Wednesday, 21 December 2011

here we come a-thomasing

The plump Russian doctor peered at me over the top of her laptop and pronounced cheerfully in her broken English that I had fractured a bone in my foot.  I hopped out of her surgery feeling less like a character in a wintry Solzhinitsyn novel and somewhat a little happier.

I had woken on Monday morning with a painful left foot which I believed I had somehow bruised or "strained" - a term my mother used to use for any unexplained pain.  That or what she called "growing pains".  I'm fairly sure I've stopped growing, although I suppose "growing old pains" could be the reason. We had ordered a load of seasoned wood which was delivered on Sunday.  As we have no back entrance to our property, it was dumped unceremoniously on the street about 9:30am and I had to wheel it around in a wheel barrow whilst Mrs Dave put the said logs into the new log store.  This is when I assumed I had "sprained" my foot, possibly by pushing the barrow too heavily up a small ramp.  I definitely didn't drop anything on my foot, nor did I kick anything.

Meanwhile, back at Monday.  We had to do some dreaded shopping for the current seasonal reasons on Monday afternoon and my aching foot got worse.  By yesterday it was agony at times.  So after a night out in Ipswich last night with some friends, where the general consensus of opinion worryingly confirmed my own suspicions, I decided I had better go to see a quack and get it diagnosed.  Hence the visit to Dr Olga.  Our usual doctor was on holiday, which he seems to have a remarkable amount of.  That's rich coming from a teacher, I know.

Still, I was lighter on my (one good) foot after leaving the surgery.  Although doubtful, Mrs Dave guessed why immediately. When I texted one of the aforesaid friends to inform him that it was good news as I had only fractured a small bone in my foot, he replied, "and that's good news?"

"Well a fracture is only for Christmas, not for life. Unlike Gout."

Yes, all my friends and Mrs Dave all assured me that I had gout.  A life-changing infliction I am assured.  However, it appears to be a mere fracture which the sawbones seemed to think was something  you can do just by walking.  I spent my whole childhood avoiding fractures and breaks only to start breaking things in my fifties.  A double shoulder break about four years ago and now a fractured bone in my foot.  Great.  Still, it could have been worse.  It could have been the dreaded gout. 

Cheers.

The night out in Ipswich was excellent.  A real drinker's pub, The Fat Cat was the scene.  Not only do they brew their own beer but they supply cutlery and plates and takeaway menus.  They wash up, all you have to do is turn up and drink loads of beer.  Which we did. Beer and a very decent Indian takeaway and a lift there and back too by a sober friend.  A good evening all round. 

Proof that Jesus may not have been totally confident in
walking on water - notice life ring attatched to his head.
As I'm sure every one knows, today is both the Winter Solstice and St Thomas's Day.  It was traditional to go Thomasing, or Gooding, and was recorded in my home county of Hertfordshire by Thomas Grey in the 1870s.  Essentially this was a form of begging by poor women for charity around their local village where a dole was expected. During the 1870s in parts of England, many farmers started to get together to stop the begging and began to send money to the Town Halls to allow charity to be shared out to the genuine needy. St Thomas was the doubter, the last Apostle to believe that JC had risen from the dead and needed to stick his fingers into Christ's wounds.  Evidently he was  a builder. You can imagine him sucking air through his teeth saying, "yeah, but anyone can cut themselves like that.  Go on, tell me something only Jesus would know about me."

"Er, you've got gout because of all that red wine."
"Okay, you're Jesus."

I hope you all enjoyed St Thomas's Day and did something charitable.

Sunday, 20 November 2011

a whiter shade of pale

Over recent years many students have been diagnosed with Scotopic Sensitivty or Irlen Syndrome as it now seems to be called.  This seems to be a perceptual disorder where readers have problems with tracking their reading. The white paper we've used in education for the last century and more, books, newspapers, magazines etc cause no end of distress to many people. It's a kind of dyslexia, evidently. This has meant that an empire has risen within education to help sufferers - evidently 12-15% of the population.

By empire, I mean that there are many 'specialists' in Special Needs Departments that test students and then devote a lot of time getting coloured overlays and special lenses in glasses. It would appear that The Promethean Trust based in Norwich are the main source of such lenses and overlays. The glasses cost around £90 which seems to me an awful lot of money.  Many of the sufferers are in the poorer sections of society,so nearly a ton for some glasses with plastic lenses in is presumably out of many people's reach.

There is, however, an alternative.  For reading a plastic filter is useful but when it comes to writing, that's obviously more difficult.  Bring on the coloured paper! We now have what seems like hundreds of different coloured paper booklets being sent around to the different departments for these kids to use.  These are sheets of coloured paper put through the photocopier to print lines onto. It's a bit like having a Dulux paint chart.  We've got Royal Blue, Cardinal Yellow or is that red? The problem now, though is that some of us poor old teachers who have to mark these booklets - and exams - can't actually read them very well.  I mean, dark red certainly isn't an easy colour to read scruffy writing on.  Every few days some new booklets come through into our pigeon holes (trays) and this week was no exception.  One of our pupils has been diagnosed as needing white paper.

That's right.  White paper.  Er, actually, isn't it white paper that causes the problem? Aren't all the normal exercise books we have actually white paper? Hmmm . . . something not quite right here.

There is, however, an alternative to all this.  Firstly, as a teacher I think it would be far better if students all had lenses in their glasses so that they can read on their prescription colour - and interactive whiteboards wouldn't need changing, either.  I mean, if three students are all in the same class and all need different coloured screens and non-Irlen students (the other 27 kids in the class) prefer white anyway, wouldn't lenses be the best solution?  Also they would then write into normal exercise books which would make our jobs easier for marking. It all seems so obvious.  However, it's the cost that seems to be the sticking point.

Now, as these prescription filters and lenses are only different coloured plastic sheets, I'm not fully sure why they are so expensive (empire building/making a killing on other people's suffering?) but here's my alternative.  Why don't we just use cardboard glasses with plastic lenses - just like the 3D ones people are being hoodwinked into wearing* now? I had about thirty sets last year when they were given away free by Sainsburys to tie in with some Royal celebration or other.  They put some programme on tv about Brenda in 3D.  I wish I'd kept them now.  I only got them because I was going to screen Coraline in 3D for my classes at Christmas until I discovered that not all 3D is the same.  They were useless so I threw them away.  Just think, I could replace the red and green lenses and glue in some different coloured ones.  Job done.

I wouldn't charge £90 each for them, I'd do them altruistically.

Ah well, I'm off to Hitchin Folk Club to see John Tams.  I know it's a two hundred mile round trip but if Spielberg's War Horse is as big a success as his normal films, I don't think Tam will need to work again too much.  He only needs a couple of songs in it and he'll earn a fortune, and I know that Spielberg is going to use some of them from the National Theatre production that Tam wrote the songs for.

* The only reason that so much money and hype has been put into 3D is because they can't can't pirate 3D films.  Yet. Read Mark Kermode's The Good, The Bad & The Multiplex. Well worth a read and very funny.

Saturday, 19 November 2011

the deserter

walking round in circles, holding up the sky
falling amongst thieves, laughing till I cry

It seems a long time ago now but about five years ago I broke my shoulder in two places. That's two breaks on my shoulder, I don't mean I carelessly broke it in Austria and then again when I got back to Blighty.  Yes, an argument with a small hump in the snow lead me to falling rather spectacularly in front of a beginner's group of skiers the very first time they were being brought down a "blue run", which was probably quite disconcerting for them.  They all managed to get down unscathed unlike the trip organiser, yours truly.

Anyway, whilst sitting around at home with a (possible) month off but unable to do much but watch tv, I decided that I was fed up with the appalling service the East Coast was getting from the various broadcasters. Freeserve, or whatever it was called,  wasn't an option then (still isn't). The only way, it seemed, to get a fairly decent reception was to get a satellite dish.  So, we had to take Murdoch's shilling.

We'd been looking into it and noticed that there was an offer for about £70 to have it all fitted etc. So, one day sitting watching some awful daytime rubbish as though through a snow storm, I called Sky.  Interestingly, when I phoned them they told me that it would be fitted free.  Free?  Blimey.

A few days later the men arrived.  Now, gentle readers, some of you may be aware that I live in a three story town house with a gap of about a rizla paper between our house and next door's. "Sorry, mate, we can't get the cable over the house.  We'll have to get the heavy mob in."

Ah, here we go . . . the catch.  "So, er, how much is this going to cost?" I enquired fearing the worst.

"Oh no, it won't cost any more because it's our problem.  See you next week." Off they went. No such thing as a free lunch, I thought.  Bound to be a wind-up.

