Tuesday, February 02, 2016

The Chefs at The Alhambra, Brighton

I had moved to London. Someone in my flat had been showing their friend my budgie, Toby, and they hadn't shut the door of my room.
The house cat got in, knocked the cage to the floor, and sank her teeth into the little bird.
Next morning, I held him in my hand to keep him warm and set off to the PDSA. He was still breathing (just) but on the way there he fixed me with a beady eye, stretched out, and died.
That night, I discovered that The Alhambra in Brighton had burned down.
That's how eras end; you think things will last forever, but they don't.

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Huntrhymeswyth's Big Idea

Jeremy Huntrhymeswyth looked in the mirror. Great face! Unlined, smooth-skinned, punctuated with sparkling eyes (especially when he looked at his own reflection).
Could be years younger than his real age!
His eyes roamed upwards. The hair. Was it time to stop using gel?
He’d been applying Snake Oil Hair Restorer for weeks, which Beatrice, the receptionist at Thai Therapies (in Shepherd’s Market, where he went each Friday for a power massage they called ‘Gentleman’s Relish’), had given him with the assurance that it would solve his problem.
But it didn’t; like the retreating tide at Frinton, it was stubbornly pulling back from his face, half a centimeter at a time, its recession linked in an unnerving way with each step of the step-by-step dismantling of the bloody National Health Service.
This was a major problem; Richard ‘horseteeth’ Branson was waiting at the wings flapping his Bank of Bermuda cheque book, and at the other side, the fellows from The Lodge were murmuring things about putting off his promotion to Grand Farolera.
He inspected his hairline carefully. Transplant? Maybe, but Roger’s transplant, even though it had been done by the top chap at Harley Street, reminded him of miniature rows of vegetables.
He’d tried to get Torquil to look into repealing the Hippocratic Oath but Torquil had got back to him and said that it wasn’t a law, it was an agreement between doctors that had nothing to do with law or Parliament.
Moving away from the mirror, and the slightly distressing reflection, a thought occurred to Huntrhymeswyth; it lit up the dank parliamentary office like a light bulb.
If he could, in conjunction with that lab in Surrey, develop a brand new virus that knocked out The Poor, The Unemployed Shirkers, The Asylum Seekers, The Disabled and The Elderly, what a lot of money that would save!
In the short term, they’d have to cough up a bit to Murdoch to make sure that it got reported properly: ‘nothing we can do’ and so on. And keep the United Nations out of it: mind their own business.
Of course it would cost a bit to ‘treat’ them all, but they could commandeer a few of the luxury flats that the Chinese and Russians were pulling out of, now they realize that the London property market is going to crash. Ship ‘em all to London and let the new Labour mayor sort ‘em out; that will give him something to chew on, little upstart!
Cosmo in Statistics would be able to work of the ratio of the elderly that the Tories need to keep going- maybe a ‘vaccination trial for elderly people only’, so as not to lose too many Tory voters- ha ha!
Rubbing his hands with glee, Huntrhymeswyth strode across the room to pick up the phone to call Budgets. It was time to put the plan in motion, before anyone could stop him. A neat, white, rich UK population of Tory voters within the next five years, and no need for social anything any more.
A gleam of light shone across at him from the mirror.
With a sinking heart, he met the gaze of two greedy, sparkling eyes that were peering back at him from the dome of a shining, and now completely bald, head.

Big Yellow Taxi

Saturday, January 30, 2016


Perhaps you could call this research; I have spent two hours looking through a pile of cuttings and articles, weeding out the useful ones, discarding the interesting-but-not-relevant ones, and throwing away the rubbish.
There is still a fat pile of physical stuff to look through, plus a substantial amount of links and some notes-to-self to download some academic articles.
My research is looking miserably unsubstantial, but the upside is that it's really thorough. I have two volunteer readers and I think I might have finished in in two week's time. The might mean that the enormous pile of books that I've amassed in the last five years can be weeded out too and perhaps I'll see the surface of the kitchen table.
After all this is done (and I have an April deadline for another chapter plus two events in June and July to plan, more coming soon on those), I am going to re-boot my music life. I have had an album ready to record for six months but was clobbered by E Coli in September on the way to look at an analogue studio (yes, it was that quick). It's time I re-did my web page because I've had the same one for ten years. Stuff like that.
Now, however, I'm off to count houses. The neighbour over the back fence has build a humungous loft extension in place of a smaller one with obscured windows. I don't want to look at their child from my kitchen window, nor their teenage son apparently half-undressed, and especially not at what appeared to be two writhing human beings on the bed this afternoon, so I am going to post a tactfully-worded note through their door and advise them to put curtains up!

