Friday, 21 January 2011

st agnes' day

"Despite being placed in a brothel and thrown into flames, she is said to have survived with her virginity intact".  I'm not sure that "survived" is the operative word here. I think she's the patron saint of bored virgins.

Well, St Agnes' Day it may be but I have other fish to fry - it being Friday after all.

Wednesday evening saw me driving up to Cambridge - a 70 mile or so trip from here - to see Sir Richard of Thompson - newly OBE'd - and his incredibly fine electric music ensemble.  An absolutely cracking gig - probably the best I've seen him play in a band context in recent years.  Absolutely steaming guitar - at one point I turned to a friend and said, "That's why I'm here".  I meant risking it a bit by driving up with this infernal labyrinthitus.  Wonderful. Check out the videos on thyTube.

I went back to school today - I wish I hadn't but needs must.  Noisy oiks.  Anyway, I went to see a homeopath this evening and despite what opinions we may all have: it worked last time.  They ask some strange questions, these people.  I actually find it quite refreshing talking to someone in this way - putting your life and the various stuff that happens to us into some sort of perspective.  Stuff that happened when I was a nipper having some effect on me now? Ah well, we'll see.

Mrs Dave will be taking over the computer for the next few weeks because of her annual Winter exam marking, so it may be a little quiet here for a while. Still, afore I go . . .

I have seen that RT completed some sessions in January with Martin Simpson for his new album.  Knowing how enamoured MS is with RT's playing, having met and interviewed him in the past, it should be worth waiting for.  And, probably on a lesser note, Mark Knopfler has been recording with the wonderful Bap Kennedy for a new cd project (Check out Bap's Howl On).  Sounds like excellent guitar playing is still on the agenda for this year. Talking of which, Guitar Jamboree by the wonderful Chris Spedding just came on in the kitchen.  See a live version here:

It doesn't feature the brilliant Robert Fripp pisstake that some live versions do, but it does show how easily some of the 'name' guitarists can be mimiced.

Incidentally, the eponymous CS album is still a favourite after all these years. 

Guitar playing, eh? Over to Van: It's too late to stop now . . .

Wednesday, 19 January 2011

st wulfstan's day

St Wulfstan is a little known  saint.  Bishop of Worcester and one of the few to hold on to his position after the Norman invasion.  He had Worcester Cathedral rebuilt and was canonized in 1203 because of the miracle cures that took place at his tomb. Apropos of nothing, really but 19th January is his day. It's somehow vaguely fitting to what is to follow, I suppose.

Sometimes Blogger doesn't work quite as well as it thinks it does.  I have on occasion tried to leave comments on other blogs and have been unsuccessful.  Sometimes, they are too long, perhaps?  Not sure.  Anyway, I have included Kent's response to 'the home service' within the main body of this post for several reasons. Firstly, it is a thoughtful response, but also because it throws up an interesting area of debate*:

 . . .I don't know what is going on w/ Blogger, but I've attempted several times today to leave a comment that appears, but then when I refresh the page it disappears. I've had this problem once before in the recent past while trying to leave a comment on another of your posts. Hunh?

Anyway, here's the text that I tried to insert into your "the home service" entry.

I won't take offense, Dave, as I rarely do. Nor do I intend to give any.
This issue seems to be one that resurfaces frequently, no matter who the traditionalists might be. In my neck of the woods, central Virginia, there are quite a few "traditionalists" aka Locals, who are still fighting our Civil War, now 150 years in the past, and long forgotten by the populace at large. And when the "traditionalists" of South Carolina want to fly the flag of Dixie on the state capital building, it's for reasons of "Heritage, not Hate."

My favorite Samuel Johnson quote:
"Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel."

I watched the SoH video(s) and went in search of a context and found this thoughtful take on the song, which I too thought somewhat soggy and anthemic.

I'm not much of a flag waver, but somehow understand the feeling of being under siege. (Beyond-middle-age-white-male-downsized-by-economy blah blah blah.) I'm not writing anthems about it - but I probably should be!

Commenter Nate on the above mentioned post summarized it well:
"But it’s not so much about losing and regaining English roots, or Scottish roots or whatever, as about retaining our roots as human beings generally. That, if anything, is what we’re in the process of losing."

Hopefully the link works, although I'd better add the text as well:

BTW, I know nothing about this guy, simply found him through google. Hope you're feeling better soon. Having the woozies is no fun a'tall.
Thanks, Kent.  Interestingly, the song I linked is Arrogance, Ignorance and Greed by Show of Hands.  I'm assuming that Kent may not be the only one who found Roots instead.  AIG may also be seen by many as a clumsy anthem but it is timely.  Most political songs are written in anger - Neil Young's Ohio was successful for CSNY but the whole album Living With War by NY was much less successful and, possibly ill-advised. 

