Why the Man In Black was no Nazi, and other musical misappropriations…

WHAT would Johnny Cash have thought of Neo-Nazis? Not a lot, according to his family. The country singer is no longer around to let us know, but yesterday his family issued a statement condemning a far-right protester in Charlottesville, seen wearing a Johnny Cash T-shirt.

His musician daughter Roseanne spoke on behalf of his family, saying that they’d been sickened at seeing their father’s name emblazoned on a Neo-Nazi chest.

Here is some of what they had to say: “Johnny Cash was a man whose heart beat with the rhythm of love and social justice…We do not judge race, colour, sexual orientation or creed…To any who claim supremacy over other human beings, to any who believe in racial or religious hierarchy: we are not you. Our father, as a person, icon, or symbol, is not you. We ask that the Cash name be kept far away from destructive and hateful ideology.”

Why would a white supremacist with a knuckle of hate for a brain like Johnny Cash? Perhaps it’s the image, the Man In Black and all those songs about prison. But it got me thinking about the way music and musicians can be misappropriated.

In a sense, dead singers are fair game. A racist and a humanitarian might both like Elvis, say. Perhaps it might even give them something they could agree about.

You can’t tread far along with path without bumping into Richard Wagner. The composer has had a long and ignoble association with the Nazis, but it is fair to conflate Wagner and Hitler – and does this coupling destroy the worth of the music? The composer was around long before Hitler, yet he was virulently anti-Semitic, in common with many Germans of the day, and was known to have made monstrous statements about Jews. All of which later attracted the Nazis to his music. Or does the music rise above all that?

Sometimes the unwanted associations are more straightforward. Musicians as various as the Rolling Stones, Adele, REM and Elton John complained about Donald Trump’s campaign using their music. And it must sicken the heart to see words and music written to one end being snatched away in careless opportunism.

Bruce Springsteen was angered in 1984 when Ronald Reagan used Born In The USA in his election campaign, having misunderstood caustic irony for patriotism. Reagan later compounded the injury by quoting Bruce in his speeches, forcing the famously left-leaning singer to issue statements distancing himself from the Republican politician.

Tim Booth of the band James complained when the song Sit Down was used at a Labour Party conference to usher in prime minister Gordon Brown (who once expressed a ludicrous liking for Arctic Monkeys, saying the Sheffield band “wake him up in the morning”).

This is a corridor without end, so let’s wind up with David Byrne, of Talking Heads, who in 2010 sued senator Charlie Crist for using his song Road To Nowhere in an attack ad on his opponents, Marco Rubio. Crist agreed to pay damages and posted an apology on YouTube. And quite right, too – it’s a fabulous song, a sort of bouncy hymn to nihilism.

Musical misappropriation can come with adverts, too. On television now there is an infuriating ad for Boots based around a cover version of that annoying Slade song we suffer every year, swapping ‘summer’ for ‘Christmas’.

Oh great. Here’s a suggestion. Why doesn’t Cadbury’s or someone pinch the song again for their cheapo chocolate eggs. “I Wish It Could be Easter…” Then we could listen to that bloody song all year round.

To return to Mr Cash, perhaps that hate-filled T-shirt wearer should listen to the singer’s late albums, especially The Man Comes Around. There, Cash performs a version of Trent Reznor’s song Hurt that falls like thunder, and should clear away all vestiges of racism. Or it would if these people weren’t so horribly and hatefully stupid.

Why Trump is outstanding(ly bad and shocking)…

There’s a word I almost never use, partly out of uncertainty, along no doubt with many other words whose meanings play misty with me. That word is ‘egregious’ and it was used by Donald Trump in a statement atoning for the inadequacy of an earlier statement.

The protest by white supremacist groups in Charlottesville, Virginia, led to the death of civil rights protester Heather Heyer, when a car was driven at her, also injuring 19 other protesters.

Trump’s first statement apportioned blame on all sides, and caused general consternation by its refusal to criticise the white supremacists – hardly surprising, in a sense, as his presidential campaign last year was horribly divisive in the way it stoked hatred and cheered the far right in the States.

Trump was later prodded into action to stiffly recite a statement clearly not from his own hand. And you could tell that by the way those words discomfited him.

Here is part of what he said: “As I said on Saturday, we condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry, and violence. It has no place in America.”

