Thursday, 31 January 2013

Influential Albums #1

A few days ago, Martin issued the challenge, and I always accept challenges.  Applying a few criteria – I have to own them, they have to have influenced music in general, and they have to have influenced me – here’s the first.  (Probably the first of two.)

Vanilla Fudge: Vanilla Fudge (Atco 7567-90390-2)  1967

The Fudge were later, in my view wrongly, branded as the fathers of heavy metal.  Although some of their later efforts could justify this categorisation, this first album certainly doesn’t.  If it can be classified at all, it would be as the bridge between psychedelia and prog rock.  Except that it’s a covers album.  Although plagiarism was rife, neither of those genres was noted for consciously choosing other people’s material over their own – egomania was a driving force behind most late sixties music, but Vanilla Fudge weren’t interested in that.  They were interested in drama and emotion.

The track list starts with ‘Ticket to Ride’ and ends with ‘Eleanor Rigby’ (with a sneaky little cross-reference right at the end), but touches a good few non-Beatles bases in between.  Curtis Mayfield, the Zombies, Motown …  These basic pop songs are extended (some might say bloated, but I disagree) into eight minute Wagnerian epics, slowed right down and embellished with classical quotes, melodic squibs, and tantalising links between songs, of which there are just seven.  (Consider that earlier that year, ‘Pepper’ had been regarded as revolutionary in containing only eleven as against the industry-standard twelve.)

The album was produced by Shadow Morton, who’d previously given us the Shangri-Las’ musical  novellas (‘Leader of the Pack’, ‘Remember (Walking in the Sand)’).  As far as I can tell, it was recorded live, that is with no instrumental overdubs (though some of the vocals probably were added later), on four-track.  Shadow rightly judged that studio trickery wasn’t necessary or appropriate, because he was working with consummate musicianship.  

Just listen, if you can (it’s on Spotify).  You will hear the best bubbling, gurgling Hammond organ sweeps and swishes ever; high tuneful virtuoso bass lines to make a Macca swoon; vibrato-laden angelic four part harmonies; some genuinely moving moments as well as some still challenging noise … and above all, sheer smile-triggering entertainment!  Play it LOUD!

Wednesday, 30 January 2013

History? Ancient, innit.

“So, how are you getting on with ‘Wolf Hall’?” I asked someone who’d just come back from a fortnight in Mauritius.  She twisted her mouth.

“It’s quite hard, isn’t it?”

“Yes,” I said.  “It takes a while to suss out that when she says ‘he’, usually it means ‘Thomas Cromwell’, whom she’s cast as a first person narrator speaking in the third person, and doing so in the historic present tense …  But once you get past that – ”

“Oh no, that wasn’t a problem.  That’s not what I meant,” she said.  “It’s just that I don’t know anything about ancient history.”

“But, you do know about Henry the Eighth, and his wives and the Pope and stuff.”

“Not really,” she replied.  “I kind of ducked all that.”

You probably think I’m conversing with a teenager.  Not at all: this is a highly intelligent, educated and mostly well-informed person eight years younger than me.   I was intrigued by this gap, and would have pursued it further, but dinner was on the table and I had to gulp down the rest of my gin.  We never got back to the subject.

But when I got home I started to think about it.  My first thought was “does it matter?”, and my immediate answer was “yes!”  Unless you have at least some understanding of what was going on in and after the Reformation, you won’t understand a lot of what’s going on today.  Because today’s norms are born of yesterday’s controversies, and to hold a view about, for example, whether it matters who is our next-but-one monarch (if that bothers you) or whether prisoners should be allowed to vote, you need to know how we got to where we are.

On the other hand, I then reflected, I got through more than half my life without any iota of such understanding.  Although I scraped a History O level, that was really no more than a demonstration of my powers of memory.  Thus although I knew (roughly) the names of Henry VIII’s wives, in order, I had no idea why he had to have six, and certainly not how this eventually led to the Civil War, or for that matter the First World War.  History, when I was taught it in the fifties, was almost entirely about the ‘who’, ‘what’ and ‘when’ of the past; hardly if at all about the ‘why’ and ‘how’. 

