Thursday, 9 November 2017

Influential Albums #5 – Todd

About the fourth time I listened to this, I thought I understood the first track.  It’s called ‘How About A Little Fanfare?’, and it begins with Todd enunciating seven heavily distorted syllables that make no sense at all, except that they’re followed by a loud, cacophonous, well, fanfare.

So at that fourth listen, I clapped on the cans, dropped the needle into the groove, and heard a very quiet pre-play of what was to follow – the fanfare…  the syllables suddenly made sense… “how was that little fanfare, that little fanfare…?”
I’ve never been able to make it happen since.  Presumably you have to hit the run-in groove at exactly the right point to hear it; or else I was hallucinating – this was 1974.
I’ve just listened to sides 1 and 2 of this album (I still can’t make the little fanfare play again, but I swear it exists, somewhere out there in the vinyl exosphere) and would like to explain, in three simple paragraphs, why it’s influential.
1.     Todd Rundgren was a pioneer explorer of the electronic creation of music.  Synths had of course been used extensively in pop from 1968 onwards, but no-one had previously built an entire album around these totally constructed sounds and playing – the latter including his early use of sequencing technology to make a machine perform licks and riffs that not even the most proficient human would be capable of replicating.
2.     He was also a pioneer in the techniques of self-performed, self-produced multi-track recording. Although many other musicians are credited on the internet as having performed on the record, including the Brecker brothers who obviously did the horn parts (Todd egocentrically doesn’t name anyone but himself in the original cover notes), it’s obviously mostly him.  This made me begin to understand that just one person, given the right kit and skill-set, could make music from scratch.
3.     It contains one of my Desert Island Discs.

Tuesday, 7 November 2017

Confident Insecurity

My workmate (I call him that, though we mostly met down the pub, where this story takes place) George was a thoroughly anglicised Hong Kong Chinese, with all the confident insecurity I imagine comes with that territory.  George was (still is, I trust) a keen golfer.  One lunchtime, George came into the pub full of his weekend experience.  He’d attended some expensively well-known course (serious golfers will throw a lot of money and self-respect at their game), played eighteen, and was changing his shoes in the locker room, when in walks an extremely famous golfer whom I’ll just call Nick.
George can’t believe his luck and avidly engages Nick in conversation.  Nick’s a decent sort and lets George admire him for a while, though he’s clearly getting a bit bored by this insecurely over-confident bloke.  Eventually, inevitably, George brings the chat round to golf, hoping to pick up a game-changing tip.
“I’ve always wondered, Nick,” he says.  “I tee off and manage say 180 yards, but you usually get about 260.  How do you do that?”
Nick scratches his head and ponders for a while.  “Well, George,” he finally says.  “I think it’s this.  I hit it harder than you.”

Sunday, 29 October 2017


If you don’t want to leave the EU, you’re a remoaner.  If you do, you’re a brextremist.  Either way, you’re a traitor/coward/halfwit/c*nt.  This more or less sums up the quality of the debate I’m seeing now (although ‘debate’ may be too charitable a word).

What all parties seem to take as read is that the referendum was valid in the first place.  I’ve consistently questioned this, and now that healthy desperation and vulgar abuse are finally becoming the prime movers, perhaps it’s time to reiterate my reasons.  There are three.
One: the framework.
It’s ludicrous that a simple first-past-the-post majority of those who chose to vote should be allowed to determine such a radically fundamental change to every aspect of the nature of our nation.
Obviously, this question (which is a constitutional one) dates back to way before this particular referendum, but it should have been raised and debated, both in the media and by Parliament, when the 2015 Referendum Bill was being considered.  Had it been, I would have supported a proposal that, at the very least, a majority of the electorate should be required in order to achieve a meaningful result.
Two: the legality.
It was falsely presented as a legally binding decision of the electorate.  In fact, the enabling legislation does not contain any obligation on the current or any future government to implement the result.  This well-researched and seemingly impartial Wikipedia article contains links to that legislation if you want to follow them.
It’s worth quoting in full the relevant paragraph of the article:
‘In accordance with the Act and the public duty of the Electoral Commission, an impartial guide was posted to every household in the UK and Gibraltar in the week beginning of 16 May 2016. The advisory leaflet was titled: "Why the Government believes that voting to remain in the European Union is the best decision for the UK". This leaflet clearly stated: "This is your decision. The government will implement what you decide".  [my italics]
So the idea that the referendum was in any way binding rests solely on the wording of a government pamphlet.
Three: the question.
This was the subject of much debate, to fairly general public indifference, and they came up with this compromise:
“Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union?”
Let’s deconstruct it.  Firstly, turn it upside down:
“Should the United Kingdom leave the European Union or remain a member of the European Union?”
Would this simple rewording have influenced an undecided voter one way or the other?  I suspect it would.  So either way it’s a loaded question.
Secondly, it’s actually a spuriously overloaded question.  All that was needed was “Should the United Kingdom leave the European Union?”
And in any case, the word ‘Should’ turns it into an opinion poll, doesn't it?