That egregious was a dead giveaway. Has that word ever before fallen from his fat lips? It doesn’t often fall from my thinner lips, but I have just looked it up, and refreshed the meaning: “outstandingly bad; shocking”.

The word comes from the Latin and means “standing out from the flock”, and was thought to have been used originally in an ironic sense. And this is where it gets interesting, for egregious has another, archaic meaning of “remarkably good”.

Unlikely that Trump knew that, but it does add another layer to his forced apology.

Anyway, this morning’s update from the idiot maelstrom blows away any goodwill and unity earned from his earlier forced apology. In the latest extraordinary press conference, the president veered into an off-road rant, blaming what he called the ‘alt-left’ and going out of his way apparently to defend neo-Nazis.

As he blundered on, Trump returned to blaming all sides, saying in a typically Trumpian line: “You had people that were very fine people on all sides.”

Tellingly, in seemingly offering succour to “very fine” white supremacists, Trump united the country – against him. His new outburst earned condemnation and disgust from all sides, mostly strongly from within his own Republican ranks.

Here’s a typical reaction, from senator Marco Rubio of Florida: “Mr President, you can’t allow #WhiteSupremacists to share only part of blame. They support idea which cost nation & word so much pain.”

The only words of comfort for Trump came from David Duke, the former grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, who tweeted: “Thank you President Trump for your honesty & courage to tell the truth about #Charlottesville & condemn the leftist terrorists…”

With friends like that, Trump really has backed himself into a fetid corner. How much longer can this freak show presidency last? If I might call on that word, he is easily the most egregious president in US history.

The last incumbent, Barack Obama, took to Twitter to condemn racism after the far-right rally, quoting Nelson Mandela to say: “No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin or his background or his religion.”

That has become the most liked tweet ever, with more that 2.9 million users endorsing the sentiment.

That trumps one supportive tweet from a racist former leader of the Kl Klux Klan.

On the road from Charlottesville to Lewisham…

THE death of a civil rights marcher in Charlottesville, Virginia raises the question of whether such a right-wing protest could get similarly out of hand here. My answer to that recalls what became known as the Battle of Lewisham.

This story from 40 years ago takes me back to my student stomping ground and, more importantly, to my years on the South East London Mercury.

The editor, Roger Norman, made a name for himself as a champion of multiculturalism, although I don’t recall if he ever used the word.

Roger – or RN, as he was known – died in 2006, aged 65, his end perhaps hastened by a liking for cigars, wine and stout. An obituary in the Guardian, written by my former colleagues Pete Cordwell and Pat Greenwood, remembered “his wise, principled direction”.

Pete and Pat also wrote: “His door always open, he was a leader who always listened to problems. So laid back as to be almost horizontal – especially if there was a good wine or a milky-topped stout, a slim cigar, or exhilarating company.”

The 1970s and 1980s were crucial decades for the Afro-Caribbean community in Lewisham, at a time when the National Front was making a nasty nuisance of itself.

In 1974, the Front wanted to march through Roger’s New Cross patch and he ran a front-page lead spelling out in words and pictures what they stood for, under the headline: “You’d Better Believe Us!”

He also put the energy he barely seemed to have – it was all below the surface somehow – into fostering harmony and a sense of live and let live. His beliefs lay partly in personal circumstance, as his wife, Emily, was black, and through what you might call humanitarian politics (he wasn’t party political, as I recall). Roger was awarded the MBE for his services to community journalism in 1996.

The year after that march, I started at Goldsmiths College in New Cross, and sometime after graduating, joined the Mercury. Roger used to waft around the office, smoking small cigars, stroking his goatee beard and gently putting people down with an understated “Yeah?” if he disagreed with what they were saying.

Three years after that noted front page, in the August of 1977, the area was again braced for trouble when the National Front wanted to march along Lewisham High Street.

This turned into an hour-long running battle between protesters and National Front marchers. The march had long been a cause of anxiety and the local council was at odds with the Metropolitan Commission of Police, David McNee, and with the Home Office.

As a newspaper report said afterwards: “It is not known whether the police expected the violence which, for example, the Lewisham councillors were grimly sure would occur.”

The police appeared to be expecting a large demonstration against the march, which in the event drew around 500 people, fewer than many had anticipated. A quarter of the Metropolitan police were on duty that day, with more horses that was said to be normal for a demonstration. They also had riot shields at the ready. These were used later in the day for the first time on the British mainland, having previously been used by troops in Northern Ireland.