However, following some of the blogs and comments Kent has provided links for was worthwhile.  I recently found myself at a SoH gig in Ipswich and happily sang along.  I now find myself wondering about why these songs resonate with me so easily?  I'll have to think about this for a while.

One thing, though.  To me Roots is about losing one's culture altogether - we have lost plenty, good along with the bad.  I just wish English people (loaded term) - and I can't use the term "we" - could be happy celebrating our heritage much like the Scots, Irish and Welsh can.  This also includes all the other cultures that now make up our country. That includes Morris dancing, Maypoles and the many English songs that are seen as some cultural backwater. 

I am happy to listen to music from all over the world, use American guitars and watch American films (amongst ones from all over the World).  But at the heart of the song is a need to try to hang on to what we have.  Because of the way we're often made to feel about the Union Jack I have often supported the idea of changing England's flag to St Edmund's flag but for many that's a step too far.  There's a "why should we?" feeling.  Hence, the call to arms by Steve Knightley when he says "it's my flag too and I want it back" he means taking it back from the fascists that have commandered it especially since the bad old days of football hooliganism.

And finally, back to Kent's comments.  I went to Suffolk, Virginia about 11 or so years ago.  I was quite surprised that there was a palpable feeling that the Civil War wasn't over yet.  I found a book in a town library that looked suspicious.  It featured stories such as "How the Nigger got pink hands" and similar titled ones.  I and the person with me - a teacher from the other side of Suffolk (England) - were totally shocked.  But why?  It was an old book - should it have been burned? However, I still teach Of Mice and Men and the use of the term continues.  Frankly, I think it should stay as it is a book written in the 1930s and it is honest about how things were then.  I was surprised to read the other day that the term is now to be removed from Huckleberry Finn after some 117 years.  Revisionist history, eh?  

Whilst in Virginia I picked up a book called Confederates in the Attic by Tony Horwitz which is a travelogue of the Southern States amongst "Hardcore Reenactors" much like out Sealed Knot.  Well worth checking out if it's still available.

* also, if you try to post a comment that won't show up, get in contact elsewhere 
Also, interestingly for some reason Blogger decided to add some labels - which is why Sandy Denny, wood burning stoves and Zen aren't mentioned in this post!!

Tuesday, 18 January 2011

slooshy sloshy, slooshy sloshy

The inimitable and beautifully bewitching Kate Bush wrote a song called Mrs Bartolozzi on her last album, Aerial (2005).  Funny enough, that's a wonderfully onomatopoeic description of how my head has been for the last week or so. It appears to be a song about using a washing machine.

I contracted a bought of labyrinthitus some 12 years ago and was less than impressed when it became apparent that the malaise mentioned in the previous posting was a return of this annoying affliction.  It's caused usually by a virus and it gets you when you're recovering from a head cold or whatever.  It feeds off the fact that you're stressed out too.  So, it makes a regular appearance on medical forms in teacher-land, as you can imagine.  Generally it is a form of vertigo.

The last time I had it I was working in a very difficult school.  Luckily I had not driven in that morning as I suddenly took on a cartoon-like sea-sickness.  I staggered out of my class and lurched over to the nearest wall.  I crept up the corridor hand-over-hand until I somehow managed to get to the office.  "Call me a taxi, quick!"*  I was off for a few weeks - which included the Easter holidays (you know, the one with the outbreak of foot and mouth disease). The doctor could do little and informed me that it sometimes hangs around for years.  Over the coming weeks, loads of people told us how friends or relatives had it and one poor soul had had it for about 2 - 3 years.

My response was to go to see a homeopath.  Whatever one thinks of them, my bout of labyrinthitus was short-lived.  I think I may be visiting one again if this carries on.

Anyway, a couple of days off to allow the balance to sort itself out and I should be back to work in a day or two.  Hopefully I'll be okay to drive up to Cambridge tomorrow evening to see Richard Thompson OBE (I kid you not - for services to British music, no less). In the meantime, slooshy sloshy . . .

Interestingly, I have never met another person who has ever seen Kate Bush live.  It's quite well known that she only did one tour and that was in 1979.  I know lots of people saw her - the concerts were sold out.  I lost contact with the person I went with to Hammersmith.  However, it's curious that so few people seem to have admitted to seeing her. And so many wished that they had. It was an absolutely magical evening.  Given she was so young and only had two albums of material to use, it seems now to be an almost dreamlike moment in time.

