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Before I went I decided to treat myself with a new guide book as our old D&K one is out of date.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.

Saturday, 19 February 2011

oh, new york!

This has to be one of the most stressful days of my life. 

We planned to visit New York and everything seemed to go quite swimmingly - until this morning. A friend who is going with us phoned and asked about whether or not we'd read through the information and whether or not we'd applied for a visa.  Well, no because the last three times we'd been to the USA we didn't have to.  So we checked it out.  Evidently things have changed - as of last January - 2010.  So, we phoned British Airways, we checked the new ESTA site and everything pointed to us needing a visa.  Oh, and you should have applied 72 hours before going.

We're going tomorrow.

We've applied online and paid a fortune and then found out we DON'T need a visa, we need a "non-visa waiver" and we should have applied from a different site.  It all got very fraught - at one point the computer looked like it was going to take flying lessons. I won't go in to the full details but I must admit that at various stages today I have assumed that we probably won't be able to go.  After all, there is nothing at point of sale that tells you that this stuff is necessary.  Anyway - we have managed to sort it all out but what really leaves a nasty taste in our mouths is the fact that had we not found out today, we would have turned up at Heathrow tomorrow only to be turned away at the gate . . . it's quite sickening.  Nothing is fully explained and it's almost impossible to discuss it with a human as it is all "automated" - to make it easier one supposes!

Yesterday was Mrs Dave's birthday and we went out for a very pleasant meal at a local hostelry.  My swordfish was superb but Mrs D, once again, went  for the benchmark fish pie.  Always a mistake, I feel.  Why order something you do well yourself at home?  Mrs Dave's fish pie is always excellent and I never choose to eat one whilst out.  The White Burgundy was excellent.  Anyway, once we got home, we watched Breakfast at Tiffany's as we are (hopefully) about to visit the Big Apple. It's been a very long time since I watched it and I'm sure that I have never noticed before the absolutely racist performance of James Cagney as Mr Yuniashi - Audrey Hepburn's landlord.  It would appear that a pair of large glasses and a some out-sized teeth are enough to portray a Chinese person - in all honesty, he looks more like Penfold from Danger Mouse.  Check it out, it is unbelievable! Well, I'm off to bed, I might have a plane to catch tomorrow . . .

Mickey Rooney

Can't get rid of stupid white boxes - all adding to stress levels.  Even blogger won't work properly.

Friday, 18 February 2011


keep the spirit, keep the way
stand up - stand up now
brother sister make a stand
stand up - stand up now

A very brief posting tonight.

Last night I left school and found myself blocked in in the car park by a van belonging to a man that teaches pre-secondary school children judo. I tried to manouevre myself out but was unable to despite the vague attempt at parking diagonally by the Judo teacher. I was wedged in by his van behind me, the trailer on my left and another car quite tightly up against mine on the right. I went in to the sports hall to ask him to move his van.  I know he was teaching, but it is my understanding that no one should park in the centre of our car park.  Obviously he was unhappy about moving it because he was teaching and I did apologise when I asked him to move - not that I needed to as he was parked incorrectly. He was quite rude about it and made comments about how easy it should be to get out of the space - I totally disagree.  I did try but felt that I couldn't get the car out safely - I normally manage in this situation through much backwarding and forwarding, but felt that I did not want to risk any damage to my car. I did feel that he was getting quite aggressive in his manner.

He began to cast aspersions about my driving abilities suggesting that I am a crap driver and perhaps I should take my test again. I jumped into my car and waved a "thank you" and drove off - obviously I didn't want to end up in any difficult situation with a judo expert!

I've since found out that the Punchy Judo Man, as I like to call him, has upset lots of people.  This is including members of management.  I guess the point of all this is to not suffer in silence. Such characters seem to get away with annoying many of us but if we don't talk these things through then little gets done.

I wrote to the Head of my school to complain - sending a copy to my Union Rep too just in case - and almost immediately, I've had responses from various members of the management team.  Evidently, he's upset many people and if it carries on then he may lose the use of the school facilities.  I don't usually complain but I'm not very happy about this man's attitude. I personally don't think this is a petty issue.

If I hadn't bothered, nothing would have been done. 

There you go:

raise your banners high
strength to strength and line by line
unity must never die
raise your banners high

lyrics by John Tams

Sunday, 13 February 2011

jameson and port

. . . it was one long night, and I don't feel right . . . 

The phrase "shall we open another bottle?" is henceforth banned in this household.

It is indeed lovely to meet up with an old friend - especially an old school friend from, what? 40 years ago? But, really, a hangover at 55?  3 o'clock in the morning is not a good time to go to bed by anyone's standards - and let's face it, mine are low enough.  Anyway, it didn't last too long and you're welcome here to discuss old times and drink to time past and time passing.

I can't possibly divulge some of the things that were discussed - let's just say that if the novel ever gets written, it will be more faction than fiction - but we may have put a few skeletons to bed.  They probably got back up and danced the night away - I got up later and felt my mortality.

A very decent Indian meal that did not repeat itself on Saturday morning and plenty of good English beer meant that there was no ill feeling the following morning - mine came from not really getting to THAT point very often.  However, a good time was had by all and all in all, we were able to laugh and toast to all sorts of situations, none of which were problematic.

Time moves us all on and makes us feel inadequate quite easily but, in reality, we're all just moving on as best we can.  We've all been dealt interesting cards - we just have to play according to those.

After last week and decorating our son's room, we have found ourselves pulling up scotia etc to accommodate various bookcases - and, of course, putting up the inevitable blinds.

Once again, they went up okay - another dify moment postponed.

 . . . where's my head, where's the bed? . . .

lyrics by terry Wood

Thursday, 10 February 2011

the february man

. . . still shakes the snow from off his head and blows his hand

According to Dave Goulder, that is.  The song The January Man explores the year as a series of men - one for each month. I'm February as it was my birthday this week - another year older.  It seems to be rushing by at the moment.  I like Bert Jansch's version of the song.  In fact, he recorded it twice - possibly more including live ones.  But his 1990 album Ornament Tree was a good one. However, there's been no snow in these parts for a few weeks now.  But I do have to blow my hands occasionally.

We wandered out down to a local Bistro for a quiet meal last night in celebration (?) of the event.  Excellent sea bass and cheese board, I must say.  The bass was served with new potatoes and caramelized onions.  Unfortunately I can't remember what wine we had - it was French.  I'll check next time I'm there. Talking of food, as I was taking some sausages out of their skins to make an interesting pasta, Mrs Dave disconcertingly informed me that the farmer she bought them from told her he knew the names of the pigs they came from! That seems a bit Hugh Furry-Dick Whittington* to me. but I carried on regardless.  I don't think I want to know whether I'm eating Pinky or Perky to be honest. I'm not a fan of pasta usually - I don't understand how it's become such an integral part of British cuisine but it certainly has.  Anyway, I've actually eaten it three times in the last two weeks which is a real record for me.

I had some black squid ink stained linguine a few weeks ago, some Orza earlier in the week and Orchiette tonight.  That should do me for the rest of the year, really.  But I will probably have the black stuff again with King Prawns and Squid.  That's what Mrs Dave had last night too. Actually, I'm getting hungry again now.

We've got what used to be a Safeway in our town, only now it's called Morrison's - why they named it after an obscure 1970 album by Ashley Hutchings is anyone's guess. And, much as I don't like the place - it's one notch above Asda, at least - I went there last night and discovered that they've got a good range of bottled beers.  They've got one of my all time favourite beers at the moment, Everards Tiger (no apostrophe on the label).  Excellent, so I may have to go there again soon.

Whilst Mrs Dave has been hogging the computer, I've spent the last two weekends decorating with my son, his bedroom.  Laying laminate flooring, mitring scotia and painting.  It's nearly all finished but we do have to face the one job I detest.  The putting up of the blinds.  New blinds from Ikea (Swedish for MFI).  It's usually a real opportunity for me to be inventive with expletives again.  So another fab weekend coming my way.

