critic Jonathan Jones has seen the statue up close and concurs, referring to a “nauseating, spiritless and characterless hunk of nonsense”.

Ian Rank-Broadley’s statue, unveiled yesterday at Kensington Palace, portrays Princess Diana as a strong woman; possibly as a giantess surrounded by mere mortals. Ah, no, those mere mortals are children. Not hers when young, as there are three and one is wearing a dress.

The statue was commissioned by Princes William and Harry to honour their mother. I am guessing they are pleased. I could guess something else, of course. That’s what the newspapers do all the time, moulding stories from speculation, rumour and what the editor wanted in the morning conference.

Today’s front pages, as viewed on the BBC website, show the different ways a straightforward story can be reported.

The Sun goes for “Princess & The Peace” because William and Harry behaved cordially and managed a smile. The Daily Mirror has the brothers reuniting under the headline: “We miss mum every day…” The princes are quoted as saying that they hope the statue would “be seen forever as a symbol of her life and her legacy”.

Over at the Daily Mail, the headline is: “Together… but still so far apart.” A classic of the genre, a bold statement about something the newspaper doesn’t know. Speculation oils most royal reporting as the royals say little, although the princes’ parents broke that rule in high style.

Splashed over the Mail’s photograph of the brothers is a teaser for Richard Kay’s column inside: “Legacy she’d really want? For her boys to end their divisions.” Oh yeah, has Diana’s ghost been whispering into your ear or something?

There’s a sickly symbiosis between the media and the royals, particularly what we used to call the tabloids. The royals are good for business, especially if there is a rift into which prying fingers can be prised.

Many of the papers would be lost without the royals, so they keep up a strange two-faced waltz, lavishing the loyalty while also shit-stirring on a grand style. It always amazes me that people read or watch this stuff, but they do, as witnessed by endless Diana features and Diana documentaries.

You can’t help thinking she’s much more useful to them young and dead, as it were, rather than as a 60-year-old woman. Although I guess there would still be headlines: “Daring Diana cuts a dash as she peels away the years in low-cut gown for her 60th party”. Or some such flimflam.

Incidentally, The Times goes for a photograph and a report headlined: “Brothers show unity as Diana statue finally goes on show.” No wild and shouty speculation, just a straight news story.

TO PARAPHRASE from The League of Gentlemen, that was a local byelection for local people.

Good to see Kim Leadbeater win Batley and Spen for Labour, even by the slimmest of margins. She’s a local woman who campaigned on local issues, while contending with national nastiness.

George Galloway and his grandstanding ego won 8,000 votes, many possibly from Leadbeater. A shame and it would still be a shame if eight people had voted for that terrible man.

The national  correspondents will now be heading back to London, leaving Leadbeater to learn how to be an MP in the seat once held by her sister, Jo Cox, murdered when serving as the area’s MP.

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Minister for Being Needlessly Cruel is up to her nasty tricks again…

I see that Priti Patel, the Minister for Being Needlessly Cruel, has elbowed herself into the headlines again. Perhaps she was jealous of all the attention Matt Hancock was getting.

Patel has other briefs too, of course. The Minister for Swearing at Civil Servants being another title. That behaviour was ruled to have broken the ministerial code. Boris Johnson, the Minister for Excusing Bad Behaviour By Himself and All His Political Pals, brushed that criticism away.

He also initially defended former Health Secretary Hancock, caught in a restrictions-busting adulterous clinch by The Sun, saying the matter was closed. Then yesterday Johnson claimed credit for having acted decisively by sacking Hancock, even though Hancock wasn’t sacked but resigned when he realised the game was up.

Yesterday, The Times had a front-page story about Patel, the Home Secretary, wishing to detain asylum seekers in an ‘offshore hub’. So far from our shores, in fact, that it’s in Rwanda. As a gauge to the heartless lunacy of that idea, the shortest distance between London and Rwanda is 4,096 miles, according to Google.

Patel wishes to introduce laws next week to allow this to happen, having copied the idea from Denmark. That’s two supposedly civilised European nations dealing with asylum seekers by dumping them on a landlocked African country with no shores of its own.

