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Everything is going wrong, it seems – until I’m reminded that not quite everything is

It’s just the normal midlife cocktail of domestic worries, teenage children and ongoing health issues.

It’s been a funny couple of weeks. No, “funny” isn’t the right word. Stressful. A bit up and down, a bit changeable. Too much happening at once.

I’m in the final throes of this album I’m making, so I’m at the stage of checking mixes, which means listening to the tracks in a way no one ever will again – ignoring the tune and the lyrics, but poring over the tone of the snare drum, the level of that backing vocal on the second chorus. It’s the nuts and bolts of making a record, quite fun in its own way, and would be absolutely fine if there hadn’t also been other things going on.

I won’t bore you with the details. It’s just the normal midlife cocktail of domestic worries, teenage children leaving home and ongoing health issues, which have all conspired to happen at the same time, leaving me tense and sleepless.

One of us falls victim to a street crime, and though no harm is done, a little bit of harm is always done, isn’t it? It’s upsetting and leaves you shaken, as if you weren’t already. A small scar, to add to others.

At a routine check-up with my GP, I see him glance at his screen and clock my date of birth, which leads to him coming up with a shopping list of tests needed sooner or later. Another mammogram. A possible bone density scan. Cholesterol and blood pressure. And Ben, too, has another round of his usual appointments, letters of referral lying by the kettle, all the fun of the fair.

Back home, I try to take up mindfulness again and buy some herbal sleeping tablets, which don’t work as well as the proper ones, and a “relaxing pillow spray”, which, when I squirt it everywhere that night, gives me hay fever.

In the middle of it all, I turn 55, and it is my first birthday ever in which there is no card to open from either parent. I realise that I now qualify for the senior aerobics at the local gym. Ben asks whether I’m planning to join. “No, I’d probably put my back out,” I say. Then he gives me my present, which is all the old camcorder films of the kids, transferred on to discs, labelled with the year, and put in order in a CD wallet. When I see it, I burst into tears, partly because it is a lovely present and partly because it’s been that kind of week.

The night before the second daughter is heading off to uni, I have a dream in which our youngest – who will still be at home for at least another two years – has a girlfriend and gets her pregnant. They have twins and decide that the best plan will be for everyone to come to live here with us, and so suddenly we have twin babies in the house again.

At first glance I think, “Well, it’s not hard to interpret this dream, is it? I WANT MY BABIES BACK.” But thinking about it again, I remember that in the dream I was actually quite pissed off about the situation, and said to Ben, “Oh, God, imagine what it’s gonna be like, all the crying at night and everything. We won’t get a wink of sleep. It’ll be a nightmare!” In other words, my brain, fast asleep, was saying to me, “You think you want your babies back, but you don’t really. You’ve passed that stage now. You did it all, and it was wonderful, but now you need to let go. It’s all good.”

And as if to prove to me that life now is good really, I go for dinner with seven girlfriends to celebrate my birthday, and they’re the best kind of friends, ones who order a starter and pudding, and a grappa to go with the pudding, and they give me a range of presents that show how well they know me. Martini glasses and a notebook. A bottle of de-stress muscle oil and allium bulbs. A pair of really good kitchen scissors and some art magazines.

I look at us around the table, all of a certain age, and I think of what’s happened to each of us in the past few years – divorces and cancer and losing parents and waving our kids off out the door, and here we all are, raising a glass of fizz, and hanging on for dear life. Dear life. 

Tracey Thorn is a musician and writer, best known as one half of Everything but the Girl. She writes the fortnightly “Off the Record” column for the New Statesman. Her latest book is Naked at the Albert Hall.

This article first appeared in the 05 October 2017 issue of the New Statesman, How the rich got richer

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Labour’s renationalisation plans look nothing like the 1970s

The Corbynistas are examining models such as Robin Hood Energy in Nottingham, Oldham credit union and John Lewis. 

A community energy company in Nottingham, a credit union in Oldham and, yes, Britain's most popular purveyor of wine coolers. No, this is not another diatribe about about consumer rip-offs. Quite the opposite – this esoteric range of innovative companies represent just a few of those which have come to the attention of the Labour leadership as they plot how to turn the abstract of one of their most popular ideas into a living, neo-liberal-shattering reality.