As it happens, the path of my life meandered to a point, maybe twenty years ago, where I was suddenly prompted to take an interest.  Needing something to read (in the loo, since you ask), I came across a series of Pelican histories of England, and grabbed one at random.   I remember very clearly the key thought: “Ah, so that’s why William the Conqueror needed to invade us!”  I’ve never looked back.  (Don’t set me any exam papers though.)

So I don’t in any way blame my friend for not knowing what Henry VIII was about.  She received the same rubbish education I did, but never got steered into that particular later-life diversion.  I think (although I don’t know for sure) that today’s teaching of History might be a little bit more educative (in the sense of thought-provoking); but ask me again in five years’ time, when it’s been dragged back to the fifties.

Monday, 28 January 2013


As I may have said, I’m reading Umberto Eco’s ‘The Prague Cemetery’, which I think I’m enjoying.  I think.  He must be a genius, because who else could grip you for 420 pages (and counting) with the  diary of a bigoted anti-semite, misogynistic, xenophobic fraudster who played both ends against the middle during the Unification of Italy and then went on to construct the Protocols of the Elders of Zion and so help to provoke a century of world wars?  Eh?

Anyway, that’s not what I meant to say.  On page 432, Eco puts into the mouth of a Russian secret serviceman the expression “how do you say?”  (And on the next page the same character says “I don’t know…” – imagine a shrug with spread hands here.)  And I remember that this is, of course, a translation, from the original Italian.  Eco would have written “come si dice?”  and “non so…”

The Russian certainly isn’t speaking Italian.  From the context, it’s probably French.  Eco doesn’t specify.  So, what we are looking at here is an author writing in his native Italian, imagining the thoughts of a native Russian speaker who is expressing himself in a foreign language (French) and converting the result into his written Italian – and the outcome then being translated (by the admirable Richard Dixon) into the English I read. 

как говорят   comment on dit? come si dice?   how do you say?

Anyway, that’s not what I meant to say either.  The thing is, having a smidgeon (albeit rustily diminishing) of proficiency in the language, I now find myself trying to translate the English text back into the Italian Umberto might have originally written.  It doesn’t make for a speed-read, I can tell you.

I have no idea what the point of this post might be.  Nurse says it’s time for my lie-down.

Sunday, 27 January 2013


Some of my favourite bloggers, including scribedoll and Z, have declared that they are temporarily retiring from the blogosphere.  I may be joining them.
I sometimes muse (though not much, and not for long) about what causes us to do this in the first place, usually concluding that it’s what I might term a kind of healthy narcissism mixed up with a genuine outreach towards people you can’t realistically class as close friends.  It’s great, but we shouldn’t feel lack, or loss, or slight, or indeed anything, when it gets withdrawn.  Quite apart from anything else, this stuff is far too new to accumulate its own attrition of emotions.

In my case, I either will or won’t be blogging over the next couple of weeks.  Apart from shifts in my real world (details not available!), I face a gridlock of subjects I’d like to write about:

·         Prejudice

·         Mottos

·         Influential albums

·         Pernicious percentages

·         Multiple translation

·         Snowmen in the floods

·         Blue drinks

·         Red kites

to mention just a few.  I can’t start any of them (and new ones keep piling in).  I’m blog-blocked.  Feel free to kick-start me.

Thursday, 24 January 2013

Looks good to me

Email received this morning:


I am emailing from a leading advertising agency based in London.

I am getting in touch with you as I am looking for quality websites such as your, to place some adverts on your website and would like to know if this is something which would be of interest to you?

The placement of our adverts are contextually matched to the content on the page, therefore relevant.

Do let me know if you are interested to discuss any partnerships with us as we feel the positioning of your website will have strong benefits for both parties.

Please email me back with your thoughts or questions.

Kind regards,
Damien Cvetanovski


Hi Damien,

I’m very excited by your invitation, and if you can answer a few questions I’m sure we can do business.

As an enthusiastic reader of my blog, you’ll certainly have noticed that I am quite conservative as regards content and presentation.  I wouldn’t want any adverts to be particularly visible to my readers.  Is that okay?

Concerning the products being advertised, I take an ethical approach, so wouldn’t expect them to be in any way multinational.  Localism is fine, so neighbourhood soft drug dealers, independent pizza takeaways and the mobile numbers of those girls down the Oxford road would be acceptable – but nothing outside the postcode please!

We haven’t discussed fees yet, but I’m sure we can talk.  Given the faith you clearly have in my outreach, I would have thought £1,000 per appearance would be a kick-in marker, but am more than happy to work upwards from there.  What do you say?

I’ve noticed that you’ve issued the same proposition to other bloggers, via their comment boxes – I must say I find that a bit unprofessional, as I had the impression we were in a confidential dialogue – but no probs.  If we’re negotiating in public, I’ll just stick this on my blog rather than replying directly.

Subject to the above, I will let you have an accommodation address for delivery of the first brown envelope.


Wednesday, 23 January 2013

Nipper Barks Again?

Not on today’s form he doesn’t.

I’ve blogged or commented or something before on the pleasure of physical browsing, where you can go into a shop and find the right rack and just, well, browse, until something catches your eye, you realise it was exactly what you didn’t know you were looking for, do a bit more of same and chug up to the till.  I’m told by ladies that this works with clothes.  And it used to with music.

So I went into town this morning, primarily to buy a new belt (the end broke off the old one, don’t ask), but also to browse HMV and buy as many CDs as I could carry, before this pleasure disappeared forever.  I had one specific target – Benjamin Britten – but was looking forward to having a gentle leisurely, well, browse.

Um, no.  Their rescue strategy seems to be to ram as much unsaleable crap as possible into as little space as possible, plastering it with as many irrelevant stickers as possible, ensuring that, often, you can’t actually identify the CD.   And make sure they’re so tightly packed into the racks that it’s impossible to flip through them and you have to pull them up, one at a time, to make sure it’s another one you don’t want to buy.  (Because you can’t be sure that the one at the front of the file represents all the other ones behind it.  Oh no.)

Oh yes, and even though you haven’t sacked them yet, make sure that you’ve demoralised the staff sufficiently to render them invisible, or if they can’t manage that, evasive, or if they can’t manage that, surly.  And then set up your system to reject an entirely valid credit card, three times, so that its PIN gets blocked and it can’t be used anywhere.  And then ask you if you want a bag.  For your four CDs.

They were, for the record: a Best of Britten compo; The Best of Neil Diamond (which I’m listening to as I type, just got to ‘Cracklin Rosie’, pure magic); James Taylor’s first Apple album; and something called ‘Brothers’ by The Black Keys, which I chose purely for its wonderful cover, and know precisely nothing else about, yet.

I know that my expectations are clouded by memories of flipping through the LP racks at Bourne Radio, in 1959, and stumbling across a gem of a Chuck Berry import; but I fear I’m going to have to try browsing up the amazon.  Except that they’ve just tried to sell me another five diaries, on the basis that I bought one two months ago; and that Jerry Lee Lewis compilation, again.


Tuesday, 22 January 2013

Are you sitting comfortably?

Those cast iron garden chairs can be a bit hard on the posterior, so I like to provide my guests with some nice comfy cushions.


Friday, 18 January 2013

Cool Chick

I posted this a few years ago, but couldn't resist a replay -

And while we're on the subject, I hear, as usual, that main roads have been gritted and are clear, but side roads haven't/aren't.  So lorries can get to the supermarkets with deliveries so that people can go and shop there, except they can't get out of - oh, fergeddit! 

Wednesday, 16 January 2013

Where or When? Who knows?

If you’ve read this blog before, you’ll know that I can become a bit obsessive from time to time.  It’s one of life’s pleasures for me, and if it carries the stigma of being labelled intermittently autistic (notice the carefully chosen word order there), then I say “Bring it on!”  (Or whatever the cliché du jour is.)

