Tuesday, 20 March 2018

Rules Are Made To Be Broken

We were discussing Picasso the other evening, and how he needed to learn the fundamental skills of his craft, and the understood rules of his medium, before he could afford to ignore both of those imposters and become a true artist.

I’m now listening to Cecil Taylor doing something comparable to improvised jazz.  The first track on ‘The World of Cecil Taylor’ (Candid 9006, 1960) is called ‘Air’, and could easily be discounted as just a bunch of, let’s say, well-enhanced would-be’s plonking around on their piano, drums and bass to demonstrate their undoubted mastery of the skills without ending up making anything approaching real music – until you get halfway through, and the age-old jazz trick of ‘fours with the drummer’ kicks in.  At which point you realise that Cecil on piano and Dennis Charles on drums are actually playing the same phrases, competitively bouncing them off each other and winding each other’s last shot up to the next level, and that they know the rules too.  At which point you – or at any rate I – burst out laughing.
But it’s track two that really proves my point (if I have one).  It’s a corny ballad from South Pacific called ‘This Nearly Was Mine’.  Taylor mischievously tears it apart and stitches it back together like a child playing with a dressing-up box – but the song never gets lost; and I imagined that he was feeling, and expressing, a variant of what Rodgers was after when he tried to catch Emile’s emotions when he thought he’d lost Nellie.
But I’ve stretched this far enough, so I’m off to antidote with a chunk of The Clash. Who also knew how to break the rules they knew.

Sunday, 18 March 2018

Climate and Weather

Everyone except Donald Trump knows the difference between these, right?  So how to explain it to him?  I thought about it until I felt I understood it myself a bit, then came up with this analogy.  Don’t drill any deeper into it than I have, because it will crumble.

Imagine a broad highway.  It has edges and fairly predictable curves, but not much else in the way of controls.  That’s the climate.
Now imagine you’re driving along this highway.  The lack of controls means you can take any number of paths within the existing edges and curves.  You’re the weather.
Now someone comes along and, unpredictably, moves the edges and reroutes the curves.  That’s climate change.
Most of the time you (the weather) will carry on as you always have. But the more the climate highway gets wider or narrower, bendier or straighter, the more likely you are to crash.

Tuesday, 30 January 2018

The Hills Are Alive

Sadly, nobody made a 1970s horror film with that title.  They had Eyes.  (But if so, they must’ve been alive, surely?  You can’t have eyes if you’re dead – you can only have deadeyes.)

So, moving rapidly on: everyone agrees that The Sound of Music is the best awful song ever written, in the best awful musical ever written, at least by R&H.  A school of thought suggests that they should have packed it in after Carousel, and I have some sympathy with that, only bidding South Pacific as a preferred quit point.  But they knew what they were doing.  Well, they’d both been in the trade, individually and then together, for half a century or more.  (The first trace I can find of Rodgers as a composer is a song called ‘Any Old Place with You’, with Lorenz Hart, in 1919; and of Hammerstein writing, with Otto Harbach and Herbert Stothart, a musical called ‘Jimmie’ in 1920, from which no songs, perhaps thankfully, seem to have survived.)
Anyway, what I’d meant to write about (prompted by some thoughts about rhythm, melody and harmony) – the actual sound of the stuff – will have to wait for another day.  Besides, there aren’t any hills around here.
(to be continued...)

Tuesday, 23 January 2018

Christmas Card Audit 2017

Executive Summary:

·        No startling variations from last year evince themselves, apart from the decline in the snowy category.  This may be due to the misappropriation during 2017 of the word ‘snowflake’.

·        Several animals and birds (such as foxes, cats and owls) are resting, but will doubtless be back.  Others (dogs and nuthatches)are debuting: we wish them well.

·        The slight reduction in the volume of glued-on glitter is to be welcomed.  I read that the stuff is the next ecological-disaster-in-waiting.

·        A cute little girl has replaced a choirboy.  I’m saying nothing.


