31 December 2008

John Martyn OBE

Picture of John Martyn
Oh, blimmin eck! Quite as surprising as the fact that he's still alive, is the award to John Martyn of an OBE. You could understand the Colombian govt giving it for services to that country's economy, but he's got it for services to music. Which is quite right - at his peak he trod a quite extraordinary path, never quite sounding like anyone else, and never quite influencing anyone else, but showing that you could do something different. I was a huge fan of his at the time of albums like Bless the Weather and Inside Out where he blended together an angry passion and a painful tenderness. And the music was a bizarre but compelling mixture of hard rock, folk, a bit of jazz, and an early form of trip-hop. It culminated (and fell apart I suppose) in the bitter and tearful Grace and Danger an album where the pain (of his broken marriage) is so unremitting you feel helpless. But that album also brought the element of Phil Collins into his music, and it was never quite the same, always after that a little too tidy.

Meanwhile, he was taking the rocknroll lifestyle to new levels of madness, but somehow survived. Somewhere along the way he lost half a leg, but still managed to keep going. Not just for music, then, but for proving the capacity of the human body to withstand all excess, it's a well deserved honour. Odd to think, though, that Rebecca Adlington got the same award, and she's (presumably) never taken a hard drug or drink in her life.

30 December 2008

A Ring of Fools

Picture of Odin, the wanderer
It must be the cold weather - or certainly the poor offerings on telly these evenings - but I'm tackling another long long work by a dead anti-Semite. In this case, Wagner's Ring, about 14 hours of music. I'm now about 66% through it, with the longest work, Gotterdammerung, to come tomorrow. I'm listening to the CDs and reading the librettos online, the first time I've paid such close attention to the text, rather than simply enjoying the music.

What strikes me most is how stupid almost everyone involved is. In this, it reminds me of Corneille. There is an 'official' reading of the work, according to which the leading characters represent the best of humanity, and there's the reading that someone like me can't help creating, where the so-called virtues of these people are madness.

Take Wotan, assumed to be the chief god. He's crap. And I think Wagner knows it. Partly because he's one god among many, Wotan can't command, but has to negotiate, bargain and wheedle to get what he wants. At the start, he has the builders (Fasolt and Fafner) in, and they're slightly worse than super Mario. To settle the bill, they kidnap his sister, and to get her back he has to give them The Ring, Der Ring, the ring which can give anyone total power, as well as a huge heap of treasure. Once that's gone, the game is really up for Wotan, but he potters about for the next few decades. Fafner kills Fasolt, so gets all the treasure and the ring, but does he enjoy it? Does he go on a nice cruise? Nah, he changes himself into a dragon and just guards the treasure in a cave, and sleeps a lot.

And so on. Of course, as with Corneille, the strength of the work is in the conflict between the 'official' and the subversive reading. Currently, my view is that the 'message' of the work is that the concept of god is illogical, therefore collapses under any 14 hour period of scrutiny. But I would think that.

26 December 2008

Ezra Pound

Ezra Pound
Poor mad, racist, fascist Ezra Pound. I got his complete Cantos for Christmas after it found its way onto my Amazon wish list, when the word usura bubbled back into my mind. Canto XLV is all about usura, and here's a recording of Ez reading it in 1958.


25 December 2008

Harold Pinter

A brilliant screenwriter, a great playwright, a decent actor, a well intentioned but hopelessly inept campaigner, an embarassingly bad poet. Pinter was right to protest against the invasion of Iraq but why did he do it in poetry that would shame a thirteen year old? Google Harold Pinter bad poetry for all the proof you need. But for me, he'll always be a benchmark of Tony Blair's philistinism and totalitarian tendency. When a UK citizen wins the Nobel Prize, you'd think any UK PM would wish to congratulate them. Even if, especially if that writer has been a critic of the government. At the most cynical level, it would be a demonstration of the UK PM's acceptance of free speech and open debate. A celebration, if you will, of our democratic values which we wish to spread throughout the world. When Pinter won the prize, Blair completely ignored it. Pinter wouldn't have wanted Blair's praise, of course. If he'd been offered honours, we can be sure he'd have refused them. We wait to see what (if anything) Gordon Brown has to say following his death.

24 December 2008

Funny people

I've now replaced the ads on the right (which earned me nothing! and just continually taunted me with offers of competent tilers in Stokenchurch or somewhere) with a very web2.0 list of feeds by people I consider funny. So far they're all women, curiously. Let's as it were run through them.

Nancy Banks-Smith is, as any Guardian reader know, just the funniest reviewer of television in the world. She must be about a hundred and eight by now. Looks like she's immortal. Let's hope so.