I am talking about nationalisation – or, more broadly, public ownership, which was the subject of a special conference this month staged by a Labour Party which has pledged to take back control of energy, water, rail and mail.

The form of nationalisation being talked about today at the top of the Labour Party looks very different to the model of state-owned and state-run services that existed in the 1970s, and the accompanying memories of delayed trains, leaves on the line and British rail fruitcake that was as hard as stone.

In John McDonnell and Jeremy Corbyn’s conference on "alternative models of ownership", the three firms mentioned were Robin Hood Energy in Nottingham, Oldham credit union and, of course, John Lewis. Each represents a different model of public ownership – as, of course, does the straightforward takeover of the East Coast rail line by the Labour government when National Express handed back the franchise in 2009.

Robin Hood is the first not-for-profit energy company set up a by a local authority in 70 years. It was created by Nottingham city council and counts Corbyn himself among its customers. It embodies the "municipal socialism" which innovative local politicians are delivering in an age of austerity and its tariffs delivers annual bills of £1,000 or slightly less for a typical household.

Credit unions share many of the values of community companies, even though they operate in a different manner, and are owned entirely by their customers, who are all members. The credit union model has been championed by Labour MPs for decades. 

Since the financial crisis, credit unions have worked with local authorities, and their supporters see them as ethical alternatives to the scourge of payday loans. The Oldham credit union, highlighted by McDonnell in a speech to councillors in 2016, offers loans from £50 upwards, no set-up costs and typically charges interest of around £75 on a £250 loan repaid over 18 months.

Credit unions have been transformed from what was once seen as a "poor man's bank" to serious and tech-savvy lenders where profits are still returned to customers as dividends.

Then there is John Lewis. The "never-knowingly undersold" department store is owned by its 84,000 staff, or "partners". The Tories have long cooed over its pledge to be a "successful business powered by its people and principles" while Labour approves of its policy of doling out bonuses to ordinary staff, rather than just those at the top. Last year John Lewis awarded a partnership bonus of £89.4m to its staff, which trade website Employee Benefits judged as worth more than three weeks' pay per person (although still less than previous top-ups).

To those of us on the left, it is a painful irony that when John Lewis finally made an entry into politics himself – in the shape of former managing director Andy Street – it was to seize the Birmingham mayoralty ahead of Labour's Sion Simon last year. (John Lewis the company remains apolitical.)

Another model attracting interest is Transport for London, currently controlled by Labour mayor Sadiq Khan. TfL may be a unique structure, but nevertheless trains feature heavily in the thinking of shadow ministers, whether Corbynista or soft left. They know that rail represents their best chance of quick nationalisation with public support, and have begun to spell out how it could be delivered.

Yes, the rhetoric is blunt, promising to take back control of our lines, but the plan is far more gradual. Rather than risk the cost and litigation of passing a law to cancel existing franchises, Labour would ask the Department for Transport to simply bring routes back in-house as each of the private sector deals expires over the next decade.

If Corbyn were to be a single-term prime minister, then a public-owned rail system would be one of the legacies he craves.

His scathing verdict on the health of privatised industries is well known but this month he put the case for the opposite when he addressed the Conference on Alternative Models of Ownership. Profits extracted from public services have been used to "line the pockets of shareholders" he declared. Services are better run when they are controlled by customers and workers, he added. "It is those people not share price speculators who are the real experts."

It is telling, however, that Labour's radical election manifesto did not mention nationalisation once. The phrase "public ownership" is used 10 times though. Perhaps it is a sign that while the leadership may have dumped New Labour "spin", it is not averse to softening its rhetoric when necessary.

So don't look to the past when considering what nationalisation and taking back control of public services might mean if Corbyn made it to Downing Street. The economic models of the 1970s are no more likely to make a comeback then the culinary trends for Blue Nun and creme brûlée.

Instead, if you want to know what public ownership might look like, then cast your gaze to Nottingham, Oldham and dozens more community companies around our country.

Peter Edwards was press secretary to a shadow chancellor, editor of LabourList and a parliamentary candidate in 2015 and 2017.