* too ill at the time to know if anyone thought it a good time to make a joke . . .

Saturday, 15 January 2011

the home service

Interestingly, I wrote my last post in a slight haze of some sort of malaise that has been hanging around for a few days. I've had a child rush out of my class to throw up; I went home early because I felt so awful on Friday and generally, I think this must be the worst start to a new half term I've ever known - so many teachers and students ill. Also, I had decided to have a glass or two of whisky for "medicinal purposes".  I was surprised when I re-read it that it actually made some sort of sense.

I did, however, miss out a huge chunk of information, especially about the rather wonderful one-off album released called Dransfield.  I didn't mention that Barry has a brother called Robin - oh, I'll sort it out later. . .

I went to my school's Christmas do last night.  I'm not sure if it was an early 2011 one or a late 2010 one, but it was the first one I'd ever been to and I've worked at this school for about 10 years.  I don't think I'll bother next year.  It was at Ipswich Town Football Club and I HAVE been there for meals before.  Generally the food isn't very good - £30 a head for catering food isn't really worth it. Still, we went and had a reasonably good time - there were, I'm sure, a few hangovers to be proud of this morning.  We came home early and I was the model of restraint and did not drink too much - possibly the sign of me growing up after 55 years - or, simply not feeling up to it. Dressed up in a suit with a bow tie, it all made me feel a bit James Bondish.  Well, if Bond was played by Wilfred Brambles.

Anyway, after a rather crappy meal I felt that I needed to get some decent meat for the weekend.  I popped up to our local butcher and bought some lamb steaks for tonight and a joint of beef for Sunday.  An old lady asked for a joint of beef - "I'd like it well hung". Now, full marks to the butcher for not stating the obvious.  There's no way I could have resisted it! Hence the postcard - crude but still funny. My favourite seaside postcard was of two old people complaining to a department store about a toilet brush - " we've decided to go back to using paper".  Excellent.

We're often told that there's no such thing as a free lunch.  This could be true but occasionally there are free things available.  In the interests of a better world I notice that some energy saving products are available for free.  These may not have come to anyone's attention so make no apology for mentioning them here.  If you go here you can get an energy saving plug and a, ahem, "water widget" that could save water (and therefore you some money) and these are both totally free - not even postage and packing as long as you use the "promotional code" Radio Times, you can get these items free. There, what a wonderful citizen I've turned out to be. The offer ends in March.

Oh, and whilst I'm talking of free stuff - let's think about those avaricious bastards that are ripping us off left, right and centre - please spare a few moments to watch this.

This has been the Home Service, good night.

Friday, 14 January 2011

the cuckoo's nest

It was 1978. I seem to remember that at some point at a Rainbow gig during a brief break - ie just before R&L Thompson came on-stage - Barry Dransfield went out for a breath of fresh air.  Okay, for most of us at a certain age, "a  breath of fresh air" meant a cigarette.  However, I digress. BD wasn't on the bill, oh no, he was on the guest list. We spoke for quite a while about the state of folk rock and the cul-de-sac it quickly became.  Much of the legacy it left has stayed with many of us.

Barry Dransfield is one of our great secret stars of the folk (and, particularly, Folk-Rock world superstars).  This happens to be bubbling up at this particular point for various reasons - synchronicity, mostly.

On New Year's Eve, for instance, I welcomed the New Year in by singing Meet On The Ledge as, I'm sure most of you did,  nowadays it has become our traditional song (none of us are Scottish).  After that, my best mate and me decided that we should carry on by singing the "old songs". After a complete (and excellent, may I point out) version of Cuckoo's Nest* we eventually listened to the rest of Morris On and obviously enjoyed the experience -as, indeed, you would.

However, what's this got to do with the price of fish?

Well, obviously, nothing.  However, back to meeting Mr Dransfield.  What a wonderful, lost talent this man is. He wasn't over happy with the direction RT took but he was more than happy to stand and talk about his memories of making this particular album. Even more effusive about Morris On and that amazing gig at Hatfield Poly (as was) where The Albion Band played and a man walked out after vocally berating the band for playing Cuckoo's Nest ("I find that utterly sexist"**)

I somehow find myself having to teach a lesson tomorrow that involves Robin Hood. So, I'll say now that visually I tend to prefer the 1980's Richard Carpenter tv series.  I will use that. I will also play the Barry Dransfield version of Robin Hood and the Peddlar from his great lost 1972 album.  Ah who cares that they won't QUITE get it?- we can indulge our own whims this way!

Anyhow -  a great talent like BD should never have ended up as a manic depressive who currently mends violins.