Lucy Mangan is her natural successor. Sometimes her tv reviewing is too obviously influenced by NBS but she's genuinely witty. It helps that she has a Lewisham background - in one of the entries she talks about reading a book in Torridon Road library - and lives, I believe, in Beckenham, where she uses the same Waitrose as me. I'm beginning to sound like a stalker now.

On Balderdash and Piffle Victoria Coren managed to make etymology sexy. Since then, she's hosted Only Connect and is clearly dead clever and dead rich. Talks about poker too often, leaving me utterly confused ("when the flop went down I found I'd been flanneling a turbot"), but has the advantage of brevity that many bloggers (I mean you, Richard Herring) lack. Here's a fascinating recent article from the Observer.

Finally (for now) the one you won't have heard of, Ariane Sherine. She seems to have started the Atheist Bus campaign, and while we'll have to forgive her for having written for My Family, has promise, I think.

22 December 2008


the bathroom work has now stopped until the new year. Nothing done today as other work is demanding to be done. Actually, I'm not that bothered. It really is not much more than snagging now, apart from refitting the bath panels, which builder has agreed to do tomorrow. It's more of a problem for builder, because he's having to wait longer for payment. And he's agreed to take £300 off the roofing work that we'd already identified in the new year.

I can at least move my bathroom stuff back into the bathroom for two weeks, which means I have more room in the kitchen. And it means I did a smart thing today in buying a new bogbrush. From Woolworths, as it goes, at a stupid price. What a shop! As each shelf becomes empty, they sell it. The only bags they had (to put things in) were binbags, so I was traipsing around a rather smart town in Kent (hint: I began to feel disgusted and almost wrote a letter to the Telegraph), with this huge sack over my shoulder like a lowrent premature santa.

Some shops have their own atmosphere. Woolworths was desperately sad. I went into Halfords on Saturday to get a new headlamp bulb, and it smelt of disappointed ambition. I went into BHS today for the first time in years. Previously, I was put off by the SALE SALE SALE signs everywhere. Now it's the only shop that doesn't have them. It was halfempty. And HMV was basically saying we know you're going to buy dvds and cds, you don't care how much they cost, you'll even form a snaking queue halfway around the store to pay us. Packed. Bastards. I gave up and, reader, I bought the dvd I was intending to buy in Sainsburys later for £2 less. Take that, HMV!

20 December 2008

Not in Norwich

I've amazed myself this morning by being in and out of Bluewater by 10:15. Haven't got Christmas totally (aha) wrapped up yet but I'm well on the way, with literally days to spare. It's still touch and go if the bathroom works will be finished by Christmas. The floor is now grouted and looking good, so what's left:

shower curtain rail
tighten wc fixing to ground
replace whb splashback with one that actually matches the other colours
a bit of work on the outside window and back door

It's all entirely achievable in one day but ...

18 December 2008

Talk like a footballer

To be fair, the bathroom is an awkward shape, and hasn't builder gone on about it. To be fair, though, he did accept that he knew that all along. I sensed a tinge of bitterness that this means he can't charge me more even though the floor has probably taken far longer than he expected.

Yesterday the new tilers started again, and their first job was obviously to rip up the tiles Super Mario had laid, just to confirm that was a completely wasted day. Tonight the job's nearly done. A few odd triangles to fill in, and grouting and job's done. To be fair, it's a decent effort. Builder has not much of a gsoh, so I'll swerve the chance to wind him up tomorrow by saying, you know, I've decided I don't like those tiles; any chance you could take them up and replace them?

To be fair, I think the tiles are ok. So, just a few fittings more to go.

15 December 2008

Not so super Mario

Builder's hired hand, Mario, has made a strong bid to be acclaimed the world's worst floor tiler. My bathroom is odd-shaped but I don't suppose many bathrooms are perfectly square. When you're tiling a bathroom floor, you expect to have to cut tiles, don't you? Not Mario. On Friday he took one look at the bathroom and decided he didn't want to cut any tiles and so he laid a pavement of whole tiles around the bath, leaving all the tricky bits for someone else. His entire day's work consisted of laying 19 (I've counted them) tiles. Today builder told me Mario had an accident with a power tool at the weekend and so won't be back. I hope the alibi for me and my chainsaw holds up.

14 December 2008


I believe mutton is somewhat fashionable, but no-one's told the meat man at the farmers' market. I bought about 500g of stewing mutton today for just over a pound. Coooked it in the slowest oven for about 4 hours, with a mix of winter veg and served it with mash. The meat was falling off the bones but still moist thanks to a frankly alarming amount of fat. Fantastic cold weather food and it seems to me that the credit crunch is going to taste of childhood. All that was missing was the dumplings and pearl barley. And rice pudding after.

(PS you can see from the link above that Prince Charles likes a bit of mutton. As if we didn't know.)