'Sweetie' Cover Photo By Claire Barratt

The Dansette Tour

This is a brilliant idea. It is the anniversary of The Daintees' album Boat to Bolivia this year. The band has made a re-recording of the original songs which will be released on vinyl, and Martin Stephenson will be going on a house concert tour of the UK with a Dansette, playing the album and talking about the songs.
It has sold out already- I think it took about a day to do so.
(I love the poster too, designed by Kieran Fitzpatrick)

Chefs Posters (again)

I am going through my 'archive' looking for the disc with the scanned Chefs posters on it- sadly, I appear to have mislaid it, but I did find these.

Friday, January 29, 2016

The Cupboard Is Bare

It started yesterday; I needed to buy a bottle of water for a guest speaker who had come in to speak to the students.
No water in the University cafe (run by Starbucks- boo! Only used when desperate).
After racing up and down a few stairs, I found vending machine that sold water, which was a bit of luck.
Later, I went to Camden. I went into a cafe because I was starving. 'Sorry, no food', said the persona behind the counter.
So I went to the next cafe. Both of the things I asked for (first one, had run out, second one had... run out) weren't available.
Today, I struggled through ghastly Westfield Stratford to the best Lebanese restaurant, driven by my appetite after  avery busy morning. I was looking forward to a chicken wrap with spiced potatoes.
'No chicken', they shrugged.
No food then.
Everyone's cupboards are bare this week, which is completely unnerving. I always mean to make sandwiches before I set off, but you guessed it, every morning the cupboard is bare. I either have bread and no sandwich filling, or sandwich filling and no bread.
I can't think of a solution for this state of affairs at the moment.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Charity Shops in High Barnet Mini-Review

Sometimes I will do anything to avoid marking.
Well, here you are: a mini-review of High Barnet's charity shops, sometimes the source of rich and fruitful pickings, sometimes quite literally threadbare.
Cherry Lodge: can be rather disappointing, and really only for the most dedicated charity shopper who is able to make daily trips. I have sometimes seen nice china serving dishes here. Alas, I do not serve, so they remained languishing in the window.
North London Hospice: this shop used to have a canny manager whom I suspect bought some of the best stuff before it ever hit the selves. However, you still see the occasional camera in the window and I bought an acoustic guitar here which unfortunately has a twisted neck, but they weren't to know that. Sometimes they have small items of furniture, and it's definitely one of the best ones.
All Aboard: unlike the above, nobody weeds out stuff before it gets to the All Aboard chain. Some of their stuff is really peculiar but I've bought a couple of Western shirts here, and this is the shop that had an old fashioned gramophone with a trumpet once. What a good job it was far too expensive for me to buy! The lady in here is phenomenally friendly.
Cancer Research: they have recently redesigned the interior of this shop, which was a mistake. Now it's all tidied up and the desire to pop in for a rummage has evaporated along with its untidiness. There are sometimes nice women's shirts and tops, though.
PDSA: enormously untidy in the friendliest way, and I bought a great leopardskin coat here once. There are some superb men's clothes at the back. I once bought three brand new tweed shirts for two quid each. Now that's charity shopping!
Oxfam: pouf! the only one that smells like a charity shop. Come on guys, it doesn't have to! In spite of that, and the fact that it's rubbish for clothes, it sells records and CDs (some really good buys sometimes), and the occasional antique book. Well worth a visit.
Noah's Ark Children's Hospice: sells functioning electrical goods- some audio gear- and has been a godsend for last minute emergencies like old CD players and so on. Not very nice clothes though.
Willow, and another new one: avoid. Nylon, acrylic, bobbly wool. Pull up your socks guys. The lady in one of them refused to take my donation one week, then the following week they were appealing for donations. How very silly.
Last but not least comes my favourite, the British Heart Foundation, where someone takes the trouble to put the books in alphabetical order (yippee!! thank you! I buy all my books here), there's a fab selection of clothes for both genders, and the right ratio of space:rummage-rails to accommodate all sorts of people, buggies, waking sticks and lonely chatters.
There you go.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Dear Tories: a Sunday Letter

This letter is inspired (!) by Richard ‘horse-teeth’ Branson’s buying up of the NHS by stealth, and his acquisition of the East Coast Line from the state as soon as it turned a profit, then his subsequent abolition of the lowest fare band, making travel to Newcastle upon Tyne, where some of Britain’s poorest people live, the most expensive mile-for-mile journey in the whole of the UK.

Dear Tory Party

I know that many of you are practicing Christians, although I am really stretching myself to work out how this connects with what you are doing to the poor and sick in Britain, because I thought the whole point of Christianity was to take care of those people, not steal their money and opportunities and hand them over to the rich.
No matter- this letter’s about something else: a fabulous idea that I’ve had that I will sell to the Tories for a reasonable, negotiated fee to be agreed at a later date.
This is the plan.
There is one institution that you haven’t sold off yet- the Church of England! Just imagine how much money you could make. I am absolutely certain that Richard Branson would be interested in buying it and I’m sure he could run it at a profit.