Anyhow, the following week they came back with the "heavy mob" - or three men with a longer ladder as I perceived it.  And it was all fitted and off they went and I spent the last week in my incapacitated state watching Sky - lovely pictrure blah, blah, blah.  Except it was Sky.  Murdoch and all that.  We've put enough money his way with even the basic monthly package we have.

I've always been uncomfortable about it and especially recently with all the News of the World shennanigans going on. So, a change was needed.  Not being one to do things in too much of a hurry (my motto is why put off until tomorrow what you could put off until the next day?) I finally got around to contacting our local tv chappie.  He came round today to fit our spanking new Freesat+ box in (plus new satellite dish and double cable etc) and so, we have finally shed our allegiance to Murdoch's insidious empire. Mrs D is watching Strictly Come Dancing and we're now able to record programmes and series if we want to - don't ask about dvd recording.  It's a long sad story.  By now you'll have guessed that me a digital things are only on nodding terms.  Still, it all seems okay. Nice clear pictures and the smug feeling that RM isn't going to get any more money from me.

Sunday, 30 October 2011

zombie womb music

An interesting and rather busy week.  A half term break often lends itself to some late morning lie-ins and possibly a trip away.  However, this week seems to have been a very busy one.

We started the week - I'm using the term loosely here, I mean since last Friday when we broke up - with the Songwriter Circle mentioned previously.  Saturday was a lazy-ish day with some vague shopping and a quiet night. On Sunday we took the aforesaid wardrobe down to Southampton.  We had a great couple of days down that neck of the woods including a visit to the National Motor Museum.  I honestly don't think I've ever been there before.  Somewhere in the back of my mind I have a (very) vague notion that I may have visited it in my youth but it is obviously a different place now to whatever it was like all those years ago. And I have nobody to ask if that was the case.  It probably wasn't that expensive then, either. Why is Heritage Britain so damned expensive?

Nowadays there are the Top Gear and James Bond, er, "Experiences" to enjoy - or is that "enjoy"? The few Bond cars were okay but disappointing and the TG stuff was quite amusing but actually, seeing Bluebird was far more exciting.  Learning about the AA (no not that one) was educational too.  I hadn't realised that they were set up to alert drivers to police speed traps and if they DIDN'T salute, there was a speed trap ahead.  Probably everyone else knew that already but it seems to have passed me by.

This reminds me of a story about the first visit to Britain by Carl Perkins, he of the blue suede footwear. Evidentally an increasingly agitated CP began to hassle everyone about the AA as in, "do you actually have the AA here in this little country?" Eventually someone told him to stop worrying as anytime there was a problem or he got into difficulties, the AA could be contacted via roadside phone boxes and they would appear as soon as possible to help out.  "Boy," CP exclaimed, "you sure know how to look after your alcoholics over here."

Anyway, after we'd been around the pleasures of the National Car Museum, we thought a quick trip on the monorail would be fun.  We queued up and eventually entered the little green overhead train - as there were four of us, we seemed to be left to take over the whole compartment. As we passed over the estate I became aware of a strange noise which I assumed to be an attempt at playing a soundtrack to the trip - a simulation of a steam train perhaps? Why, I couldn't fathom as we were thirty feet in the air.  But no, it wasn't that.  All I could hazard a guess at is a sort of what I referred to at the time as "zombie womb music" - I really have no idea why they would play such a weird soundtrack.  It was a sort of scratchy low screaming with occasional, well, monkey noises thrown in. If there's anyone out there who could enlighten me as to what it may have been (or been for) I would be mildly interested.

After all that excitement we came home to spend a few days sorting out what we laughingly refer to as the spare room.  Given no-one has been able to get in there (certainly not to sleep) for many years, it's certainly a bit of a misnomer.  Well, after a few trips to the tip and charity shops, we seem to have made a lot of headway there.  Well, you can get into the room now.

During this I finally managed to tackle a large box of cds that I have been meaning to deal with for a few years now.  You know the stuff, cds by artists you'd be too embarrassed to tell anyone you owned and ones you look at and think, "what the hell did I buy that for?"  I spent a pleasurable hour typing the barcodes into the computer on a site called Music Magpie which I heartily recommend to you if you need to assuage your guilt over crap you've collected over the years and desperately need to get rid of. It's all free - they'll collect or it's freepost - and then they send you a cheque.  I should get one for about £112 believe it or not.  We'll see.  I am reminded of a Frankie Howard film where he's thrown into gaol and the prisoner next door (through a thick wall) asks him what he got for his dinner.  Frankie replies that he only got bread - the prisoner tells him that he had got gravy too.  Would he like it if he dipped Frankie's bread into the gravy?  Of course an excited Frankie says yes and just then a brick in the wall moves back.  Mr Howard puts his bread into the hole in high expectation and excitement only for the bread to disappear and the brick is put back in place . . .

Oh well, we'll see. They have been highly recommended as a website and I'm sure it'll be fine.

The Nutshell - evidently 102 people once crowded into it!
Several parties this weekend - a friend has just retired and we went to his sixtieth do and we had to go to a "wedding party" this afternoon.  Nothing exciting but at least we were able to talk to our neighbours which needs doing every so often.  However, Friday evening we went to the new Apex Theatre in Bury St Edmunds to see June Tabor and the Oysterband.  A sublime evening musically.  Interestingly, the first person I bumped into was the former head of the previous school I taught at some ten years ago.  We also bumped into one of our neighbours in a Tapas bar (don't ask).  What are the chances of that?  About the same as bumping into a former associate in the middle of nowhere, Utah.  We managed that too a few years ago.  Also we went into the self-styled "smallest pub in Britain" which was crowded.  About six of us I think.  The other pubs that contest this claim have outside seating.  As The Nutshell is in the centre of Bury St Edmunds, there's no outside seating - well, the pavement, I suppose.  Actually, the beer was a bit crap - Greene King IPA.  As it's brewed in the town I suppoose that makes sense.  They should get some Adnams in there.  Shake things up a bit.

I've just finished reading The Story of English by Philip Gooden which was an excellent (and easy) read.  I thought it was about time I knew a bit about what I teach.

So, back to the interactive whiteboard face tomorrow.  I would like to think it will be for a rest but somehow I think it'll be anything but that.  I have a feeling that the Academy is only just starting to flex its muscles . . . there may be trouble ahead . . .

Next weekend we'll be down in the Brecon Beacons for a bit of walking so it's all very exciting down here on the East coast.  I've decided that I need to get back to the music now that I've updated about how exciting my life is (cf irony). 

Something a bit more interesting than zombie womb music, though.

Saturday, 22 October 2011

apocalypse when?

I woke up this morning . . . and the world was still turning.  Harold Campling's prediction was wrong, then.  Oh what a surprise. Still, "Welcome to the End of the World" was quite an opening to my first lesson of the day yesterday.  Unfortunately, the girl whose birthday it was didn't seem too impressed but seemed to take it stoically.

Actually, my year 8 class were great yesterday - imagine a class full of kids that couldn't give a flying one for English punctuation ended up totally engaged and arguing amongst themselves about how a totally un-punctuated paragraph should be re-written. Excellent. Blimey, I even had to teach them about the interrobang?! I also had a great lesson in the afternoon with my AS Film Studies group who got into an excellent discussion on Sliding Doors - a film that most of them probably would never have bothered to watch. By the time I got to the pub in the evening for a quick pint to end the half term with, I was feeling quite chipper.

Ryan Adams: elegantly wasted
After a decent Indian takeaway and a glass or two of wine, I was ready to fall asleep in front of BBC4.  However, the Songwriter Circle was pretty damned good. Although I'm not a fan of Janis Ian, she played quite well, but it was the matching of Neil Finn and Ryan Adams that kept me interested. Mrs Dave even spontaneously applauded Finn's version of Don't Dream It's Over out loud, which goes to show the quality of this programme. Actually, I remember she did that for Justin Currie last year too. Anyway, over the years since Adams' first solo album in 2000 he has displayed a quixotic attitude to his music.  I saw him live once - we wondered whether or not he'd still be alive by the end of the gig.  Exceedingly over-refreshed, he clambered up on top of a huge set of speakers to perform.  Didn't stay up there too long.

The new Ryan Adams album Ashes and Fire really is excellent and he seems back on form - evidently he's in love and straightened himself out a bit recently.  Possibly he's taking the Royal College of Physician's advice on alcohol-free days.  I must admit I am thinking quite seriously about this. Still, this would come out on the first day of the half term break, wouldn't it?  Fancy telling a teacher to have a few days off.  In all seriousness it's advice we know is sensible and definitely something we intend to  do. 

After the half term break, of course.

Right, I need to go and take a wardrobe to pieces and drive it down to Southampton, as you do.  We know how to celebrate 29 years of married bliss.

