Sunday, 30 August 2015


[The latest in my very occasional series about Stately Homes – click the label for the other three.]

Keen to get out of Reading on a dank festival weekend, we settled on this ‘stately home’, even though we knew in advance that, nowadays, it’s no such thing.  It’s a self-styled luxury hotel, owned by the National Trust under a perpetual bequest but leased, at the moment, to an outfit called ‘London and Regional Properties’, a company name which probably tells you all you need to know about them.  It was a nice afternoon out, and the rain held off, so I’m happy for the festival-goers at Rivermead.

But I can’t pretend to be much impressed by Cliveden.  I don’t blame the NT for milking it as an earner, because the raw material, frankly, isn’t that special.  In fact rather than on the actual fabric (the first house here was built in 1666, but this one dates back all the way to just 1851, and has been hacked about beyond recognition since then), it trades almost entirely on its back-story.  Dukes and Earls (Buckingham, Orkney – how did Orkney get its own Duke, you have to wonder? – Sutherland, Westminster, plus a Prince of Wales called Fred); a go-to venue for inter-war high life under the attractively monied patronage of Waldorf and Nancy Astor (Shaw, Chaplin, Churchill, Joe Kennedy, Kipling; all the usual suspects hung out there); and of course, in the early sixties, it was one of the settings for some genuine scandal, as opposed to the ersatz 1920s sort.  (There are a couple of exquisite line drawings of Christine and, I think, Mandy – we were allowed only a fleeting glimpse during the grudgingly granted ‘house tour’ – in a corridor in the old servants’ quarters, by Stephen Ward, the true victim of that particular contamination.)

As I said, I can’t pretend to be impressed.  This place is, basically, a fake.  Worse, it’s a weighted compromise.  It’s the perfect exemplar of how, when you cross charitable good intentions with professional corporatism, the latter will win out to the detriment of the former, every time.

The best bits were the lovely, tiny chapel with its beautifully crafted biblical mosaics from the 1890s; the walk from there, down about 450 steps, through woodland to the river, and more importantly back up again (because it proved I could do it (just)); and the subsequent life-saving cream tea in the Orangery café.

Friday, 28 August 2015

Bit of a ramble this evening...

Just finished watching 'The Story of Swing' prom, live from the Albert Hall.  Over recent weeks I've wallowed in the Sinatra series 'All or Nothing At All' (hence part of that peculiar semi-dream I reported the other day).  My favourite album of the past year has been the Tony Bennett/Lady Gaga one.  And the other evening I found myself listening with pleasure to Nat King Cole.  Am I turning into one of my parents?  (Unlikely, neither of them cared that much for music, did they?)  No, I just think I'm going back.

In other news: Alan has a new knee.  I went across to see him this morning.  He did know it was coming, but was obviously in a bit of denial about the aftermath.  He's one of the most active people I know, and being confined to a chair, regular procedures, and crutches obviously doesn't sit well with him.  I hope I cheered him up a bit, I think so.  He was obviously delighted to hear the 'one step at a time, mate' line yet again.
One strange thing is that apparently the BMC and NIHCE mandate that, after an operation of this sort, anti-coagulants must be administered for a fortnight.  This is to minimise the risk of thrombosis; but of course it also means that the wound heals less quickly, which in turn means that he can't get on with the essential physio exercises.  I know nothing, obviously, but I can't help wondering whether 'one size fits all' dictats of this sort are terribly helpful.  His consultant is being circumspect to say the least, obviously thinking that the 'rule' is nonsense but a bit scared of advising a breach of it in case it rebounds.  Alan thought he'd seen a wink, and has stopped taking them; it's stopped bleeding and he's started the exercises.  So far so good.

In other (political) news:
On 'Any Questions' tonight, Priti Patel said " We won the election.  We are in Government.  And we're getting on with the job of running the country."  Only one of these three statements is true: see if you can spot which one?
And how does this work?  [I paraphrase the thoughts of a financial trader]:  "The markets are in meltdown, the world economy is going to crash.  What shall we do?  I know, let's do everything we can to ensure that this actually does happen."

Tuesday, 25 August 2015

Self-inflicted Earworms, and other dreams

Aren’t dreams interesting?
At 4.15 a.m. I was wakened by a dream (Ginger Baker, who has had his head shaved and entrusted me with the tresses, is escorting me to a nightclub, which turns out to be a muddy pig farm with a hummock in the middle, where I lose my shoes, but then this Korean girl comes along and starts to – ) which I’ll tell you all about some other time.
So it’s 4.15 in the morning, and Frank Sinatra’s ‘I Thought About You’ from ‘Songs for Swingin’ Lovers!’ is playing in my head, complete with Nelson Riddle’s arrangement and Harry ‘Sweets’ Edison’s muted trumpet obligatos, and much as I love this record, at this point in time I need to delete it.  So I try all my usual insomnia tricks – the yogic toe-to-scalp muscle-by muscle relaxation, the step-by-step walk to my primary school, the attempt to list alphabetically all the girls I’ve known in my life, from A to Z (I usually skip over Q and X, and I and U) – but what happens is that the music in my inner ears segues into entirely invented orchestral clichés, which swerve between Basie and Victor Sylvester, through chord changes I can almost hear but never pursue and I decide to just let it play itself out… 
Whereupon, of course, I shut down into a dreamless sleep, until the six-fifteen goods train rumbles past and rattles the windows.
Having read ‘The Child’s Garden of Psychoanalysis’, I can interpret most of the above, except: why was she Korean?

