Saturday, 31 July 2010

hard luck stories

Summer holidays are an opportunity for teachers, and others no doubt, to catch up on the day-to-day jobs that need doing around the house.  The type of job that requires some thought and probably a little more effort than one can muster in term time. Yesterday is a case in point.  As first born is about to go and live in Mexico for a couple of years, second born is off to Croatia on a dig and third born off to Knebworth for a (Heavy Metal) festival, a bit of supermarket shopping seemed necessary for the various parties and trips. 

Mrs Dave took some of them off to sort that out and said goodbye with that sort-of "we're off so can you just paint that cupboard on the landing that we had put in two years ago" knowing look. Imagine her surprise - and, gentle reader, the look of chagrin - when she got home after a gruelling afternoon shopping at Sainsbury's, to find the kitchen table covered with that other pressing job I'd been meaning to do for the last two or three years.

I'd been meaning to strip down my old Strat and set it up for slide playing for a while now.  I took the advice of a recent article in Guitar & Bass Magazine but still managed to break the original nut;

so it's off he went to his grandfather's chest 
to find him a nut of the very, very best . . . 

And, this afternoon, I managed to put it on.  Still can't quite get the intonation right on the bass string, but I'm working on it.

Nurse! The screens!
 It's in the back room now.  Unfortunately, the painting of the aforesaid cupboard is still on hold.

As the family is about to spread itself around the world, we went out for a meal last night - not because the kitchen table was covered in guitar bits - and we ended up in the local brasserie on the sea front. Now, shades of an earlier posting here, but for some reason or other, the management felt that diners needed entertainment.  As you may remember, the recent meal in London where I was serenaded by the lone long-distance organist; here the whole family was "entertained" by a chubby woman in a glittery dress singing karaoke very loudly along to her laptop.

Now, I support live music and would have been quite happy for a low key winsome singer-songwriter type to pluck away at her instrument and tell us of her desperate sadness because Life had not dealt her the cards she deserved.  However, to have some out of tune windbag bimbo belting out Lady Gaga (and Eva bloody Cassidy) whilst we shouted ever louder to be heard over our fresh lobster was a step too far.  The business of such an establishment is to get the paying customers to, well, pay more money, I presume.  The waiter knew we were going to order more food and drinks but understood why we left early.  By my reckoning, such an establishment can't afford to lose somewhere in the region of £30-40.  But that's what happened - all five of us hated it so much that we left.   I hope it was reported back to the management.

Wednesday, 28 July 2010

the green man (3)

I've remembered where yesterday's Green Man came from.  There's an upholstery shop (don't laugh) in our town and the man who runs it is a bit of an Indiana Jones-type.  Well, more of an Archaeologist-type really. He keeps finding bits of fossilised animals and getting write-ups in the local press.  This time he's found most of a Mammoth (you like mammoth?) or, at least, bits of its teeth etc.  Anyway, that's the shop we bought it in.  God-alone knows where this one came from.

Meantime, I've been indulging in some DIFY.  As nobody in their right  mind would come round to your house and mend your garden gate for tuppence-halfpenny, then one has to, indeed, do it your . . . self. So. I've mended the gate and together Mrs D and I have laid some slabs and painted an old seat green all to make our garden look loved.  And lovely.

I like the fact that in the window of our shed you can see me taking the photo - it reminds me of those film sites where people write in to point out the gaffes (cf Hitchcock The Birds).  This isn't one.

It's just a crap photo.

Oh well - I've been messing about with my guitarlele and drinking Adnams Bitter.  What's the point of summer if you can't enjoy it?

Tuesday, 27 July 2010

the green man (2)

A rather effeminate one this.  A modern resin type, I'm afraid, but attractive in an androgynous sort of way. This one waits by the back door staring at geraniums and guarding over the tomatoes.  There's no interesting story about this one and I can't remember where we got it but I hope it looks after the tomato plants.

Apropos of nothing at all, iPods are odd, aren't they? Somehow, every time I drive out of our town and hit the A14, Abilene by Dave Alvin comes on.  And, because there's two versions (studio recorded and live) on the iPod, it plays them both, one after the other.  The whole idea that iPods play randomly is a joke - mine has distinctive patterns it plays.  As it has a choice of over five and a half thousand songs to choose from, how come the same few songs keep turning up?  Ah well, another mystery I'll never solve.

As it's summer (despite the rain), we seem to have millions of flies hanging around the kitchen.  I have a particular hatred of the damned things: the only good fly is a dead fly. So, we bought an "Electric Insect Killer" today and proudly put it up in the kitchen.  Immediately, all the flies stared at it suspiciously, then refused to go near it.  I guess  all our flies are acoustic ones (unplugged).

Monday, 26 July 2010

the green man (1)

It's great to be on a slightly extended holiday.  I'm not crowing or trying to annoy anyone, but it means I can relax a little and take stock.  In fact, I can write and play (guitar) and just generally feel human again.  As I write, Rory Gallagher has just turned up on the iPod - "Daughter of the Everglades" a few hours after reading that a statue of RG by David Annand has been unveiled in Ballyshannon, birthplace of the man himself. I was in Cork a few years ago and there's one there, too.

A daughter of the Everglades must owe something to the wild woods of years ago.  The Green Man seems to continue to re-establish hinself in our collective psyches - a sort of nostalgic memory of paganism. This particularly fine example of old Jack in the Green comes from Yorkshire.  If you cast your minds back to the closing down of most of rural England due to a foot'n'mouth outbreak some dozen or so years back, you'll be able to place yourself where I'm thinking about.  We went off to Yorkshire - Mrs Dave driving as I was suffering from Labyrinthitus at the time (a sort of sea-sickness/wobbliness).  I'd never had an illness like it, one that doctors couldn't cope with and people would tell you of how their sister had suffered with it for five years.  I wasn't impressed so I went to see a homeopath and they cured me of it in a few days.  It's true, take it or leave it.  Anyhow, we found this rather lovely pottery Green Man and it has resided in our garden ever since.

Usually at this time of year we have loads of reasonable vegetables and herbs - currently our tomatoes are okay and the herbs are too.  But the potatoes we tried to grow were a very poor harvest and as for the broad beans, well . . . funny black stuff all over it.  So, not too impressive at the moment.  If we don't get better crops soon then we'll have to sacrifice someone . . . oh no, I'm back in Wicker Man country, aren't I?

Well, more about GM foods tomorrow.

Sunday, 25 July 2010

it all comes round again

The ubiquity of the "clip-on tuner" seems to suggest that these modern, small digital tuners have taken the music world by storm.  As I'm probably not really very musical, I find guitar tuners very necessary - I apologise unreservedly to those with perfect pitch.

I remember spending hours as a teenager trying to tune my early guitars to be able to play the few chords I'd learnt.  I was told that old telephones gave a perfect G tone - but we didn't have a phone at home until I was about 20.  Tuning forks were another aid - as were those ridiculous plastic pitch pipes (red on top and white underneath, I seem to recall).  All to no avail.  I'm sure it was this fundamental lack of ability to tune a guitar properly that held me back. Derek Brimstone (Cockney folk singer and ragtime picker extraordinaire) used to tell a joke whilst tuning: "it was in tune when I bought it".  That was me.  Until the advent of the modern electronic tuner in the 1980s, that is.  The gizmo in the photo is a very recent one.  It can tune your instrument merely by clipping it on to your instrument and it works through the vibration of the wood.  It will also play a tone (a digital plastic pitch pipe) and works as an electronic metronome too. All incredibly cheap. Marvellous.

Whilst at Cropredy last year, I was rather taken aback by the amount of musicians on stage that used these cute little gizmos.  Even Richard Thompson was using one - a person for whom tuning on-the-fly never seemed a problem. It seems to be a little invention that has quietly embedded itself into every musician's essential gigbag. I was told that at the Suffolk Songwriters Club - a regular meeting place of acoustic songwriters in Ipswich - there are only about two people who don't use one.  This is an interesting turnabout.  Years ago nobody would own up to not being able to tune their guitar.  Well, except me, of course.  Now it seems that everyone uses one!

Take a look at this:

It's a very rough drawing of a wonderful invention from the mid-to-late 1970s.  During my quest to tune my guitar, I bought one of these from an advert in the back of the Melody Maker ("MM" as we called it).  It was a small device that clamped on the the headstock of your guitar (using the wingnut) - it had a thin piece of plastic to try to stop wrecking your pride and joy.  This was connected to a little plastic box that held some vibrating right-angled pieces of metal - presumably on some sort of spring.  Now, only the fifth one, the A er, vibrator worked on the one I had, but it did work and for a while in the late 1970s, I was able to tune my guitar.  As the other "vibrators" (words fail me - what would you call them?) didn't work I had to tune via harmonics.  Oh yes - as long as one string was in tune, I could tune the others.  Perhaps I wasn't that crap after all.

I gave mine to a friend years ago (if you've still got it, I'd love it back just to prove to people that it existed - you know who you are).  I'm sure that when it first came out people laughed: "that'll never catch on!" Look at it now.  I wonder who invented it and if they're railing at the four winds like Crazy Man Michael - "I coulda been a contender!"

What goes around comes around indeed.

Friday, 23 July 2010

we never went away

As you may be aware, I spent Wednesday at Snape Maltings, which was a pleasant day.  The sun was shining, offering us a view of a big Suffolk sky and, on the whole, all was right with the world.  In a day or two's time we would pack up our pens and laptops, glance nostalgically around the classroom for the last time this year and, stifling a chuckle at a rather amusing incident*, we'd shake our head and wander out into the glorious summer awaiting us with nary a problem left to curtail our pleasure.

However, I was rather taken with this sculpture I spied across a field.  After the students in our charge got bored with clambering over it and ran off to find something far more interesting, I managed to take a photo of it.

Now, I don't know about you, but it rather struck me as a sort of rustic, pre-lapsarian version of "Invasion of the Body Snatchers". I imagined some old farm hand rushing in to the local inn in the manner of Kevin McCarthy in the 1956 version screaming, "They're here already! You're next! You're next!" What on Earth are those giant grey,concrete cashews/marrows all about?  Where is the sense of scale?  What else can they be but pods being carted off across the wilds of East Anglia? It would explain so much . . .

I remember my mother having a similar porcelain horse and attached wooden cart on a shelf in our house as an ornament. This one, however was a life-size Suffolk Punch and cart (plus pods). It stands as a reminder that this planet has indeed been visited before.  We're not alone.

*"Sir! Sir! (referring to some amusing graffiti) There's a knob on this chair."
"You really need to improve your self esteem, Smith"

Tuesday, 20 July 2010

after all

I can't believe how busy life has been recently. It seems ages since I sat and wrote anything.

After the month of exam marking, I was forced into moving to a new form room ready for next year - a much smaller one with no proper blinds which is obviously perfect for the teaching of Film Studies.   Actually trying to teach English in there is difficult too as it's impossible to see/read (delete as applicable for which set being taught) the IWB.  Oh, and one of the speakers was blown too.  Evidently it will all be sorted out by the time we get back in September. I won't hold my breath.

Anyway, after that I was in Swaledale on a Duke of Edinburgh expedition for a week which had to take place over a weekend as Mrs Dave and I had to rush down to Southampton for second born's graduation ceremony on Thursday. A day at school last Friday - a half day of teaching and the other half saying farewell to those lucky enough to escape to pastures new.  That night I was in Ipswich for a fond farewell curry to one of the aforesaid lucky blighters.  The weekend whizzed by - a lot of sleeping took place.  This week is what is known as "Arts Week" - the school I work at is a "Performing Arts" School evidently.  But you can call it "Activities Week" as that is what it is really. Instead of the usual "Art of Songwriting" a couple of us offer, this year we are on an "Art of The Music Industry" week.  As though I know much about the machinations of it!* We went to an amazing studio in Ipswich which was unbelievable. The amount of vintage gear and history there is incredible.  Evidently it was built by some BBC bods back in the 1960s and is one of the best sounding mid-price studios in the country.  Then today we went to the O2 Arena - formerly The Millennium Dome. This is well worth going to if you have a passing interest in the popular music of the last 50 or so years. Lots of Bowie stuff, hence the title of this posting (from The Man Who Sold The World).

So, this is just a little posting to prove that I'm still around.  Two days left to go and the Summer Holidays begin.  It's amazing that that single fact seems to be keeping everyone going.  Off to Snape Maltings tomorrow. Perhaps next time I'll have something interesting to say.

*Andy Gill's essay in today's Independent is about the "terminal decline" of said industry - the one thing that the internet has done (other than allow many of us access to things we didn't know where to buy them from) is to keep hundreds of talented musicians going with second careers (+) through the fragmentation of the "music industry". This is a good thing.

Monday, 5 July 2010

running on empty

After a month off from blogging I now feel the need to share words of wisdom with the world again. This year's marking of Film Studies AS exams was a bit of a trial I'm afraid.  I still quite enjoy the process, it's just a labour of love (sic).  I always find new things to use for the next year.  Even better was the cover essay by Rob Young in Sight & Sound this month on Old, Weird Britain called "The Pattern Under The Plough".  I recommend standing around in W H Smiths reading it  (a railway station is a good bet) or, if you have a trendy bookshop that you can drink coffee in whilst reading, go there (I do miss Borders, not that I ever bought anything because I could read it!). Loads of ideas for next year.  Mind you, today I was  ousted from my teaching room of the last 5 years and forced in to a much lesser room where, as Catweazle used to say, "nothing works".

Ah well, I've been moaning all day about that and tomorrow's another day.  I'll moan then, too.

Still, where was I?  Oh yes, marking.  Mrs Dave seems to have finally finished marking too.  She marks Psychology AS exams which means that she gets to claim squatter's rights over the computer for a month because AQA have ICT knowledge.  I, however, mark for WJEC (aka "The Welsh Board") who are still roughly somewhere about 1962 and require us to mark proper scripts with real writing.  Thank god. Anyhow, I finished last weekend just in time to be able to rush up to London last Tuesday evening to The Albert Hall to see Jackson Browne and David Lindley.

If you caught them on BBC4 last Saturday evening from Glastonbury, then you'll know what a cracking set they played. Live - and I've never seen Browne live before - they were fantastic. An acoustic set followed by a full band set.  My friend John and I had to rush out a bit early as we needed to keep ahead of the crowds.  After all, we had twenty odd stops on the Tube to get back to Newbury Park where we'd parked.  Have you ever tried to get a train back late from London to East Anglia? Okay, a rhetorical question there, then.

This isn't a review of the gig really, just a little reminder that I'm still around and ready to make facetious/smart-arsed comments on your blogs.

Summertime and the living is. . . well, quite hot really, isn't it?