Sunday, 9 October 2011

living is a gamble, loving's much the same

I can't let the sad loss last week of someone who changed the World go by without making some sort of comment.

There are lots of people who are called a 'genius' - only occasionally is it really true.  We seem to have many people around who 'change our lives' with various technical devices that are said to make our lives easier.  I talk to young people every day and many of them do not understand how one can grow up without phones, computers, video games or your whole music collection in a box the size of a fag packet.  Whether or not we actually need these things or not is debatable, and I'm not sure that my life is easier for having them - it's just different.

When these geniuses shuffle off this mortal coil their work is held up to scrutiny and often there is a sudden rush to buy products related to them - we could call it the Amy Whitehouse effect, I guess. I'm sure that magic black boxes are flying off the shelves from impulse buys this week for obvious reasons.  I'm not sure if Bert Jansch cds are flying off the shelves.  I guess not.  His passing was quiet and dignified, much like the way he lived his life.

However, Bert's death came as a bit of a shock - the news was over-shadowed by the death of soemone far better known.  In his own way, Bert Jansch changed the World and to some he had as much impact as Steve Jobs.  If you doubt that, ask Neil Young, Jimmy Page, Donovan, Johnny Marr, Beth Orton and listen to Nick Drake's legacy.  The term 'genius' has been used in several obituaries and reports.  I'm not really sure if he was a genius or not but he sure as hell was one of the most influential acoustic musicians these shores have produced.

Bert was born on 3rd November 1943 in Glasgow.  By the time he released his first album in1965, he was a wanderer, journeyman and one of the most accomplished guitarists and songwriters of the folk boom.  I'm not going to write out a history but try reading Colin Harper's excellent book Dazzling Stranger: Bert Jansch and the British Folk and Blues Revival (Bloomsbury Books, 2000). Harper's book really is a great read.  Unlike many such scribblings, Harper enjoyed many interviews with the quiet man himself. This meant that there is an honesty to the book - it's not cobbled together from old NME and Melody Maker interviews.

I saw Bert live a couple of times.  He really was amazing at Colchester Arts Theatre a few years ago but the first time I saw him  was at the Fleadh festival in London a while back.  A friend commented last night that the sound was awful - interestingly, I don't remember that.  All I remember is that I had finally managed to see this master musician live.  His vocal delivery was often mumbled but not in the same way John Martyn used his voice as an instrument, and his guitar playing was masterful. It's easy to say such things - my comments about the easy bandying around of the word 'genius' stands - but Jansch was in a class of his own.  The very free flowing style he used is beyond bedroom strummers like me but he was incredibly influential.  The Neil Young album On The Beach was very influenced by Jansch, especially the track Ambulance Blues and, of course, Young would never have written Needle and the Damage Done if it wasn't for Jansch's Needle of Death.

I'm listening to one of his live albums as I write and Blackwaterside has just come on - possibly one of Jansch's most famous songs.  I'm glad that I was able to see him perform it, and not just because I like the song but because it's a song that many people have recorded versions of.   The Oysterband, Sandy Denny and Richard Thompson have all recorded versions but there is something very special indeed about Bert Jansch's version from his 1966 album Jack Orion.  I love the sheer, er, Scottishness of his The Ornament Tree (1990).

However, if you think that's all just living in the past, his last album Black Swan was released in 2006.  He was still writing new songs and working with and influencing a new generation of guitar players.  The title song is an interesting science fiction story.  All this and he played Yamaha guitars, not flashy hand built expensive models by master craftsman.  Very down to Earth.

He will be sadly missed and his like will not be seen in these parts again.

Sunday, 18 September 2011

shouldn't have gone to specsavers

Late Summer or early Autumn?  Today, as I stepped out of the house quite early to wander up to buy a newspaper, I felt quite uplifted and ready to take on the world with some humour.  A beautiful clear sunny sky made me feel that I could walk up to the local Spar in just a T-shirt.  Still, common sense prevailed and I thought, as it's a small town, I should wear a pair of jeans too.

However, £2.20 for a Sunday paper soon wiped the smile off my smug face.  £2.20? Daylight robbery, obviously.  I guess The Observer will have to support their sister paper through the coming months, so I suppose we'll take the brunt*.  I must admit, it's been a long time since I bought a paper so I should have checked.  I hardly read it - it was more about the walk up to the shop - what's that old adage about the journey rather than the destination?

It has been almost exactly a year ago to the day since Mrs Dave and I went foraging for wild food.  We couldn't find any wild cherry plums but it seems that we were lucky last year - a late harvest, perhaps? Still, we collected lots of blackberries and sloes.  The afternoon was taken up making jam and such-like.  We were quite lucky with the harvest from the garden this year, too.  We're still getting loads of tomatoes and runner beans.

Well, lots has happened over the Summer, and there have been lots of changes, too.  Obviously, I now work at an Academy although nothing is really noticeable yet as far as changes go - a few different people about, especially on the management front.  My timetable is half sixth form this year which is good - but across the two sites but that's hardly a problem. there are bigger changes than that to consider.

It would seem that it's been two years since I had my eyes tested, so I went to get that sorted out.  Evidently, Specsavers don't do round glasses as, presumably, "There's no call for them around here."  So I had to get some oblong-type ones which I'm not totally comfortable with.  A friend has pointed out that there's a shop in Ipswich which is "full of round glasses - loads of them!" So I may have to buy yet another pair.  I also bought a pair of  reading glasses for a laugh but now regret.  See the pictures for this post for a hint as to why that may be.

The biggest change, though, is to using an iPhone.  What a wonderful invention!  I'm totally sold.  Not only can I now have "instant text discussions" (and believe me, my previous phone certainly put paid to any such interactions) but I can play with all the apps available - a compass? GPS? Fantastic.  Even better, though, is the Amplitube Fender app - I now have access to a range of Fender amps, effects, a tuner, metronome and all sorts of other devices which can be accessed via headphones or a speaker (such as the kitchen Bose system).  All I have to do is attach a guitar to my iPhone and mess about to my heart's content.  If I'd have got one of these when I was 16, I'd never have come out of my bedroom. Not that I did very often unless it was to go down the pub. It probably wouldn't have made much difference in reality but kids just don't know they're born these days.  I can now dial in a 1960's Fender Princeton amp and get Richard Thompson's tone for the opening solo to Calvary Cross.  Just the tone, though, because I can't play it, obviously. 

Still, now I can stand in my kitchen and do three of my favourite things.  I can drink beer, cook and play guitar all at the same time.  Who said men can't multitask?

* Today's news included a story on how after last weekend's hurricane, the power companies paid over £1 million to stop producing power - but the cost will be passed on to us, gentle readers.

Friday, 12 August 2011

burn it down

I see that after only two weeks out of school, the youth of England have decided to stick it to the man in their boredom. Ah well, I´m sure I´ll be able to read all about it when I get back to Blighty. Good luck, Mr C with your attempt at sticking your finger in the dyke (pay attention at the back) and stem the flow of freedom of information.

With the Notting Hill Carnival a mere few weeks away, I wonder if they´ll dare stop that - it´s likely to cause further riots if they do . . .

Anyway, here in Mexico City the clouds are gathering for a different reason - it´s the rainy season.  After touring the Yucaton Peninsular for the last ten days, it´s a bit of a disappointment to come back to the feel of an almost British Summer.  It will take a while to fully get my head around the sights and sounds and difference of this fantastic country and I´m sure I´ll write about it soon.  Probably over the remaining few days before we go back to the IWB-face (and when I can access the videos on the Flip).  Suffice to say at the moment that this has been one hell of an experience and certainly one not forgotten easily.

So, whilst Rome burns we´ll get on with having some cultural fun around DF.  If there´s anyone out there reading this, take care:

don´t go out tonight
they´re bound to take your life
there´s a bad moon on the rise

Oh, and the title comes from Los Lobos - seemed apt.

Sunday, 24 July 2011

all things must pass

What a busy few weeks!  I realise that I haven't written anything for about a month.  It would appear that late June onwards through the school holidays is a busy time and doesn't lend itself to blogging.

Two weeks ago I was on the annual D of E trip to Yorkshire.  It was wonderful - the kids were all brilliant and the weather was excellent too.  The week or two before that demanded a lot of preparation. Last week was what was termed "Arts Week" at our (now defunct) school.  My good friend Nick and I ran the fourth Music Songwriting/Industry Week.  After spending last Monday touring the Albert Hall and the BBC, we then spent a few days getting kids to write and perform original songs.  We spent Friday in a recording studio which meant that each of the 21 students ended up with a cd of seven original songs. Every one of them performed at a concert last Thursday and then recorded their group song on Friday.

It was a wonderful and fulfilling way to end. Plenty of talent out there - it just needs nurturing.

Ah well, all things must pass.  We will reopen our doors in September as an Academy.  Least said, soonest mended. Perhaps. Who knows what the future has in store?

Well, Mrs Dave and I are off to Mexico to visit first born, so I will return next month.  In the meantime, enjoy the summer.  The news in the past week or two has been like living in that ancient Chinese curse - "may you live in interesting times" - but at least Amy Winehouse's family may have a more dignified time of it than they would have this time last year.  I guess their phones aren't being hacked. 

I wasn't a fan, but I appreciate her talent.

Thursday, 23 June 2011

news from nowhere

Our year twelve students are back at school for the last few weeks of term.  Mine hadn't ever seen The Wicker Man ( I'll be ignoring the pointless remake, much like I've generally done in my life anyway).  So, I made them come in early for the lesson as I told them it is totally pointless trying to watch it unless it is in one sitting.  Which it is. Without the build up there is no sense of genuine horror as the whole film changes at about the time of the May Day procession.

Needless to say, they found it a "bit strange" but seemed to enjoy it as most young people do when they're forced to watch it.  Now, I don't care what anybody thinks about the film, I just happen to think it is one of the best British films ever made.  That's probably because it is so unique.

I remember seeing it when it first came out in 1973 as the support film to Don't Look Now at a time when B-movies generally had finished. I somehow forgot about it until about 1982 or 3 when it appeared on a late night tv horror slot.  As I watched it all unfold, it gradually dawned on me that it was very familiar.  Having grown up reading Dennis Wheatley books and Man, Myth and Magic*, it all seemed exciting and within my sphere of interest.

Having sat through the film about fifteen or more times over the last ten years - plus analysing scenes and watching the Director's Cut additional scenes - I am very familiar with it.  I just can't find it boring - sure, there are some clunky moments in it - but I've always wanted to read the novel based on it by Robin Hardy.  This has been impossible to get hold of - until now. It's been out for a while evidently, so I've ordered it from Amazon.  But whilst ordering it, I found out that Hardy had written another book quite similar called Cowboys for Christ.  As these things do, it led on to me exploring further. Evidently Cowboys for Christ has been retitled and is being re-printed as The Wicker Tree.  This is the title of the long-awaited film sequel that Hardy started talking about not long after making TWM. Not only that, but there is already a website for the presumably soon to be released film (here).  So it seems imminent.

Anyway, to the main point of my ramblings. I warn you now about watching the trailer as it gives far too much away.  It seems that nowadays everyone has to know everything before they watch a film/tv programme/whatever.  You know, all those ridiculous spoilers in newspapers and tv listings magazines that tell you everything about a soap opera before it happens.  The same happens with films. Why not wait and watch the damned thing and let it unfold?

Oh Jesus Christ! No!
The first time I saw TWM I had absolutely no idea about what was going to happen or where it was going.  Now, even the dvd has the actual Wicker Man burning on the cover and main menu, so this leads to fewer surprises for newcomers.  Surely audiences only expect this treatment because that is how they are treated by a cynical media. In a way I am disappointed that I watched the trailer now - it looks great but I feel that I can see exactly what's going to happen.  I also presume that the "Company" will expect certain things to happen - or, indeed, not happen - and will get their sticky claws into it to change a real auteur's vision that has been gestating for well over thirty years.

One thing I do miss about the 1960s and 70s is the fact that very often you had to catch something while it was there - quite often there was no afterlife for a product. With the BBC re-using film stock and wiping programmes as nobody thought there was ever going to be a huge market for nostalgia - or just good quality stuff - much has been lost.  Does it matter?  Do we really need all the millions of hours of tv and film etc?  I don't know but I know I am one of those who enjoys looking back and often collecting such stuff. According to next week's Radio Times, the BBC are promising to use BBC4 as an online archive for older programmes (whatever that means) so look out for repeats of Noggin The Nog, then.

By the way, the BBC have just issued Richard Thompson at the BBC which has some marvellous stuff on it - recordings from 1973 onwards including a great dvd of "lost" tv programmes. Excellent stuff. Oh and check this out about contoversial popular music. Well worth a read.  Is there a subject that would offend any of you in song?

* a weekly magazine that built into a huge encyclopedia about all sorts of arcane stuff.  Check it out on Wikipedia.

Sunday, 19 June 2011

the optimist

It's been a funny sort of day.  I had to, desperately, finish marking the Film Studies scripts as I was a day or two late (okay, they were due on Wednesday) which I did.  But it was cold and Mrs Dave demanded the heating be put on - the room she was completing her exam marking really is cold. So on the heating went.

This all seems very Autumnal and it's only June.  I've been listening to Sandy Denny which always makes it seem Autumnal.  It may be that I've just received the recent re-release of North Star Grassman and the Ravens, her first solo album or just a general feeling in the air. More of the album another time.  However, there is a track on the album called The Optimist which features RT playing most instruments (including a rare outing on both bass and 12 string guitar).  Interestingly, and through pure coincidence, Mrs Dave and I rather enjoyed a bottle of Aussie wine named - no prizes here - The Optimist Verdelho Chardonnay with our Sunday meal.  This is not any form of synchronicity but, as I said, sheer coincidence.

It's a lovely wine with very fruity notes, hardly Autumnal but went superbly with the roast chicken.  The real find of the meal, though was baked Sweet Potato.  I may be slow in the uptake here, but I've never baked Sweet Potatotes before - a simple process but with quite amazing results.  Third born was quite sad that I'd only cooked one each - a little victory there, then.  He even ate Strawberries afterwards.  Nearly 19, you see - adulthood beckons.  Maybe there will be less aromas of Pizzas in the air chez moi.  I never eat the damned things myself.

Although the weather has been a little, shall we say merde-y, recently, I managed to cook some rather fine lamb leg steaks on the Leeke barbecue on Saturday evening in between dodging the rain showers.  Our local butcher uses meat from Bramfield Meats in Suffolk, a local farm co-operative. I always walk up on a Saturday morning to the butcher shop and get the weekend supply - although I also use the local fishmonger.  To buy fish, that is.

Check out your local vendors if you don't already.  Quality is all and stuff Tesco et al

Anyway, I'm back in the land of the living.  I've only got to post the last few scripts off to the exam board and send off my expenses and I'm done for another year.  I must admit that this has been the most difficult year of marking so far.  It may be that I've had more decent scripts than usual - I'm used to a lot of poor ones. It may be that the general feeling at school isn't great what with the Academy round the corner. Of course, it could also be increasing age before you write in.  Still, it's over for now and I can get back to a "normal life" - whatever that is.

Thursday, 9 June 2011

a cry for help . . .

Sorry, but this really is a bit of a cry for help.

How do you contact Blogger?  I can't make comments on a friend's blog because it goes in to a Moebius strip of asking for log in details and I can't contact blogger because there's no facility to do that. "Help" in this case doesn't actually mean that.

Blogger really is rubbish at the moment, isn't it?  I don't want to go with Google Chrome because it doesn't seem to work well either.

Is there a better way to blog?  I'm already totally fed up with blogger.

Sunday, 5 June 2011

we used to say

As an English teacher I have had to get used to poor literacy skills.  Not mine, of course. I try hard, I really do, along with my colleagues. But we seem to live in an age where communication is paramount due to the amount of devices available.  Somehow, though, the written word itself has become marginalised. And, as Lynne Truss has banged on about for the last few years, punctuation is becoming a total joke.

Mind you, my laptop has taken to randomly doubling up letters and often missing letters out - particularly capitals.  If I wasn't literate my scribblings would become almost incomprehensible.  Much like the way students write nowadays.

For all the poor writing where I have to read about "a women" or a film called  "the decent" I have to bite my tongue because I'm marking Film Studies scripts and NOT English as has been pointed out to me a few times too often. However, one thing that is really getting my goat is the use of such phrases as "the decent (sic) is a british horror."  A British horror what? Biscuit? It's a film, a British Horror film.  These are, after all,  A level students I'm talking about!

Where I really am getting fed up though is in the way that our lovely language is being eroded through sheer laziness.  Have you asked anyone how they are recently?  If anyone asks me how I am I always reply, I'm well/fine/okay" which all seem reasonable responses. Since when  has "I'm good" become an acceptable answer?  Well, it hasn't for me. I'm good? Yeah, fine, but how are you? Are you well?  Mind you if they wrote it, it would be "im good".

Another phrase I hate that has even started to creep in onto Radio 4 is (big breath) "It's a big ask".  It's a what?  The headmaster of our school uses phrases like that.  A politician used it yesterday - I don't know what he was talking about because I was groaning too loudly.  Would it be too much of a big ask to ask you to learn how to speak the language properly?

