Urban Fathers' Liberation Front

Confused dads working out the city

My 100 Top Songs

It’s time to be a little indulgent.  I saw a post on Facebook from friend the other day who said he’d seen a number of people list their top 100 songs.  He thought that was a little boring, and so proceeded to list his top 100 worst songs.  It got me thinking.  And the result of that thinking is the next three posts.

I’m first going to list my top 100 songs; then my 75 worst songs, followed by 75 fantastic covers.  I’m starting with my top 100, because it’s easiest.  Thinking of your favourite songs is a doddle – putting them in a top 100 is trickier. On the other hand, coming up with terrible songs is very difficult, because you tend to forget them.  And I love covers, so that’s a joy to prepare.  But more on those last two later.

My top 100 saw me come up with over 220 favourite songs.  I only had two rules in coming up with the list – no artist could appear twice (though songwriters could appear twice, and the same people in different bands was acceptable) and it had to be a ‘desert island’ list – things I couldn’t do without.  The latter rule lead me to include some ‘classic’ artists that might not have been there otherwise; both rules prevented me swamping the list with many songs by the same artist.  So there are some ‘honourable mentions’ (HM) below.  Here goes:

  1. Keane – Sovereign Light Cafe: nostalgic, optimistic, bright and set at the seaside.  Perfect Keane.  HMs – Perfect Symmetry, My Shadow, Snowed Under, On A Day Like Today
  2. Darius Rucker – This: country songs often have the most poignant lyrics.  This is the best example.
  3. KT Tunstall – Lost: inspired me in a difficult time; thumping beats in the middle section.  HMs – Carried, Saving My Face, The Entertainer
  4. Nerina Pallot –  Learning to Breathe: hit a chord recently; might be artificially high, but worthy of a top twenty place.  HM – Idaho
  5. A-ha – Summer Moved On (live): has to be the live version to include that 22 second note.  HMs – Out of Blue Comes Green, Analogue, Butterfly Butterfly, Scoundrel Days
  6. REM – Daysleeper: too many choices from REM, this is the pick of the crop from the ‘Up’ album. HMs – At My Most Beautiful, Fall On Me, Perfect Circle, The Great Beyond, Imitation of Life, Nightswimming
  7. Bloc Party – I Still Remember: the excitement of a relationship beginning; used at our wedding (a bit weird if you know the lyrics!) – HM – Sunday, Flux
  8. Deacon Blue – Loaded: the best from a great debut album, and many, many others miss the list because of the rule. HMs – Raintown, Turn, The Hipsters, The Wildness, Your Town
  9. Mt. Desolation – Annie Ford: the most heartbreaking song I know.
  10. Kate Rusby – Underneath the Stars: Rusby could sing the ingredients on a cereal packet and make it enchanting
  11. Take That – Patience HMs – Said It All, The Flood, Rule the World
  12. Coldplay – Life in Technicolour
  13. McIntosh Ross – Summer
  14. Tim Minchin – White Wine in the Sun  HM: The Fence
  15. Ricky Ross – The Further North You Go
  16. Lighthouse Family – High
  17. Toad the Wet Sprocket – The Moment HM – All I Want
  18. The Killers – Human HMs – Mr Brightside, Runaways, Bling
  19. Catatonia – Strange Glue
  20. Adele – Someone Like You
  21. The Smiths – What Difference Does it Make? HMs – Girl Afraid, Girlfriend in a Coma, Bigmouth Strikes Again
  22. Tori Amos – Jackies Strength HMs – Concertina, Northern Lad, Space Dog
  23. The Mission – Like a Child Again
  24. Vonda Shepherd and Emily Saliers – Baby, Don’t You Break My Heart Slow
  25. Communards – For a Friend
  26. Crowded House – Distant Sun
  27. Editors – Bricks and Mortar
  28. Pet Shop Boys – Flamboyant
  29. Train – Drops of Jupiter
  30. Del Amitri – Drunk in a Band
  31. Suzanne Vega – Gypsy
  32. Then Jerico – What Does it Take?
  33. 29 Palms – Mad to be Saved
  34. Peter Gabriel – A Different Drum
  35. Kathleen Edwards – Copied Keys
  36. Magne F – The Longest Night
  37. Sigur Ros – Saeglopur
  38. Savage Garden – Affirmation
  39. The Big Dish – Good Way
  40. The Adventures – Broken Land
  41. Robbie Williams – Come Undone
  42. Sting – Fields of Gold
  43. Cry Before Dawn – Gone Forever
  44. Oasis – Acquiese
  45. Chumbawamba – Homophobia
  46. Manic Street Preachers – Motorcycle Emptiness
  47. Madonna – What it feels like for a Girl (Perfecto Mix)
  48. Paula Cole – I Don’t Want to Wait
  49. Stereophonics – Dakota
  50. kd lang – Helpless
  51. River City People – I’m Still waiting
  52. Lorde – Team
  53. Kirsty MacColl – A New England
  54. Semisonic – Chemistry
  55. Playing at Trains – Lust
  56. Of Monster and Men – Little Talks
  57. Trisha Yearwood – I Hope You Dance
  58. Nirvana – Smells Like Teen Spirit
  59. Suede – Animal Nitrate
  60. Love Affair – Everlasting Love
  61. Horse – Stay
  62. Hootie and the Blowfish – Time
  63. Gun – Shame on You
  64. Glenn Campbell – Any Trouble
  65. James Blunt – Same Mistake
  66. Fleetwood Mac – The Chain
  67. Counting Crows – Rain King
  68. John Denver – Annie’s Song
  69. Fat Lady Sings – Drunkard Logic
  70. Isley Brothers – This Ole Heart of Mine
  71. Goo Goo Dolls – Iris
  72. Eminem – Lose Yourself
  73. Elton John – Your Song
  74. Dixie Chicks – Taking the Long Way Round
  75. Dido – Take My Hand
  76. Cherry Ghost – People Help the People
  77. The Beatles – Ticket to Ride
  78. Alex Parks – Cry
  79. Amy MacDonald – Let’s Start a Band
  80. Avril Lavigne – I’m With You
  81. Brandon Flowers – Crossfire
  82. Bruce Springsteen – Radio Nowhere
  83. Carly Simon – Let The River Run
  84. Don Henley – Boys of Summer
  85. Elvis Presley – Marie’s the Name
  86. The Vaccines – Post Break-up Sex
  87. Kate Bush – Running Up That Hill
  88. Kim Wilde – Stone
  89. New Order – Regret
  90. Pearl Jam – Leash
  91. Beautiful South – Pretenders to the Throne
  92. Sarah Maclachlan – Angel
  93. U2 – Where the Streets Have No Name
  94. Temper Trap – Sweet Disposition
  95. Texas – Inner Smile
  96. The Bangles – I’ll Set You Free
  97. The Cure – In Between Days
  98. The Fray – Trust Me
  99. Thea Gilmore – London 
  100. ABBA – Eagle
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Pedalling a ridiculous argument