Saturday, 22 August 2015

Barbecue surprise

We had our annual local Community Barbie today, in the local Community Garden at the bottom of the road, which is a delightful local asset tucked unobtrusively between some ugly lock-up garages, the railway, and an inspirational view of the grey wall of the local Lidl.  Here’s a picture I took just before people started to arrive, which doesn’t do it justice but gives a flavour:

You can’t see the wildlife pond behind me (which I helped to dig fifteen years ago), the free allotments at the railway end where locals grow and share every conceivable kind of vegetable, from runner beans to exotic Caribbean squashes; nor the kiddies’ swings, doll’s houses and slides which over the years have been – I was going to say ‘donated’, but that doesn’t capture the true spirit of the place – let’s just say ‘put there’, by local people (some of them probably long moved away), just because they wanted to.

The barbecue was a great success, of course, they always are: but that’s not what I really wanted to tell you.  This is uncanny.

When I’d arrived at about half-eleven to help with setting things up, there were already a few people who’d decided to have a family picnic and were doing their own setting-up further down the garden from where we’d installed our barbies and tables.  I went over and introduced myself, explained what we were up to and suggested they’d be welcome to come and join in, mingle and use some of the cooking heat.  The young man I spoke to told me they’d come to England last year, loved Reading, were settling in nicely but thought the streets were too dirty…  So they did all that – cooking, mingling, kids interacting –  over the next few hours, but I didn’t actually get to talk to any of them.  For some reason I’d assumed they were from Poland.

Anyway, as we were tidying up at about four o’clock, someone told me this extended family (there were over a dozen of them by now, spread over at least three generations) were in fact Italian.  As you may know, I never pass up an opportunity to practise my rusty (arruginito) Italian, so I went over again, and introduced myself again, rustily.

Naturally, I was asked how I’d learnt Italian (‘parli ancora molto bene!’), so I explained how I’d lived in Milan for three years in the late sixties, been in a band, etc etc.  (Here comes the uncanny bit.)

A lady at the far end of the table, who’d been listening with interest to the conversation but not saying anything, looked up.

“You lived in Milano?”  I nodded.  “Where did you live?”

“In a pensione, in Via Lamarmora, near the Duomo,” I told her.  Her mouth opened silently for a moment, then she said:

“I lived in Via Lamarmora before I came to England.”  I didn’t want to ask, and I didn’t have to.  “Number seventeen.”

Thursday, 20 August 2015

Mental graffiti

The other day, I was about to photograph and blog about the arcane runes that had been decorating the wall opposite me for some weeks, when someone inconsiderately came along and cleaned them off. 

I've been encouraged to go ahead and post anyway: an interesting challenge.

So, here's an artist's impression of what it might have looked like (names have been changed to protect the idiotic):

And here's the wall as it looks now (like the map of the ocean in The Hunting of the Snark, it may be a bit short on detail):

My gardener, who is full of facts, some of which might even be true, informs me that these scrawls are boundary demarcation lines agreed between teenage street gangs.  

I'm going away now to imagine the inter-gang Summit conference, and to ponder on the global geopolitical parallels, if any.   Also to get my supper.

Friday, 14 August 2015

Job Done

Right, I've finished writing it.  Well, it's only taken about five years - not full time, but at least a day a month on average.

It's called "This Obscure Group", subtitle "Dave Anthony's Moods - a personal memoir of the best unheard band of the Sixties."  I've put a few edited extracts on this blog before, but this is the final product.  Or at least as final as it's going to be.  I could go on tinkering for ever.

So I'd like it to be read, or at least available.  Does anyone know anything about publishing (vanity or otherwise)?  It's long enough - about 42,000 words - to form a slim volume, especially if padded out with a few photos. 

Sunday, 9 August 2015

How often do you use drugs?

Or any kind of medication, for that matter?

About four weeks ago, on a lovely country walk, I got stung or bitten on the arm by some kind of insect.  I noticed something, but thought no more of it until the next day, when it had pumped itself up to visibly swollen, florid proportions.  Ah, antihistamine, I thought, and found a tube in my medicine chest.  It had been there for about two years, since the last time I got stung, and was just within its ‘use by’ date, but I didn’t trust it, so I nipped down the chemists, checked with the pharmacist that there weren’t any contra-indications with the warfarin, and got a new tube.  A couple of days’ worth of application did the trick.

