Smelling Dogs

by Tom Robinson

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about

A collection of poems, letters, rants, advice and incidental music

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released January 1, 2001

All thracks written by Tom Robinson; recorded, mixed and mastered by Paul Phippin at Whistlewood Audio; and published 2000 by Notting Hill Music except:

*My Beer, Work Pie and The Thought Of Fish written 1985 by a mainframe computer at Birkbeck College, London programmed and edited by Greg Ward, copyright contol.

*Themes 1-5 written by TR and Al Scott
Recorded and mixed by Al Scott in Brighton
Released on Castaway Northwest January 2001
Published 2000 by Notting Hill Music/copyright control

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Tom Robinson London, UK

Tom Robinson (b.1950) is a UK songwriter & broadcaster first known in the 70s as an anti-racist and LGBT campaigner. He released 19 albums between 1975-2001 with various bands and has co-written songs with Elton John, Peter Gabriel, Dan Hartman and Manu Katché. He's an award-winning presenter at BBC Radio 6 Music, and released Only The Now (his first album in 19 years) in October 2015. ... more

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Track Name: Werner's Weekend In London
Guardian Diary (March 1990)
Wednesday: Crackly call from rapidly vanishing Deutsche Demokratische Republik or DDR as they say in Germany. My pal Werner has finally got his visa from the British Embassy for the trip neither of us had ever thought possible - a weekend visit to London. We first became friends in the early eighties while I was briefly living and working in East Berlin. Playing with local musicians meant an unrestricted visa and allowed me to visit Werner in his small home town of Prenzlau. Returning his hospitality, however, had always seemed out of the question. Only nonstop flight available is with World's Most Modest Airline, whose West German reputation ("bei BA kriegt man immer Scheiße") is well deserved. Reluctantly book his ticket, consoling myself that it can't be much worse than Interflug.

Friday: Waiting with Partner at Heathrow Terminal One. BA989 from Berlin twenty minutes late - no surprises there. Further hour before a shaken but beaming Werner eventually emerges, the last from his flight. No-one, especially from today's DDR, expects the British Inquisition: how long are you here, what is the purpose of your visit, who are you staying with, when, where and how did you meet him, what does he do, where does he live, why did he invite you. Just like the old days back at home, chuckles Werner. Crossing The Wall this afternoon, the guard simply wished him a pleasant stay, and hoped he wouldn't forget to come back.

Back to Hammersmith in high spirits with hugs, introductions and presents - East German kirsch, flowers from Prenzlau and two small pieces of concrete personally chiselled from Wall. Sit down to an Indian takeaway. What on earth is that stuff ? Rice, Werner. This weekend, he wants to try EVERYTHING.

Saturday: We lay on a typical German breakfast of ham, cheese, boiled eggs, filter coffee, butter & pumpernickel for our guest, who is baffled. He's never seen Tilsiter cheese or tasted fresh ham, while coffee and butter are unaffordable luxuries. Breakfast is black bread, a glass of milk and an egg from his parents' chicken in the yard. As a bricklayer he works an eleven hour day, earning 700 marks a month. Even at the DDR's ludicrous official exchange rate this is under £60 a week. Though his rent is six pounds a month, the unspectacular trainers he's wearing cost a week and a half's wages.

Outside, the sun is shining. Werner marvels at how clean, well-kept and tidy everything is. Can he really mean the Shepherds Bush Road ? Goods in the shops, beautifully displayed, friendly and polite service - above all, no queues outside. And where are all our friendly unarmed Bobbies with their famous helmets ? By some fluke we don't see one the whole weekend, though white transits packed with shadowy figures scream past a couple of times.

The city looks so different through a visitor's eyes: full of immaculate old buildings and staggering new ones. This belongs to an American corporation, and that's a Japanese bank. For some reason Buckingham Palace reminds him of Ceaucescu. We pass brutal sixties concrete office block: at last, quips Werner, something you've copied from us. Plenty of queues there too, we tell him. It's the DHSS.

Improbably, he's accosted by a street vendor brandishing a special DDR issue of Living Marxism and he responds in a torrent of German. Great theory, he agrees, but hopeless in practice: he's been there, done that and definitely had enough. Uncomprehending but encouraged, the woman asks if he feels positive about re-unification. "Stasi !" hisses Werner, displaying an imaginary lapel badge and producing from nowhere an ancient plastic camera. He snaps his first British marxist at point blank range, and stalks off grinning.

Much disbelieving laughter over the various machines cluttering our household - not just the tumble drier and video, but my shaver, the hair dryer - even the kettle. ("You mean you just fill it with water and it boils ? That's amazing !") By the time I nuke our dinner in the microwave he thinks I'm taking the piss. Guiltily hide the electric toothbrush my brother gave us for Christmas.

Tonight Werner wants to sample London nightlife. Partner nobly suggests capital's most enduring and spectacular gay discotheque and, since Saturdays are Men Only, opts for an early night. Driving into West End, further mirth at removable car radio - yet another machine ! Outside club help gay man being hassled by aggressive drunk and pass begging teenagers huddled on pavement - Werner gives them all the hard currency in his pocket. Gay man buys us a drink. Heaven packed and heaving with party animals bopping till the tiny hours, mostly Werner's age or younger. His eyes widen: it's a far cry from anything in East Berlin, though the insistent electrobeat seems alien and oppressive. He spots still more machines in the washroom. This one's a hand dryer, that one sells condoms.