What lessons can we draw from those distant days? One is to be forever vigilant against the rise of the nasty right. For if it can happen in the US, fostered in part by the words of candidate Trump, then it could happen here.

The other – and it is almost too late to worry about this – is to remember what a good local newspaper can do for its community. People often disparage newspapers these days, either because they represent the “mainstream media”, that new enemy of the moment to left and right; or because, in the case of local newspapers, they are not all that good any more.

This criticism of local newspapers is all too often true, however hard the remaining journalists work. But a strong paper with a good editor can be a force for good. The Mercury, by the way, no longer exists, having been swallowed by the South London Press years ago. And I don’t think that paper is in great shape, either.

As for Trump, his initial unwillingness fully to condemn the alt-right marchers showed his true colours. A later condemnation, produced after much prodding, didn’t do much to repair the damage already done.

Having a blonde moment with Dylan…

Light dapples the tree-lined road and Bob Dylan is on the CD player. I spend far too long in this car, but there is enjoyment to be had in being alone with the music on loud.

Blonde On Blonde came out on May 16, 1966. It’s a double album – double the pleasure, or two discs when an edit would have produced something sharper. Over to Bob obsessives, like my professor brother. He would have an opinion on that, but I am driving through the sunny flatlands to the late shift and he is in his cottage in Brittany.

The trees thin out and the sky grows. Up ahead the light has turned red. Bob is Stuck Inside of Mobile With The Memphis Blues Again and I am stuck before a picturesque stone bridge that only has room for one-way traffic.

The lights change and I am moving again. Bob has put on that Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat now and all is well with the world.

I don’t listen to Dylan that often, not as often as I should, but I do love Blonde On Blonde. The CD version comes as one long album, whereas the original vinyl version was two albums, one sublime, the other a degree or two less so.

The songs on the first disc show Dylan completely at ease with himself, knowing exactly what he wants to do and say – even if some of the lyrics might have fallen out of a crossword from a cryptically stoned compiler.

But what songs – Rainy Day Woman Nos 12 & 35, with its barnstorming stomp, Pledging My Time with its harmonica snarl, the lovely pastures of Visions of Johanna, and the devout affections of I Want You.

Then there is Just Like A Woman, a song of love and disappointment, adoration gone sour. Dylan-ologists still argue over who inspired the song, but whoever it was turned Bob from rapture to rupture, and helped him write a timeless ballad. “There’s a lifetime of listening in these details,” the songwriter Jimmy Webb said. “I still marvel at what an absolutely stunning piece of writing this is.”

The trees disappear as you come into Howden. The half-ruined minster with its green roof looms over the wheat fields. Then I am parked up. The sunny day will go its way and I’ll go mine.

I leave the office once to buy lottery tickets for our hopeless syndicate (sorry, Steve, nothing again this week). The others quit at 6.30pm. I leave in darkness at 9pm. August is a wickedly tricky month, sunny one day, foul the next – or sometimes both in the same day, the worst sort of changeable friend. Now it is raining heavily. I drive home in darkness. Dylan is still on – it’s a long album – but he has reached the difficult second side, where the taut mastery of the first half begins to come undone.

The sky is almost black with horizontal streaks of white. The car shudders as the tyres ream through a huge puddle and the windscreen wipers go on overtime. Soon even those streaks, last scraps of optimism, disappear.

Now Bob is stretching Sad Eyed Lady Of The Lowlands to 11 long minutes – something which bemused his musicians at the time – and the rain is truly pouring down. Never mind those rainy-day women, here is a hard rained on man.

Back home and the roads are almost dry. Those rainy women are back as the CD starts over. Weird weather, a long day, but thanks for the company, Bob.

An elderly fruitcake is discovered (in the White House)…

WE’RE defrosting the freezer, Scott of the Antarctic’s fruitcake has been found, and the fruitcake in the White House has been waving his, ahem, weapon – how’s that for a frosted jumble of topics?

The freezer contained few surprises as we’d been running it down in readiness for the big chill reversal. There were a couple of slices of my banana loaf, but not a whole fruitcake.

Scott’s fruitcake wasn’t in our freezer, although I wouldn’t be surprised to discover that he’d left something in one of my mother’s two freezers – a fearless explorer should be sent in to have a poke around among those frozen treasures.

