Friday, 25 April 2014

Five sets of rhetorical questions, because ...

… because I’ve built up a head of steam, and a good rant is long overdue.  Here goes (I have others):
  1. Does Farage (and the Mail) really believe that 75% of U.K. legislation emanates from Brussels?  The true figure is around ten per cent, and is declining.  Of that ten per cent, is it axiomatic that, because it emanates from Brussels, it must be bad?  How many of these laws or regulations would we have passed anyway?  And isn’t it better that we all play by the same rulebook?
  2. Is it a good idea to have a national currency over which you have no control?  Does Scotland aspire to be like Greece?  (Different sort of oil, true, but at least Greece’s is renewable.)
  3. Given that wind, and waves, are free, and that climate change seems to be creating more and more of them, is an opportunity being missed?  Or don’t we yet have enough climate change to satisfy capitalism?
  4. How is it that when Putin supports insurgents he’s defending ‘Russian people’ in Ukraine, but when the Ukrainian government acts against those same insurgents it’s attacking ‘its own people’?  What nation did Orwell have in mind when he invented the term ‘Doublespeak’?
  5. If a mere doubling of remuneration, as opposed to trebling could cause loss-making gamblers to take their incompetence elsewhere, who cares?  Why don’t the shareholders (and the customers) just say okay, off you go?*  And wouldn’t this chimeric ‘elsewhere’ rapidly evaporate once the bluff was called? 

* I know this one.  It’s because the big shareholders are also paying themselves 200% bonuses.  They’re all in this together.

Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Caravan Diaries - 2014

The four sycamores at the bottom of the field are still bare.  I used to object to them – they spoilt my view of Monkstone Point – but now I see them as structures, like veins or nerves.  They are black against the sea upon which, today, the horses are travelling white.  I’ll get round to disliking them again when they sprout leaves in a month or two (can’t they be decommissioned for the summer, like snow chains?), but for now I’m happy to trace their random intricacy.

No rabbit sightings this time.  But there are lots of moles.  I worry that some day I’ll turn up to find the caravan has dropped into an overwrought sinkhole of mole warrens; Joseph assures me this won’t happen.  “We’re busy bashing them on the head”, he assures me, possibly with a twinkle.

One lesson re-learnt: don’t drive to Wales on Good Friday.  In fact, don’t drive anywhere.  Stay in bed.  It took us six hours.  Some of this may have been self-inflicted: the M4 having clogged up even worse than my brachial artery was on 9th January, we decided to duck down to the A4 at Newbury.  Good decision: a lovely empty road all the way to Bath, hardly any lorries or tractors; two-abreast cyclists the worst hold-ups.  So we stuck with it all the way to Bristol, which may have been a mistake.  Opinions differ over whether we should have rejoined the motorway at 19 or 21 – there’s not much point in arguing over the past, is there?  Especially when the relevant facts will never be known.

The site is nearly fully occupied.  Everybody comes down for a late fine-weather Easter.  Bee walked all the way round (I was too busy with the crossword) and reckoned that only a dozen or so vans were empty, and those mostly the ones who never seem to show up even though they’re happy to pay the rent.  So the power cut wasn’t well timed.

We’d decided to commission the pull-out bed under the sofa for the first time.  (‘Double’ beds in caravans aren’t quite what they claim to be.)  The procedure is simple once you get it, but not intuitive.  You need to follow the instructions (which consist of those infuriating step-by-step diagrams which I can never make any sense of).  Just after step one, the lights went out, and it became very dark.  I mean very – dark enough to be unsure which way is left, right or up, never mind find the torch, which turns out to have flat batteries – so we end up reading the bed-installation instruction graphics by the red light of the gas fire.  Bee went to her pre-installed bed.  Alright for some.

Next day, we discover that mains water supply has nearly been installed.  This is a major achievement, following on electricity (2002) and sewage (2011).  We confidently expect Wi-Fi next year.


Thursday, 17 April 2014

Mirror, Mirror, Under the Table

Are you Leonardo da Vinci?  Probably not.  But can you mirror write?

There are two ways of doing this.  One, which was taught to me by my geography teacher (Mr Styles, I think), is to use your left hand (if you’re right-handed).  That’s quite easy.  The other, rather more interesting, way is as follows:

Get a piece of paper and hold it underneath a table or other flat surface.  Visualising the paper as if it was on top of the table, write on it (holding the pen upside down, obviously).  Left to right, forming the letters normally.