What a waste - a huge talent.  But, like Steve Ashley and others, men out of time.

A bit like myself, I guess.

*the story of Henry Ford & The Luddites is forthcoming
** There's a well-reported story of this moment - I and many friends of mine were there at this particular gig - and the RT gig I mentioned above was where we as audience members compared notes with BD who was performing on stage at that moment.  They just thought he was a prat.  We, however, as audience members thought that he was a complete prat.

Tuesday, 11 January 2011

woolly wolstenholme r.i.p.

So farewell
Woolly Wolstenholme,
You of the alliterative name.

Keyboard player of the poor man's
Moody Blues.

I saw you once
When I was 15
Onstage at Weeley.
You were squashed up against
The canvas sides of the stage
And barely heard,
Whilst 50 members of your orchestra
passed a joint around
And laughed
During your performance of

Eric Thribb

Sunday, 9 January 2011

water of love

Well. it's Sunday and a little bit of a ramble seems traditional now.  No, I'm not talking about walking - I'm just rambling  generally. . .

I thought I had some work to do  - well, as a teacher I always DO have work to do.  However, at weekends there is a tendency to figure out whether or not I can do it later in the week.  I decided this afternoon that I needed to make some bread rather than mark a few essays.  The results are here for you to see.  Just prior to putting the (red onion and rosemary foccacio) loaf into the oven - and JUST before putting the Sunday roast chicken into the oven - our son came down and announced that he would be unable to eat dinner as  he was "not up to it".  A birthday party of a friend who had just reached the magical age of 18 was obviously the reason why.

I must admit that I personally can't take on the moral high ground here - I'm sure I spoilt one or two family Sunday dinners for exactly the same reason back in the day.  I'm sure it was only one or two.  Actually, I suppose I am happy in a way that my own poor behaviour is being echoed as it means that it makes my own poor behaviour seem somehow normal.

Anyhow, my good friend John assures me that my sudden interest in finding bread to bake or diaries to fill in with coloured stickers is "classic delaying tactics" and I'm sure he's right.  Well, I have, indeed, filled in my diary recently and baked bread.  I have still managed to avoid doing anything that seems remotely like work.

I have also had a great soak - I have always preferred baths to showers.  I'm sure this is a part of my upbringing.  We didn't have a shower, as such, while I was growing up.  A rubber attachment that allowed you to wash your hair was the nearest thing.  This device usually managed to crack along the tube fairly soon after starting to use it which meant that water was soon spurting out inconveniently everywhere across the bathroom but nowhere near your hair whilst leaning over the bathroom sink.  Showers were something one avoided because usually they were a cold concrete room of fixed shower heads resembling Nazi Concentration camps that involved many sweaty schoolboys having just finished a cross-country (and I mean a genuine cross-country - a mud-fuelled run around the fields and churchyards of Old Stevenage) run with a barking mad PE teacher bellowing at you and watching you (possibly a little too attentively). Well, somehow I have managed to grow up feeling that showers are okay - I suppose it's because you can close the door and there's only one shower, not a row of the damned things with a group of sweaty boys - all of who seemed to have reached puberty ten years ahead of you - making fun of you for appearing to be a complete throwback to our rather more aquatic days some 100 thousand years before (er, "dolphinesque" shall we say?*),

Ah well, that brings me to my reminiscences of lidos . . .

I remember having open air swimming pools when I was growing up. There was certainly one in Hitchin.  We also had open air paddling pools - I fondly remember one in Bedford  next to the Great Ouse.  Mind you, I remember my mother telling a story (often) about me falling in to the river at Bedford. Maybe that explains my lack of interest in swimming.  According to Roger Deakin, that's why Desmond Morris refused to accept that mankind had any real affinity with water, because he'd nearly drowned when he was about 7.  I said I was going to ramble . . . we're talking Manwatching here.

We had a paddling pool right next to my infant school - close to our home.  It was in the play area at a park at Letchmore Road in Stevenage.  The Letchmore Road pool was always full of broken glass because all the bully boys lived in the road that lead up from it -Whitesmead Avenue.  They were nasty boys that came from "rough families" and thought it hilarious to throw glass into the pool.  Even now it astounds me - they had younger brothers and sisters, for Christ's sake - why was that such a good laugh?

I remember swimming often in the Hitchin open air pool - bloody freezing -  and also the Stevenage Town pool had large glass doors that were opened to allow sunbathing.  Another part of the lido phenomenon was its inclusion of sunbathing opportunities.

