Sunday, 28 June 2015


One of the joys of a caravan visit, for me, is that very little changes.  Sometimes familiarity and continuity, though they can easily tip over into boredom or indolence, are what’s needed.

So, it was good that the rain started at Port Talbot (it always does, if it’s going to), and the sun came out just as I crossed the border from Carmarthenshire into Pembrokeshire (it sometimes does, if it’s going to).

And my caravan neighbours (who I call B & B to remind me of their names) were welcomingly there, as they always are every weekend (they only come from Pont Abraham, 45 minutes, alright for some).  And there were the usual seventeen (I counted!) rabbits mowing away when I filled the first glass of the evening.  (I say the usual seventeen; I’d guess they’re different ones from fifteen years ago, but I don’t know for sure; and neither do they.)

Then there’s Joseph.*  As well as being familiar, as he should be after fifteen years, he can be surprising.  This time, I needed to get rid of some very old, completely unsittable-on, plastic chairs, which I’d proved wouldn’t fit in the boot without some help.  As he explained, Joseph can’t take stuff to the tip anymore without incurring a charge, and his informal deal with the bin collectors has fallen through since they installed CCTV on the back of the lorries.  (I won’t repeat his remarks on this topic.)  He said he’d have a think. 

Half an hour later, he turned up at the caravan, toting an angle grinder.  ‘We’ll just chop their legs off, shall we?’

The journey home this morning was familiar too.  As soon as I’d crossed the Severn bridge, the rain stopped and the sun peeked out.

*Not his real name, he’s a very private person.


Saturday, 20 June 2015

Guitar Heroes

As I’ve decided to become a musician again, my darling 50-year-old Fender Telecaster has gone into guitar hospital to have its innards fixed.  The outside, at least the cosmetic as opposed to functional parts, is beyond salvation, its battle scars and makeovers being part of its life story, not to be resprayed or botoxed over.  (This is starting to sound a bit self-referential, but.)  But it does have to do its job, and plugging it into an amp does need to result in more than electronic crackles.

Anyway, in preparation for that, I’d been picking it up and picking a bit.  Which has led me to ponder on the guitar players I most wish I’d been, or at least wish I could play like.  So here are three:

Scotty Moore.  When Elvis walked into Sam Phillips’ studio that fateful day in 1954, Sam rapidly put together a scratch studio group to back him.  Scotty was the lynchpin, and produced some great country-tinged fingerpicking licks that, to this day, I find it hard to unravel. 

But after the great RCA sell-out (Sam got, I think, $34,000 for the lot, artist and recordings; the illegal immigrant ‘Colonel Tom Parker’ got the right to squeeze every squeezable cent out of ‘his discovery’, slowly eroding and then destroying the talent in the process), the sound had to harden up, and Scotty jumped in with both hands.  But he was too much of a natural-born musician to treat this new-fangled rock’n’roll stuff as mere noise, as most people out of their teens did.

Take his solo on  'Too Much', from 1956.   He starts with four bars of a vicious chordal chromatic up-and-down run, as rock-n-roll as it comes, then wanders off into territory more usually inhabited, at the time, by West Coast cool jazz exponents like Stan Getz, before bringing it back down again with a snippet of that good ol’ country pickin’.   Sheer genius!  Scotty later claimed that the middle bit was an accident, as the song was in an unfamiliar key (B flat) and he’d got lost; but I don’t believe him.

Steve Cropper.  From somebody who was, I submit, the real and very present power behind the newly-ascended  King’s throne (imagine ‘Hound Dog’ without the guitar), to an equally powerful but much less evident contributor.   If you’ve heard anything by Otis Redding, Sam and Dave, Wilson Pickett, Percy Sledge, Eddie Floyd, or any other Memphis soul masterpiece from the sixties, you’ve heard Steve, in his role as a member of Booker T and the MGs, the Stax house rhythm section.   I was going to use the word ‘minimalism’, but that’s not it; ‘precision’ is closer, or just plain ‘rightness’.  I’ve chosen, of course, 'Green Onions' – he only plays about ten notes, but they’re all the right ones, necessarily in the right order.

Link Wray.  Finally, a guitarist who, although he had a long, illustrious career as a master picker (I remember a long-ago documentary in which Link and Chet Atkins traded finger-style licks for several minutes, competing and laughing out loud at each other’s audacity), is remembered for just one ground-breaking single from 1958 – but what a single!  If you’ve seen ‘Pulp Fiction’ you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about: 'Rumble'.  It’s been said that without this record, the future of popular music would have been very different – no heavy metal, no punk – you may have your views on whether or not this would have been a good thing, but you can’t deny its power.  It hit me between the ears when I first heard it, and I still love it.


When I said I wish I could play like them, of course I can, at least some of the simpler stuff.  (I could teach anyone to play ‘Rumble’, even if they’d never touched a guitar in their life.)  What I really meant was: I wish I’d been there.  I wish I’d thought of it first! 

Can’t wait to get the Tele back…

P.S. I’ve no idea whether the Spotify links will work for you.



Saturday, 13 June 2015

To Do Or Not To Do?