I love it that Scott’s elderly fruitcake has been found beneath the ice of Antarctica. Conservators working for the Antarctic Heritage Trust discovered the 106-year-old British fruitcake on Cape Adare, and reckon that it belonged to the British explorer Robert Falcon Scott, according to the BBC website.

What a marvel of a story. Fruitcake, the best cake there is, can survive for a century in one of the earth’s most hostile environments. The cake was in a rusted tin, but otherwise appeared to be in “excellent condition” and smelled edible. The New Zealand-based trust found the cake in a hut built by Norwegian explorer Carsten Borchgrevink’s team in 1899, and used by Scott in 1911. Scott was said to be fond of the cake, made by Huntley & Palmers.

It’s good to know that I share something with Scott of the Antarctic. Fearlessness in the frozen wastes is not really my thing, but I do love a piece of fruitcake, the stickier the better, and they do say it improves with age. One mystery is why the cake was not eaten. Apparently, Scott and his doomed crew ate well in that hut, with an older BBC report saying: “The smell of fresh bread and rhubarb pie was a common feature of life there…” Fresh bread and rhubarb pie! Perhaps I could be an explorer yet.

Another dietary fixture was seal meal, curried, fried or in soup, a popular cut with the men. Stewed penguin not so much, as it tasted like very bad sardines.

But here’s the thing. Why would you stew a penguin when you had a tin of fruitcake to eat?

The thought that fruitcake can survive for a century is a comfort, a constant of steeped and baked delights in an unstable world – especially at a time when we must contend with another elderly fruitcake.

Part of me thinks that we should ignore Donald Trump in the hope that he might go away. We all seem so obsessed with whatever stupid or dangerous thing he has just said or done, that we hardly notice anything else. And that’s how bullies operate, demanding attention and roughing everyone up.

In the latest rough and tumble with North Korea – the Don and Kim Show, the craziest, scariest sit-com around – Trump tweeted that the US military was “locked and loaded”. He was operating, as is often the case, not from the White House but his golf club. And then it dawns on you. The US is being run by a mouthy golf club bore who swaggers about the place and burns everyone ear’s off with his loud opinions. A golf bore who thinks he’s Clint Eastwood.

Speaking in person rather than on Twitter, Trump later said North Korea should expect “big, big trouble” – a form of words that raises another possibility. This is that Trump is really a character in one of those Mr Men books. Mr Tweet, perhaps. Or Mr Something Unprintable.

He also said the following: “Hopefully, it will all work out. Nobody loves a peaceful solution better than President Trump, that I can tell you.”

And nobody hates a warmongering twerp with a Twitter addiction more than me, that I can tell you.

Giving a lift to Tony Blair…

I had that Tony Blair in the car yesterday. Had to turf him out in the end, though, or I would have been late for work.

The former prime minister talked about many things, perhaps most surprisingly that he was “briefly a Trot” – and not just on a wet Tuesday afternoon but for a whole year.

Blair was on the radio rather than in the car with me, although I’d be willing to offer him a lift to the vaguely picturesque middle of nowhere that is Howden, should he wish to go there. He was talking to the historian Peter Hennessy in an hour-long interview, first in a new series on BBC Radio Four, called Reflections. And it was a good listen.

It is common to dislike Blair nowadays, with those on his own side displaying the strongest aversion. Hating Blair and all he stands for is almost an article of faith among arch Corbynites, who see “Blairite” as the ultimate insult.

There are various reasons for the antipathy, partly that Blair was around for ages and travelled in that time from shiny idealist to a man harried by his decision to take Britain into the war against Iraq.

Those who disparage Blair believe that he took Labour too far to the right – a theory supported by the fact that he was much admired by David Cameron. Chief among those critics at the time was Jeremy Corbyn, who now leads the party and is tugging it back towards the left. Pulling a rug with furniture on is hard work, and there is a Blair-shaped sideboard on that rug, however much Corbyn might wish it had been sold off years ago.

As someone who liked Blair and then slowly went off him, I think the determination to scrub him out of Labour party history is a mistake and a shame. He was a successful leader and, for a while, a popular one. And his achievements include helping to foster peace in Northern Ireland – a process started by John Major – alongside introducing the minimum wage, devolution and repairing the NHS, left in a parlous state by long Tory years.

The NHS was repaired and restored, although, sadly, by introducing dodgy private finance deals, a Tory idea that Labour embraced with reckless enthusiasm.

Anyway, history will have the last word – and history may be kinder to Tony Blair than people now are. And whatever picture emerges, Hennessy’s programme provides much to argue about.

The intimacy of radio works so well for this sort of interview, and Blair was mostly straight and upfront, with occasional convenient lapses of memory, or careful verbal swerves. And the “you knows” are still there.

History is often shot through with irony, and it was striking to hear Blair say that the Labour Party of the 1970s was “kind of anathema” for socialists when he was a student. “These were the betrayers of socialism, these were the people who, you know, didn’t really believe in the way you should believe,” he said, adding that he was critical of Harold Wilson and Jim Callaghan when he joined the party.

Travel from student days in Oxford to the thin oxygen of the post-political life, when he is a ghost wandering the corridors of time, and Blair is now anathema to the sort of old-school socialism Jeremy Corbyn flourishes with a surprising degree of success, for now at least.

Footnote: Madame Tussauds is said to be preparing a new waxwork of Theresa May. There’s optimism for you. The wax version of our waxy prime minister won’t be ready for months. Perhaps Tussauds knows something we don’t.

The North Korean for fun and our visitor from the south…

I Google ‘North Korea funfair’ and my phone seizes up and says the internet isn’t available, leaving me to wonder if something sinister is afoot.

Which of course it is, although funfairs don’t really come into it, but stick with me for a moment.

Last week we had a Korean professor of economics to stay for the night. He was from the south naturally enough, as professors from the north, if they exist, are almost certainly banned from professing anything. And they aren’t allowed to stray to an Airbnb room in York.

Our visitor was a married man with three children, but he was touring Britain alone – “My family is jealous,” he said, with a shy smile. Well, you can see their point.

Anyway, over breakfast our guest told me about his visit to the North Korean funfair. Some years ago, the border opened and for a short while people from the south headed north for ‘fun’.

Google has now recovered itself, allowing me to find details of this unlikely source of merriment – an amusement park in a country notoriously short on amusement. The Mangyongdae Funfair moves an Australian travel website to ask: “Is this the world’s most depressing theme park?”

CNN is kinder, saying that this is “the happiest place in North Korea”, although you suspect that isn’t a long list. The BBC’s Rupert Wingfield-Hayes visited the fair in May of last year, and his report is still on the BBC website.

Our visitor went for the day, and said that people flooded over the border. It was his only visit to the closed-off part of his country as soon enough the border was slammed shut again. His English was difficult to follow and I didn’t manage to ask how he felt about Kim Jong-un and Donald Trump squaring off at each other. I don’t think he lived in Seoul but he did live close enough to the world’s most militarised border.

I showed him my phone, which is a Samsung, and pointed to the television – also a Samsung – and said that both had come from his country. South Korea is busily connected to the rest of the world, while North Korea is a closed-off dictatorship and one of the world’s scariest places.

This morning Donald Trump is threatening “fire and fury” against North Korea if any threat is made to the United States. North Korea is “carefully examining” a plan for a missile strike on Guam. This tiny island in the western Pacific is a US territory with a population of around 160,000, including thousands of US military personnel.

Trump says that if this happens, North Korea would face “fire and the fury like the world has never seen”. And never mind that he still conducts himself like the villain in a Batman movie – less the Joker, more the Tweeter ­– this is scary stuff.

To even contemplate that the balance of world peace lies in a ballistic willy-waving contest between two such leaders as Trump and Kim Jong-un is just the prospect to cheer you up on a soggy August morning.

How did we end up with a world run by such lunatics? The visiting Martian traditionally called on to offer an outsider’s opinion just looked at me and shrugged.

Teach children to use social media? How about teaching adults…

THE main headline in The Observer last Sunday read: “Stop children bingeing on social media, parents urged.” This is a serious matter, but my first thought was that two words could be swapped: “Stop parents bingeing on social media, children urged.”

This was partly a personal reaction, as far too much of my time is frittered away on Twitter and Facebook. Such a modern form of wastage demands a new word. Perhaps we should instead now say that time is “Twittered” away.