Worst job my stepbrother ever had was opening Richard Branson's personal mail shortly after the launch of Mates. Though all condoms are subject to occasional failure, the furious victims seemed to hold Branson personally responsible - often posting him the sticky and gruesome evidence.

Sunday: Breakfast at Macdonalds for a taste of capitalism: appalling packaging waste and delicious cheap food. Anyone who calls it junk has clearly never eaten in the DDR, but there even the yoghurt comes in returnable jars. Driving out beyond the M25 in search of open countryside, Werner marvels at smoothness of our roads and undisciplined way we drive. Why, people change lanes without even indicating! In Prenzlau that'd mean a spot fine and endorsement from the ever-watchful Volkspolizei. And British drivers are so courteous - all this flashing of headlamps to let people in or give way to pedestrians. Back in the DDR you waits your bloody turn, mate.

Service station at South Mimms makes a great impression - huge automated forecourt run by two cashiers, where the DDR would employ a staff of twenty. But surely it must also be worth having personal service and full employment ? All you get, snorts Werner, is pissed-off people stuck in useless jobs and totally unproductive use of labour. He'll vote SPD in next week's elections - that is, if he's still there. At least eight friends from Prenzlau have already fled and settled in the West; as soon as they've found him a flat he plans to join them. If housing's anything like here, don't hold your breath, we warn him.

Quiet vegetarian dinner at Pizza Express. Those black things ? Olives. Werner reckons a vegetarian literally couldn't survive in the DDR - nuts, pulses and fresh vegetables just aren't to be had. East Berlin, well maybe, but Prenzlau, no way. Staple diet is wurst and salt potatoes. Rest of evening spent writing copious postcards home.

His overwhelming impression has been shock at homeless British people sleeping rough on the streets. Don't we have hostels or charities ? Yes, and they're swamped. Doesn't Frau Thatcher care ? Probably not. In the DDR you'd first be jailed - and then given accomodation and a job like any other ex-convict. It's the law. Petty crime was one way to jump the housing queues; the other used to be joining the Party.

Monday: Heathrow Terminal One, 6.30am. Hugs and farewells, jostled by impatient eurocommuters. Werner delighted by massive queue for departure gates: finally feels like home. And yes, the place is teeming with police - in flat caps and flack jackets, armed to the teeth with machine pistols and automatics.

Wednesday: Crackly call from the DDR. Werner's mates have found him a room and a job near Mönchen Gladbach: experienced bricklayers, it seems, are in massive demand. He's leaving tonight in great excitement for the promised land. We wish him luck - he might need it.
Track Name: The Joys Of Christmas
BBC Radio Four "Home Truths" 18th DECEMBER 1998
Even before Christmas our eight year old son's bedroom was inhabited by dozens of cuddly rabbits, badgers, frogs & foxes, cars, trucks, trains, planes, skittles, blackboards, kites and yo yos, slinkies, walkie talkies, face masks, face paints, CDs, story tapes, magazines, posters, Jenga, Playmobil, and several metric tonnes of Lego.

Add to that several hundred sets of paints, pastels, pencils, marker pens, felt-tips, chalks, crayons, rollerballs and biros. Art materials today are cheap and widely available - especially in our son's room - thanks to birthday parties, school fairs, lucky dips and distraction packs in hotels and restaurants. Every drawerful generates three times its own weight in half-used artpads, colouring books and tracing paper.

Little is valued, none of it cared for. From time to time my appalled partner's instinct for neatness can bear it no longer. She sweeps our reluctant son and his endless possessions into a weekend-long whirlwind of tidying and rationalisation. Toys are sorted, boxes labelled, junk junked and - for several days - the room gleams with rational order. Then a friend comes to play, and within minutes it's back to knee deep comics, models and musical instruments.

We never wanted it to be like this. As first-time parents we planned plenty of books plus a few well-made, well-chosen toys that the child would love and cherish. But we reckoned without the generosity of others.

From the moment he was born we were deluged with presents - and seasonal tidal waves of treasures and trinkets have overwhelmed us ever since. As each orgy of gift-giving subsides we dump duplicate toys at Oxfam by the truckload. Yet all through the year distant cousins or near neighbours will turn up with a working model of Ince B Power Station - or a lifesize Kalashnikov in burnished gun metal - for our lucky son.

It's obscene. The money squandered on unwanted playthings for our kids would probably save the sight of a third world city the size of Birmingham - or maybe prop up an ailing Asian economy for months. Our advance requests not to waste money on presents offend friends and relatives alike - it sounds so presumptuous. Meanwhile, the toy torrent rages on.

It may be a cliché, but things really weren't like this when we were young. A set of crayons was a prized possession, a drawing block something you saved up for. We simply weren't showered with felt-tips and furry toys by every adult of our parents' acquaintance.

This made stern parental strictures about tidiness easier to comply with. Stern they certainly were - I remember cowering at Dad's approaching tread on the stairs - as toys were swept under beds, and covers hastily arranged to hide the unmade sheets beneath. At family Christmases, even in our twenties and thirties, the merry exchange of gifts was rapidly dampened as giftwrap had to be jammed into black bags (and presents hastily removed to our rooms) to forestall parental displeasure at the slightest mess.

Maybe the greatest joy of leaving home was NOT having to tidy our bedrooms. One friend takes this to extremes. At 43 he lives amid mounds of old newpaper and soiled underwear in an otherwise comfortable flat. One shirt flap hangs defiantly outside his trousers as a permanant sartorial challenge. "Don't tell me what to do !" he roars at anyone foolhardy enough to suggest he tucks it in.