I have three ‘to-do’ lists in my head, which I think of as ‘Must’, ‘Should’ and ‘Would Like’.  I also have a physical one, which vacillates between the whiteboard in the kitchen (which I did away with two years ago, then reinstated two months ago because after the decorators had been, my kitchen was briefly ‘terribly house-and-garden’ and not to be sullied with Post-It stickers) and Post-It stickers.

‘Musts’, on the face of it, are easy, but they break down when you break them down into their sub-categories, which I might (no, hell, will, it’s me writing this stuff!) call internally- and externally imposed ‘musts’.  Internally-imposed musts are things like ‘must go shopping’ or ‘must clean the loo’. You either do them or things start to get unsustainable.  Externally-imposed musts are trickier (‘must phone Sheila (because she’s expecting me to)’, or ‘must check minutes of last meeting (otherwise people will frown and I’ll blush’).  They’re not quite ‘shoulds’, but veering in that direction if I’m not carefully self-disciplined.

‘Would Likes’, or ‘Wants’, (such as ‘get new Dylan album*’ or ‘re-learn the guitar’ or ‘sort out those 1990s photo albums’) are easy.  They will happen.  The only constraint is time and energy (of both of which one has either to assume an unlimited supply, or to give up). 

Genuine ‘Shoulds’ are the hardest, because they are moral obligations which no-one else will notice if they go unfulfilled.  For this reason, I obviously can’t give any examples here.

The modern world moulds and constrains us to live our lives in lists.  Butterflies and rainbows don’t seem to have this problem.  I suppose I’ll have to carry on learning the game, until it doesn’t matter any more.


*Interesting.  Dylan sings 30’s torch songs, and proves that, though he’s no Tony Bennett, he can still hit several of the notes.  But I can’t forgive his slaughter of ‘Some Enchanted Evening’.

Thursday, 4 June 2015

Puglian Pecularities part 2

All right, the food:

Sea urchins.  These were featured in a BBC programme about Puglia a couple of months ago.  Apparently they’re best eaten live, straight from the sea, like oysters.  Sliced and cooked in a pasta sauce, they don’t taste of anything much, except the sea, like oysters.

Supermarket vegetable pricing.  You know how you have to delve through nested layers of blurry pictures on a touchscreen to find an aubergine?  Not in the Famila supermarket in San Vito.  Each item that has to be weighed has its own unique number: Melanzane (aubergines)?  035.  Just put it on the scale, key in the number, out pops the sticky ticket.  Brilliant!

Chickens.  The local chickens are tiny by Brit standards, but one is just right for two people.  And they taste like chickens used to taste in my childhood.  I asked what they were fed on and was told: ‘Quello che c’é’– whatever’s around.  And they’re about 4 each.

Italian meal structure.  It’s now permissible to have less than four courses for lunch. 
But it’s possible to have four courses for dinner.  Ristorante dell’Annunziata (I think) in Ceglie does antipasti (twelve of them!), primo (big bowl of linguine or bean puree), secondo (I chose rabbit stew) and dolce, for 20.  All local fare and recipes.  Carafe of local Primitivo plonk included. 

Wednesday, 3 June 2015

Puglian Peculiarities

  1. The weather was poor by Puglian standards.  On the first Monday night there was a scary thunderstorm, which took out the electricity supply for about fourteen hours.  (We were informed on Tuesday morning that it wouldn’t be back on before 4 p.m.; it was actually restored at 2.30.  This way of exceeding a target is a very Italian phenomenon.)  Then, in week two, the wind kicked in.  If we’d been purely after a lounger-and-pool holiday it would have been a downer, but as it was it got us out and about, dilettante culture vultures.
  2. Road signs are idiosyncratic.  You’d think that finding your way through a small town like Carovigno, which is basically a high street surrounded by off-white low-rise suburbs, would be a doddle.  Not so – the signposts clearly say ‘Brindisi’, so you follow them and find yourself in a dead industrial estate, or a litter-strewn cul de sac…  Part of the problem is that they haven’t fully adopted the convention that an arrow pointing vertically means ‘straight on’.  So you get two arrows, one on each side of the junction, one pointing left and one right; if you miss one of these, you erroneously turn left or right.  And finding your way back from this error is an existential challenge.  I swear that they reconfigure the roads whilst I’m executing the seven-point turn.  It took an hour to get out of Otranto onto the coast road and find that gorgeous beach I’d remembered from all those years ago. When I finally got there, it reminded me of Studland.
  3. Baroque is everywhere, especially in Lecce.  Those totally bonkers facades, gargoyles, pediments or whatever they are (see photo #1 in the previous post for a snippet) make you wonder what those guys were on.  It surely wasn’t religion.
  4. I managed to swim in the villa pool most days – not very far, admittedly, because of my dodgy right arm – but still a breakthrough.  I’d have loved to have surfed in the Adriatic, but that’s not easy when a) the tallest wave is about nine inches and b) I’d forgotten to take my togs.
  5. Two-stage plane trips were a first for me.  We changed at Rome going out, Milan on the return, with several hours hanging around in airports – not fun!  But the luggage made it through both ways, which I consider to be a miracle of logistical efficiency. 
  6. And I haven’t even mentioned the food…!