Most of those who abuse social media are adults. Flinging verbal acid with cowardly abandon. Being rude about others behind their backs, or certainly not to their faces. Some body-shame, or so I hear, sharing supposedly embarrassing pictures of body-imperfect people at the gym, say – and bodily imperfection, naturally enough, afflicts all of us, as perfection is a Photoshopped mirage.

Then you have the president of the US, a 71-year-old going on sulky seven, who sends out an endless barrage of rude and puerile tweets – that’s when he is not announcing major US policy changes by Twitter. The most important man in the world floats on a cloud of puffed-up vanity, self-pleasuring tweets, and the endless distractions of a world reduced to 140 characters.

Almost anywhere you look on social media, someone or other is being vile or rude or just plain nasty, whether it’s about politicians or parties they hate – or ‘wrong’ members of their own tribe who they love to excoriate.

There are ‘nice’ contributions too, and anyway there is nothing wrong with a bit of social media argy-bargy, but the truly nasty stuff is a spreading stain.

As long ago as 2013 – eons back in the social media blizzard – Professor Mary Beard reeled under an onslaught of online abuse after appearing on the BBC’s Question Time. The classicist mentioned that immigration brought benefits, and was horridly abused and pelted with vile sexual taunts in “language too offensive to reprint”, according to a Guardian report at the time.

Now Beard has been misused again, this time for suggesting that there was ethnic diversity in Roman Britain, which unleashed a “torrent of aggressive insults”. An intelligent, thoughtful woman who knows her stuff is clearly too much for the morons who gather to spit and squabble online.

So, yes, stop children spending too much time on social media, as the children’s commissioner, Anne Longfield, suggests and draw them away from their tablets and smartphones – maybe even to go outside and get their knees muddy. Regulating children’s internet usage sounds sensible, although I am glad it’s no longer something I need worry about. Our children were young pre-social media, although I remember words being exchanged sometimes about computer games and Xboxes and those hand-held Gameboys.

Nowadays I probably spend as much or more time on social media as my three. Sometimes I love it; and sometimes I fear my brain will rot.

It’s all so addictive, time-wasting and endlessly fascinating in a throw-away manner. But maybe we ought to be teaching adults how to use social media before we worry about children.

A nomad of the night falls out with his sodden cat…

OH, what a night. Unable to fall asleep in the bed where I belong, I go down a floor to the spare bed, and read for a while. It is pouring with rain and the cat is outside somewhere, an unsettling thought.

The trouble with this room is that she jumps onto the conservatory roof and demands right of entry in the small hours.

The light goes off around midnight and sleep is granted. Then I have a weird dream. The details don’t hold fast, but there is a yowling cat in that dream. I wake to find a yowling cat on the roof outside.

She’s a quiet cat, except when this happens. When she is stuck on the roof she raises a racket to rouse the neighbourhood.

Normally you open the window, she jumps through, trots downstairs to see if it is breakfast time yet, her furry behind bouncing. Rain makes this difficult. She loses her confidence when it’s wet. Switching on the light, I open both windows and encourage her to make the jump, even leaning out to haul her in, but she is wet and uncooperative, and I am not good at grabbing hold of animals. Instead she sits on the roof, looks up at me and continues loudly to complain.

I go downstairs in my pyjamas and open the doors to the conservatory and the kitchen, putting the light on in each room. The digital radio in the conservatory reveals at it is 1.58am. The cat moves around on the roof. I stick my head out of the two doors and try swearing at her in a quiet voice.

This has no effect at all, so I trudge back up the creaky stairs. We have an Airbnb guest in the front room and I worry that all this activity might wake him. He has a flying lesson in the morning and probably needs his sleep.

The cat is still on the roof, yowling and looking disconsolate in a “what you going to do about this stupid human?’ manner. I offer a look that translates as: “How you going to get through that window stupid cat?” A stalemate has been reached.

I make the stairs creak again and worry about the flying doctor (not literally, but a GP who flies). Downstairs I shut the two doors, turn off the lights, and return to the spare room. Looking out of the window, I see the cat has disappeared.

Creaking again, both those stairs and me, I check to see if she is by the conservatory door, her favoured route of entry, but there is no sign of her. It is still pouring down.

Returning to the bed where I belong, I read some more as the rain hits the skylight window but sleep is now elusive, a door that won’t shut. If I return to the spare bed the same wet cat routine will be repeated, so I chance the creaks again and make a hot drink that is said to aid sleep, then try sleeping on the sofa.