No doubt the chaos strewn across our son's carpet likewise defines his separate sense of self. Yet the stuffed cupboards and bulging boxes make his room a potential disaster area - even when tidy. He simply has too many possessions for comfort.

This Christmas he once again ran the gauntlet of relatives, friends, those who know my work - and complete strangers who once met his Grandad on holiday. He gained a 22nd set of felt tips, seventh yoyo and two more £10 Taiwanese walkmen (which was lucky, as the others are all broken). There was the usual struggle to keep track of who gave what; and the blood-from-stone squeezing of thankyou letters from the tip of his latest novelty biro.

As a reward, I let him play computer games in my study, surrounded by - what? Monitors, modems, pianos, printers, synths, scanners, samplers, sequencers, basses, box files, telephones, tape decks, chairs, cables, mike stands, mixers, videos, vinyl, CDs, faxes, photographs and...heaps of letters, lyrics and manuals strewn all over the floor.

Nature or nurture - the poor child hasn't got a chance.
Track Name: Gilbert Hawker - Letter From The Front
My Dear May,
I am attempting to answer your epistle of loving cheer under somewhat trying circumstances. I am sitting next to a rather warm stove in a dark corner of a typical Flemish estaminet. The company talks Flemish, French and English, and are kicking up an awful row. A young lady of ample proportions is ironing sundry domestic garments on my right side, six Life Guards are blessing the service to my front and my friend is chattering vile French on my left flank. All over pervades the odour and noise of two small children and a dog. The usual glass of watery beer is at mine elbow so here's to the fair May.

I have now gulped half a pint of water and a thimbleful of beer to you. The atmosphere is stifling hot and I can't see the lines I'm supposed to write on, but being a soldier I'll stick to my post and hope you can figure out the script. May, I'm simply awfully bucked to hear from you. The people from the college have all turned out aces and I absolutely love the place since it was my last link with the civilised world. The stout lady has just lit a vilely malodorous lamp so I'll manage better by its dim light. The socks were charming and you must be a hero to have stuck through the monotonous period of knitting 'em. I washed my tootsies: the socks' arrival coincided with my monthly ablutions and I put 'em on, and never felt better in my life. Considering what came with them I shall never part with them so long as this noble heart still works its revs per min. as usual.

Of course, I'm a real veteran by now, and when you've buried pals by night in a bleak rain under fire and picked up bits of chaps, there ain't such a thing as horror. It's called sport by the boys who won't be killed. The fellows never get very excited about this because they're in it, and Lord knows they may cart the corpse of G.E.H. to a convenient hedge some dark night. The toffee was really excellent, 'cause they can't make toffee here, they're all such mercenary idiots. The thing that does really worry us is this: who is looking after all the dear girls while we're away? It haunts me day and night and spoils my appetite. Freda, like the brick she is, writes and keeps me alive occasionally. And now, May, I cannot hear myself write for the row and other things so au revoir, and for thy fair sake I'll keep under the barricade. Accept the heartiest thanks and best wishes from your old friend.

Thomas Atkins (alias G.E.H)
Track Name: The Cat From Hell
Let's get one thing clear - I'm not prejudiced. Some of my best friends really ARE cats. Why, I once lived happily in a house with 30 cats and 10 dogs for 6 years, but that's another story. A home isn't a home without a pussycat curled up purring in front of the hearth - and until recently ours was a fat, placid tabby of advancing years called Jarvis.

But that was BNC: before The New Cat... a small, neurotic and maddening animal I refuse to dignify with a gender or name. It begs to be stroked - but runs away when you try. It begs to be fed - but only when its bowl is overflowing. And it murders small inedible wildlife in our garden for fun.

So far, so feline. It was supposed to be company for Jarvis, but he moved out in disgust and now lives with strangers a few streets away.

It regularly breaks in next door and hides under the floorboards - only to come out when the house is deserted and the burglar alarm on. It once caught a paw inside its own flea collar, and for days fled on three legs whenever we attempted to rescue it. The collar had to go - the cat, alas, remains.

The final straw was the mosquitoes. At the height of last summer we slept with windows and curtains wide open - and ended up quite badly bitten.

We plugged in the holiday mozzie killers and burned chemical coils in our room, to no avail. Our three year old daughter was soon covered all over in angry red weals. The doctor took one glance and shook his head. No mosquito made those marks. These... were flea bites.

We sprayed the struggling cat and boiled the bedding, but by now our whole house was infested. Fitted carpets are an ideal habitat for cat fleas, it seems. Black, unsquashable dots appear on your ankles from nowhere then vault off again before you feel the bite. The only sure way to despatch the little blighters is to grab each one between your fingertips and drown it in a cup of water.

"Infested", "flea-ridden"... the very words make you feel so dirty. Friends fell into two camps - the horrified, visibly dropping us several estimation notches as we broke the news - and former fellow sufferers who overwhelmed us with kindly advice.

Yes, we went to the vet and bought a giant domestic aerosol, and yes - we duly saturated every room in turn. The bites returned worse than ever. I patrolled the house every morning in shorts: "Come on if you think you're hard enough" I'd jeer as a dozen newborn tics leapt onto my shins only to die in a single toxic blast from the spray.

Just to digress for a moment - have you ever noticed the difference between "domestic" and "professional" grade products ? The vacuum cleaners you can buy on the high street - versus the industrial ones sold to hotels and offices. You know, the ones that actually clean carpets. Or the "100% limescale remover" that supermarkets sell in odd-shaped bottles - versus the professional gunk plumbers flush down encrusted loos that has them glittering in seconds.

