Monthly Archives: September 2013

For the record

Mikel vinyl

Mikel vinyl (Photo credit: aspitos4kids)

I need excitement oh I need it bad
And it’s the best I’ve ever had

The Undertones (or just possibly Busted if you are not of an age).    I think this is one of the tunes that will stay with me forever.   The tremble in the voice of Feargal Sharkey and half a dozen simple bar chords that even I could replicate without too much trouble.   I had it on an EP and it was probably the song that I sang along to more than any other in the late ’70’s.

I don’t need excitement, I am already excited!  You won’t believe the source of my delirium.    I have a record token.  Do you remember them?

It’s not exactly a record token.   It is a voucher for a High Street distributor of books and music, so it could be a book token but I have decided that it is going to be used to buy some music.

I mentioned it to my son – he is a musician and I thought he would be as thrilled as I.   Ha!   “There’s no such thing as a record token and there never has been.  You’ve made it up”  (to be fair, I did make a lot of things up when he was young, he still thinks that the ink in a marker pen is made from spider blood).      “Why don’t you just download it” he said.

The youth of today.   When I was a very young man I used to live for the weekend trip into town.    I’d have my wages from my paper round (£3.50, morning and evening round every day but Sunday.   Sunday was just mornings but absolutely horrid because the papers were all too big to go through the letterbox and the bag weighed more than me) and I had a predetermined route around the independent record shops.    They were never in the absolute town centre, you’d find them in slightly run-down streets or as small stalls in some of the indoor markets.

The best ones were gloomy inside and the floor would be slightly tacky.  The staff would be pale, mysterious and slightly forbidding, as if they lived a subterranean life and only emerged from their caliginous existence to attend concerts of little known but uber trendy bands.      Albums would be arranged either by genre or alphabetically and occasionally both.   There would be hand written labels acting as separators and well-known or long-established performers would have their own mini section.    In some shops there was a special section for coloured vinyl and picture disks.

After a visit to each shop there would come a time for deliberation.   For me, this was in a cake shop called Druckers.    A huge slice of something covered in cream that should definitely not be tackled without a fork and possibly a bib and once the cake was consumed it was back to the chosen store.   This was the best bit.

The album of choice would be in a thin cellophane wrapping and would be in a plastic bag designed specifically for carrying a 12 inch record.    Once on the bus home the cellophane would be torn away and the serious work of examining the track listing could begin.   This was just a teaser for the sleeve notes inside.   So much information to absorb about who wrote and performed on each track.    Sometimes the lyrics were included and in exceptional cases (usually on a concept album) there would be notes on how the album was conceived.

All of this was just a preamble to putting the record onto the deck and actually listening to it.    Some had cryptic messages engraved around the run out – these thrilled me beyond belief (although I’ve never been sure why).    A good choice in record would then get several plays non-stop until I’d decided which were my favourite tracks and tried to work out which ones would be singles.

Oh the joy of it all.   So this weekend I’m going to a different town centre and to just one shop.   There’s unlikely to be vinyl there but there will be CD’s and they will still have sleeve notes to read.    I may even find a cake shop to visit after my perusals to give me time to contemplate.   After all, I don’t want to rush into anything.  I know that  the CD will not smell the same as a record and I’ll probably have listened to it all the way through by the time I get home, but it will still be far more fun than iTunes.

There are many more people being moved by the feeling of anticipation here.  I’m sure that you will enjoy their posts as much as I did.

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Wave the flags

Tin Hau Temple Flags

Tin Hau Temple Flags (Photo credit: meredith_nutting)

I was thinking about birthdays.    I have a not insignificant one arriving in ten months or so and I think it pays to be prepared.  Especially when you are reaching that half century milestone.

The question is, what to do about it?    It is convenient that there is a significant other who will be crossing the same line within a week of me (it’s mildly inconvenient that she looks half my age but I suspect it is more embarrassing for her to be seen out with an old man than it is for me to be seen with a floozy on my arm).