Oh well, rant over for now.  Otherwise I might start moaning about emoticons - I'm definitely with Ms Truss on that one (see the last chapter of Eats, Shoots & Leaves).

Friday, 3 June 2011

you can have a fishy . . .

Having been left to my own devices, I of course, decided to buy a fish for my supper.  Mrs Dave is off on an examiner's course and I am slowly working my way through some turgid responses to this year's Film Studies exam paper.  Why, oh why? I mean, why am I marking these? Do I need the money?

Anyway, after spending an agonizing morning reading such responses to questions about stereotyping in British Horror films and  the Messages and Values presented in two American films* of your choice,  gave in and went to buy a fish.  After all, I was going to be dining alone. 

So, after giving in (two submissions for '70s wrestling fans) I went up to my all time favourite fishmonger.  Now, I love fishmonger's counters - the bounty available always gets my juices flowing (steady on!) but today, giant Grey Mullet and a huge - almost leviathan - sea bass just looked too Noah and the Whale to be worthwhile. So, I went for the Mackerel which at least looked approachable.

Often Mackerel is seen as a very strong oily-tasting fish. I would agree, they need something to check the strong flavour.  I opted to stuff it full of pepper, salt and chilli flakes and then serve it with a salad with orange as the predominant flavour. So many people assume that fish has to have lemon as a major flavouring - so wrong.  It doesn't work with EVERYTHING! Orange cuts the oiliness and actually makes for a far better experience.  I used satsumas and they worked superbly.

Anyway, now it's late and I can't remember why I was writing this  - beyond edification, that is - so I'm off to bed. Don't forget to eat lots of oily fish.

* Here's a laugh: you have to compare two American films.  A teacher from a college showed Titanic and left them to their own devices.  Here's a clue: I teach two different versions of Invasion of the Body Snatchers. This school/college left them to it - what would you choose? Schindler's List, anyone?

Thursday, 2 June 2011

way down south

Down south they like their nouvelle cuisine.  I have mentioned before that Southampton is not a bad place to go out for a meal.  However, Mrs Dave and I checked the new leaflet and  think they got wise to us - the offer no longer applies! 

Still, we visited the area again briefly at the beginning of the week and went for a drive out through the New Forest (why "New"?) and stopped off for a bite of lunch at The Filly Inn at Brockenhurst.  Mrs Dave went for the offer - starter and main for a tenner but second born and I opted for the most expensive thing, Venison.  All served in a "modern" manner. The evening before we'd been to the White Star and although excellent, it was all very, well, nouvelle.    This tends to mean small helpings accompanied by a few chips piled up like a game of Jenga with some jus sprinkled on top. It's all very nice - the venison was good and there was plenty of it - but it's becoming a bit old hat now, isn't it?

Anyway, if you caught the recent series on tv called Perspectives then you may have marvelled at how rich (and ugly) Andrew Lloyd Webber is, or even been blown away by the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood paintings he owns.  He's not the sort of person I'd want to spend much time with (after all, I'm an oik) but if he wants to invite me round for a cup of Earl Grey and to check out his PRB stuff, I'd be quite happy to.  I know the old PRB are often scoffed at but their subject matter and pure craft keep me interested.  Especially Edward Burne-Jones.

EBJ certainly knew how to paint beautiful women - Andromeda in the illustration  is one of my two all-time favourite nudes. What's all this got to do with the price of fish you ask? Well, Southampton Art Gallery has a fantastic room with the whole of the Perseus series by EBJ.  And finally after a fair few trips there to see second born at Uni, I managed to get there to see it.  Experience it.  There are a few artists that I admire who I really wish I could draw/paint like.  Jones is definitely one of them.  Barry Windsor Smith is another - although mostly known as a comic book artist, he has been heavily influenced by the PRB.

The Perseus series was a commission and he never actually produced a finished version of the ten paintings.  If you look at the Atlas one there's a dreadful image of Perseus flying - it looks as though he came in drunk one night and thought, "I'll just paint Perseus in before I go to bed".  The image of Atlas had obviously had hours spent on it. 

It was a pleasure to go in to the little room in the Gallery and spend some genuine quality time looking at these fantastic "cartoons" (as they're referred to*).  Then we went and wandered about looking at the Andy Warhol exhibition.   No competition.  Least said, soonest mended.

* Reminds me of Pete and Dud looking at the Da Vinci cartoon of the Madonna and Child: " 'ere Pete, it's not very funny, is it?"

Tuesday, 24 May 2011

once again

A year later and some things don't change.  For one, the menu at the hotel  I stayed in.  I had the pike perch again last night followed by the cheese board.  The biggest difference compared to last year is that the wine cost about two quid more!

Oh, and my friend the entertainer wasn't there fiddling with his organ.  Thankfully.

As I wandered about the place it really seemed so familiar; this is about the fifth year in a row that this hotel (The Danubius at Regent's Park) has been home to the  marking conference. I was well behaved and went to bed quite early - usually I stay up at the bar for a while and go to bed after a good chat, plenty of bottled beer and a  much lighter wallet.  However, I went up to catch the news and listen to the old iPod for a while.  Very sensible.  Very mature.  Very boring.

Ah well.  Mind you, I can't see the point of taking much notice of the news at the moment.  Call that news?  Footballers who can't keep their trousers up and the latest communication fad.  The British Media is so pathetic at the moment.  Don't get me started on the End of the Worlders.  I went to see Ade Edmondson on Saturday night.  As he came on he said, "Oh you're all still here.  The Rapture didn't get you, then.  They're making up jokes about it as though there's no tomorrow!"  Great.  I can't believe why so many people are wishing for the end of the world.

I did notice that the bloke ( I can't be bothered to either remember his name, or even look it up)  bases his theory on calculations from "hidden messages" in the Bible.  Er, does he not realise that the Bible has been translated and filtered through several different ancient languages before being written into English? So that might be why there are quite a few discrepancies in those calculations.

Plus the fact that it's a book of stories to explain Life, the Universe and Everything to uneducated shepherds.

Oh well, happy birthday Bob.  I suppose I should play Blood on the Tracks or something to celebrate it.  I probably won't, though.

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

time past and time passing

Whoosh! There goes another year (almost).

I really can't believe that it's May and next week I'll be off up to the big city for my annual jolly - the Film Studies marking conference. Was it only a year ago I was sat in a swanky London hotel being "entertained" by a solo organist?  How much water has swept under how many bridges since then?

As we stand on the brink of an uncertain future, I find time rushing by like a puppy with two willies in a forest.  That was an epithet that took about two seconds to think of - one of which was whether to use a more common synonym or not.  I must admit that having spent most of my life "swearing like a trooper" as my dear old mum used to succinctly put it, I have tended to be careful about my language on this blog.  Ssh! you never know who's reading . . . I kid thee not.  All these kids (and older ones who should know better) who fill their social networking sites with photos of their debauched escapades don't seem to realise that employers are watching and taking note.  Big Brother is not only here but he didn't have to do much more than wait for Google to turn up.

Anyway, where was I?  Oh yes, "Time Past and Time Passing" as good old Michael Chapman says.  We (that's my colleagues and me) are facing an uncertain future due to the fact that we are about to become an Academy - that last gasp of stupidity by a morally and intellectually bankrupt government. Our school will close at the end of August and reopen the following morning like a butterfly emerging after a long dark sleep wrapped in its cocoon.  It will emerge into a bright new future of excellence for the local children and along the way attempt to jettison old, expensive lags like me asap. 

Ah well, let's enjoy the moment.  Early summer ( and NOT an "Indian Summer" as the Independent called  it this week - that is an extended summer in Autumn) and the joy of being here and now. 

Last night I went to see Tim Vine live - good with the one liners and visual stuff, not quite sure really about the songs and surrreal stuff - and Mrs Dave and I are off to see Ade Edmondson and the Bad Shepherds on Saturday which should be fun.  We also went to see Thor last Saturday.  Who would have believed that Kenneth Brannagh would make such an excellent fist of a super-hero film? Good fun.  All this and marking too.  What an exciting life it is.

Cheers!

Sunday, 15 May 2011

the seventh wave

Back in 1976, Steven Georgiou, aka Yusef Islam or Cat Stevens (for it is he) was swimming off of the coast of California  and found himself in trouble.  As he began to drown, he called upon (a/any) god to rescue him.  It is reported that he cried out, "oh God, if you save me I will work for you" - or at least, something like that.  Of course, a huge wave came along and pushed him to the shore and everything else is history.