The full figures (2016’s, where applicable, in brackets):


Snow/Snowmen/Snowflakes:                 4 (10)

Santas/Reindeer:                                   3 (3)

Animals/Birds:                                      12 (12)

of which          

Robins:                                     2 (3)

Free-range reindeer:                  3 (3)

Horses:                                     1 (1)

Foxes:                                      0 (1)

Sheep:                                      2 (1)

Cats:                                        0 (1)

Squirrels:                                  0 (1)

Wrens:                                     1 (1)

Owls:                                       0 (1)

Penguins:                                 1 (1)

Partridges (in pear tree):            0 (1)

Bullfinches:                              0 (1)

Dogs:                                       1

Nuthatches:                              1

Landscapes:                                          3 (4)

Nativities/Wise Men/Angels:                 6 (7)

Christmas trees/Baubles:                       4 (9)

Abstract:                                              4 (2)

Mail-letterboxes:                                   1 (3)

Choirboys:                                            0 (1)

Booze:                                                  1 (1)

Flowers:                                               1

Forests/woods:                                      3

Cute children:                                       1

Houses:                                                1


Special categories:


Homemade/designed:                            3 (4)

Cards with glued-on glitter:                   8 (10)

Wonderfully weird:                               3 (1)

Posh yet restrained:                               1


Again, I can’t nominate a Card of the Year– they are all equal in their various ways.

Thursday, 18 January 2018

Astany Portorm (3, 4, 2, 1, 5)

When I got back here on Tuesday, everything was fine.  I worry occasionally and slightly – has the house burned down? (unlikely, I’d have been told); has the boiler broken down (that’s happened); has a power cut switched off the alarm and then failed to switch it back on again (nightmare scenario) ….

No, all was fine.  So I went up the supermarket to stock up for the few days I’d be here.  Also fine.  But.
When I got back, I opened the front door (as one does) then closed it.  Except that the latch pushy-in-and-out thingy didn’t push out.  I have, of course, two locks on this door, so as it wasn’t an immediately urgent problem – not up there with the alarm – I investigated briefly, determined that the lock was knackered beyond repair, and got on with what was left of the day.
Wednesday was spent finding a replacement lock that near enough matched the dead one.  I ended up at Reading’s wonderful long-lived ironmongers, Drews, where a cheerfully caring young man helped me find what I needed, leaving me with what proved to be a presciently potent parting platitude – ‘hope it goes all right!’
Don’t worry, I shall now cut to the title.  After, at about 3 o’clock when the light was starting to fail, discovering that the pre-existing hole in the door was too big (the spindly thingy that connects the outside to the inside has to be precisely aligned, which the right-sized hole will achieve automatically whereas a too-big one permits the thingy to wobble around, making it really hard to join it all up, and… where was I?), I gave up and moved on.
Of course, this morning, after a good night’s sleep (apart from the wind – not internal, there was a serious storm going on outside) I dealt with that now minor impediment in minutes flat (well, about twenty of them) and completed the installation.
This is where I found that I needed to shim out the thingy that’s attached to the door frame, which catches the lock’s pushy-in-and-out thingy and causes the lock to, erm, lock, by about a quarter of an inch.  I needed a little bit of wood just that thick.  But where to find such a thing?  The idea of having to haul down to yet another diy joint was not on.  It had to be locally sourced.  Another twenty minutes head scratching and wandering around ensued, then the solution caught my eye.
About thirty years ago, it seems that some kind body gave us a presentation bottle of Dow’s Vintage Port.  The box it came in now contains old forks, parties for the use of.  It was in the garage/workshop/study.  Ah, maybe…!  Yes, its lid is exactly the right thickness and width (3”) for the shim I needed.  All I had to do was saw off the right length and drill three holes in it.  The forks aren’t quite as well protected as they were, but they’ll survive.
As the post title says – ‘Any Port In A Storm’.

Sunday, 14 January 2018

Watts and Barraclough

Several posts ago, as a starter for my ambitious project to hit 1,000 posts on my 10th blogging anniversary, I put up a list of surnames, with the idea that just asking people to guess the context would be good for a shot or two.  My brother inadvertently blew my cover with a comment identifying them as teachers at our grammar school, so I might as well cut straight to the Act II exposition, which is to say something about these long-dead formers of my self.

I’ll start with a couple about whom I remember least, and will therefore have to make up most.

Mr Watts had an artificial leg, having lost the real one in the war.  I think it was his left one, because I can picture him riding his bike to school.  This had been modified so that he only had to pedal on one side; I’d only see him in the morning, when he would be riding along Mallard Way towards the staff entrance and so would be on the same side of the road as me.  But it could have been his right one.
His inevitable nickname was ‘Pegleg’.  I guess he must have been aware of this, but he was a kindly soul who clearly had a thick enough skin to elect to be a boys’ secondary school teacher in the knowledge of all that would entail, and I don’t think there was ever any unpleasantness serious or discernible enough to need escalating.
I have no idea what he taught.
Mr Barraclough taught, I suspect, geography.  If so he must have taken me over from Mr Styles (q.v.) when I was in about the fourth form and done serious damage to my interest in the subject.  To be fair, my interest in any subject other than skiffle was at serious risk by then, so I can’t completely lay my abysmal O level performance at his door.  Oh all right, I can.
I remember him being extremely tall, which is confirmed by a photograph I’ve recently stumbled across online.  Online sources also suggest he was an avid user of the cane, but I never experienced that.  Mind you, I don’t remember ever having been caned during my school days (or since).  I was too timid to be a threat to any of my teachers.

Wednesday, 10 January 2018

Research suggests

Whenever I read those words I reach for my logic gun.

The latest research suggestion is that a person who smokes one cigarette is twice as likely to go on to smoke a few more than another person who smokes one cigarette.  (I simplify the maths for blog-effectiveness, of course.  But not the logic.)

I’d have thought that most people (usually kids) who decide to try a cigarette (or anything else dangerous, for that matter) do so either because they are peer-pressured to, or because they want to, and will probably go on to try a few more, at least ‘for a period’ (undefined).  The detailed commentary on this ‘research’ does make this qualifying point among several others – for example, that it was a self-selecting sample drawn from widely variant populations and can therefore be considered as, at best, ‘only an estimate’ – but that doesn’t stop the journalists (I’m drawing on the reports in the Guardian and the Times) from headlining this as if it’s in any way factual or significant.

I have no axe to grind here, as I stopped smoking several months ago and don’t intend to start again.  I’m just against spurious science.

Tuesday, 9 January 2018


Yes, I know.

I’ve just about got the hang of the stove top – you slide things around sideways rather than turning a knob – but I clearly haven’t quite cracked the ovens yet.  I know that the top one is very hot and the lower one quite cool, and that within either of these the shelf position is crucial in determining the actual cooking temperature, but fine tuning is obviously still beyond me.

I know this to be so because after my best efforts it proved hard if not impossible to distinguish the carrots from the turnips from the onions.  In gas cooker terms I roasted them at gas 6 for about 25 minutes then turned it down to 3 for another half an hour or so.  Clearly I need to practise more, because they all ended up black.
The oxtail stew was still superb though.

Sunday, 7 January 2018

Technology makes it simpler for us

My fabulous new camera has 17 buttons on its outside.  That's including the one you press to take a picture.

Saturday, 6 January 2018

At a glance | Theresa May's 12-point Brexit plan

Just a little reminder from a year ago:

  1. Provide certainty about the process of leaving the EU
  2. Control of our own laws
  3. Strengthen the Union between the four nations of the United Kingdom
  4. Maintain the Common Travel Area with Ireland
  5. Brexit must mean control of the number of people who come to Britain from Europe
  6. Rights for EU nationals in Britain and British nationals in the EU
  7. Protect workers' rights
  8. Free trade with European markets through a free trade agreement
  9. New trade agreements with other countries
  10. The best place for science and innovation
  11. Co-operation in the fight against crime and terrorism
  12. A smooth, orderly Brexit

Friday, 5 January 2018

Islanders (chapter 1): five things I've discovered

1.  After the Isle of Man opened Europe's first non-smoking prison in 2009, crime rates on the island dropped by 14%.

2.  Some Manxmen persisted in observing the pre-Gregorian calendar long after 1752.  If any of them are still alive, Happy Christmas today!