The local business association that represents my high street – Green Lanes – and town centre – Palmers Green –  have been very active recently, opposing an investment in Enfield of up to £30m in cycling improvements (the ‘mini-Holland’ scheme) because it MIGHT remove paid for, on-street parking on the high street itself.  Without any obvious basis for the claims or any evidence to back up their opinions, it has launched an aggressive campaign using posters in shops and emails to anyone on their mailing list, and put up a single issue candidate to fight the forthcoming local election.  From my perspective, it appears to be a campaign which has jumped to the extreme end of what might actually happen which and presents it as fact to a public who are unlikely to follow up the claims.

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Mini-Holland objection posters

Costas Georgiou, chairman of the business association, is standing in the local elections as an independent candidate on this single issue.  His claim is that the removal of parking spaces on Green Lanes equates to the removal of shoppers.  Again, there is little evidence from him to support this so far – even I can dispute it, being heavily reliant on the shops in Green Lanes, but never having driven there.  But, because the association is respected and run by local business people, it might be natural to assume that their fears are well founded.  I don’t think they are.

There have already been attempts to set out a more balanced view.  The Palmers Green Community website, for instance, has already posted a riposte to explain some of the finer points of the planning process, which is ongoing.  Even from the Enfield Council website downloads about the mini-Holland bid, one can deduce that the proposals for Green Lanes within Palmers Green are a very small proportion of the overall package of improvements across a Borough that has high levels of pollution from vehicles and significantly high levels of obesity in children and adults alike.  The posters imply that the Palmers Green element is a major part of the proposals; it isn’t.

Palmers Green town centre is not without its problems, but is lucky to be one of only a handful of local centres to have relatively low vacancy rates compared to the national average, a high proportion of independent traders, a station right in the town centre, and good bus routes in both east-west and north-south directions.  It has good quality, relatively dense and varied housing all around it, giving thousands of people easy access to the town centre on foot, by bicycle and by two forms of public transport that operate regular services for around twenty hours a day.  We have three good supermarkets, including one with its own ample free car park.  There is an abundance of places to get a hot drink and a snack.  Commuters criss-cross the town centre on their way to the station and bus stops having parked in the surrounding residential streets and walked through it.  The Census between 2001 and 2011 demonstrates a growing number of households in wards around N13 – over 40% in many wards, and over 30% in most – have no car.  None of these factors point to a desperate need for available on street parking for cars.

Aside from my casual observations, there is evidence to suggest that their claims are unreasonable.  A report by the Association for Town Centre Management and the British Parking Association (2013) remarked that, “trying to find a conclusive link between town centre prosperity and car parking provision is extremely difficult”, largely because of the high number of variables involved in a town centre’s success.  There is simply an insufficient evidence base to draw such a firm conclusion.

Further research suggest that town centres actually benefit from allowing greater access to people on foot and on bicycles, or that a balanced approach to traffic management and parking is preferable to boost the appeal of town centres.  This includes a report written by Living Streets, and a wealth of research over many years by the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment (like this), the ATCM (like this) and the Design Council.  Friends living in Palmers Green have also found easy and accessible evidence to support the idea that town centres benefit from reducing the impact of cars in town centres, and that increasing walking and cycling only has positive effects (here and here) the former of which also demonstrates that traders tend to over-estimate the reliance they place on customers arriving by car.  Consider, for instance, the reductions in noise and fumes as cars slow down looking for spaces; the potential for conflicts and accidents and the simple fact that cars are rather ugly features that detract from good looking places.

It may well be that the proposals being proposed by Enfield Borough in their current form need some discussion and informed contributions, but for an influential group of people in the town centre to launch such a ham-fisted and unsophisticated campaign of opposition is unfair and unjust, and needs challenging.

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Maria Miller – Her resignation, my (different kind of) resignation

Maria Miller is all over the news today.  For those that don’t have their ears firmly pressed to the ground, Maria Miller is the former Culture Secretary who has, today, resigned from her post in light of recent events in respect of her expenses claimed prior to the changes to the rules governing MPs expenses in 2010 (the claims were made when she was a new MP between 2005 to 2009).  As well as having to pay money back, she was asked to apologise publicly in the house, and many thought that her short apology was rather forced.  After a week of discussion and exaggerated disgust, she has finally fallen on her sword claiming that the debacle was distracting the country from all the good things that the Government is doing (insert own sarcastic tone here if desired).  

This debate has got out of hand and gone off at a rather different tangent from where it started.  It’s become a debate about expenses.  She wasn’t asked to apologise about expenses; she was asked to apologise about her conduct in being obstructive towards the investigations.

I’ve been left with a very odd taste in my mouth following the news coverage today.  Maria Miller has, it seems, been a victim of rather vicious hounding and harassment and – it seems to me – myths, lies and rumours about the circumstances of her case which leave me uncomfortable despite my feelings about the shortcomings of the expenses system that have been discussed in light of Ms Miller’s apology.  It boils down to a few points:

1. Most importantly, given where the debate has gone, she was cleared of making false expenses.  The overpayments were made because she did not reduce the claims as interest rates fell on her mortgage.  The Standards Committee found her conduct obstructive in investigating the claims, but rejected claims that she’d benefited from overpayments.  It was this obstructiveness that was the problem, not the making of false claims.

2. As discussed above, the claims date from the original expenses crisis, and to all intents and purposes is part of that debate, and not a new one.  The possibility of making claims on that scale are much reduced these days, and new MPs – those elected in 2010 – are likely to be much more aware of the damaging consequences of making such claims anyway.  And hopefully the others have learnt…

3. Maria Miller was working on two very important pieces of legislation; gay marriage and press regulation.  The former has now passed into law; the latter is ongoing and, whilst the bill has support politically, it does not have support amongst the press.  It seems to me that this places her in a position that is unlikely to be popular with the press; others might conclude it could make her a likely victim of unfavourable press stories; that the press might gleefully jump on a story that involved someone closely involved in seeking to more tightly regulate the press.  Surely not?

4. She was asked to pay back around £5,000.  Many people have asked the question as to why she shouldn’t pay back ‘the full £45,000’ that she was found to have falsely claimed.  The answer to this is that she seemingly produced late evidence to prove that the remainder was a legitimate claim under the rules and that she did, in fact, pay back everything that was overpaid.

I’m no apologist for MPs expenses but, on the whole I do admire MPs and our political system.  I am thankful I do not live in, say, Italy, Russia or Ukraine.  It seems to me that MPs should be entering the profession with a desire to do something for the public good primarily at a local level, but contributing to the betterment of the country as a whole.  I believe that most politicians have this desire.  They are relatively well paid in carrying out this duty, and in my experience of dealing with MPs I have always left with the impression that the work is long and difficult and brings many compromises.  I also believe that MPs should be compensated for the expense involved in travelling to London from distant constituencies and for stays away from their family home in alternative accommodation.  I don’t think this should be extended beyond the sort of cost that a commuter living in Brighton might pay – without subsidy – to work in London over the course of a 30 year career, for instance, so I recognise that it’s a difficult balance to make.  Funding mortgages is especially difficult when the purchase of a house has, historically, been very profitable and is especially so in London.  There are no doubt issues with expenses, and very complex arguments and counter arguments to be had.  The general public is right to demand transparency and a more palatable system.

But none of this seems to resolve the fact that I think Maria Miller’s initial obstructiveness to what should have been a much more straightforward matter has drawn out a process which has, in the last week, spiralled madly out of control and concluded with her resignation.  Utter madness.  I hope we’re all much happier.

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Seven-a-day man

You might have seen in the media recently some research that suggests that, rather than aiming for five portions of fruit and vegetables a day, we ought to be targeting seven or more.  I’m naturally cautious of health related stories, particular as I’m heightened to them at the moment because I’m in the middle of Ben Goldacre’s rant, ‘Bad Science‘ but also because a lot of media stories about health are populist nonsense seeking to grab out attention for a nanosecond, and a good old fashioned scare story normally does the trick.

However, I’m inclined to think that a higher target for fruit and vegetables each day is a good thing.  Most of the impartial, objective advice to living long and healthy seems to revolve around eating fruit and vegetables in combination with not smoking, doing exercise, avoiding to much drink and generally being a bit of a goody two shoes.  So raising the target should have a side effect of raising the game of those on two or three pieces of fruit and veg a day just through exasperated guilt.

One of those might be Rosie Millard, who wrote – exasperatedly – about all this fruit and veg she now has to eat.  Now, Rosie was a charming screen presence as BBC Arts correspondent in the early noughties and continues to write now, and I’m sure she’s a lovely person.  But her barren breakfast, reluctant lunchtime apple, and evening fish fingers needs some work.

I’m no angel when it comes to food.  I’m a fish eating vegetarian (or what vegetarians would call an ‘omnivore’) who doesn’t like many vegetables.  I am prone to fish and chips once a week if I can get away with it, and my exercise routine could be written on the back of a stamp without a pen.  But I don’t struggle to get at least five portions (usually more) of fruit and veg a day because I’ve found what I like and I try to substitute bad snacks – crisps, chocolate, cake – with better snacks.  Here’s a sample.

My breakfast usually consists of muesli.  I highly recommend the award winning stuff from Lidl. It’s by far the best I’ve had and is full of crunchy nuts, raisins and dried fruit.  I always add raspberries and blueberries, which I feel deprived of without.  I always make a sandwich for work; whether it’s fish or cheese, I normally add some kind of salad – rocket, lettuce, tomatoes.  I will take two pieces of fruit – normally a Pink Lady apple (sweet, crisp, crunchy) and a banana and will buy some grapes or mango at lunch along with a bottle of beetroot juice (although I accept that fruit juices are not as good as fresh fruit).

My wife and I don’t buy pre-prepared meals.  We always try to make something if we can (and Rosie, we have kids aged 4 and 2 who will eat with us most of the time).  This will revolve around pasta with a sauce, or risotto, stir fry, a pizza (base and sauce all prepared fresh) or a curry.  Once you have these, fitting three of four veg into them is a doddle, anything from onion, pepper and carrot to peas, spinach and courgette.  We use frozen peas and spinach to add to most hot dishes or into the pasta water while the pasta boils.  It’s really easy.  We do have sausage and chips now and again, but we’ll cut the chips from potatoes rather than reaching for a bag of frozen chips and steam some broccoli florets to go with it.  It really is no hassle at all; you can involve the kids in making it, they get used to eating fresh food and we share meals together.

Eating fruit and veg is essential for a good healthy life but more than that it helps kids learn, it brings families together and it avoids having to pay lots of money on processed food.  And far from being difficult or virtuous, it’s straightforward and time can be made for it.  Does that help, Rosie?

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