I've been using a book for the last two years in Film Studies that I've found invaluable, English Gothic by Jonathan Rigby.  It really is excellent on Hammer films which we study at AS level.  I'd left it at school quite openly as I use it so much.  So I decided to buy another copy so I don't have to carry it between home and school.

I bought it originally at Borders - a rather useful American chain of bookstores which has recently disappeared from British streets.  There was a good one in Cambridge, a reasonable one in Southampton and a couple around Oxford Street in London.  My favourite one was the one on the corner of Denmark Street (aka Tin Pan Alley) and Charing Cross Road which is where I bought this fine tome.  I think I paid - well, the school paid - about £18 for.  So I went onto Amazon (where else?) to buy a second copy.  How much?  £178! Jesus, I made sure I brought my copy that I usually left lying around home.  I'm sure nobody would know that you can't get hold of it now, hence the asking price, but someone could take an interest as it has lots of stills from Hammer films (such as the rather lovely Madelaine Smith in all her glory and Ingrid Pitt getting it on in Vampire Lovers et al) which could very much appeal to some young oik. I sure won't be leaving it lying around any more!  If any of you out there see a normally priced copy - second hand or new - please let me know.

* A "celebrity tv chef" whose real name is Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall; all mad hair and on far too friendly terms with what he eats.

Sunday, 6 February 2011

nothing but the marvellous is beautiful

Songs are amazing things - they can stay with you for years.  Sometimes it's years before you actually "get" them.  As a Stevenage boy, I'm well aware of E. M. Forster given that he lived between Stevenage and a closeby village, Weston.  His dictum of "only connect" is indelibly printed in my DNA.

A few weeks or so ago, EMI Records (who have obviously bought up all independent companies) released Lindisfarne: The Charisma Years 1970-1973. I really couldn't care less what anyone feels about the band because, as far as I'm concerned, they featured one of the all time great unsung heroes - or at least, great British Songwriters. Jimmy Alan Hull. The sudden loss of Hull in 1995 was a huge loss. He was possibly just about to become a Labour MP when he died - his ghost is there in the best ever British fin de siecle drama in the 90s, Our Friends In The North.  Anyway, the re-release of the 4 cd set containing their first five albums and bonus tracks features my all-time favourite Hull song. It was a little-known b-side (remember singles?) and backed Lady Eleanore.  This meant that it wasn't ever released on an album until the advent of cds - when record companies realised they could sell us old fogies our record collections again.

The song was Nothing But The Marvellous Is Beautiful and I have only just connected with where the title came from after all these years. "Trying to get silly but it's not working out too well" indeed. I have been reading David Pirie's A New Heritage Of Horror: The English Gothic Cinema and there in the acknowledgements is the quote:

". . . let us settle the matter for once and for all; the marvellous is always beautiful.  In fact only the marvellous is beautiful." (Andre Breton: The Surrealist Manifesto)


Right, got it.  That explains the nature of many of Hull's slightly more "out there" lyrics and, of course, the cover of his first solo album Pipedream:

Rene Magritte. When did you first discover Surrealism?  For me it was, unbelievably, in the pages of a 1960's weekly newspaper - a precursor of Okay-type magazines, I guess, Reveille.  There must have been an exhibition in London which they were reporting on.  I loved the stuff immediately.

There is a huge relationship between British horror and Surrealism which needs exploring but not at this particular moment.  I would love to have read interviews, or even interview him myself, with Hull but, alas, this wasn't to be - he was taken too early.  I know that he was taken with Surrealism and the absurd, but I perhaps didn't quite realise how much.

Anyway, after all these years I have managed to begin to understand a song I've always loved - it's worth going back to songs you've always liked to work out what it is about them you liked - sometimes songs stay with us.  I've certainly connected with that again.

Again, I don't care what anyone else thinks about it as it may appear to be a trivial song, but it's the fact that after all these years it can still speak to me.