Rwanda is a poor country and yet two wealthy countries wish to ship their asylum-seekers there; refugees from poor countries who sought shelter in a wealthier country but find themselves sent thousands of miles from their hoped-for destination.

Britain should be ashamed; Denmark should be ashamed ­– and I sure as hell feel ashamed. What a shoddy, cynical and callous way for a so-called civilised country to carry on.

The proposed Nationality and Borders Bill is a disgrace, a typical bit of performative nastiness dressed up as being in the national interest. Whereas in fact it’s only in the interests of keeping alive rancid myths about immigration.

We are part of a wider world and have a human responsibility to people seeking asylum here. That doesn’t mean we have to accept everyone, but we should treat people with decency and dignity – and shipping people to Africa is bizarre and plain nasty. Perhaps that’s why the idea appeals to Priti Patel.

Earlier suggestions from Patel have included carting asylum seekers to Ascension Island, 4,000 miles from Britain.

All this begs a troubling question: how from such a distance can we be sure that the human rights of vulnerable people are being respected? Answer, we can’t – but Johnson and Patel will be happy as the problem has been ‘solved’ by shoving asylum seekers out of sight and mind.

Last October, the Observer reported that government ministers had been advised against using ‘prison ships’ to discourage migrants crossing the Channel.

That unholy suggestion brought back memories of HMP Weare, a floating prison moored in Portland harbour, Dorset, which was in use from 1997 to 2006, until being condemned by the chief inspector of prisons.

Much further back, prison hulks were used. These decommissioned, and invariably unseaworthy, ships were moored offshore and refitted as floating prisons. It had become customary to transport convicts to America, until the outbreak of war in America in 1775 closed that route. Convicts given a sentence of transportation no longer had anywhere to go, so they were instead confined onboard those floating prisons.

This suggests there is nothing new under the political sun, while also raising the ‘possibility’ that those political operatives known as Johnson & Co are entirely without conscience. But we’d guessed that already.

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Musical truths… ‘I am and I am not the same person’

ARE we the same people now as when we were young? This question arises after reading the autobiography of a musical hero, but it has general resonance, too.

I’ve not read many music books, four if memory serves.

Unfaithful Music & Disappearing Ink by Elvis Costello was fleetingly brilliant, especially about the early years, but too long and needed a stern edit.

A better book is to be found in Chris Difford’s Some Fantastic Place: My Life In And Out Of Squeeze. Smartly written, as you’d expect from the Squeeze lyricist, and blissfully short.

Many pages beyond short is A Long Strange Trip, The Inside History of the Grateful Dead, which runs to 820 pages, plus index. Dennis McNally’s book was opened recently after sitting on the shelf for years. Whether it will ever be finished is another matter, although 225 pages have been read. Good pages but the thought of all those to follow is off-putting.

That leaves Beeswing by Richard Thompson, which has the subtitle, ‘Fairport, Folk Rock and Finding My voice 1967-75’. Newly published by Faber, this musical autobiography is a must for all Thompson obsessives and nerds, who revere his guitar skills and song-writing.

Thompson was still a teenager when Fairport Convention found the sort of quick fame that happened in the 1960s. They were never as big as the obvious names from that era, but they had their moments, and they’re still playing today, minus Thompson who only hung around for a few years, and has been playing solo for decades.

Beeswing, named after one of Thompson’s best-known songs, is good at recalling the chaos and momentum of being in a young band. Thompson writes well, as you might guess from his lyrics and wry on-stage banter, as he traces the genesis of English folk-rock, a genre Fairport can claim to have invented.

It has always seemed strange that a man who doesn’t drink can write such good drinking songs, including God Loves A Drunk and Down Where The Drunkards Roll. Thompson, who turned to Sufism, a form of Islamic mysticism, in his late twenties has joked before that he doesn’t need to drink as he swallowed a lifetime’s worth when he was young. The booze-fuelled account he gives here backs up that explanation.

Beeswing covers all of Thompson’s time in Fairport, including the devastating minibus crash that killed two people, drummer Martin Lamble and Jeannie Franklyn, Thompson’s new girlfriend at the time. One of the worst moments in his life somehow produces the strongest writing.

The book then moves onto the Linda years, as Richard and Linda Thompson produced albums that easily stand the test of time, such as Shoot Out The Lights and I Want To See The Bright Lights Tonight, and some that don’t, such as Sunnyvista.