Now, being a product of the 1950s and doing most of my growing up during the 60s-70s (I stopped bothering to grow up after that), I tend to lean towards the agnostic rather than the atheist path.  Hedging my bets,  I suppose. Anyway, you've got to be pretty confident to be a total atheist.  Especially if you live in a house full of left footers as I do.

So there I was yesterday morning, driving back from the supermarket with the usual conflicting conversations flying about inside my head about the future - it's an uncertain one, for sure.  Becoming old in the tooth and hoping for a steady happy decline into retirement has all been upset recently with the news that a ghastly Academy is  taking our school over and all that that might entail. My mind began to wander over future possiblities. All those wonderful things I could do - writing, opening a studio; walking hills - oh, it would be a wonderful end to it all. Feeling all at sea - and there was definitely that feeling that occasionally surfaces of drowning - my thoughts turned to Mr Islam's words.

"If only the numbers come up on the Euro Millions (a sort of English School teacher's pension gamble) I will actually start to believe in God and I'll even go to church occasionally".  Okay, it's not quite CS's declaration of faith but I would stick by it.  I'm an honest bloke.

When I got home and having finished unloading the hunter/gatherer stuff from Sainsbury, I thought I'd better check my emails.  And there it was - a message from the National Lottery, "great news about your recent ticket".  At last.  I'll need to get up early on Sunday, then.

So I opened my emails with some trepidation, and sure enough I'd won on the Euro Millions Lottery. Two pounds and sixty pence.

Two pounds and sixty pence.  That's an insult, isn't it? The ticket cost two pounds.  So, sixty pence profit there, then. I know full well that the words "million" and "pounds" were there in my original proclamation. 

Oh well, back to school tomorrow and I guess I'd better start contemplating "mindfulness" about next year as I don't think a modest retirement of writing and late mornings rising out of bed are going to be happening. I'm not sure where god is in all this but I don't think he was there in the car yesterday.

Oh, and I didn't get up too early today, either.

Monday, 9 May 2011

summer is icumen in

A busy time - it always is at this time of year. Exams and marking.  I intended to sit and write a lengthy blog tonight but tiredness and the ITV series Perspectives has taken up my time.  More on that another time.

The wonderful weather that we've been having recently has meant that our tiny garden is getting a lot of attention. It always amuses me when books about "how to grow your own in a small space" still manage to assume that a "small space" means Tardis proportions.  Our garden really is small - about 20' by 15' for growing purposes.

We seem to have managed to plant a lot of food stuff this year.  Besides all the usual herbs, we've got some potatoes, runner beans, onions, garlic, blackberries, broccoli, lettuces of various varieties and mini apple and cherry trees.  We have plenty of tomato plants waiting for another week or so to be put out into the summer air.  All this and a barbecue area too.

I say Summer, and I mean it.  Today I saw the first Swifts of the year.  I thought I saw a Swallow last week up in Southwold sitting on a telegraph wire, but today as if by magic, about five Swifts came and performed their air show for us high up in a beautiful blue May afternoon sky. Simon Barnes claims that a young Swift may stay on the wing for up to three years after it first leaves the nest.  They fly constantly; sleeping, eating and, yes, copulating on the wing.  Surely they are the original members of the Mile High Club.

Eat your heart out, Icarus.

NB: This post was originally written on Sunday evening.  It should have included a short video clip of the garden yesterday but blogger appears to be so crap at the moment, it can't cope with a simple upload.  Welcome to the digital world: great while it works but basically it doesn't.


Wednesday, 27 April 2011

all that time and distance

It was a difficult start to the new term - a Year 13 student we knew well had taken his own life on Good Friday.  I had taught him a few years ago but mostly knew him through the Duke of Edinburgh scheme. Obviously, the first day back was awkward and difficult for everyone.  I honestly have no idea or genuine understanding about the depths of despair an 18 year old must suffer but to a certain extent, I have experienced the situation before.  A good friend of mine chose to end his life about 2002 - it was all so traumatic, I can't actually remember exact dates.

I wrote this (unfinished song) at the time of my friend's death:

So now that all the tears have dried
And there's nothing left to say
Now there's just the wondering why
And only the piper left to play

When I heard the news, the tears just came
And my body was racked with sobs
And I thought of you in so much pain
And your one final solitary job

All that time and distance
All those things we never did

And you used to make me sing
And you didn't mind my cracked voice
You didn't mind anything
As long as we made a melodic noise

And you worked so hard on your playing
But liked it when I played slide
But inside your life was decaying
And your passing so undignified

All that time and distance
All those things we never did


Well we played our guitars and you played so well
And I sang those songs, god forbid!
About truck drivers and the Commodore Hotel
And, by god, didn't time fly?
Now there's nothing left but memories
But I still have to ask why?

I lived down here on the East coast
And you only a hundred miles away
We didn't speak much recently
Now there's still so much to say

Well, I'll keep playing my guitar
And I'll write the occasional song
And just like you I'll never be a star
But these reminiscences will stay strong

All that time and distance
All those things we never did


A work in progress, one I'll return to. No matter how difficult it is to carry on after such a solitary act, it's those left behind that have to deal with it all. The friends of the student we've just lost will have to live with this and, hopefully, allow it to become a part of the growing up process. Some will cope admirably, others will find it hard and it will have repercussions for many years to come. Also, his relations and teachers will need to live with this. What an awful situation to have developed - everything you do has a consequence.

My thoughts are with them all and this has been a difficult week (thankfully, it's only three days at school this week) but life really does have to keep going on  . . . I have no particular words to say about this exact situation but the lad's passing reminded me of my friend, so I hope the words may attempt to express a feeling of all that's been lost.

Each early passing is a reminder of chances lost.

Monday, 25 April 2011

here comes the flood

The unseasonally warm Spring weather seemed to lead to a hive of activity in our tiny garden.  We've planted lots of new things to start growing - mostly herbs at this stage, tomatoes will need another week or two before they get started.  A few barbecues last week too.  The weekend started with a feeling that school was still a long way off. Unfortunately, tomorrow we go back.


Still, Easter Monday, let's not spoil it. Our son needed to gather some landscape photos for his Photography A Level exam so Mrs Dave and I took him up the coast to find some cliffs.  Okay, Suffolk only has a few small ones but we do have cliffs! Here's a still from my Flip to prove it.  This is looking down on Dunwich shore - there's even a warning sign to beware of the cliff. Dunwich sits in the shadow of Sizewell and is well known for the disappearance of most of the city - as it was a few hundred years ago - under the sea. Sometimes the church bells are heard.  All very ghostly and gothic.  We went to look at the Greyfriars Abbey I posted about last year. Two horses seemed to be rolling about on their backs which was a bit bizarre. Anyway, a lazy meal of fish and chips at The Horse and Groom at Wrentham with a couple of glasses of Adnams bitter all went down very well.

We also went to Benacre Nature Reserve for more cliffs.  They're really small ones.  But the meeting of marshland, woodland and sea shore was fantastic. This photo doesn't do it justice - that's Southwold in the distance. I was watching a pair of grebes on a feeding frenzy whilst a Marsh Harrier circled lazily high overhead.  A flock of Greylag Geese were having a party in a nearby field.  There was a general feeling of "All's right with the World" today.

All good things come to an end, I suppose.  Back to school, then. Still, three days this week, four next week.  So we're building up to a full week.  Lots of civilians have taken the next three days off as it means they get eleven days of holiday for only three days booked - what a bonus!  With the weather being so good and the lack of work for the last few weeks, it's been the best April for years! Yesterday's Independent on Sunday told us that this March has been the driest in England and Wales (obviously not Scotland!) for the last 50 years, and April has been even drier.  With only 16% of its average rainfall, the rivers are going to be quite dry.  Hosepipe bans will obviously be upon us soon.  However, we were also informed that the last warmest April ever in 2007 gave an average maximum temperature of 16.3C in England.  And then came the rains of May. And June. And then the floods of July. With three times the amount of rain as normal, some places were getting lashed with Apocalyptic downfalls.  History, of course, does not have to repeat itself. 

Keep watching the skies.

Monday, 18 April 2011

ghost riders in skye 2

loud the winds howl, loud the waves roar,
thunderclaps rend the air,
baffled, our foes stand by the shore;
follow they will not dare.

Well, we got there.  Harvey took us to The Isle of Skye and got us back again.  Skye's about 650 miles from here so that's a lot of driving.

We left last Monday morning about 5:15 am and drove up to Loch Lomond.  We stayed there for the night and had a real "The Trip" style meal and headed off through the Glens of the West Highlands and finally got to Skye late Tuesday afternoon.  Of course, you can still speed on a bonnie boat over the sea but we drove sedately over the bridge. I've always wanted to go there but never seemed to have the chance before.  It really is a wild place.  The sun was with us for most of the way but occasionally we drove through brief downpours of light rain. We pitched up over looking Loch Dunvegan. Being very tired, we had a fairly early night.