So, a little song quest story.

A few evenings ago I fancied listening to some piano jazz, and was led (in my meticulously ordered visible CD rack, which contains maybe 100, randomly selected, of my collection of about 1,786) to Errol Garner’s ‘Concert By The Sea’ live album from 1955 .  That’ll do, I thought.   Garner was assuredly the greatest jazz pianist never to have read a note of written music, and is still and forever a joy to the ear and the soul.

The penultimate piece is Rodgers’ and (more importantly) Hart’s ‘Where or When’.  This is the greatest popular song ever written, but Errol slaughters it.  (I’m not blaming him; he wasn’t the first and won’t be the last, and a song like this can survive almost anything.)  Also, of course, the words weren’t there.

So off I went.  I know a few recordings, Dion and the Belmonts being the most prominent (I still thrill to his gauche teenage mis-singing of the middle bit – ‘Some things that happened for the first time, seems to be happening again…’), but what I was really after was the intro, or what used to be called the ‘verse’.  I think I’m allowed to quote the lyrics – hell, I’m going to anyway:

When you're awake, the things you think Come from the dream you dream.  Thought has wings, and lots of things Are seldom what they seem.  Sometimes you think you’ve lived before All that you live today; Things you do come back to you As though they knew the way.  Oh the tricks your mind can play …’

Well, after a few hours of YoTubery, I was forced to concede that no obvious recording exists of this masterpiece of distilled emotional philosophy.  Not Sinatra.  Not Ella.  Not Peggy Lee.  Not even Harry Connick Jnr.

Then came exactly one of those moments.

I’m in Leeds, circa 1961.  We have the soundtrack LP of the Rodgers and Hart biopic ‘Words and Music’, and Lena Horne is singing ‘Where or When’.  All the way through.  That’s it!

I tracked down a DVD, and last night I watched it.  Two thirds of the way through, Mickey Rooney whispers “here’s Lena Horne,” and on she comes.  She starts to sing: “It seems we stood and talked like this before …”  I sink.  The intro must have been on the LP, but not in the film.

So if anyone knows of a recording of the whole of ‘Where or When’ by Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart, do please drop me a line, and I’ll retire happy to my desert island in a blue room in a small hotel in Manhattan.  Thank you.

The film was crap, by the way.

Monday, 14 January 2013

Systems ≈ Random?

I don’t quite believe that yet, but I’m getting closer.

Blogger has a ‘known problem’ at the moment which makes it difficult to insert a picture in your post.  I won’t go into details, because they’re boring and nerdy (and they’ve identified a way round it,  which seems to work, whilst they fix it) – the thing is that it only happens if you use a particular browser.   That’s like saying that an identical can of beans will have different contents depending on how you carry it home from the supermarket.

The point that worried me was the one jokily expressed in this post’s title: that the behaviour of some computer systems increasingly seems to approximate to randomness.  Like I said, I still just about refuse to believe this, even though Blogger regularly shakes my faith.

Anyway, in support of my probably misplaced optimism, I offer you the following true story.

Not that many decades ago, I was involved in developing and testing a new computer application, which duly went live.  It worked fine for weeks, until suddenly a particular transaction caused it to crash catastrophically, dragging several other things down in its wake. 

We pored over the content of the guilty item and could see absolutely nothing unusual about it, and so handed it over to the lead programmer, Anjam.  Two hours later, he came back with the answer.

“This only happens,” he explained, “when the length in bytes of the resulting record is an exact multiple of 256, plus one.”

Over his shoulder, as he walked away, he grinned.  “Sloppy testing.”

Sunday, 13 January 2013

In other news …

A scattergun post today, in line with my currently scattered brain, from the world of media fringes.
1. Where did Emsley get his inspiration from?

Find your nearest Katie Kambridge, compare and contrast.   

2.      The S-word doesn’t appear until page 13 of today’s Observer, and then only in passing.  Even more encouraging, no pictures at all of the slug-faced junk-garnished slob-draped swamp cockroach.  Other ‘news’ purveyors take note.