Should we have a joint party?    By this of course I mean a party that we are sharing and not a party involving joints of any type (cooked, rolled or wooden).   The challenge here would be that one of us is incredibly gregarious and my conversation skills resemble those of the sort of chap you see sleeping on a park bench with things growing in his beard.      The party guests will be roughly split 40/1 providing I can persuade my guest to show up in the first place!    Then we’d have to consider the music.    The last party  can remember organising was in an era when the chosen form of dancing was either jumping up and down or vigorous shaking of  the head.  At our age with my sort of music we may need a team of paramedics standing by just in case of emergency.

I’m not sold on the idea of a party.   Just the thought of finding a venue fills me with dread.

Maybe we should go away somewhere.    Book a weekend in a romantic hotel.   That would work.   We could take long walks through the hotel grounds (I’m visualising a country estate somewhere, imagine Downton Abbey but somewhere where the sun shines rather than in Yorkshire) and feast upon the finest fare.    Who knows, there may even be a spa there to luxuriate in.

That won’t work.    We went to an alleged spa for our 4oth.    It turned out to be a health farm.    We ended up sneaking out to a pub down the road to supplement the lettuce soup with a tasty pie and had to smuggle a bottle of wine back to our room.   Then we didn’t have a corkscrew so we had to bribe a staff member to provide us with one and ended up drinking a not very good Rioja out of the cups that are provided to put your toothbrush in.

There might be some mileage in a longer break.   Sun kissed beaches bordered with exotic plants and wildlife.   Sipping local tipples from half a coconut shell.   I can imagine that.   I can also imagine the challenge of finding a responsible person to look after the offspring and the cat.   I can see the 8 hours or so cuddled up on the floor at Heathrow because of an air traffic controllers strike.   I can almost smell the rank odour of the sweaty chap sitting next to us on the plane and I can feel the tetchy remarks biting home when we are discussing how much fun we would be having at a party instead of being in our 18th hour of travel and only eaten a packet of rather soggy crackers.

I know the best plan.    The positively absolutely number one thing that will bring a smile to all faces and leave a lasting memory.  Order a crate of wine.    Cook a vast pan of something spicy and prepare a pile of naan breads.    Invite the offspring and off-shoots of the family round and extend the kitchen table to maximum length.    I really don’t think there can be a more satisfying way to welcome the next 50 years in.

Thank you daily post for giving me a bit of grief whilst considering all of this.

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Non Sequitur

Ooh gosh.   How exciting.  A daily prompt that deals with a literary device.   Speaking as a Verbal Hedge I thoroughly approve.

I should point out to those readers (yup, both of you) who are not familiar with the internal workings of WordPress that I (and many others) receive a little missive every day suggesting something to write about.    It’s a useful little nudge to give one an idea.   All clear now?

I have a thing about grammar and punctuation    To be truthful I have two things about grammar and punctuation.

Thing one is that I am rubbish at it.   Elmore Leonard, the recently deceased author had ten rules for writing that make a lot of sense.  My challenge is that one of his rules was to only use two or three exclamation marks per 100,000 words of writing.   Two or three!   I can do a dozen in a paragraph and still feel that I’m missing out.   I’m also an avid user of brackets (you’d never guess it from looking at me).   I suspect that it is partly because I can’t keep an ordered page and so rather than editing it I just try to explain myself more by sticking things in brackets (sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t).   Tom Sharpe, another author who has recently left us was a great one for bracketing things so I guess I’m not alone in this.   As for colons, semi-colons and all of those other things that need a shift key to make them work, I’ll get by without.

Thing two is that I can easily turn into a grammar fascist.    I am constantly frustrated by the use of text speak in business communications.   Suppliers who send emails containing “lol” suddenly find that life becomes difficult for them and the wrong use of a word makes me squeal with dismay.  I recently ranted to a dear friend about a communication that contained “were” when it should have been “we’re”.    The subtle and patronising pat on the bonce message that came back read “There, their, they’re”.    I wonder how I carry on sometimes.

The thing is, we know that using inappropriate punctuation or the wrong spelling of a word leads to sloppy and misleading work.   The classic “Eats, shoots and leaves” by Lynne Truss discusses it in great detail.   When I was a very young man I worked as a warehouseman in the town of Smethwick near Birmingham.   The supervisor in charge of the warehouse used to hand write picking tickets telling us lowly workers what to collect to load onto the back of the next wagon that was arriving.    You would imagine that this would be a fairly easy task.   Customer has ordered ten boxes of apples and five boxes of bananas so you’ve two columns.  Quantity and Product.   he could generally get the quantity correct but the product column always contained Banana’s or Apple’s and so on.   I used to tippex (for those that don’t know, tippex was a white paint used to correct errors before the backspace key was invented) out the single quote mark on each of my documents.  It used to make him quite cross because he was convinced that he was correct and I was stupid.  It all ended after a particularly bad day when I was ordered to pick some pare’s and some beat root’s. The picking docket returned to him was pretty much obliterated,  he turned a strange puce colour (not dissimilar to the beetroots in my box) and tried to hit me with a forklift.   It was around then that I decided university may be a better idea.

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Cack Handed

I confess.   I have a flaw that dare not be mentioned in public.  I am one of the ten percent who favour the left rather than the right.

Not politically you understand.   I don’t have a secret yearning for the return of Gordon Brown (I find it difficult to say his name without following it up with “textured like sun, lays me down, with my mind he runs”, does that make me even more weird?), I will come out and say it straight.

I am left-handed.

You other 90%, you don’t know how lucky you are.   There are obvious things that you probably chuckle about whilst mentally patting us on the head with a patronising “there, there, there”.   Scissors.   You’ll know about scissors.   Pens. We lefties need adapted nibs on our fountain pens and non-smudge ink,  the ballpoint pen is designed to be dragged along the page rather than be pushed across it.    We have to contort our arms to write just to allow us to see what we’ve written.    That is of course unless we are writing onto a document held in a ring binder.    Unless you’ve wrists like Grace Kelly you may just as well forget it.

You younger right-handed people.   Consider the game controller on your console.   Which hand does all the work?   Too right!

That’s another thing.   Right is right.   Left is sinister.   When was the last time somebody said “He’s doing the left thing”?   It’s always “Right at the top” and “left behind”.   Pah.

You probably don’t realise that pretty much everything has a right-handed bias.    Take a look at your carving knife.   Is it honed on both sides?   I thought not.   When you are slicing into your Sunday roast the angle of the blade guides you gently towards the perfectly shaped piece of meat.    For us it is a battle to stop the thing from slipping out of the meat altogether and castrating the cat instead (not that I would encourage having the cat anywhere near your Sunday dinner).

The computer that you are reading this on may well have a numeric keypad to allow speedy entry of data.   I’ll bet it isn’t on the left hand side.    That would be just wrong.     Paul McCartney used to use an upside down guitar when composing songs – I think this goes some way to explaining the Frog Chorus.

We do strike it lucky in some areas.   Because we spend  life having to adapt to our surroundings we can prosper from those that don’t.   Sports where the combatant uses a bat of any kind tend to have a significantly higher proportion of left-handed people than would be expected.    In some of the more enlightened areas of the world, cars drive on the left hand side of the road.   This seats the driver to the right of the vehicle and puts the gearchange on the left hand side.   Hoorah!   Changing gear in the UK comes more naturally for me than it does to a lot of people, at least it did until the introduction of automatics and “flappy paddle” gear changes.

I suspect a traditional rant about the challenges of being a southpaw should highlight the good and the great who have managed to survive the dangers we face – A study by Halpern S Coren in 1991 showed that right-handed people lived an average of 9 years longer than left-handers, making smoking 20 a day a more attractive life option than writing things with your left hand so we’re obviously doomed before we begin.   To be fair, he whittled it down to a 2 year gap later on but I’m still a bit miffed that I will die before my younger brother just because I’m caggy.

I don’t know whether the next point is a good one or a bad one.   Half of all US presidents since JFK have been left-handed.   Those who came before Kennedy were predominately righties, but in the good old days being left-handed was the sign of the devil so children were forced to become right-handed so there may have been some earlier ones as well.

Give it some thought right-handers.    Next time you are using your measuring jug to get just the correct amount of fluid, what side are the measures written on in comparison to the handle?    What way round are you laying out the knife and fork at the dinner table?

This rant was inspired by the WordPress Daily post prompt No fair.

You can read some other fully justified and far more adult posts here.

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The old lady smell

“They smelt of pubs and Wormwood Scrubs and too many right wing meetings”.

That is Paul Weller complaining about a bit of hassle down in the tube station at midnight.

I spent a day helping out at a fete organised to raise funds for an old folks home.   Specifically, the home in question caters for “widows and female dependants of those who have served in the Armed Forces of the Crown”.  If you close your eyes and use a fair bit of imagination it can be imagined as a geriatric dating service for Chelsea Pensioners (and those of you outside the UK who have never been to London will just have to go and google them to see what they look like).

To be fair, none of the residents smelled of Wormwood Scrubs and there was also an absence of Teen Spirit, so Kurt Cobain would also have felt a bit left out.

I was in charge of (wait for it), roll a penny.  In truth, because of inflation and previous incompetence from a variety of British governments the board has gravitated to “roll a ten pence”.   It’s a cash cow for fetes because (and don’t tell anyone I told you this) people give you a pound for change and you give them ten 10p coins back.   They then use all of the 10p coins because they don’t want a purse/pocket full of shrapnel.   It also seems that when you give out the prizes in 10p coins they just put them straight back on the board.   Like I said, it is a winner.   If only we had a £5 coin then the possibility of early retirement would be greatly enhanced.

I had a side line of handbags to sell.   Second hand ones of course.   You can imagine that thirty or so ladies who have reached a decent age have accumulated many and varied handbags and were more than happy to offload a few in the name of making a few bob to aid their current care home.    I think it fair to say that I’m not a great handbag connoisseur so I started dealing with queries about the price of any bag with my tried and tested “Well just how much would you like to pay for it”.   You can generally then double the price and get beaten down by 25% and everybody is happy.    It became quite challenging to keep both stalls running slickly at the same time so we ended up with a market stall cry of “All handbags are two quid”.   I suspect that some people got a real bargain.

My little emporium was set up inside what is presumably at other times a dining room.   I’m basing this assumption on the fact that my seat was actually an electric powered hostess trolley and that at various stages during the day some of the more interesting residents queried whether I’d be bringing out their cottage pies at some stage soon.

Which brings me back to “old lady smell”.   Anybody visiting an aging aunt (especially one who is living on her own) will know it.   There’s a hint of camphor in there somewhere, a soupcon of overcooked cabbage and lingering aftertaste of parma violet.   For the less fortunate (and I hasten to say that this was not the case where I was) there is also a suspicion of incontinent pet in the air.   It’s generally not a bad smell at all, but it is always there, just at the back of your throat.

A break for lunch led me to the garden and an eclectic set of accompaniments to a bread roll being barbequed to within an inch of still being described as food.   There was also a young and very stressed lady in charge of a bouncy castle.   I offered to give her a break and become (for a brief moment in time) the East Molesley equivalent of Phineas Barnum.

I suppose you may be wondering what the clientele of a bouncy castle at a home for elegant elder ladies may look like.   It wasn’t until I sat down with my barbequed ferret and aubergine (or something similar) that it occurred to me that there might need to be both a minimum and a maximum age.   The previous defender of the castle had told me that all who bounced on her (the castle, not the young lady) needed to remove their shoes.   She didn’t mention whether it was okay to take a Zimmer frame aboard.    I had a brief but chilling vision of a set of 400 denier American tan stockings being ripped asunder by an out of control walking stick and having to break up a slow motion version of something out of Kill Bill.

Fortunately, my eldest customer was in her late 50’s and said “I just want a quick bounce because I’ve never had one before” – Well, what can you do?  I took a pound off her, she whipped off her Crocs and was legs akimbo and showing her bloomers before I even had the chance tell her not to climb on the walls.

The majority of the custom came from kids – grandchildren and great grandchildren of the residents.   I have to say it was possibly the worst 25 minutes of my life.   Put a child on a bouncy castle and immediately all sense of right and wrong goes out of the window (or at least up and over the walls).   Ye Gods.  They were like monsters and the noise was deafening.    I suspect I made a bit of a mistake when I started throwing things at them in a crazed attempt to try and keep them under control.  There was no way I was going to de-shoe and get on there myself.   I’ll risk my life like the next man but I reckon that my chances of survival were less than if I’d tried to break up a fight between an angry tiger and a black bear with a hangover.

I was saved by the return of the young lady.  I gladly gave her back the money belt and hastened inside for a refreshing cup of tea and a slice of lemon drizzle cake.  I did feel for her a little when a glance out of the window showed an irate parent questioning how little Tiffany had got covered in bits of bread roll and barbeque sauce.   Never again.

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Don’t dig there

My local High Street is being renovated, or refreshed or maybe re-invigorated.  Something is happening to it anyway and it seems to be happening from very early morning until night falls.   There are a bunch of chaps in Hi-viz jackets who firstly dug up paving slabs to make the footpath narrower.    Then they erected wire cages around their workplace and jettisoned all of the curb stones.    You would think that as they are doing both sides of the road they would try to work it so that they didn’t erect the wire cages opposite each other.   That would be far too simple for them though.

I’m reminded of an amusing song from my youth.  By Bernard Cribbins, the song is about some workmen being approached by a gentleman in a bowler hat and the chorus goes…

Don’t dig there, dig it elsewhere,
you’re digging it round and it ought to be square.
The shape is wrong, it’s far too long and you can’t put a hole where a hole don’t belong.

There was an incident between a bus (The H22 in case you are interested) and one of those wagons that have a little pneumatic shovel on them to shovel up the waste from the workmen (soil and the like, not chocolate wrappers and coke cans).    Both thought they could get through the narrow gap at the same time, narrow gap being around 20ft, bus being about 10ft and wagon being about 10ft 1 inch.   They gently caressed and slowly but surely became a single beast.    Waiting traffic rather amusingly encouraged their embrace by sounding horns non-stop for about an hour.   It was such fun for the passing pedestrian.

The curbs have been replaced, about 12 inches from where they were and then tarmac was spread pavement–side to fill the gap between the old paving stones and the new curbs.    The effect being that the road is narrower and we have a wider and far more entertaining footpath – Entertaining in the sense that it is a bit like that fairground stand where Sandy Olsson and Danny Zuko sing “You’re the one that I want”  in Grease (I didn’t know Sandy’s surname was Olsson, the internet is a wonderous place).

You’d have thought that would be the end of it but no!   A short while later a different gang of Hi-Viz men appeared and erected more cages.  They are digging up the new tarmac and the old paving stones and replacing them all with new paving stones.   This is going to look quite elegant apart from a couple of glaring errors.

They’ve beautifully trimmed the new paving stones around the bus stop but the bus stop is now cast adrift from the road that it should be bordering and so will have to make like a wildebeest and migrate across the pavement during some future digging so that it can once again service the good people of the town travelling to better places (The H22 goes to Richmond and it’s dead posh there).

They also didn’t take into account the pigeon colony that live above the High Street.   Or perhaps they did and didn’t care.   The old slabs were – to put it delicately – Pigeon poo coloured. An obvious benefit being that gifts from above were not noticeable for long.   The new slabs could politely be called (if you squint and look at them sideways) mustard coloured.   The sort of mustard that you get in very cheap hot dog stalls.    It may even be called “electric mustard”.    I think it is fair to say that the colour has been chosen with the express intent of highlighting what pigeons do naturally.   So much so that there is a multi coloured line of fowl foul running elegantly along the street.

I do wonder if this is a deliberate act on behalf of the local council – Some sort of natural demarkation between storefront and walking area although I fear that the many charity shops, betting outlets and fingernail beautifiers may lose custom as the perils of crossing the threshold have been highlighted in a very obvious way.

Regardless.   Next time you are attending a rugby match at the home of English rugby, take a walk up the hill and visit Whitton High Street.   Just make sure you bring an umbrella.

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Keep away from fire

I think we need to discuss clothes.      There are many things I don’t understand about clothes.