Then, about three in the  morning, the heavens opened.  It was like being a child on caravan holidays on the East Coast all over again! The constant pattering of rain on the roof.  The wind howled and rocked us about because the site we were on was so exposed.  A constant knocking from the hook up cover helped make sure we didn't sleep much.

The following morning was as grey as we thought it was going to be, so we thought that the best place to be was the Talisker Distillery - it was always going to be a part of the trip! It was an excellent visit but driving over the millions of potholes probably messed up the balance of Harvey's wheels.The trip round the distillery took an hour or so and, of course, I had to get a bottle from the shop. As the weather was so awful that day, it was quite busy. They've missed a trick, though - a restaurant would have been useful. Because the weather was so poor we decided not to walk down to Talisker Bay. As it's so barren up that area there was little else to do so we drove around the area - hardly sightseeing though, we couldn't even see the Cuillins whilst parked next to them! Later that evening we had a fantastic meal in the village next to our site.  It was probably the best meal I've had for years.  Mrs Dave had a piece of lamb that literally melted in your mouth while I had langoustines from the Loch.  Six of them, in most places you'd only get three.  This was for a measly sixteen quid - excellent.  Some Scottish cheeses to finish off and we wandered off back to our bed.


The following day was totally different.  The weather was pleasant and dry.  We took the opportunity to go to the "coral" beach up at Claighan.  Although it's called coral, it is actually made up of maerl, the calcified remains of a type of seaweed that grows in beds off the coast.  Breath-taking views - a golden eagle flew just over the van as we got there.  It was well worth driving out there. We went back to the site as we weren't sure about the weather, had lunch and then did the Two Churches Walk around Dunvegan.  One of the churches is now in ruins but is the traditional burial grounds of the MacCrimmons - the pipers to the Macleod Clan.  Five Macleod chiefs are buried there too.  At the top of a hill overlooking the loch is the Duirinish standing stone.  This was put up to commemorate the Millennium and it has a time capsule underneath for future generations.  Unfortunately the plaque has already gone, so most people don't know what it's there for.

The following day we had to start the two day drive back.  There was a panic as Harvey's water temperature started climbing up.  We stopped and added water and engine coolant and it was fine for the rest of the journey.  The only other injury was a cracked casing around a wing mirror, but the mirror was still intact.  There are a few problems with a leaking pipe around the waste pipes but hopefully that can be rectified soon at vast expense, no doubt.

The weather since we got back has been beautiful - we probably chose the wrong week to go but never mind.  We'll be returning soon for a longer trip.

On the way home I read this upsetting story in The Independent (here).  I love my Flip!  I use it all the time now - why is it that in this world where everything has to multitask* can't simple, basic one-trick ponies be left alone?  So-called Smart phones are anything but - mine's rubbish and as soon as my contracts up I'll be looking for a much more basic model. Anyway, get one while you can, I bet Amazon will sell out almost straight away.  Most schools use them now.  They're brilliant.  Even technophobes like me can use them.

* Still taking two bottles in the shower with you?  Why not take just one that's a shower gel, shampoo, conditioner, shower and toilet toilet cleaner and limescale remover all in one?

Saturday, 9 April 2011

world of wonders

moments of peace like brief arctic bloom
red gold ripple of the sun going down
line of black hills makes my bed
sky full of love pulled over my head
world of wonders . . . *

a Jay walking
This wonderful world we live in never ceases to amaze me. Perhaps I'm not as jaded as you - despite what people seem to think, I remain optimistic and pleasantly full of surprise.

This morning I checked out my emails and the first thing I saw was an advert claiming to teach you how to become "Bankrupt in 3 easy lessons".  It used to be a coat of shame, now it's a badge of honour.  Switched on modern students know how to get rid of the shackles of debt . . .

Just before that I woke as usual on a Saturday to Farming Today on Radio 4.  As usual, I was intermittently mentally tuning in and out - after all, I don't properly wake up for another 2 hours.  Today they went on at length about the "carbon footprint" of growing potatoes.  Although I wasn't really listening, I did wonder how many 25%s were involved (you had to be there - try iPlayer).  Anyway, a few hours later Mrs Dave brought the subject up.  Evidently a friend of hers has a grandchild and he is interested in tractors (as very young children seem to be) so they went for a chat with the farmer who owns a field behind their house.

Interlude:

As we drove back from Cornwall last year, we passed Stonehenge and were surprised that despite the dark, tractors were working - seemingly bringing the Harvest home. . .

Back to today:

Mrs Dave's friend became a little concerned during the conversation with Farmer Giles that "nobody seems to be driving the tractor."

"Arr . . . that be because I control it from my laptop here."

Essentially, loads of tractors nowadays are controlled by satellite so the buggers don't have to pay NH contributions or anything - they run remote controlled tractors that don't have lunch breaks or holidays.  What's going on?  We're back in that Science Fiction World I mentioned before - am I the last to know this?  Are you all going to raise your eyebrows to the sky saying, "Oh for god's sake - didn't you know that?"

Not only this, but Mrs Dave also informed me that she no longer gets affected (in a hay fever way) by the fields of rape because they now use a "sterile" type of rape (no jokes,please).  So, isn't that genetically modified then? I thought that was banned.  I'm so innocent (naive?)

For the first time ever (well, in the 30 odd years I've lived here) as I drove back from Sainsbury's I saw a Jay fly down onto the road and strut about.  Wonderful, a genuine example of Jay-walking if ever there was one. This was definitely the highlight of the day for me.

Oh well, just thought I'd touch base before I finally go to Skye - the trip I've planned for ages.  Back next weekend - unless there's some form of wiffy (wifi) to allow me to connect with the world, but as even compasses don't work there, I somehow doubt it.

Hmm, this post seems to have been sponsored by the makers of brackets . . .

* thank you Bruce Cockburn - mad Canadian political christian et al

Thursday, 31 March 2011

i once was blind but now can see

Not too much to say but I'm trying out my new laptop.  Although a hardened Luddite, I do attempt to keep up with the digital world - just tend to find it difficult as nothing works properly.  To me the modern world is much like Terry Gilliam's Brazil - all retro-fitted and steampunkish.  That, or I am just incapable of dealing with digital machines.

Anyway, as I don't like Tesco so don't shop there, I collect Nectar Card points (Sainsbury) and have never really understood why.  Evidently, the points you collect can build up and you can "buy" things with them.  We seemed to have a spare £260 pounds in our account so I thought I'd put it towards a new laptop - so I have no more excuses to not do anything because Mrs D is using the computer. So far, so good - it seems to work ok.

Before the main point of this post, though, you should check this out:

 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HPyl2tOaKxM&feature=player_embedded

Well worth a watch. Well, it is if you've ever travelled on such airlines.

Now, this might raise a few eyebrows (here) and I certainly feel very sorry for those involved.  The girl used to be a student at our school and I did teach her many years ago.  But.  But check out that third paragraph:

Burdakay, 19, of Birkfield Road, Ipswich, was registered as blind, had no driving license and was driving on an unlit road at night when the accident happened.

Registered blind? What on earth did he think he was doing? "I'm just going for a spin, mum."  "Oh, okay - see you later - habg on did he say he was going for a drive?!"

Years ago, the wonderful Cockney folk singer/comedian Derek Brimstone used to tell a story about how he used to drive Rev. Gary Davis around (a blind Septugenarian ragtime guitarist ) when he toured Britain.  "He could drive himself, but he used to bump into things".

Mind you, this paragraph is quite revealing:

Burdakay also pleaded guilty to a separate offence of attempted robbery at Trawler’s Catch fish shop in Saxmundham, six days before the fatal crash.

"Put up your hands, this is a stick up! Put all the money in this bag."

"Er, this is a fishmongers  not a bank . . . "

"Oh . . . er, have you got any Sea Bass?"

A few years ago the Fish and Chip shop in a village near Ipswich was held up and robbed.  The kid was caught quite quickly, though. The owner knew who it was, because the kid used to go into the shop regularly at dinner times for chips because he was a pupil at the local High School.

You couldn't make this stuff up, really, could you?

Tuesday, 29 March 2011

the spring is upon us

. . . follow my only song.

I must admit that when I saw Fleet Foxes live the other year, I was quite disappointed.  They may as well have played the album and had some cardboard cut-outs on stage.  Actually, that may be what happened but I was, however, quite excited reading the article in Uncut for their new album this weekend and am looking forward to it.  Robin Pecknold seems to be one of those people that wrecks their lives for rock'n'roll.  He sounds like a young David Crosby and their harmonies are quite ethereal.  Those unfamiliar with Uncut should check it out (here).