So with flea sprays. There's the aerosol vets sell to desperate householders at twenty five quid a pop. And the five gallon drums of unbranded substances councils buy for pest control purposes.

And guess which one clears your house of fleas.

After several days wrangling with Wandworth Pest Control, Ricky finally arrived. He was tall, slim and smiling in a blue polo shirt - his name embroidered fetchingly above one nipple. We had uselessly hoovered the house and stacked our furniture in the garden. Ricky now pulled on surgical gloves, primed his pump action spraygun, and set to work obliterating insect life in every cranny of our home.

My partner trapped and treated the cat. Her instructions were specific: brush its fur up the wrong way, spray with insecticide until wet, then dry the animal thoroughly with a towel. She slipped a fresh flea collar round its neck for good measure and got off lightly - we felt - with no more than one really serious gash.

All this has had an interesting effect on The Cat. It's given up persecuting small wildlife in the garden, and mews for food only when its bowl is empty. It hasn't been under our neighbour's floor in - oh - over a week, and is no doubt hoping we'll remove the flea collar in a few more months for good behaviour.

In your feline dreams...
Track Name: Smelling Dogs
The things we love smell sweet and fine
A lover's loins, a favourite wine
To kids and cats I'm quite resigned
But smelling dogs ? I draw the line

Friends of men & worried sheep
With rancid breath and yellow teeth
Who snarl at strangers, bite and bring
And freak each time the doorbell rings

Bulldog bitches, miniatures and beagles
Useful poodles, terriers with teeth
Cringing whippets, corgis and retrievers
Mastiffs that attack you in the street

Fed expensive smelly meat
With choicest strips of jellied beef
And salmon, duck or chicken breast
A hungry dog deserves the best

Collars set with precious stone
Cos charity begins at home
A beauty shampoo, set and comb
As Gnasher mauls his squeaky bone

Mangy mongrels, pedigree dalmations
Golden gundogs, dobermen and pekes
Ugly pugs and razorfanged alsations
Toy chihuahuas snapping at your feet

Doggie lovers drool and fuss
Say "he's just like one of us"
Sometimes Mummy gets annoyed
"Who killed the milkman - naughty boy!"

I went to Heaven the other night
And woke up sweating in a fright
Instead of Angels praising God
The place was Hell and full of dogs

So curb your bonfire-scented mutts
Your perfumed curs - no ifs or buts
To sniff their canine coats you're free
But keep them well away from me
Track Name: My Beer
MY BEER
The sherrifs don't sweat in this town full of Fords
With their faded belief in the cash of the Lord
With their TV smiles and their midnight cream
while the cold tramp burns and the losers dream

Them with their wine
My beer, my beer
Their wine and friends
My beer

On the lawn full of judges they are sitting like chance
In this poor world of crime you can watch power dance
The jungle waits where pity hates
The devil haunts
My beer

I'm just money for those guys
Drinking dull trust on a bridge full of eyes
My broken magic and backstreet pain
Rips through the trees like hungry rain
On the cold road through the colder sea
Hear the stone roar of the thunder war
Blowing my beer - it's my beer

In this blind bar I chase my heart
You take my pride
My beer

The dead road speaks
Of bright guilt tears
An empty hell
My beer

© GREG WARD 1985
Track Name: Work Pie
I heard dawn blow the cork of day
Its history milk - the toast of sound
Don't beat the man - he's blowing the world train

They are like broken things in office clothing
on the cold gold street
Blowing the wind of work
Living with our work pie

The day is madly talking
Bright tunes in a death pub
Jesus sitting in slippers at the restaurant

You danced my head
Hurled crowns of drinking
At the shy clerk disco
Where golden tigers screamed

I was thinking in the road:
Standing standing bar
Of this herring herring

© GREG WARD 1985
Track Name: The Thought Of Fish
Sleeping by the grace of race
The sex slugs on hot yachts
Do not watch this bowl for guppies
At the class throat pits like puppies
They are trash and we are mud
The banking hogs fit in the flood
Thinking the thought of fish

Don't sink the stone where you were raised
Crude love will laugh at the thought of fish
Rubbish talks on our poison seam
Arab motels beat your queen
The filth pipe to the fatal factories

Broken by the thought of fish
We were sandwiches of bread
Breaking hands of romance
And they were broken
By the thought of fish

© GREG WARD 1985
Track Name: All Tomorrow's Parties
I gave my first proper grownup party on June 1st, 1974. There was much to celebrate: my band had signed its first record deal, I'd given up my hated day job and turned 24 all on the same day.

There was also Chrissie - an attractive man my own age I'd met a few weeks earlier on the tube. After a brief fling he'd abandoned me for a brutally handsome navvy, but I nobly invited both of them anyway. Come the party - ding dong - there was Chrissie, alone, single and smiling. It was the start of my first major love affair.

The party had been hard to organise. Living with a silverhaired landlady who "took in" lodgers, my first problem was where to have it. In a fit of lunatic generosity her daughter and son in law offered their immaculately modernised South London semi. Wisely, as it transpired, they themselves spent the weekend visiting distant relatives in Wales.

Unused to the ways of the world, I invited everyone I knew and everyone came, bringing friends of their own for good measure. The house was soon seething with people I'd never seen before in my life.

The Party Sevens and cheap cider I provided vanished in no time flat. Each successive guest's bottle of Hirondelle or VP sherry would be emptied in seconds by the oblivion-hungry vultures hovering in the kitchen. Shelves were ransacked for crisps and crispbread, cookies and cooking chocolate. By ten every intoxicating bottle was empty, and every cupboard bare.