Firstly, the sizes.     I’ve been to a clothes shop today – one of those that sells a wide range of styles and fashions from a selection of designer manufacturers.   Now I think it is safe to say that when it comes to my build I can comfortably be described as average.    I am 3/4 of an inch (about 2cm) taller than the national average height and 4 lb (roughly 2 kg) lighter than the national average weight.  So I’m not exactly tall and nowhere near lardy (Bear in mind we are talking United Kingdom national averages here, if I was Dutch I would be a portly midget).

I suppose it is inevitable that clothes sizes are going to differ between manufacturers, trousers from a 31 to a 34 all adorn my wardrobe (the 34’s make me look like those kids that have trousers around their knees – I have no idea how they stay up)  but it seems when it comes to shirts I invariably need an XL.   Large ones make me look rather lollypop shaped so I’m forced instead into feeling as if I’m purchasing from the Demis Roussos back catalogue.   It can’t be right.   It wouldn’t be so bad if I spent my days on a diet of cheddar cheese and cider (which makes me sound a little like an advert for Somerset – nice place and very nice people if you get the chance to visit) but I do try to consider what I’m consuming at least half of the time (and my weight lifting regime from carrying motorcycle engines around the place is second to none).

Next – It so happens that the weather has turned in the UK.  Last week was sunny and glorious and this week we are definitely autumnal.   I woke in the night feeling a bit parky and cast around for something to put on.     At the bottom of the drawer I found something that could be loosely described as pyjama bottoms.  To be fair, they’ve probably been in the drawer for several years and could possibly double as something Burt Lancaster may have worn in one of his earlier movies (although not Trapeze, they’re not that tight).      I slipped into them and instantly felt as if I would be at home in a 1920’s gypsy caravan – possibly accompanied by a ratty dog and an elderly but dignified pony.

The PJ’s did a remarkable job of fending off the cold without recourse to a hot water bottle (it is after all still only September) but on removal in the morning I found two curious labels.   The first was a Ralph Lauren label.   Who in their right minds buys Ralph Lauren sleeping garments?    Perhaps they are not PJ’s after all but are instead some avant-garde disco trousers that I purchased when I was imagining I could replicate Johnny Fingers from the Boomtown Rats (You know, you’re just going to have to look him up on another tab).

The second label was more disconcerting.   “Keep away from fire”.   Presumably they are never going to be hot pants (or at least, not for long).   I was tempted to hold a match to them just to see what would happen.    Let me take you back (again) to a movie, any romantic movie from the ’60’s that you like.   It will probably star Gregory Peck and Doris Day and they’ve not got together yet but they’re in an isolated house somewhere in the middle of a storm.    They both awake in separate rooms and rendezvous in a sitting room – her in a voluminous night-dress and he in his pyjamas.   A glass of scotch to share and they’re just about to kiss when an ember leaps from the crackling fire and sets alight Gregory’s trews.    Doris would probably throw her glass of scotch towards Gregory’s crotch thus increasing the conflagration beyond the control of our star-crossed lovers.  Before you know it Doris will have legged it with a hunky fireman and Gregory is in intensive care seeking soothing balm to placate his burned bits.

Finally (“thank goodness” I heard someone gasp).   I do think that there is a strong case for a clothing regulator.   I accept that this may be part of growing old on my part but there are a lot of garments out there that are not really appropriate.    In Britain (and most other European countries) throughout the Middle Ages there were Sumptuary Laws in place.  A typical example of this comes from a proclamation in 1559 that stated “None shall wear in his apparel any cloth of gold, silver, or tinsel; satin, silk, or cloth mixed with gold or silver, nor any sables; except earls and all of superior degrees.” (thanks to http://www.encylopedia.com for the exact wording).   It would be marvelous to introduce something in a similar vein today.   I would of course target the aforementioned prisoner trousers and there would definitely be something banning Lycra for anything other than sporting events (and only then if it is indoors and controlled).   I would also introduce a license system for the wearing of Leggings, Jeggings, Meggings and anything else that is likely to reveal whether you have shaved or not.  Licenses would of course have to be renewed every 12 months and could be repealed at any time.

All those with me say Aye.

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