Tuesday, 24 October 2017

Shaving Abuse

I have recently noticed that my can of Men’s Sensitive Aloe Vera Shave Foam warns me that ‘Solvent Abuse Can Kill Instantly’.
I see I’ve been doing it all wrong.  There I was slapping the stuff on my face and scraping it with a razor blade, when all I needed to do was wait for the bristles to dissolve.
I haven’t yet tried pushing it up my nose to see if I die instantly.  Tomorrow morning, perhaps.

Sunday, 1 October 2017


It’s funny how people deal with their own failures, isn’t it?
About twelve years ago I went to Witrose in my shiny new car to buy some stuff, I forget what.  As I was driving into the car park I noticed someone about to back out of a space straight ahead of me, so I flashed my lights and waited.
The driver behind me couldn’t wait the twenty or so seconds this manoeuvre would have taken, so he hooted.  I ignored this, so he decided to overtake me.  He did that rather badly – he drove into the side of my car.
I said a few not very well-chosen words.
“No need to swear,” he said.
We went and found parking spaces (the driver who’d been the innocent cause of the situation having long departed) and inspected the damage – surface scratches to my shiny new car, none visible on his old banger.
He started telling me I should have been signalling.  (I was going straight ahead.)  He told me I was holding everyone up.  (I was holding him up.)
I said: “Excuse me, you’ve just driven into the side of my car, and it’s my fault?” and walked away.


Monday, 25 September 2017

Caravan shutdown

If it’s 1797 and you’re going to invade Great Britain from France, obviously north Pembrokeshire is the go-to place, isn’t it?  Good rail links Goodwick to London, regular Sealine ferries to Ireland, nice local beaches…  but you probably didn’t allow for Jemima.
The tapestry (more properly, as Z pointed out, an embroidery) commemorating this bizarre bit of forgotten history (about which you can read more here), immaculately displayed and curated in Fishguard library, allowed us to dispose of a wet, windy Friday.  We proceeded up the coast to Newport (how many Newports are there in the UK, I wonder?) and an acceptable lunch at the Golden Lion, after which we drove back over the misty, drizzly Presilli hills and caravan life took over.
The Presilli hills are locally referred to, in English, as the Presilli mountains.  This is a deliberate mistranslation of ‘mynneth’, which sounds a bit like ‘mountain’ but in Welsh means something rather less.  (I am making this up, but don’t let that stop you believing it.)  Welsh is an intriguing language, which we’ve resolved to learn more of.  (* look up the Welsh for ‘resolve’*)  Sometimes it just looks like bad English spelling (ambiwlans, parc busnes) but then veers off into French (eglwys). 
Back at the caravan, we hunkered down and enjoyed a decent-weathered Saturday, including a walk across the westward Wiseman’s Bridge beach where the geology is, once you notice it, quite fascinating.  I’d spent many early years not noticing that what was now rockpools and striations had once been a massive promontory – huge and high worn down to sea level cracks and sand over many millions of years.  We don’t leave that much of a trace, do we?
The caravan is shut down.  Draining the plumbing was much easier once Joseph had taught me how to do it properly.  Z has made it cleaner than it’s been for years.
I didn’t cut the grass. No rabbits did either.

Tuesday, 5 September 2017


William of Ockham (1287-1347) invented the safety razor, often wrongly attributed to King C. Gillette (1855-1932), who of course invented the waistcoat, but (Ed: shome mishtake shurely?)
Ah, yes.  William of Ockham (1287-1347) formulated the principle that became known as Occam’s Razor.  It’s called a razor because it shaves away extraneous matter.  (Why Ockham became Occam is anyone’s guess; did medieval keyboards lack a K and an H?)
Occam’s Razor can be expressed in many ways.  Here are two:
1.     The law of economy of hypothesis (which I might have just made up) states that, of a number of solutions to a given problem, the correct one is that which requires the least number of assumptions.
2.     Z, on having heard me dissert on this, offered the 21st century version acronymised in this post’s title.
Anyway, it sprang uninvited into my mind after an amusing Facebok conversation about the following conundrum:

1 + 4 = 5
2 + 5 = 12
3 + 6 = 21
5 + 8 = ? 

The answer, of course, is 34, but a lot of people opted for 45.  I challenged this, and it was suggested that, given that the = sign in this context obviously doesn’t mean what it usually means, then the operators are up for grabs and the + sign can therefore be fairly interpreted as a * (multiply) sign, in which case you do get 45.
That’s where William nudged me in the ribs.  Oy, he said, one mistake’s enough, why let another one in? 
I thought I’d scored a point, but now I wonder: if + doesn’t mean +, and = doesn’t mean =, who’s to say what 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and the rest mean?  Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent.