Saturday, 30 January 2016

Instruments of Tortuous Delight

I seem to be being drawn towards musical participations of various sorts, some more likely than others.  I’m not the musician I once was, due to lack of practice, in turn due to a combination of physical difficulty (my right arm doesn’t strum very well any more, and certainly can’t fingerpick), distraction (so much else going on in my life), and indolence.  I have five guitars – I had a picture of them all, but can’t find it and certainly lack the energy to recreate it – only two of which (the acoustic and, inevitably, my beloved Telecaster) I ever pick up nowadays.  Shame, really.

So I’ve gathered together all the other musical instruments I possess (with one exception, a mouth organ which I suspect is lurking inside one of the guitar cases).  Here they are.

Half of them, as you’ll see, are percussion.   The others are my old school recorder (which I can still tootle a bit); a mandolin that belonged to Viv, who never played it  (it needs restoration, really – the lack of tuning pegs, which doesn’t really show in the picture, makes it, erm, untunable); a duck, given to me as a birthday present by my brother: it took me ages to realise that you had to put your fingers on some holes and blow into its backside, whereupon it would emit up to, ooh, at least a pentatonic scale; and some little bells, which fall on the boundary but which I’ll count as not percussion, because you can do things with them other than shake and bang.  (I realise I’m on, ah, shaky ground here, categorically.)

I love percussion.  I have a great sense of rhythm, which sometimes even makes its way down the ever-lengthening neural pathways to my hands and feet.  I could have been a drummer, if I’d had the energy. 

My best ever percussion instrument was a Fiat 850 van we used to hire when Bessie, our Transit, was on one of her frequent rest cures.  But that’s another story. 

Thursday, 28 January 2016


There was a supposedly interesting programme on BBC4 about how the human brain works, which I almost watched, until the irritating presenter, the pseudo-psychedelic graphics and the usual portentous music turned me, and the TV, off.

But it reminded me of a little story from about forty years ago, which I will now tell you.  I’d issue one of those ‘this might bother you’ alerts if I could remember what they were called.  But anyway, here goes.

One of the many things I learned when I lived in Italy was an appreciation of all sorts of offal.  Brain (pigs or calves) was one of these.  [Treat it like sweetbreads or very tender calves’ liver, a dusting of well-seasoned flour and flashed in hot butter, delicately delicious.]

So one day it was decided that the local butcher would be put on the spot.  I can’t remember exactly how the question was posed, but he rose to the challenge.  It turned out that he had a pig’s head in the back room, which he’d be happy to split open for us.  (This must have been in the days when butchers bought in whole carcasses and did the business on the premises.)  The head was duly fetched out, carefully split open, carefully, with a gently wielded cleaver, and – I can picture it to this day – the brains drawn out and presented, on the palm of his hand, for our inspection.

“Hmm,” I remember saying.  “Not much, is there?”

The butcher gave me one of those smiles that say ‘I’ve been waiting for this moment for years’.

“If ‘e ’ad any more, it’d be ‘im eatin’ uz.”

Wednesday, 20 January 2016

My front door

I’d never have expected to find myself in sympathy with that security company (you know the one) whose sub-contractors inadvertently painted all their doors in Middlesbrough red and then allowed asylum seekers to live behind them.

It’s common for communities to have covenants about this sort of thing, which have to be obeyed.  As far as I can tell, the company in question weren’t conforming to any such rules, but merely got hold of a few cheap tins of paint and decided to put it to good use.  Perfectly reasonable, I’d say -  how were they to guess that a shitstorm of sanctimoniousness would burst over their heads for this breach of a newly-minted set of retrospectively made-up correctitude?

No, I have no problem with any of that.  Nor, given the way things are, do I have a problem with the meeja’s handling of the story.  I expect nothing else from them.  They need targets, and will be indiscriminate in selecting them, especially on a slow local news day.  The Mudroch press don’t care much where they point their paint-guns, as long as they splatter something.

No, my problem is that nobody seems to have gone to any lengths at all to identify, name, shame or prosecute the sub-human wazzocks who kicked the whole thing off.  Imagine the thought-process (if that’s not over-glorifying it): we hate immigrants; red doors identify immigrants; so let’s terrorise red-door-dwellers.  That seems to be taken for granted.

For so long as those mentalities – thuggery and blind-eye connivance with thuggery – exist, never mind persist, in this land, goodness and decency are, I worry, doomed.

My front door is painted white, by the way.

Sunday, 17 January 2016

Well did you evah?

A cynical churl writes:

Swell?  Huh.  No sex, illicit or otherwise; hardly any flirtation; no falling over; only one small red wine spillage on the carpet; no appallingly tasteless music, not even background sort; no dancing; no drunken insults...  All you did was eat brilliant food, drink about a bottle of wine each (on average), and sit around having funny, stimulating conversations about everything from speed bumps in the Avenue to the lesser-known works of Terence Rattigan; and it was all over by 11.30 , a mere six hours' worth ...   Call that a swell party?

A gratified host replies:


Friday, 15 January 2016

A drink is still a drink. Innit?

In preparation for tomorrow's Neighbourhood Watch party, to give our livers a head start, Z and I are having an alcohol-free day, or at least part of one.  It's possible that the very last droplet of wine last night was consumed after midnight, and we might be forced to have a small glass of sauv blanc with the halibut steaks and boulangere potatoes later on.  But in the meantime we're enjoying a new cocktail:

Crush some juniper berries and infuse them in a small quantity of tonic water.  Add a few drops of angostura bitters, stir well and strain over ice and a slice of lime.  Top up with tonic to desired level.
This is called a Ginless Wonder.

Tuesday, 12 January 2016

Party Time!