I hear that Gary Moore died today.  Although not a fan of the man particularly, 58 seems to be awfully young for an apparently healthy man to die.  And given I'm 55 this week, it seems a bit near, if you know what I mean.  He was an incredibly ugly man who owned Peter Green's Les Paul - the one used on Man of The World, Albatross etc. I saw ye man live quite a few times - including at The Marquee in the late 1970s - I went to see Stackridge (believe it or not) but they had to cancel.  Moore stood in for them.  Also, his first band Skid Row played Stevenage College the night we pushed a bath on wheels to Biggleswade and back for charity in 1973. But that's another story. And quite possibly, a surreal one, for sure.

I've still got the press cuttings to prove it happened.

Wednesday, 2 February 2011

the first cut is the deepest

Mrs Dave has had to stay at school for Year 9 Options Evening - as an English teacher I am able to avoid that particular pleasure, as doing English isn't an option!  So that means that for a few minutes at least I can access the computer - sorry if anyone's waiting for a reply from anything - this is a fleeting visit.  My son wants to commandeer the computer as well as he has to book a driving test. We should be back to what I laughingly call "normal" later on next week.

In the meantime, here's a short posting about an interesting tool.  I'm sure that many of us have bought a new knife, or even a set, and happily rushed home to cut up anything we can find to test our butchery skills on.  Only to find out that within somewhere between 10 minutes and a day, they aren't exactly sharp.  Also, we've all been told how more accidents happen with blunt knives than sharp ones. I'm not sure I agree with that.  As far as axes go, for instance, I'm rather glad that the one I nearly chopped my thumb off with last year WAS blunt. I didn't actually try to chop it off, it was an accident.  Albeit a ridiculous one.  I was chopping wood and I needed a log to be smaller, so I held the log . . . . needless to say, having a sore thumb that was hit by a blunt axe was much less traumatic than if I'd have used a sharp one.  I still wake up shuddering from the thought of what could have happened . . .

Anyway, back to the story.  The tomato test seems to be popular amongst advertisers for all things "knife-sharpening".  If the tomato tends to just squash rather than slice, then your knife is too blunt.  Believe me, I've searched for a decent knife sharpener for several years now.

We bought a nice set of Sabatier knives a couple of years back, and as mentioned above, within a few days of buying them they had lost the factory sharpness they came with - the wooden chopping board had assured that.  Whilst I was ill the other week, I got bored and continued the quest for a decent sharpener. After reading various reviews and chasing a particular one that had been recommended, one brand kept turning up with good reviews.  The one I was after seemed to only get reviews that rated it "okay". I took the plunge with the self-proclaimed "The World's Best Knife Sharpener" by AnySharp.  As it was't electric and only cost just under a tenner from Amazon, I decided to take the chance.

And I'm glad I did, gentle reader.  It does, indeed, keep knives sharp with very little fuss. It clamps onto your work surface with a suction cup and you only need one hand to use it.  So it's useful for Captain Hook and very nearly me, after my contretemps with the axe last year. But, in all honesty, it's a nice device. It makes older knives a pleasure to use again. Advert over, but the upshot is, it may not be your knives that are useless - you can breathe new life into them!

Another little discovery - a culinary theme here this evening -  is that Sainsbury's own label Taste the Difference range "London Porter" is actually brewed by Shepherd Neame from Kent brewers of  "Spitfire" and the wonderfully Carry On-esquely named  "Bishop's Finger".  I used it on Saturday evening to make a beef stew instead of Guinness, and excellent it was too.

In his excellent book Amber, Gold & Black, Martyn Cornell points out that brewers use such adjectives as chocolate and liquorice because UK porters tend to err on the sweet side.  However, he also says that if they name it a porter it's an attempt at making a nod towards authenticity as opposed to just a 'stout' or dark beer. I quite like SN beers and although I tend to be a little sniffy about Supermarket own brands I must admit that this "London Porter" is indeed quite spicy and intense (presumably the "charred malt" used).  Not that I'm an aficionado. So I don't know just how authentic it is or isn't.  Do they have Sainsbury's in Dubai, Martyn? But I did learn from my last trip to a brewery - St Austell in the Summer, that M&S 's "Cornish Beer" is brewed by St Austell.  So, all-in-all I'm becoming a little more happy with some own brand beers.

They're cheaper too, of course.