The night does not end well, but it does end in the belonging bed. Now it is morning and, having slept from around 5am to 7.30am, I go downstairs for that first cup of tea.

“She was very soggy when she came in,” my wife says. I shake my head and make a noise somewhere close to speech while flicking the switch on the kettle.

The cat is curled up asleep on the old sofa in the conservatory, just where I like to sit for that inaugural refreshment. Perhaps I should wake her in revenge.

Having a cat is a bother sometimes. But then so too is sharing the house with a nomad of the night.

A few thoughts to fill your cup…

AS Bob Dylan almost said – “One more cup of coffee before consumption outstrips production in the valley below…”

And as the great man never sang: “One more cup of tea before the Darjeeling crop shrivels and dies…”

Tea was our national drink until coffee mugged our mugs. Perhaps tea does still rule in the home, but not out on the streets. Here in York coffee shops spring up all the time. Park your car for too long and you’ll return to find it’s been turned into a coffee shop.

The insatiable demand for coffee combined with difficulties caused by global warming – and, yes, it’s happening Donald, so stop muttering through your cheese-burger mouth – put great pressure on the coffee crop.

In June, it was reported that consumption was forecast to outstrip production for the third year in a row, according to the International Coffee Organisation, an intergovernmental body that looks after coffee.

A coffee shortage or price rises have been avoided so far, thanks to stockpiles built up during good years. But a pile of beans only lasts so long, and as exporters have been digging into their stock, levels of coffee are said to be low.

Dr Tim Schilling is director of the World Coffee Research Institute, which is funded by the global coffee industry – and, indirectly, by all those cappuccinos I buy. He told the BBC website: “The supply of high-quality coffee is severely threatened by climate change, diseases and pest, land pressure, and labour shortages – and demand for these coffees is rising every year.”

Especially hit are good quality coffees – just the sort I choose, dammit.

A picture on the BBC website shows a woman crouching to harvest coffee beans in Ethiopia. Such a livelihood is at threat thanks to global warming, as coffee growing areas in Ethiopia could decrease by up to 60 per cent if temperatures rise by 4C by the end of the century. This is according to a study by Kew Gardens and collaborators in Ethiopia.

That crouching woman is a reminder that our daily treats and pleasures often come at the cost of someone far away doing hard work for little money.

Picking the tea harvest is fiddly and difficult work, and two years ago a BBC investigation found dangerous and degrading living and working conditions on tea estates in Assam.

Those ‘tips’ don’t get into your teabags all by themselves, and the people at the end of the tea chain can suffer horribly. BBC Radio 4’s File on Four discovered that “living and working conditions are so bad, and wages so low, that workers and their families are left malnourished and vulnerable to fatal illnesses”.

This is why we should worry that Sainsbury’s and others appear to be stepping away from the Fairtrade mark that guarantees decent payment and treatment of workers.

As it happens, Sainsbury’s is one of the places where I buy Darjeeling, along with Waitrose. Sadly, neither shop is a regular visit due to geography and price constraints. I do love a good cup of Darjeeling, although loose leaf golden breakfast tea stands in when supplies run out.

Today it is reported that the Darjeeling crop is under threat. Darjeeling is known as the “champagne of teas” – or, to unbelievers, as that weak stuff you can’t stand a spoon in. It can be horrendously expensive. I suspect the packets I buy are from the bottom of the Darjeeling tea chain.

The tea is grown in the foothills of the Himalayas in West Bengal state. Since June, Darjeeling has been riven by violent protests and strikes in support of a campaign demanding a separatist campaign by the Nepali-speaking Gorkha community. And the crop is going unpicked.

As a person who doesn’t operate well without his tea and coffee, I am sorry to bring all this up. Better to sip and swill, to grind and guzzle, without a thought for the wider world. But sometimes the wider world threatens to take away your daily treats.

My wife works in a health food shop and she used to bring home lovely bags of Brazil nuts. Then the crop failed a few times.

“Did you know that they have to go into the jungle to pick them?”

“Well, yes you told me that – but they’re delicious. And aren’t they meant to be good for men or something?”

Anyway, those nuts have become too expensive to buy unless you’ve won the Lottery, or unless you are Prince Charles or someone.

This blog has been fuelled by one mug of tea and now the tank is empty.