Here are some tips:

Those cassocks, or prayer cushions that people kneel on, and that have been hand-embroidered in woolwork and donated to the church for scores of years- they are worth a fortune. Send them off to an auction and replace them with polyurethane foam pads covered in wipe-clean vinyl, which will be much  more practical and hygienic, and easier to maintain.

Archbishops’ robes: again, why bother with expensive repairs and embroidery? These too will bring in a fortune at auction, and can be replaced with printed nylon robes, lighter to wear and easier to launder.

Church organs and pianos. You don’t need these! Sell them off to Russian churches, perhaps? Anyway, they can be replaced with audio equipment and pre-recorded hymn backings (provided by Virgin, perhaps? I’m sure that they still have a functioning studio somewhere). 
As an additional income stream, I suggest that you register the canon of traditional hymns with the PRS, copyright of the Tory Party. This should bring a fair bit of income to party coffers, for ever and ever, Amen.

Church Services should be charged for. This will be easy for the congregation to understand because they know what the word ‘service’ means. Tickets can be sold at the door, or in advance from one of the proprietary Internet ticketing services.

Hymn books can be pulped and sold on to a recycling company. For a small weekly charge, your church customers (you don’t need the word congregation any more) can download an app from the Internet with the week’s hymns on it.
They can do this by paying a small charge for the wi-fi service you have installed in the Church itself.

As for staff: put this out to tender. Pubs are losing business at the moment due to the cheap supermarket booze everyone’s buying. Why not ask the bar staff to stand in? They could probably be hired for the minimum wage; as an alternative, Jobcentres should be able to provide volunteers to man the churches on Sunday mornings if you really want to save a bob or two.

So there you go. There’s a plan for you disgusting bunch of Tory greedballs.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Wot a Larf

I should have stopped reading this book by now. I've washed the kitchen and bathroom floors and I'm waiting for The Young Montalbano.
Mark Forsyth tells us rather a feet-of-clay snippet of information that I never knew: that T.S. Eliot used his middle initial because of what his name would spell backwards if he didn't.
Somehow I don't think that's the only piece of info the reader is supposed to take away from his book!

Awww! Astrud Gilberto

Technology Is there To Help Us

Yes. The global online marking system has crashed and won't let me see the million essays that I had to mark today.
It's weekend technical support; nice man, but 'no' still means 'no', even it it's a nice man who's saying it.
The purpose of the day has changed. I'm writing a lecture on lyrics, even though most of what I need isn't here. But Jimmy Webb's book Tunesmith is really interesting, especially if you allow yourself to skip the occasional copious list, and I've been to the bookshop to buy Mark Forsyth's The Elements of Eloquence which may or may not be useful.
I'm also doing a bit of online research, hoping to contrast Rene Lussier with Rogers and Hart:

Anyway, if you want to know any more, you'll have to come to my lecture on Monday afternoon.
Pip pip!


Rather like a condemned person, I'm having the last cup of tea before embarking on marking (see what I did there?).
It's going to be a marathon day, with almost thirty 1000-worders to mark and the occasional bleary-eyed break for a walk round the village and, of course, more tea.
January is the ideal month for marking because it isn't very nice outside; always, the beginning of the year has a worn-out, tired feel before it pulls itself up by the bootstraps some time around March.
I wish I had planted more bulbs to greet the spring, but bulb planting time coincides with busy with new teaching time, so that rarely happens. The academic calendar rules more than students and their assessments; it affects the spring display, or not, in my back yard too.

OffSprog One is screening the women's wrestling film tonight at the Cowley Club in Brighton; it's a great documentary about feisty non-stop competition and glamour with a few hefty thwacks and strong-arm moments thrown in. All hail the documentary (says the almost documentary maker).

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Snails Go Walkabout

Parked in stacked plant pots in the back yard were an alarming number of dormant snails.
I envisaged spring sunshine reviving and invigorating them, and all the precious shoots being decimated by the slimy horrors.
I devised a smart plan.
Although I saw on Blue Peter that snails and slugs have a homing instinct, I decided that if I took them far enough away, they might get distracted by a nice garden or park on the way home and decide that it wasn't worth coming back.
I picked them off the plant pots and put them in a little carrier bag, and went for a walk. I won't tell you where they are in case you try to find them and interrogate them, but they're quite far away. I tripped as I surreptitiously tipped them into the foliage; I'm not very good at doing dastardly deeds.
I feel a bit guilty for abandoning them, so I'm going to change my route for a few weeks until I forget what I did.