No, don’t get too excited, it’s a local Neighbourhood Watch party, not a blog- or birthday- one. 

I haven’t had a party here for over three years, the last one being my 70th in July 2012, which a couple of my blog-chums attended.  My house is, I’m told, the right size and shape, and also, in the words of my friend and neighbour (and fellow-co-ordinator of the Watch) Nigel ‘has a good feel for a party’.  I’m not sure quite what he means by that, but I’m happy to go along with it .  I always think a party is made, not by the location or even the food and drink, but by the people.  I must know some pretty good party people on that basis, because in twenty-seven years here I can’t remember a single bad one.  (Party, that is; person neither, actually.)

Anyhow, taking no chances, the following notice, suitably framed and embellished, will greet attendees as they arrive.


If a quotation from Horace in the original Latin doesn’t get ‘em going, nothing will.*

Look it up if you need to.  Oh all right, the loose translation from my Oxford quotations book is: ‘Now for drinks, now for some dancing with a good beat.’  Old Horace was clearly on the right track.

Friday, 8 January 2016

Here’s a useful thing

I used that blog title, or something like it, several years ago for a post about my pineapple slicer, which is a marvellous piece of technological design that exactly conforms to the clichĂ© ‘fit for purpose’.  Or ‘does what it says on the tin’, or box in this case.  A box which says ‘pineapple slicer’ and contains a device that slices pineapples is a good box.

This morning’s discovery didn’t come in a box, and didn’t have an obvious purpose, though I didn’t know that at the time of its discovery.  I have a drawer in the table beside me which I think of as my ‘useful stuff’ drawer.  It’s full of stuff, some of which I use.  To be more precise (or rather, less imprecise), there is an assortment of pens; two or three old notebooks (kept because they possibly contain information that might prove useful at some point – indeed, one of them did just yesterday, reminding me of the HTML needed to embed a link in a blog comment…); a refill for my Cross pen; a device for fixing studs to golf shoes; a calculator; several pairs of defunct spectacles; a bumper sticker for Fender amps; a magnifying glass (4” diameter); much else.

The other day, I needed a rubber (that’s an eraser, for any Transatlantic readers) to facilitate my new passion for Sudoku, instilled in me by the awesome Z.  She can do it all in her head, but as a novice I need to write the candidate numbers in the cells, so a rubber is essential.  Eventually, I found one, which I’ve been using to varying effect, but it was a bit of a delve.  So this morning I decided that drawer needed a good seeing-to.

It still does, because one if the very first things I uncovered was this:

I inherited this curious little object from a distant relative-by-marriage about twenty years ago when his wife died and the family home in Narberth was cleared out.  Ivor was a taciturn Welshman whom I hardly knew but liked, perhaps, better than those closer to him.  When I was first introduced to him, in 1988, by his niece (later my wife), who had obviously had previous relationships, he was politely non-committal, but I later learned that his considered opinion consisted of a sniff and the words ‘Not bad.  Better than the last one, anyway’, which I took as unconditional approval. 

I knew that he repaired watches, whether as a hobby or a profession I never learnt.  So I’d always assumed that this tiny magnifying glass was a tool of that trade, though I couldn’t work out how it would be used in practice.  I stuck the picture on Facebook this morning, and was advised by my several expert friends there that it is, in fact, to quote Mike, ‘an inch glass, for a material worker to count the number of threads per inch in woven material’.  It should contain an insert in the base for calibration purposes, which is obviously long lost. 

So I’ve learnt something not very useful, but nonetheless fascinating, today.  Not, as you might suppose, the original purpose of this piece of early 20th century fit-for-purpose technology; but that people were expected to use it as the tool of their living.  Not all day long, I don’t suppose; but still.  I can’t imagine that.  Or perhaps I can, but I’m not straying into that territory this evening.

And the drawer, of course, remains un-decluttered and full of useful stuff.

Wednesday, 6 January 2016

Of Red Cabbages and Things

It has been proven impossible to cook braised red cabbage for less than sixteen people.  D. Smith’s recipe calls for 2lb of cabbage, 1lb of apples and 1 lb of onions.  She claims this serves four.  Even allowing for cooking reduction, that’s going on a pound per head.  Even without any other dishes, that’s a big eat, and you wouldn’t want a plateful of nothing else, would you?|

As it turned out, it served the three of us on Saturday, twelve or so on Sunday (not everyone chose it from the vegetable selection on the table), and there was still some left over. And, I understand, over again.  It’s a shame, because it’s a brilliant dish.  Trouble is, you can’t buy less than a kilo of red cabbage, and if you use a quarter of one, to serve three, all you can do with the rest is pickle it.  Which is fine, but not necessarily a job for the morning of a great big, great family post-Christmas/New Year lunch.

I know, it can be frozen.  But making too much of something and then freezing the remainder is all very well, but you don’t want it forced on you, do you?  Especially when your freezer is already crammed full.

In other things:

I saw a sign on my way to Norfolk, outside a cafĂ©, which actually said ‘NO ARTICS’, but which I read as ‘NO ANTICS’, which momentarily put me off.  And coming back into Reading, one of those sanctimoniously patronising homilies they display when there’s no real traffic information asked ‘ARE YOU VISIBLE ENOUGH?’  You have to think about that, don’t you?

And, I’ve had my first try at Sudoku.  Or three tries, to be honest, all at the same puzzle, all ending in failure.  I’m good at deductive logic but bad at spatial connections, which means that, in this case, the latter frustrates the former.  So I’m going to persevere, in order to improve the latter.   I’ve gathered together the essential ingredients – a pencil and a rubber.  Oh, and a functioning brain.  One thing I’ve learnt (or re-learnt) recently is that one must keep on learning.