3.      Bowie’s new single is brilliant.  But is this the greatest marketing campaign EVER?

4.      For crossword aficionados mainly, but all fans of the human spirit may join in:  Araucaria, the greatest compiler ever, who is a retired clergyman aged 91, announced on Friday that he has terminal cancer, and provided details - by means of the solutions in a characteristically devious crossword.  “It seemed the natural thing to do,” he said.
And finally: Blogger has bloggered up yet again by apparently withdrawing the 'browse' option from the 'insert image' function, which used to allow me to select a picture from my own hard disk. I now have to upload it to Picasa Web Albums and select it from there.
Tell me I'm wrong, please, someone.  I'm going to be investigating Wordpress ...

Tuesday, 8 January 2013

Why There’s a Eurocrisis

It’s to do with payment systems.  Bear with me.

In the U.K., payments between customers of different banks, or the banks themselves, are handled through a system called CHAPS.  Briefly, what happens is this.  Bank A needs to send some money to Bank B, so they send them a message – a payment instruction.  This message gets copied to the Bank of England, with whom both A and B hold accounts.  The Bank of England debits A’s account and credits B’s; B then knows it has the money and can dispose of it as per the underlying transaction. So far so good.

Until the late ‘90s, the totting-up took place once a day, after close of play, it being assumed that the system was based on trust and the Bank of England would carry the can should Bank A not cough up– until some bright spark there woke up one day and said “erm, actually, we won’t.  Because they might break their promises, and we can't afford the consequences.”  Thus was born the system known as Real Time Gross Settlement, or RTGS.

RTGS says, in effect, that Bank A must be able to afford the payment at the moment it sends the instruction to Bank B.  In other words, it must have the money in its account at the Bank of England, there and then.  If it hasn’t, it must ‘post collateral’, which means pledging items of value, such as securities, against this debt.  In practice, payments tend to flow in both directions during the day between A and B (and there are of course the equivalent of overdraft limits before the need for collateral kicks in).  So it worked fine for years.*

Then, enter the Euro.  After a few false starts, they realised that they needed something similar, covering the Eurozone of seventeen countries, and after a few false starts they came up with a system which is an almost exact replica of the above, but with an extra layer added at the top – in addition to the Banks A, B etc. paying their national central banks (Bank of England equivalents), the national central banks would also need to settle with each other.  Obviously, this would be done through the central banks’ central bank, the European Central Bank (ECB).  The system they put in place for this is called TARGET.**

What they forgot, though, was RTGS.  Remember that?  Cash on the nail.  Of course, TARGET provides for this within each country – but there is absolutely nothing that forces the national central banks – the countries – to settle with each other at the ECB.  No totting up at all, ever, never mind payment by payment.  Oh, and no need for collateral either.  Just keep running up the debts – and dues– for ever. 
Which is exactly what has happened.  So now you know.  That’s why there’s a Euro crisis.  No recourse for broken promises.
If only they'd asked me at the time!


* I do wonder how it coped with the events of 2007-8. Hmm ...
** TARGET2, to be exact, if you want to Google it – the Wikipedia article is excellent, though it does require a bit of concentration.

Sunday, 6 January 2013

Christmas Card Audit 2012

Executive Summary:

The most significant trends this year have been:

·         a marked decline in snow, snowmen and snowflakes, probably due to climate change and a generally mild winter (so far).  Also Santas, maybe out of disillusionment;
·         a significant increase in birds.  Robins have risen by 50%, and other species make their first showing, notably geese and turkeys.  Both of these appear to have been alive at the time the card was produced, and presumably were consulted as to their posthumous appearance;
·         Glued-on glitter has almost entirely vanished.  This may be one of the few welcome outcomes of austerity.