Shoot Out… was first produced by Gerry Rafferty, who, in Thompson’s account, was drunk most of the time, ruined the songs by layering the sound in studio trickery, and spent too much time leching after Linda. The Rafferty version was abandoned and never officially released, although bootleg cuts exist, and the album was recorded again.

At the end of Beeswing, Thompson looks back on more than half a century of writing and recording – alongside personal highs and lows – and wonders how the man he is now relates to the boy he once was. Many share such feelings, although most don’t have such prominent signposts.

Thompson regards some old songs with fond puzzlement, uncertain how or why they were written. “To play a song like Meet On The Ledge, written fifty years ago on my bed in my tiny room in Brent, for reasons I cannot remember, with a worldview that was understandably naïve, is curious. I am and I am not the same person. I have to forgive the author of the song for being youthful, but I salute some of his insights into life, which seem hard won.”

Thompson in his seventies no longer shares that young man’s emotions, so must seek new emotions to stir when he plays the song.

A fine study in whether we are the same people now that we were then. And a great read.

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Looking for worthless Premium Bond numbers sets me off thinking about memorials…

John in the US in 1981

SOME memorials are public and others we carry within ourselves. This train of thought began with two public memorials, although another starting point was a hunt for our ancient Premium Bonds.

Inevitably, the bonds turned out to be worthless.

Looking for them unearthed my university friend’s funeral. So long ago already was my first reaction. John died in 1999 and I’ve been without him for as long as we were friends.

We met at Goldsmiths College. He’d dropped out after a year at Leeds University and I’d fluffed my A-levels, so we both rolled to south east London.

John was six ft four and was teased for looking like Clark Kent; I was five foot eight and teased for looking like Leo Sayer.

After university Clark and Leo had an excellent adventure in the US, staying in New York and driving to Los Angeles in a week, then up the coast to San Francisco. I still think of those three weeks.

John was best man at our wedding and did a splendid job. There is more I could recall. That day he spray-painted his Audi and it looked terrible. Or my lasting regret at not seeing him after he said he was ill. He seemed to rally and anyway, no good friend of mine was going to die like that, aged only 43.

Mostly I think of him as he was, tall, faithful, sometimes sardonic, amusing and interested in many things, a good companion for a beer or two. A solid good friend still.

Private memorials allow you to accommodate your own thoughts and feelings. Public memorials are more complex, with so many people to please or appease, or unintentionally to offend.

The Covid-19 wall across the River Thames from the Houses of Parliament is an affecting memorial, a white wall filled with red hearts, supposedly one for every victim of Covid-19.

This emotional graffiti is moving in its simplicity. All those hand-drawn hearts have emotional power. There have been calls for this impromptu memorial wall to be made permanent, and that is what should happen.

Discussions about how to honour the lives of those who died in the devastating Grenfell tower fire are long-running, and sometimes contentious. One suggestion is that the tower should be turned into a high-rise garden to remember those who died.

The idea comes from Marcio Gomes and Andreia Perestrelo, who lived on the 21st floor and escaped the fire with their two daughters. Andreia was pregnant and their son, whom they’d already called Logan, was stillborn because of the toxic smoke.

They want the shell of the tower to be restored to its 220ft height and planted with 72 species of plants, forming a high-rise memorial garden to honour the 72 people who died in the fire.

Marcio spoke about his wish in an interview with the Today programme on BBC Radio 4. He was inspired by the work of Stefano Boeri, the Italian architect whose forested blocks of flats in Milan sow vertical acres of greenery in an otherwise barren landscape (above).

Whether that’s the right answer for Grenfell is not for someone like me to say. That right belongs to the relatives of those who died and to those who escaped with their lives.

Public memorials must contend with many feelings, in this case not least those survivors who’d rather see the tower removed. Some of those who lost loved ones in the fire have said that the official memorial plans are only adding to their grief. Finding an answer won’t be easy.

As for John V Sheridan (1955-1999), you live on in my heart, old friend. I am so glad I knew you. Sometimes I still talk to you in my head. Sometimes you answer back with a smart reply and that familiar half-grin. That’s the sort of man you were.

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