So I now have an almost-full tube of antihistamine cream, with an expiry date  of June 2017.  It contains 25 grams, minus the one or two grams I used on the sting; and of course, having been opened, it’s probably going to go off more quickly.  So to get full value out of this purchase, I need to get bitten or stung about 24 times over the next twenty months or so.

I had the same problem today with Savlon, after a brief collision with the sharp end of the iron.  Luckily my current tube of this wonderful stuff is well within its date, but, again, I’m not planning to cut, burn or otherwise injure myself sufficiently to get to the bottom of the tube before it becomes unuseable.

You can’t buy this stuff in small enough quantities to avoid binning eighty percent of it.  (It’s like spices, about which I’ve blogged before, but much more important.)  No wonder big pharma makes the profits.



Don’t even start me on cancer treatments, anti-virals or immunisation.  They managed to roll out the Ebola vaccine in just twelve months – no mention yet of the impact on their bottom line.  It can be done.  They just need to be shamed into doing it.


Friday, 7 August 2015

Relocation, Relocation, Relocation?

This concept pops up every couple of years, in my mind and (at least once) in my blog.  Do I want to spend the rest of my life in this admittedly pleasant house in a not-so-pleasant town where I know a few people I rarely see and don’t get out much because there’s nowhere to get out to?  Answer, no.  So I really ought to relocate – but where?

I’d been talking to my brother about this, and he sympathised, but made a remark that has stuck in my mind: “Don’t leave it too long.”

He’s right.  Inertia is one of the most powerful forces in life, especially mine.  So I’m revisiting the topic with some focus.  There’s nothing binding me here, when I think about it.  On the other hand, there are few things pulling me in almost any other direction – which doesn’t exactly help.

Last time, I did it geographically.  Here’s the relevant bit of that post from 2012:

As this town (which I like, a bit, and which contains a lot of people whom I like, a lot, but all that’s been factored in to this blogdream) is slap bang in the middle of southern England, and given that I miss the sea and the coast, I only really have four options:  north, south, east or west.  North is out of the question.  South would mean going back to where I was born.  East is a foreign country.  So that leaves West.

West consists of Wales and the West Country.  I don’t want to live in Wales, for reasons too difficult to explain here.  So that leaves the West Country.  This consists of Devon and Cornwall.  Devon is tempting, but it’s too expensive.  So I’m left with Cornwall.

What was I thinking of?  There’s no way I’m going to Cornwall.  So that rules out West.

South probably means Bournemouth – um, not really.  I’m not going to spend my remaining years mobility-scooting up and down Southbourne Grove pining for the La Fiesta coffee bar.

I watch too many weather forecasts to consider going much further North than Shrewsbury.

I might have been a bit unfair on East, though – to be honest, with a few exceptions, in 2012 I knew hardly anything about East Angular, or its denizens.  Maybe I should go and take a closer look.

Tuesday, 4 August 2015


  1. I got the Telecaster back and tried it out earlier this evening.  It looks and sounds lovely, but the wiring is wrong – the volume control doesn’t control the volume, which is a bit basic, isn’t it?  So I’m going to have to take it back, which is a bit annoying.  I’m fairly sure I know what he’s done wrong, and it’s easily put right, but you’d think he’d have tested it before handing it over, wouldn’t you?
  2. I noticed a minor infestation of tiny spiders in the bathroom just now.  God knows how they got there, because that’s one of the two rooms I’m fairly careful about keeping clean.  (Plus the kitchen, of course!)  I’ve killed them with bleach and spray, I think, but I’ll have to do a full inspection in the morning, before [fill in your own chosen activity here].
  3. I’ve also, I think, killed the ants out on the patio.  I know they’re supposed to be part of the ecological food chain, and blah blah, but they’ll just have to go and be ecological somewhere else.  I don’t want ants in my pa… tio.
  4. I’ve finished reading ‘Go Fetch a Watchman’ and Nick Hornby’s ‘Funny Girl’.  I know which one entertained me more.
  5. I’m thinking, yet again, about relocation.  There’s nothing to keep me here, except inertia.  I’ll probably blog again about this, if I can summon up the ertia.

Saturday, 1 August 2015

Apple Sauce!

But not just any old apples.  (Very new ones in fact.)  My gardener, Nick, told me the other day that the way to tell whether apples are ready to eat is by the colour of the pips: if they’ve turned brown, that means the tannins have set and they’re good to go.  Or something.

So I had three fairly hefty windfalls (not really, there wasn’t much wind today, but they fell anyway) and I cut them open.  The pips were still whiteish, but “well, I figured, what the hell?”*  I had a pork chop to eat up.

The apple sauce was better than the pork.  In fact, it was superb.  (I take no credit, all I did was peel, chop and cook them, with a dash of sugar and lemon juice.)  There’s a good yield on the tree this year, so by November I’ll be all appled-out, but I’ll have a full freezer.

*Spot the quote!