At this point another unexpected guest arrived bearing - not the obligatory bottle - but a large, delicious looking birthday cake. The revellers fell on it like locusts, only to discover - too late - that this was no ordinary cake. By midnight everyone was higher than a very high kite indeed.

Fellini himself might have appreciated the scenes that ensued: a living room littered with writhing bodies and improbable couplings on coatcovered beds upstairs - where (from the sound of things on the other side of the door) two guests, or more, were investigating the bath and shower hose.

As Chrissie and I escaped to lie quietly out in the warm June night we became aware of a prostrate figure groaning in the flowerbed - it was one of my best friends, in the grip of acute appendicitis. The ambulance men who took him away were cheered by the merrymakers - it was that kind of night.

It was a different kind of morning, as Chrissie and I surveyed the aftermath. My friends' curtains and furnishings stank, their walls smeared with fingerprints, carpets ruined with drink, dogends and pools of unidentifiable fluid. The hifi was wrecked, their records scratched or missing.

I vowed that if one day I owned a home of my own I'd never be dumb enough to hold a party there - a resolution I kept for the next twenty years.

My mid-forties found me settled with a girlfriend and kids in a pleasant semi - less than a mile from the scene of that unforgettable birthday. My partner was demanding a party and firmly overruled every frenzied objection I could muster. But the expected armageddon never came.

Instead I discovered the joys of bringing our favourite people together under one roof and having, erm, well - a party. Even Chrissie turned up for old times sake. The guests didn't didn't pillage our kitchen, steal our CDs or mutilate our carpets. They didn't vomit in sinks, urinate in ashtrays, or even fornicate in our bed - well, hardly any of them.

These days, concern about about health, fitness and driving home afterwards means that people bring far more drink to our parties than they consume. They also talk to each other. We once discovered that the music had stopped half an hour earlier AND NOBODY NOTICED.

Last week's party was the best yet. Our former next door neighbour's teenage lodger brought all his mates, and a friendlier gang of gatecrashers you couldn't hope to meet.

In my day youngsters knew how to behave - and were unfailingly rude, drunk and truculent. These boys seemed cheerful, outgoing and lively. And (get this) they hardly drank at all. It was only when they left for a nearby rave and practically kissed us all goodbye, that the likely chemical cause of their friendliness dawned on us. The rest of the guests tidied up before leaving.

Next morning we woke to a spotless house with a serious alcohol surplus - a dozen bottles of decent plonk, three of bubbly and God knows how many cans of strong lager. What on earth will we do with it all ?

Hey, I know - it's my fiftieth in a couple of weeks - let's have another party.
Track Name: Gay Parenting
When I first told my father I was queer he asked if anyone had "interfered" with me as a choirboy in the local Parish church. To this day, the corruption theory of homosexuality remains surprisingly pervasive. Gay sex, acccording to the logic of this view, is sensational: try it once and you're hooked for life.

Actually I can recall sexual fantasies about other boys - and older men - from the age of four or five, while at eleven I'd have liked nothing better than a little "interference" from fellow members of the all-male church choir. They were (alas) mostly straight - and those who weren't never gave me a second glance. So much for corruption.

Mention lesbian or gay parents to the average het Brit, however, and the C-word will hover, spoken or unspoken, over the remainder of your conversation. With homosexual role models, what chance will the poor little tykes have of growing up "normal" ?

The answer of course is exactly the same chance as anyone else. Years of pressure from parents, siblings, schoolfriends, soaps, comics, magazines, movies, advertising and pop lyrics consistently fail to make gay teenagers grow up straight. Experience suggests that hets will be het, queers will be queer and there's not a damn thing parents - or anyone else - can do about it.

Actually lesbians and gays often make rather good mothers and fathers - not to mention teachers, youth leaders and counsellors - because we know at first hand how far the needs of a child may differ from the expectations of its parents. "Be yourself" should be the first tenet not only of gay liberation, but of growing up itself.

There are already too many disturbed and wretched children in our schools. Making babies is the work of moments, undertaken all too lightly by the reckless, the immature and the downright irresponsible. Lesbians and gays who become parents don't - on the whole - do so by accident: every mother is willing, every child is wanted.

My son is just five, which makes me no kind of expert on parenthood. For years, other people's children had seemed daunting and tiresome - while "breeder" was my favourite term of abuse to make fun of heterosexuals behind their backs. Naturally enough, having a kid of my own changed all that - I now find myself flirting with babies in prams and stopping their parents in the street to coo and flatter. It's nauseating.

Certainly, parenthood is stressful at times - and no doubt worse is in store. Yet when a small person spontaneously flings his arms around your neck and calls you "darling Daddy" the feeling is incomparable. Most of us are replaceable at work or at play, but no-one will ever replace you as that child's parent. This relationship is for life.

Forget sexuality. Happy, secure kids need happy, secure parents willing to embrace the decades of commitment, love and support that are every infant's birthright. The traditional nuclear family has no monopoly on these qualities. Everyone who can bring them to bear in raising the next generation will deserve its undying thanks.
Track Name: Punk Rock
With the luxury of hindsight today's critical consensus is that Punk Rock was a mere blip in the long unbroken history of popular music. The rise and fall of Rock Against Racism, the collapse of Callaghan and ascendency of Thatcher, the musical shifts from punk to New Wave, Power Pop, TwoTone, Factory and beyond... all these are seen as part of an unalterable sequence of distant events.

