Saturday, 27 September 2014

Risk Averse?

When I was a child, I was told that you should never switch a light on or off with wet hands, because electricity and water don’t mix – or rather, they mix too well.  I thought this was stupid – how could the electricity possibly get out of that sealed insulated switch and connect up with the tiny amount of water on my finger?  I got no sympathy.  “Just don’t do it.”  There’s no arguing with these grown-ups.  So I didn’t, and drying my hands before operating the light became a lifelong habit.

I remembered that this morning when, after cleaning my teeth, I switched the light on to shave: with a wet finger, of course.  One day back in the early spring, I’d nicked my face shaving.  Now this is not a good idea when you’re on Warfarin.  My blood clots half as quickly as most people’s.  I’d been wet-shaving for fifty years, and cut myself maybe a dozen times, but that wasn’t the point.  So I went out and bought an electric razor.  I don’t particularly like it, and it doesn’t do the job as well, but you can’t be too careful, can you?

But a change is under way.  I emerged from the hospital a fortnight ago clutching a raft of advice and prohibitions, some of which were about driving.  Depending on which leaflet you read and who you listened to, the recommendations varied bewilderingly.  I had to wait for six weeks before I could get behind the wheel; four weeks; two weeks; and “not until I felt ready.”  A couple of days ago I felt ready, so I thought what the heck and nipped up to Waitrose.  I seem to have survived.

So I may have been overly risk-averse for much of my life.  On the other hand, I did walk away in 1965 from a promising career in a glass shop to join a rock ‘n’ roll band.  But that was an emotional decision, not a rational one.

Monday, 22 September 2014

A New England?

Most gratifying to see Cameron, Gove, Shapps, Hague and co taking such a statesmanlike approach to these constitutional issues.  “How can we use this to screw Labour at the next election and secure our own jobs, whilst not upsetting the money-cart?”  Thomas Jefferson would be proud of them!

‘English votes on English laws’.  Well, leave aside for a moment the fact that, according to Will Hutton in yesterday’s Observer, citing the McKay commission, a) there has been a total of just two-and-a-half years since 1919 when House of Commons arithmetic would have made any difference to any vote, and b) the question would hardly ever arise in practice anyway – there is remarkably little actual solely ‘English’ legislation.

Leave that aside.  The obviously false assumption is that ‘England’ in any way equates or is comparable to Scotland (or Wales, or Northern Ireland).  Quite apart from differences of landmass and population, none of these political constructs is in any way homogeneous.  (The referendum voting breakdown clearly proves this for Scotland; and I know neighbouring villages in Wales that’d be separate countries if they could.)  Least of all ‘England’.

No, England needs breaking down before any of this stuff makes any sense.  I haven’t worked out the details yet – can I safely leave that to Mr Hague? – but to kick off the negotiations I suggest revisiting the ancient Kingdoms of the Anglian Heptarchy.  In case you’d forgotten, these were, in about 700 AD: Mercia; Northumbria; East Anglia; Wessex; Essex; Sussex; and Kent.   There’ll be some mergers, demergers and acquisitions along the way, no doubt; but it’s a start point.

P.S. Sorry, I’ve temporarily reinstated the dreaded WV, in the hope of seeing off a particularly persistent idiotic Chinese spamhead.   I’ll take it off again after a few more posts.

Sunday, 21 September 2014


I’ve been out! 
Bee came over and took me to lunch at the Greyhound at Tidmarsh, which has the distinction of having nearly burned down ten years ago but still managing to be a Grade II listed building.   And a gorgeous pub.   And nearly empty Sunday lunchtime – people round here need to get out more.

And happy birthday Lennie.

Saturday, 20 September 2014


I once characterised boredom as a state of mind resulting from wanting to do something but having nothing you want to do.  For the time being, I have to rework that second part slightly: ‘having nothing you’re allowed to do’ is nearer the mark.