13 December 2008


Image of an elbow
Got the email yesterday confirming that I'm in for next year's programme, to be recorded in February in 'central London' - presumably that'll be Broadcasting House again. I now need to start cramming on certain things:

nicknames of symphonies (eg Winter Daydreams)
musicians' curious deaths (eg Lully who lost his life in a conducting accident)
something about recent music (eg names of albums by wimpy rockers such as Elbow)
gilbert & sullivan, I suppose, oh no

09 December 2008

Moroccan sands

That's the colour of my living room walls, now, and probably easier to guess what kind of colour it is. No-one guessed that Amazon beat was a kind of blue.

So the living room is bright and airy now. So's the bathroom. The back yard is clean and tidy, ready for some planting next year. And I've thrown out all the black ash. Will this bring a change in my character? How can I continue to be the gloomy Catford hermit? I'll have to skulk in the kitchen.

Talking of skulking, I'm doing so in a sense tonight. I considered going to Charlton to watch the game v Coventry tonight. The prospect of freezing my nuts off while with very little prospect of enjoyment somehow didn't do it for me. And now I see we're a goal down at halftime. Oh, doom.

08 December 2008

More bathroom news

Floor tileWoohoo! Paint on my bathroom walls at last! A first coat of Amazon Beat 4, to be exact. And a big bag of floor tile adhesive on the floor. And a second coat of emulsion in the living room, which is very nearly complete. And the splashback's grouted, which makes a huge difference, and to my eye, it's a good match to the wall colour.

I'm trusting the floor tiles will be a nice contrast, not some horror clash.

Bathroom update

For those who may have thought my silence might mean the bathroom is complete - it isn't. It's tantalisingly close, with mainly painting to be done (and floor tiling) but things slowed down last week due to builder's staff all being off sick, apparently.

Optimistically, I had booked leave today, thinking that there might be some tidying up to do, but it was obvious last Thursday that wouldn't be the case, so I've been in to work.

This is another writtenonthetrain blog, so again I'm going home with uncertainty of what I'll find.

Oh, the anticipation!

07 December 2008

Not just a great hairstyle

Farmers market this morning, and a fabulous catch on the Canvey Island fish stall. I felt spoilt for choice with some beautiful mackerel and seabass but topping the lot some fantastic red mullet. I couldn't resist the lovely shiny red fish and bought two of them for about 6 quid. The first one I filleted, and coated the fillets in Basque batter (separate an egg, whisk the white until it's frothy, beat the yolk until it's soft, fold the two together, coat the fillet in seasoned rice flour, then dip in egg) fried and served with lightly cooked savoy cabbage. Lunch. Fantastic.

In the evening I filleted the other one, and simply dipped it in rice flour, served with pardina lentils and psb. It wasn't as good, to be honest. The egg seemed to make the first one much better. The lentils were very tasty though. I'd intended to have them with lunch but my timing went wrong and they weren't ready. The process of cooling and reheating seems to have helped the flavour.

And then finally I looked at Hugh Fearnley Wittingstall's fish book, which is very dismissive of using fillets at all - the red mullet should be used whole, it says.

This post is official displacement activity to avoid thinking about football.

02 December 2008

Counterpoint and stereotype

I had a telephone audition today for Counterpoint, the Radio 4 music quiz. Apparently I did very well and other things being equal should be recording in February. The audition was conducted by Paul Bajoria, the producer of this and Brain of Britain and we chatted before it about the experience of Only Connect and about why and when I got interested in Bartok. And then the answer to one of the questions was Bartok.

Meanwhile, I got home tonight to see the end of Eggheads. My, CJ looks different. Turns out it's the winner of Are You an Egghead making his first appearance. I didn't even think about applying for this, thinking that the last thing they'll want is another balding middle-aged white man. Oh look, that's exactly what they've got. His name's Barry.

01 December 2008

Rootin' tootin' Luton

In Luton today, training again. What hard work it was! A large group, quiet and attentive, but just too quiet. No response to my neverfailedbefore banter, and precious little contribution to the discussion. Which is always worrying. Are they really taking it in or just going through the motions? Using the Council chamber didn't help, but there was a passivity about the trainees that was really quite weird.

As for Luton itself, and my first visit there, it would be unfair to comment. All we really saw was the Arndale Centre (blerr) and the Art Deco town hall, which is rather lovely. Here's the story from Wikipedia:
The original town hall was destroyed in 1919 during Peace Day celebrations at the end of World War I. Local people including many ex-servicemen were unhappy with unemployment and had been refused the use of a local park to hold celebratory events. They stormed the town hall setting it alight. A replacement building was completed in 1936.

One of the trainees (who didn't look old enough) told me that the rioters broke into a shop and dragged out a piano, and then sang songs as they torched the old town hall. One of the forgotten moments of radical British history, and presumably very worrying at a time when the threat of Bolshevism was taken very seriously. There's a good article about it here.