All I can say is that it was an utterly disconcerting period to live through - and that there was nothing inevitable about any of it at the time. In the musical and political turmoil of 1977 old certainties gave way almost overnight to a sense that almost anything might happen. Fear of one kind or another stalked both the streets of Lewisham and the corridors of EMI. The National Front was making a concerted bid to become a credible fourth party at the ballot box. Rock Against Racism - founded by white SWP stalwarts - was fast becoming a rival force to be reckoned with. I joined on the spot.

Punk was about boredom, alienation and a hunger for change. The Callaghan government was wending its wretched way towards extinction, while the music business had become bloated and complacent. Paul McCarteney's 1977 "Mull Of Kintyre" was the biggest-selling single of all time, ever - and even before it was released he'd earned £19m in record royalties that year. 2% of all records ever sold anywhere in the world were by Elton John. Record executives sat back and watched this easy cash roll in.When a new band - such as Queen in 1974 - were launched, they were launched at the top, with the financial backing and connivance of a cosy cartel of fatcat managers, agents, publishers, disc jockeys and multinational record companies. The stars were as remote from the fans who bought their "product" (as records are called within the industry) as it was possible to get.

The first green shoots of punk could be found as early as 1976 - unemployed kids from council estates wearing razor blades round their necks and safety pins in their clothes, hair messed up with krazy kolor, who started hanging out along the weird boutiques of the Kings Road and forming their own bands. Whether you could play or sing didn't matter: attitude was all. The Sex Pistols, masterminded by inveterate agitator Macolm McLaren, blazed the trail and a thousand do-it-yourself bands were spawned in their wake - the Clash, Buzzcocks, Banshees, X-Ray Spex, Adverts, Vibrators, Damned, Stranglers, Eater, Slaughter And The Dogs... These were bands you could see - bands you could be !

You were either for or against the new music and movement, with an almost tangible sense of Us and Them. Those in favour included not only punks but older musicians like Steel Pulse, Elvis Costello, Ian Dury, Graham Parker and - yes - my own band TRB. We saw Clash gigs banned by councils across the country, punks assaulted on sight by Skins, Teds and the general public. Within days of the Pistols swearing on TV, drummer Paul Cook was knifed by strangers in a Shepherds Bush car park.

Now that we know the outcome, it's easy to forget or dismiss the very real flux of those tumultuous months. The Sex Pistols' "God Save The Queen" had hit number two in Jubilee week with no airplay. There were riots, brutality and a government falling apart at the seams, while the disaffected, dispossessed and extremists of every hue were seizing their chance for a piece of the action.

It was an exciting, frightening and enlightening time to be alive.
Track Name: The Cynic's Handbook
The music industry only ever helps those who help themselves - it's no use waiting for a talent scout from Sony Music or EMI to wave a magic wand and turn you into a pop sensation overnight - it just doesn't happen. For most of us the only realistic hope is to set about creating a momentum and excitement of our own quite independently from the Biz or national media. Take the attitude that you're going to make it anyway - if someone chooses to pick up on you and help you on your way, fine - if not, it's their loss. Once you've got a buzz happening around you, the music industry will beat a path to your door in any case.

It will take time. Whatever happens, you won't suddenly achieve stardom in the next twelve months, and it might take 12 years - ask Chris Rea. You must want success enough not to care how long it takes so long as you get there. If you're in a real hurry, try a different career. Of course, things might happen very rapidly indeed, but never count on it.

Let's take for granted you've already got ambition and some musical ability - although an excess of the latter can hinder as much as it helps. By far the most important factor in a successful artist's career has to do with identity and focus - in a word, PACKAGING - the one area musicians most often neglect. The world is full of "nice" songwriters with synths or acoustic guitars scribbling ditties about their love life or social injustice while they wait for someone to discover them.

Why should anyone come to your gigs or buy your albums - what's in it for them ? Because you play nice music ? Because you're a nice person ? Forget it. People choose music like they choose their clothes - to express an identity. For music fans, wearing a Prodigy T-shirt or getting a Limp Biskit tattoo is a public statement about who they are. Others impress their friends with Pavarotti or Sting CDs at a dinner party, while Billy Bragg has always carefully packaged himself for people who loathe packaging...

There are lots of reasons why people become fans & follow a band - sex, rebellion, snobbery, fashion, loneliness, alienation - sometimes even to show they appreciate great musicianship, though that comes pretty low on the list. Yes, I know you're talented, but almost nobody will give a flying fuck about that until you get this other stuff right first.

The key question to answer honestly about your music is: "Who would want it - and why ?" Don't rely on praise from friends and family. To make it, you have to be able to win and nurture an audience of your own from scratch - whether by making indie singles in a bedroom or gigging round every pub, club and dive that will have you. The competition is ferocious, and if you don't want to succeed more than any other single thing in the whole world, there's plenty of others who do. And to succeed you have to become a cause, an "in thing" that people passionately want to belong to: who's going to spend their last couple of quid on something tame or ordinary ?

To stand out from the other hundreds of groups you HAVE to know your target audience and pitch accordingly, focussing every aspect of what you do. This doesn't involve abandoning your principles, just defining them. Most successful artists simply pick an aspect of themselves that's true, simplify it, amplify it and then make music to match - a total package that hits their intended audience between the eyes. Name, clothes, image, attitude, style, lyrics, artwork and music all add up to a clearly defined identity. Be as radical and daring as you like: in fact be more radical and daring than you think you can possibly get away with. Take chances, be risky, get remembered. Actual originality isn't essential - just look at the charts - but conviction is. Whatever you do, it has to be very, very real.