3.  The OECD no longer classes the IOM as a tax haven.  So that's all right.

4.  It's the world capital of cryptocurrencies, and it's even possible to spend them there.

5.  'The triskelion always lands on its feet.'

Thursday, 4 January 2018

Timbo gets Shorn

No, that’s not as in ‘…of the Dead’.  My hair (certain male friends should look away now) gets out of control when it exceeds 2” (two inches) at any location and makes me look like a scarecrow.  So about a fortnight ago I started to try to get it cut.

It turns out that the weeks immediately before and after Christmas are not the best of times to access the only barber within a ten mile radius, so I spent the festivities performing my Wurzel Gummidge impersonation to a politely blind-eyed audience.  But today the master plan was kicked off.  I would rise early, grab a quick bite and cuppa, and get into town in time to be waiting outside the door when he opened at nine, ahead of the few remaining locals who hadn’t previously managed to make the cut.  (When I tried it on Tuesday, at about half ten, there were six in the waiting area, about two hours’ worth.)  What could possibly go wrong?

Well, as it turned out, nothing.  Z provided the transport (cleverly suggesting that she did the market shopping in parallel) and dropped me off at exactly ten seconds to nine.  I was first through the door, and was welcomingly ushered into the chair.  Exactly ten seconds after that, another man came through the door, looked a bit surprised, then disconcerted, then resigned, and sat down in the waiting area.  After another ten seconds (I am not exaggerating here), two more came in and did the same thing.  Hah! I thought.

It’s a really good haircut.  It took what seemed like ages but was only about twenty minutes.  I resisted the temptation to count, let alone make brief, smug eye contact with, the poor saps of runners-up as I left.

Wednesday, 3 January 2018

Five things because I need to blog

1.     I’ve read two of my Christmas books.  The first one was an intriguing, though flawed, thriller called ‘Magpie Murders’ by Anthony Horowitz.  Tim Lott recently said in the Guardian that ‘literary fiction’, by which he meant posh novels as opposed to common ones, had lost the plot, and I sympathise with his point – I’ve tried to read some posh novels in recent years that disappeared up their own introspection – but I’m not sure where the genre boundaries are any more.  I reckon Horowitz would, if forced to classify, call his work ‘literary’; but a shortage of plot is not one of its failings.

2.     The next book was about growing, processing, storing and burning wood in Norway.  It’s informative, gripping and often hilarious – a classic example of writing quality transcending subject matter, in a way the opposite of point 1, I suppose.

3.     However, I now know more than I really need to about Norwegian chainsaws.

4.     However, if you are felling a tree for fuel, it’s a good idea to do it in the spring, when the leaves have set, and don’t take them off until the autumn.  They will continue to grow (not knowing that there aren’t any roots any more) and so extract moisture from the trunk, drying the latter that much faster for burning.

5.     The third book is ‘Islander’ by Patrick Barkham.  I’ll let you know how it goes.  We’re starting in the Isle of Man.

Tuesday, 2 January 2018

Dead Men Talking

Ticking down.  I can probably get a day out of most of these, more or less - meanwhile, guess the context (no insider trading please):

Parry; Bennett; Dixon; Dodds; Green; Watts; Pettoello; Read; Wiseman; Styles; Barraclough; Cushion; Harcourt Smith

Monday, 1 January 2018


Is it legitimate to write at length about the fact that you can't think of anything to write at length about and are only pretending to be writing at length because you've contracted to write at at least blogworthy as opposed to Fakebuk length for some numerological  reason that you wrote at length about a couple of days ago and could if it were absolutely essential remember and expound again at length here?
Thought so.