For a start, I’m grounded.  I mean that in the old-fashioned sense of ‘confined to barracks’, rather than the modern one of ‘focussed and filled with mindfulness’.  The physical activities I can undertake are pretty constrained.  Heavy lifting or strenuous behaviour of any sort is a no-no.  I don’t know where exactly the boundaries lie – someone on the NHS website claimed that he wasn’t allowed to empty the dishwasher; I’m not going that far – but it’s best to be careful.  So cutting the grass, clearing the attic, reinstalling the curtain rail in the spare room that got knocked down by the decorator three years ago – all these kinds of pleasures are off limits.  Imagine my frustration.

Some ‘gentle walking’ is permissible, so I’ve wandered down to Lidl’s to buy some peanuts (is that ‘heavy lifting’?).  But I’m not supposed to drive for at least another week or so; Lord knows why, it’s much less strenuous than walking.  Something to with emergency stops and insurance validity, apparently. 

Ironing.  I s’pose I could do some ironing.

The dishwasher needs emptying.  O frabjous joy!

Done that.

I’ve done yesterday’s crosswords.

No, it’s all down to the life of the mind.  Except that it’s an effort to force my mind beyond matters medical at the moment.  There are some let’s call them ‘events’ which need to occur thrice daily, and tend to disrupt the flow of thought.  I can’t concentrate on anything more demanding than the newspaper, and the less demanding bits at that.  The referendum has passed me  by, and my mental feebleness is such that twenty four hours on I still don’t understand how Scottish independence has suddenly turned into English independence …  But that’s just me, I’m sure.

Oh well.  At least I now have the internet; my landline broadband was down when I got back from the hospital, which was strangely disorientating.  Good job I bought that iPhone!

Oh well.  Time for a cup of tea soon.  And another crossword.  Things can only get better.

Thursday, 11 September 2014

Five Thoughts about this Referendum Thingie

It’s everywhere: the Guardian alone has had 1,707 pages of coverage this week, more than five times the actual thickness of the paper (or so it seems).   So don’t imagine you can come here to escape it! 

I’m not entitled to vote, obviously, which gives me the right to say whatever I damn well please about it.  So, just five random thoughts:

  1. Why aren’t I entitled to vote?  In my admittedly limited experience, divorces usually allow both parties to have a say.
  2. The actual question – ‘Should Scotland be an independent country?’ – seems to mean ‘Just say Yes or No to something or other, we’ll work out what afterwards.’
  3. Here’s an idea for Gideon.  Flog off NatWest; implement the Williams and Glyn English branch hive-off; then sell what’s left of RBS to Scotland to use as its new central bank.  They already have the money-printing presses.
  4. What will the residue be called?  ‘Rest of the U.K.’ doesn’t really catch you, does it?  I suggest ‘FormerlyUnited Kingdom’ or ‘DeUnited Kingdom’.  Do the acronyms and say it quickly …
  5. What about the weather forecast, eh?  What about the weather forecast?  The BBC doesn’t do the Republic of Ireland; will they continue to do Scotland?  And will the SBC do England?   This is important!

Monday, 8 September 2014

Fixing a Hole*

I know, I haven’t been blogging much lately, for too many reasons to enumerate here – some due to necessity, some due to mostly enjoyable distractions, lots due to, let’s face it, sheer inertia.

So it’s a relief* to have a genuinely valid excuse for not blogging over the next week or two – I’m going into hospital!

I’m so excited!  This will be only the fourth time in my life (not counting the odd A&E visit).  The first was to have my tonsils out when I was about six, about which I remember little except that I was forced to eat banana sandwiches, which put me off the things (bananas, not sandwiches) for years, and that parents were discouraged from visiting.  The second time was in my forties, to have wisdom teeth extracted; that was under private healthcare provided by my employers, which meant I had my own room in a very tastefully decorated hospital (without, of course, anything like an A&E department).  And the third, last January, I’ve blogged about here.

[The statisticians amongst you will have noted the increasing frequency of these events.  I’m not bothered in the least by this; the sample is far too small as yet to prove a trend.] 

I won’t go into details about this fourth one, except to say that, apparently, it happens a lot to old men like me, and will involve the micro-surgical equivalent of the reamer fitting on a Black and Decker.  It’ll be a piece of – no, better not say.*

Anyway, I’ve resolved, when I come home, to fix the hole in my blogging bucket.  I’ll probably be sitting around for a while, not allowed to do much more than read, listen to music, and write.  So, I’ll try for the ‘post-a-day’ policy so enjoyably employed by other bloggers whom I follow.  It’ll be an interesting experiment, given the enforced narrowing of my horizons.  Will my imagination be given free rein into hitherto unexplored realms; or will it be along the lines of ‘Got up.  Fell out of bed.’?  Who knows? 

* Enough with the clues: Ed.

Monday, 1 September 2014

Ten Great Intros

I was flipping through ‘Yeah Yeah Yeah’, Bob Stanley’s magisterial history of modern popular music (which should be essential reading for anyone with anything approaching a  passionate interest in the subject – it’s 737 pages long, but you can skip), when I came across a remark about the role of the intro in a great pop record.  In the days when radio play was the key to sales, a good hook at the very start could make all the difference.  Record makers realised this and played around with the concept (and its creative potential), and the intro eventually became a miniature art form in its own right.

So I started to wonder what might be amongst my top great intros.  I drew a few boundaries: it had to be instrumental, which sadly rules out, for example, Good Vibrations (‘I…’) and Heartbreak Hotel (‘Well…’); it had to aurally identify the record before the song itself actually started – to stand alone, if you like; and as a self-imposed constraint, it had to be from the fifties and sixties: both because that’s my formative musical era, and because those decades were definitely the golden age of the intro.

[I wanted to make this a kind of quiz – guess the intro from a brief sound clip – but I lack the technology for this, so the Spotify links (where they work) will be followed by the whole record.  I hope you don’t mind.] 

Okay, here goes (don’t expect many surprises):

 More or less randomly selected – it tied with ‘That’ll Be The Day’ – but in the fifties, upfront guitars like this were a blast between the ears.  And Chuck’s has lasted longer: you can still hear it played today, if you listen closely.  And it’s a better song, at least lyrically.

Because it’s is just so beautiful, and contrasts so drastically with the next selection, the same song opened up to such opposite interpretations, surely a hallmark of an imperishable masterpiece of songwriting.
Frank Sinatra – I’ve Got You Under My Skin (or more correctly Nelson Riddle): 
These two intros to the same song couldn’t be more different in setting the emotional tone (sad resignation versus angry menace), not to mention the musical tenor, of what’s to follow, yet they’re equally memorable.
Spoiled for choice here really – God Only Knows was a close contender –  but this is just so evocative!

The Beatles - Strawberry Fields Forever
 Well, I had to include one, didn’t I?  Again, random choice.  First ever use of the Mellotron?  And it does illustrate one intro trick, which is to start with the bridge or middle bit; they played this card over and over again.  Strangely, it doesn’t appear to be available on Spotify; why would that be?  Oh, I know…

The longest intro in pop history?  It might sound tame now, but when I first heard it on Luxembourg, through a wave of phase, I thought I’d tuned in to some other planet, which of course I had.

Because I can remember exactly where I was when I first heard it.  And because, for reasons lost in time, it made me want to sing as well as play rock ‘n’ roll.  And because of the rimshots.

The shortest intro in pop history, just two rapid-fire drum rimshots – it hardly qualifies. But it counted for a lot more in 1956.  Drums had never been so loud.

Bob Dylan - Like a Rollin' Stone  (again, no Spotify link)
Yet another rimshot, followed by a mind-spinning swirl of quintessential 1965.  You heard the words before they even started – didn’t you?

And of course I’ve kept the best till last…  Dave Anthony's Moods - New Directions
Modesty forbids me from saying more ...!