Finally, a short questionnaire:

Have you made demo recordings ? If so, why ?
To persuade an impoverished indie label to spend cash recording you?
To get gigs at the local pub ?
For a bit of a laugh ?
To sell at gigs ?
Because you're a true Artist and you're driven to express yourself ?
To convince someone at Sony Music you're the next Radiohead ?

What level of success are you aiming for eventually?
Playing the local pub ?
Playing the Marquee ?
Playing Hammersmith Apollo ?
Playing Madison Square Garden ?

What kind of record sales do you plan to achieve ?
Five thousand ?
Five hundred thousand ?
Five hundred ?
Five million ?

Do you see yourself eventually becoming the next
Spice Girls ?
Dagmar Krause ? (who ?)
Marianne Faithfull ?
Suzanne Vega ?
Madonna ?

These questions are vital. Until you get concrete ideas of what you're aiming for, you can't hope to plan a route. If you loathe compromise and sound like The Fall, there's no point choosing the greedy answers. If you're after Prince's crown, sharpen up accordingly.
Track Name: In Any Case
In recent years manufacturers have gone to a lot of trouble to make musical products more portable and convenient to use: the Sessionette, the Portastudio, the DX7... items you could put on the back seat of a car or set up in your bedroom at home. As soon as you try & get a case for them though, ergonomics & common sense go out of the window.

Wherever you go, whoever you ask, the hapless musician always gets offered the brutal, ugly FLIGHT CASE - crippling to buy and worthless secondhand. Oh, and the combo you used to carry under one arm now weighs a ton and won't even fit in your car.

Don't get me wrong, the flight case is fine and dandy at the job it's designed for: airfreighting vast, bulky equipment (The Genesis backline, say) across North America - or trucking it around the football stadiums of Europe. Your standard Bulldog or Packhorse number will withstand anything from Heathrow baggage handlers to a Soviet tank.

The question is how often does your gear require that level of protection ? Or: how often is your Flight Case a totally unneccessary pain in the arse ? The monolithic bastards that dominate every musician's hallway and bedroom - the long weeks of rehearsal you spend trying to use the bloody things as tables, chairs and ashtrays because no other furniture will fit in the room...

I don't know who invented the flight case, but I'd bet my last SIMM chip it was a roadie. Think about it. They're square, with handles and wheels, easy to roll up ramps and pack in lorries. They can be hurled, slung and thrown around without the slightest risk of damage. Flightcases make a roadie's life easy - and if they double the hassle for a musician who actually owns the damn things, well that's just too bad.

It's annoying enough to spend hundreds of quid on something completely non-musical instead of the new sequencer or delay pedal you promised yourself. But worse, the sheer effort of carrying & unpacking your gear soon discourages you from bringing it home at all on days off - the time when your most creative ideas usually occur.

In the end you keep old bits of duff gear for "mucking about" with in your bedroom, and leave your best equipment in some warehouse or garage with the rest of the group's instruments. You then require a large van, two roadies and half a day's notice to make it reappear again for rehearsals, gigs or the odd recording session. We all go along with this because it's hard to suggest an alternative, and anyway - that's what all the famous bands do isn't it ?

The first thing a young group buys after getting a record deal is a set of flightcases: proof they've arrived in the Big League. The more succesful they become, the more flightcases they acquire. Roadies aren't daft: the more gear you have, the more crew you need to move it around. Later on of course the band splits up and the ex-members are lumbered with cases too big to lift and too expensive to throw away. The roadies meanwhile go and work for some new bunch of mugs with more money.

But hold on. TV crews, surveyors, photographers - even classical & jazz musicians - all have to schlep heavy, fragile instruments from place to place. None of them would dream of buying a case too heavy to carry or too big to fit in a car.

Most of them use lightweight cases in fibreglass or aluminium - or simply padded zipbags, replaced from time to time as they wear out. No jazz player I know would buy a flightcase for their trumpet or double bass: possibly because jazzers seldom employ roadies - a point not lost on your own crew.

Any moves in this direction on your part will be firmly dealt with. Tell a roadie that your nice old Fender belongs in its nice old Fender case and he'll shake his head. "Wouldn't last two days on the road that wouldn't, squire". Insist, and it'll return a couple of days later with a few warning dents. If you're stubborn, the case will come home at the end of the tour as matchwood with some lame excuse about "the humpers at Loughborough."

With gear in flight cases you'll always need roadies - and with roadies you'll always need flightcases to protect your gear. I don't deny the need for an experienced road crew - nobody else in their right mind actually enjoys lugging bass bins in and out of lorries. Nor would I deny that musical equipment needs protective housing - I simply want my instruments left light enough to carry myself.

Just in case.
Track Name: Taking The Plunge
Of all the miseries of adolesence, for me no misery was greater than that of compulsory games: the ritual crucifixion of gym, humiliations of the high jump, and drudgery of cross country running. I hated sports and sports staff almost as much as my own unhealthy, wobbling body. Swimming I loathed most of all, as said body was exposed to the merciless ridicule of others, with the added risk of drowning thrown in for good measure.

Sport was something forced ON you by teachers, not done BY you, willingly, for your own enjoyment. Not one of those bluff games teachers ("come on man, put some effort into it") ever mentioned one crucial truth - that regular exercise and a sense of self worth are inextricably linked. You can't have one without the other.

I spent the next 20 years avoiding exercise in general - and swimming pools in particular. My worthless body felt horrible because I never exercised, and I never exercised because my horrible body wasn't worth it.