I’ve tried it, and it works – at least in principle.  My attempts so far are too embarrassing to show you, but they are definitely in mirror image.  I’ll keep practising, and publish my inverted version of ‘Finnegans Wake’ once I’ve mastered the technique.

Neurology is weird and wonderful.  Remind me to tell you about the physiotherapy ‘mirror box’ sometime.

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Influential Albums #3

The 5th Dimension: The Magic Garden 1967

Here it is on Spotify: The Fifth Dimension – Magic Garden

Jimmy Webb is best known for his evocative songs for Glen Campbell – ‘Galveston’, ‘Wichita Lineman’, ‘By the Time I Get to Phoenix’ – and before that, the two albums with Richard Harris (cheekily recycling Rex Harrison) which yielded, amongst other lesser known chunks of grandiose kitsch, the seven minute soft green icing of ‘McArthur Park’.  Later, he’d pluck up the courage to sing with his own voice. (Check out ‘P. F. Sloan’, a loving tribute to an otherwise forgotten seventies non-iconic singer-songwriter, recently nicely covered by Rumer.)

Before any of that, though, he cut his teeth on two albums with the unlikely vehicle of this superficially manufactured vocal group (three guys, two girls, no stars).  The first contained the bouncy ‘Up, up and Away’ but was otherwise unmemorable.  The second was a masterpiece.

‘The Magic Garden’ is primarily a break-up album, in the form of a song cycle.  It’s framed by a ‘Prologue’ and an ‘Epilogue’, with the words “Have you tried love?”, which I remember thinking was a clever trick, spoofing some kind of soap powder advert.  In between, ten songs take you through the famous four stages of love – exhilaration (‘The Magic Garden’); doubt (‘Dreams/Pax/Nepenthe’*); resentment (‘The Worst That Could Happen’); and bitter resignation (‘Paper Cup’), with thematic links between tracks. 

There are a couple of anomalies – ‘Ticket to Ride’, although a stomping version, juts out a bit like a leftover from an earlier meal, and the coyly titled ‘The Girls’ Song’ is clearly a technical exercise in out-Burting Bacharach.  But these are minor blemishes – and they both fit into the story, actually.

And the sound!  Believe it or not, it was the first record I ever heard on stereo headphones.  Perhaps for that reason, or perhaps chemical enhancements played their part, but I had never heard music so deeply and widely before outside of a concert hall.  I like to think that it was mostly due to the sheer quality.  World-class production (the legendary Bones Howe) and performances (Hal Blaine’s ubiquitous West Coast ‘Wrecking Crew’), and of course the 5th’s finely honed vocals.  Slap on the cans, press the pedal to the metal and catch track 7, ‘Requiem: 820 Latham’.**


Influential?  Well, it certainly was on me.  I spent the next twelve months trying to write Jimmy Webb songs – multi-structured, symphonically chordal, cryptically personal, cynically romantic.  I failed, of course, and no-one has ever heard them: but the attempt justified the failure.



*Jimmy could do cryptic titles with the best of them.

** Like I said.

Tuesday, 1 April 2014

Ceiling Space

Rereading ‘Master and Commander’, I came across the following phrase:

“Hanging tables appeared, dropping instantly from the beams …”

What a brilliant idea, I thought.  Although my dining room is certainly bigger than some, much of the floor is taken up with a large table which is used, usually, for no more than two hours per day.  If the table were suspended from the ceiling, the floor space could be put to all sorts of other purposes, such as, I don’t know – a dance floor?

It’s not a new idea of course.  Patrick O’Brian has rarely been faulted on historical accuracy through the twenty Aubrey-Maturin novels, so I’m certain this practice was commonplace in the eighteenth century Royal Navy, especially in a cramped misshapen little brig like the ‘Sophie’.  I first read this book in about 2004; but I realised today that the idea was by no means new to me even then.

In the kitchen of the house, 37 Watcombe Road, where I spent the first eleven years of my life, there was a thing called the clothes rail.  It consisted of, I think, five long wooden slats, held together by two cast iron davits, lowered and hoisted via a system of pulleys and ropes which were secured to a cleat on the wall.  The rail would be lowered, loaded with damp washing, and hauled back up to ceiling level for it to dry.  (If the clothes ended up smelling a bit of fried fish or boiled cabbage, that didn’t matter much in the 1940s.)

The kitchen of my present house must have had one of these devices too at some time, because its cleat is still there, just by the hall door.  I hang spare keys on it nowadays.