I am currently reading Waterlog by Roger Deakin which, in part, takes account of the phenomenon that took Britain, nay, Europe by storm.  It seems to have been a bit of a fascist phenomena but let us not talk falsely now - at least (altogether now) Hitler got the trains running on time.  All joking aside, in our current climate where I see newspapers and every other magazine trying to get people to "become healthy", it would seem that back in the 1930s and up until the late 1960s ( and beyond - oh, economics I guess . . .) councils felt it their responsibility to help improve the health of their tax-payers. I'm sure I'm not the only one with similar memories.  Britain appeared to be a place that allowed such freedom in those days.

I think that my experience in the Letchmore/Whitesmead Road paddling pool may have been typical for many of us.  An early shot across the bows of what was to come.  I can't imagine having such pools open to the public now - the vandal factor - but for a brief while, growing up in Britain during the 1960s seems like quite an idyllic place now.

So, no phones and open air swimming pools appear to be indicative of a better Britian?  Well, okay, maybe not but we were much more unrestricted then.  More of that another time. Anybody have any reminiscences of those times? Unrestricted swimming?

* hairless, slimline . . .etc

Thursday, 6 January 2011

farewell, farewell

Technology is a great thing as long as it works!  Over the New Year both my phone and the computer decided not to work properly. This just causes all sorts of problems and ill feeling.  And bad language.*

The computer decided on New Year's day to stop recognising the router - on a wireless system.  It recognised the neighbour's and our son's PS3 but not the one about three feet away.  Ah well, such is life.  At least, for a price, the Geek Squad are around.  I'm not advertising their services, but as a TalkTalk customer, they're the first stop. Again, at a price.  There is no way I'd have ever found out the somewhere in the deep recesses of its cybernetic brain that our computer had simply decided to switch the connection off.  Hours of anguish. Anyway - for now, I'm back online. Sorry if you missed me.  Tough if you didn't.

Back in July I posted about clip-on guitar tuners and how ubiquitous they had become (It all comes round again).  I also mentioned the 1970s prototype I had bought from the back of the Melody Maker.  Well, it's turned up (thank you Mr M) and in the true style of finding something ridiculous to do rather than any serious work, I decided to do a head-to-head test.  The 1970s model is called a Vu-Pitch.  If you remember (or are still awake) I drew a sketch of it from memory.  Here's the real thing:

So, as you can see, my memory - for once - was quite accurate.  It is incredibly clunky and really doesn't work that well.  You may recall that it features a series of vibrators (again, I can't think of a better word).  Our modern digital world allows us to use touch sensitive technology and accurate tuning to an undreamt of accuracy in the 1970s.  Pure science fiction.  You can also tune your strings to any pitch and it will tell you what the note is whereas the Vu-Pitch could just about manage to let you know when you have hit A.  Actually, that's unfair because in my head-to-head  using the Vu-Pitch I actually tuned the guitar quite accurately.

It never caught on and I can't find out anything about it  - I can't be bothered to Google it again.  Nothing came up the first time I tried.  I'm sure nobody other than me can remember the damned thing but I remain smug in the knowledge that someone had thought of the device years ago before the technology was available to actually produce them properly.

I cannot let the day disappear without mentioning the sad passing of Gerry Rafferty.  A great songwriter gifted with a lovely mellow voice.  I am listening to his most famous album, City to City as it features one of his all time greatest songs.  And it's not the one you're probably thinking of.  I'm referring to The Ark.  It's the opening track with a plaintive Gaelic tune played by that great lost Australian band, The Bushwackers.  The obvious song which has been played endlessly, no doubt on various radio stations was okay for its time.  It is, actually, a great song.  It's a shame that the hook of the saxophone became so ubiquitous throughout the late 70s and early 80s.  I know Rafferty was not happy about it.

Ironically, Mr R couldn't cope with the fame it brought.  Evidently he has been earning about £80,000 a year ever since.  Still.  33 years later! I would have loved to have only had one song that allowed me to do what I want for the rest of my life on the back it.  It's the premise of Nick Hornby's About A Boy, you may remember.

Radio 4 seemed a little coy about reporting his death.  I'm glad they celebrated his life albeit briefly.  However, they termed his death coming after a "lengthy illness".  The truth is, he was an alcoholic and had been for a long time.  He had left home to escape his father's violent temper from drinking. Ironically, he ended his life through first, liver failure and then, yesterday, succumbed to kidney failure.

I know some would consider him just a peddler of "soft rock" but he was more than that. I have always considered him a talented songwriter with an excellent voice.  Although he had not released anything new for many years, it is a sad passing indeed.

* I have just spent the last hour with my son hopefully getting rid of a Trojan Horse virus infection. Death penalty for the bastards who create this stuff?