The unexpected arrival of a fit, goodlooking and much younger lover (who had been a competition swimmer at school) changed everything. The 34 year old lump of blubber I had become was gently coaxed back into the chlorinated water - at first for five lengths, then ten, and finally a full thousand metres a session. I learned how to breathe out underwater and soon settled into the long hypnotic rhythms of the training lane. Stamina and selfconfidence increased in equal measure - though that wasn't entirely down to lengths in the pool. The athletic lover eventually left me, but the habit of swimming never did.

As middle age slowly dawned on me, so did an awareness that exercise was no longer optional - a means of looking or feeling better. It was now essential to avoid looking or feeling any worse. These days, seized up joints unstiffen, endorphins race around my arteries, and unused muscles come alive with every precious length.

Parenthood has added a whole new dimension of aquatic experience. Newborn humans famously have an innate ability to swim - or at least keep nose and mouth shut underwater - and my baby son started lessons at the age of 3 months.

He sat on the edge of the pool beside another dozen tiny tykes, all supported by their mothers - who stood facing them in the water. As the young French instructor sang "'Urmptee Durmptee sat on ze wall... " he would wiggle his tiny bottom (my son, that is) in a frenzy of anticipation. With the words " 'ad a great fall" he hurled himself into the water, to emerge blowing bubbles and shouting with glee. His total lack of fear was astonishing.

Former no-go zones beckoned with hitherto unknown pleasures: the playgroup, adventure playground and - best of all - the Teaching Pool. Wallowing in the warm water with my loved ones, we would clamber on floats shaped like giant steamrollered frogs, scream down the waterslides, and cling on for dear life as the wave machine did its worst.

My son, now 8, takes all this for granted and swims like a dolphin, hotly pursued by his kid sister in her paddling ring. The Leisure Centre as place of leisure.... After years of late night training there, it now feels odd to while away weekend afternoons as the kids splash and have fun in the water.

Exposing my bandy legs and pot belly to public gaze no longer worries me these days - after all everyone else is doing the same. The pool is a wonderful leveller. The capped and goggled figure cutting past with perfect racing turns is that same woman I mistook, out in the café, for a bag lady. The LL-Cool-J lookalike parking his jeep outside will soon be puffing and blowing like a beached whale after barely a length.

Whatever - the main thing for any of us is taking the plunge. To my 34 year old self - or anyone else still shivering on the brink - all I can say is: "Come on in - the water's lovely".
Track Name: Forgiving The Unforgiveable
It all started with a distraught call from a family friend aged 20, to say his big brother had just jumped off a tower block. We consoled him, lent money to tide him over and had special prayers said at the local church.

The whole thing turned out to be an unforgiveably sick hoax he'd dreamed up while bored and broke one evening. He at least had the grace to be horribly ashamed until, unbelievably, he pulled the same trick again. We got a message to say Andrew himself had jumped from the same building and would we please come to his funeral. The added twist (this time) was that it was true.

The supposedly dead brother weeping over Andrew's grave is not a sight I'll readily forget - and the emotional devastation he's inflicted on those of us who loved him is a lot harder to forgive than last year's savage practical joke.

But then Andrew himself had had much to forgive.

He was one of three children whose mother had run away with a lorry driver, leaving them to a drunk and abusive father. The Great Aunt who eventually rescued them was friends with my mother in law - and one day my partner brought Andrew home to tea. He was a funny, likeable ten year old - whose thirst for nurture was matched only by his skills of manipulation. Before long we'd become unofficial wicked godparents, spoiling him with weekend treats of cinema and circuses.

His mother, meanwhile, remarried and started a new family elsewhere. Andrew was devastated. "If I came to live with you", he once asked wistfully, "what time would you make me go to bed ?" "Eight O'Clock" said my partner without hesitation - and his face fell a mile. We did in fact give serious thought to adopting him - but by 12 Andrew had become a serious handful. We'd also started planning a family of our own.

The arrival of a breastfeeding baby hit our home like a tornado. Andrew no longer enjoyed our undivided attention, or even affection - in fact, his visits became exasperating. Utterly unable to entertain himself with a book or magazine, he would mope in front of the telly, sullen and resentful while we tidied up around him. Eventually he stopped coming altogether. With hindsight I feel horribly guilty. Much else was going on in Andrew's life, but the coincidence remains: within a year he'd gone off the rails completely.

Three new foster homes in six months were followed a squat, which he shared with two other runaways. He learnt to smoke, shoplift, snort coke, drop acid, roll joints, turn tricks and worse. He'd done stuff before his 13th
birthday that still makes my thinning hair stand on end today.

We followed his teenage years from a distance - first alarmed, then appalled, and (finally) resigned. Our every suggestion - and entreaty to get help - was brushed aside. No amount of advice or alcohol could quench the terrible infant rage he felt against his feckless mother.

And now he's finally had his revenge on everyone who ever loved him and let him down. He's also devastated the one person who (in those last few months) never let him down at all - his first and final girlfriend.

For me, the worst of it is having attempted suicide myself as a teenager. Blind with self-loathing I downed the pills so greedily, with never a thought for the suffering I'd inflict on those around me. Actually, I probably thought (with grim satisfaction) that they'd all be sorry.

And now it's me that's sorry. Sorry to have failed Andrew as a friend, not to have answered his last drunken phone call... sorry at this hateful end to his short and tortured life.

Most of all, I'm sorry to have even dreamed of doing this myself, all those years ago, to those I loved most. They were bighearted enough then to forgive me for trying. The least I can do now is forgive Andrew for succeeding - and so I will.

Eventually.

© TOM ROBINSON 1999