The full figures (last year’s in brackets):

Snow/Snowmen/Snowflakes:              2 (12)

Santas/Reindeer:                                  3 (9)

Animals/Birds:                                     17 (7)

 (of which Robins:                               6 (4))

Landscapes:                                         6 (7)

Boats:                                                  0 (3)

Nativities/Wise Men/Angels:              4 (3)

Christmas trees/Baubles:                     5 (3)

Comical:                                              1 (1)

Puddings:                                             0 (1)


Special categories:

Homemade/designed:                          5 (4)

Cards with glued-on glitter:                 1 (5)

Ecards:                                                 1 (1)

Wonderfully weird:                             1 (3)


The Card of the Year Award goes to Mig, for her wonderfully weird Perspex Still Life.

As a sidenote, cards in general seem to have got bigger again, having shrunk to stamp-size in previous years.  Is this akin to skirt lengths in hard times?

Thursday, 3 January 2013

Hours of Delicious Family Fun!

On a grey, drizzly January afternoon, when even the swish of the traffic in the road outside has lost its allure, few sounds are more cheering than the jolly rattle of the letterbox.  Especially when the failure of the incoming item to fall to the floor heralds without a doubt the arrival of a takeaway pizza menu:  because this means it’s time to play – *drumroll* – PIZZA BINGO!

The details will vary according to the particular pizza supplier (you can also play this with Chinese, Indian, etc., but pizzas are best), but the essence of the game is as follows.

Your menu will have several sections (type of base, standard and extra toppings and such), each containing a variety of options.  Assign a number to each of these, pick a random key and apply it to discover what your delicious meal will consist of.

For example, using my date of birth as the key to this menu from the Hut reveals that I could feast upon the following:

Tuna Melt Topping on a Thick-Crust Pan Base, with additional Spicy Pork Sausage and a side dish of Potato Skins with Cheese and Bacon and a Sour Cream and Chive Dip, followed by a Cookie Dough Cheesecake Slice.  Scrummy!

There, wasn’t that fun?

I should caution you that actually phoning up and ordering the stuff is for advanced players only.

Tuesday, 1 January 2013

It’s Quiz Time - the ‘answers’

1.      Who didn’t skyfall?

A – the Queen: it was a professional stuntman called Gary Connery (who doesn’t look anything like her close up).

2.      Which tower of strength may have been dug up in a car park?

A – Richard III.  (He braggingly describes himself thus in Shakespeare’s play, despite not even being able to rustle up a wee horse).

3.      Is there life on Mars?

A – Yes.  The Curiosity rover has discovered micro-biological traces in rock samples.  They don’t yet know if it’s indigenous, though; it may have been trodden in on the rover's shoes or something.  (That happens here.)

4.      Where did water start just after it was stopped?

A – here in the UK, of course:  just after the hosepipe ban was introduced in the Spring, it started raining and didn’t stop until just before midnight yesterday.

5.      Of what water-related asset was it said, in June: “Prices have bottomed out and investors feel this is a good time to buy.”?

A – Privately owned islands.  This was the view of a representative of a rather specialised estate agency – rush to get yours tomorrow, as the market will certainly take off following this blog post.

6.      Who is ending the year even more pasty-faced?

A – well, mine was George Osborne, because of the warm pasty fiasco.  But they’re all looking a bit seedy, aren’t they?

7.      Two events proved that the world won’t end just because someone says it will.  Identify them both.

A – 1: The end of the last 400 year Baktun in the Mayan Long Count calendar in 21 December; they simply couldn’t be bothered to calculate the next one, the wimps.  2 : Discovery at CERN of the Higgs boson, which explains, among other things, why we have gravity; some said that this discovery would prompt God to realise the game was up, and shut down the universe.  It didn’t happen, so presumably the game isn’t up yet.

8.      How did someone earn £8,000 a day for knowing nothing?

A – George Entwhistle accepted a  £450,000 pay-off for voluntarily resigning as BBC DG after 54 days of not having a clue what was going on in the organisation he was running.

9.      What illumination has finally gone out?

A – the incandescent light bulb, which is no longer available except in certain specialised forms.

10.  Who threw the best blog party of the year?

A – The incomparable ZZZZZZ!!!  (There may have been better ones, but I find it hard to imagine.)


Happy New Year, everyone!