In the meantime, spring seems to have appeared without us quite noticing it.  Birdsong everywhere and all those SAD people suddenly looking less pale and wan. They're all still palely loitering, though. We wandered by the Orwell River yesterday to relax and take in the view of what Mrs Dave calls the "dinosaur's graveyard". The photo above suggests an ancient petrified creature (or was that just the Adnams?).




I've attempted to post a flip video here - if it works, you'll recognize the music, no doubt. It seemed apt. Unfortunately, the video isn't the original one as I didn't realise how short they have to be!  It is a first attempt so forgive me if it's a bit naff - I'm a technophobe but I'm trying to get to grips with the modern world. I'm sure you'll let me know if it works or not. This was taken on the walk yesterday by the River Orwell as Mrs Dave and I decided to relax for the afternoon before coming home to tackle the Census.

Although the internet was working fine before we left, it had decided not to when we got back.  Looks like the Backroom Boys will need to save the day (again).  Bloody computers.  They're rubbish really. Why oh why do these things take so long?  I sat here for several hours to upload this video - there was no indication other than a little squiggle going round and round.  Gave up eventually and took it down to a tiny snippet. Oh well, we live and learn.

Sometimes they're hard lessons, though.

Sunday, 20 March 2011

pick and mix

A few weeks ago I wrote about knife sharpeners (here) and how wonderful it is to finally find one that works.  Evidently, more accidents happen with blunt knives (so the spin goes) than sharp ones.  Well, I beg to differ . . .

Anyway, as a guitarist, I tend to prefer finger-picking to using a plectrum (the more astute amongst you can see where this is heading).  After cooking last week, I still had to do the washing up (dishwashers aren't an answer) and for some reason thought that washing two knives at the same time would save me time.  Maybe it was the wine . . .  but not quite noticing that one of the knives - yes, the recently sharpened one in "the world's best sharpener" (sic) - actually had the blade facing upwards, I happily continued washing said object.

"Hmm," I thought, "red washing up water."  My right hand thumb was now lacerated.


You may not quite see the rather deep cut into my thumb from the photo (a good centimetre long), but I have found it rather irritating to play guitar, write, wash my hands etc, et al this week due to  the wound. This has meant that I have had to attempt to adapt my usual finely honed style (!) to relying on picks. Now, I've grown up (hang on, I haven't finished the sentence, yet) using either naked finger-picking or what is known in the music business as a "hybrid picking style".  This means that I will use a plectrum between thumb and forefinger and pick with my index and middle fingers to pick other strings.  "What about the other two fingers?" you ask.  Well, I'm not bloody Segovia - more Django Reinhardt just after the accident. Luckily enough, my hands tend to heal quickly - I cut them a lot.

Anyway, where does this leave me?  Well, I attempted to use my unusual thumb-pick - as pictured - which is quite good if you want to swap from picking to flat-picking - but found it too stiff to play in any form of flowing manner.  It's also too loud, accentuating the bass notes. And generally, the thin copper plectrum I favour for electric guitar was far too thin for acoustic guitar. This is all a shame as I've just started playing a bit more seriously recently.  To be perfectly honest - I know this may sound affected - I really find any other type of plectrum anathema to use.

My very good friend Dave Acres introduced me to copper plectrums some 23 years ago and I rarely use anything else.  I think they're called Hotlicks (Hotpicks?) and he brought them back from the States with him all those years ago.  He'd met Lynyrd Skynyrd and they introduced him to them and, as I say, I use them a lot.  I'm forever grateful; long may he rest in peace.  I still have all three from the pack he gave me - they last forever!

The other item in the photo is the unusually shaped brass slide, which is concave, I think (I'm no mathematician) and is able to slide much better across a guitar neck than most straight ones.  Wonderful design.

Well, I was going to write about cooking but seem to have lost my way.  Oh yes, a dinner guest last night brought up the subject of gastric bands as a form of slimming aid (or, at least, regulating food intake).  I couldn't resist re-writing that lovely old Irish song, The Black Velvet Band:

She ate pies and chocolate trifles
Her cheeks were so tightly crammed
Her stomach hung over her trousers
all tied up by a slack gastric band*

Thank you.  Good Night.

* based on someone we know

Sunday, 6 March 2011

love and permanence and other vicious lies

A short film script.

[The instrumental parts of "Kodak Ghosts" by Michael Chapman plays throughout.]

Camera pans across a deserted room.  Brightly lit, two receptionists argue on their phones with annoyed clients. One wears glasses. The other is instantly forgettable. A withered vase of daffodils limply offers some dim memory of spring.

A middle aged man with grey hair and brown leather coat sits staring out at the dimming light - obviously wishing to be elsewhere.

A short, reasonably attractive lady of middle age calls out his name.  He responds and follows her. The camera tracks them walking up the corridor from behind.

CU, her: "It's just up here - they leave me in the corner", she says.

MS, him: "Okay, no problem".

MS, her: She points to the pokey little room, "in here, please."

CU of a tiny wood panelled room full of books and small bottles. The camera tilts down to a tiny school kid's chair and a comfortable padded office chair.  "Take a seat, please."

 MS: He sits glumly and waits for the questions.  "How's it been, then?"

MS: "Yeah, okay."  He then goes in to a long explanation of the last month since the Labyrinthitus hit and how it's been.

Camera slowly pans to MS of her seated: "Eczema, then? (cut to CU: he nods); [MS:] That's good. As long as you haven't used any steroids." She looks up hopefully.

Flashback: Visions of a twisted tube of E45 cream lying on the bathroom shelf.  "Oh no, of course not."

MS, her: "Anything else?" she enquires.

MS, him: "Well, I had a sore throat."

MS her: "That's good - haha, not really of course for you, but . . . as long as you didn't take any medication."

CU, him, slightly worried, sniffs: "What, other than the Strepsils, because it hurt?"  Oops. CU to her disappointed, and faintly disgusted look. She writes in her notes.

Silence.

MS, her: "No coffee, of course?"

Camera pans back to show him sitting in office surrounded by jars and paraphernalia: "Oh no . . ." he lies, shaking his head.  [Flashback] Memories of sitting in a NYC diner waiting for breakfast.  He passes on the fourth cup of coffee.

Office, present. MS, her, smiling: "Well, you're doing really well.  Try not to drink coffee or take anything that antidotes the treatment."

MS, him smiling resignedly: "Of course  - see you next month".  Antidotes?

LS: He leaves.  CU: She raises her eyes to heaven.  [Music:  Northern Lights by Michael Chapman gradually gets louder]. 

Cut to: Shot of his back, walking down corridor, hands in pockets; his footsteps echo through the wooden panelled setting.

. . . do you remember, do you remember, the night it rained?
We were trying, only trying to get away . . . 

Monday, 28 February 2011

the jungle line

. . . and metal, skin and ivory birds
go steaming up to rousseau's vines
they go steaming up to brooklyn bridge
steaming, steaming up the jungle line . . .

I've never been much of a photographer - especially as there are so many good ones around - but a week in New York with a new toy was fun.  I bought a new Flip camera - I've already got one but I needed a new one for school.  I bought an Ultra HD with 120 minutes of hard disk recording time.  Wandering around I was making a little documentary for my own amusement - I need to learn how to use such machines.  The point and click is easy but such skills as editing are where the technical problems lie.

Before I went I decided to treat myself with a new guide book as our old D&K one is out of date.  The Insight Guides New York Select seemed quite classy.  I was totally taken with the idea of The High Line on page 88. It's basically a long, thin park in the sky.  By re-using a disused railway trestle on the West Side you can walk above the Meatpacking District and other industrial neighbourhoods.  At 17th Street we looked across to the Statue of Liberty, at 18th the Empire State Building was in view.

It's a wonderful and inventive use of the old railway line and I was totally enthralled.  As I'd made everyone go and find it and walk it, I'm glad that it was as impressive as it was.  Part of it was closed down and crawling with workmen - presumably to prepare for Spring and Summer when it will be in full bloom.  The way that old rails and sleepers have been utilized is masterful.

As you can see, there was snow - we woke up on President's Day to a huge fall of snow which had mostly gone by the following day.  By Wednesday - the day this still from my little video was captured - the sun was out and we were quite hot.

Whilst there are a lot of plants growing there naturally, the public have taken to planting trees and flowers there too.  With lots of areas to sit and some breathtaking views, I'm assuming that commerce will hustle its insidious way in and there'll be cafes before long - no bars, of course!

Give the people an opportunity and they will respond - a genuine case of "Big Society" methinks.

What an absolutely beautiful thing to do.