Wednesday, 29 December 2010

Reading the wrongly-written signs correctly

A sign spotted on the bus yesterday:

Passengers are advised to remain seated until the bus is stationery

I suppose it makes some sort of sense, given the amount of shops I've seen which purport to sell stationary.

Saturday, 18 December 2010

Trout Mask Original

Slightly shy of twenty years ago, I recall some balmy summer evenings sat around a table with three other friends. This was in a student house but it was pretty well-kept, any rough edges being part of its charm. Wooden floorboards, and a long open-plan living room, and the double-doors open to the garden.

Low lighting.

A bottle of whisky at the table, generous measures being regularly topped up. A mixture of easy conversation and hard concentration. Cigarette smoke. We four would be playing bridge. I was a novice (still am - I've hardly played since) but would enjoy the challenge, and no-one was too bothered if I asked for advice: it didn't hinder the flow of the game.

These were marvellous evenings.

As often as not, an album would be playing on the stereo that complemented - or maybe completed - the atmosphere. A trippy, unfettered thing that really got under my skin. Interlocking yet contrapuntal slide guitar riffs, loose and syncopated drum beats, and bursts of growled vocals and freeform sax playing.

This album was "Mirror Man" by Captain Beefheart: a series of extended jams which really seemed to capture the woozy meanderings of our conversation and gameplay (and whisky) set against these hot summer nights.

That was an ideal introduction to Beefheart's music for me and, when these particular nights in question tailed off, I gradually found myself searching for his albums.

Trout Mask Replica is the one most people talk about, and not without good reason. I'll just say that I loved it on first listen, and have done since: it seemed to perfectly fill a musical gap for me, given the various types of music I'd been listening to for a while.

But, on hearing of Captain Beefheart (Don Van Vliet)'s death yesterday, I've just sat listening to Doc At The Radar Station very loud, and am struck by not just how original it is, but how - despite playing it and his other work countless times over the years - startling it still is for me.

For some reason, it's this album that I've listened to the most. I know the notes and layers really well, since I was near-obsessed with this album for a long time. Yet there's still something surprising about it as I hear it for the first time since he died. It seems there's always something beyond those notes, layers, nuances, dynamics and discord, which never fails to engage.

I always wonder how it sounds, to talk about emotions and loss and so on, when the person who's died was not someone known to me in any personal sense. But, my word, the impact of the music that he created, and what it did for me: it's difficult not to get emotional about such a unique and utterly enriching music knowing that the driving force behind it has gone forever. There was nobody like him, ever - and I doubt that there ever will be again.

Friday, 17 December 2010

The week in groans and creaks

I had a fabulous weekend last weekend, notably going to see one of my favourite bands on Sunday night. It was worth the long drive and the late night to witness them play as an ensemble for the first time in about 8 years, and to experience again at first hand the swirling, intense, epic and often heartbreaking music they play.

They really were nothing short of remarkable, and the quantity (a 2 and a half hour performance) matched the quality.

It was fantastic to be there, to see some other old friends, and to have really made the most of my weekend.

I was at work the following day and, whilst feeling in reasonable fettle physically speaking, I was in a flat mood which intensified as the day went on.

I felt more like myself on Tuesday, but it proved to be a long and hectic day and I do feel that it's no coincidence that I've been run-down, sneezy, achy and bunged-up for the latter part of the week.

I'm as physically fit as I've ever been, all things taken into consideration, but I just don't have the stamina anymore to even have just one or two late nights without there being some all-too-tangible repercussions.

Not that I would have missed a night like Sunday night for anything - I just have to brace myself for the seemingly-inevitable aftermath.

Like when I got back from Krakow, having had a wonderful week of relaxing, socialising, and drinking all at a nice holiday kind-of-pace: by the latter half of my first week back at work, I was in pretty much the same state as I am now.

So it looks like it'll be a quiet night in tonight - the thought of beer isn't even an appealing one, it wouldn't taste right thanks to my current minor ailments.

Thursday, 16 December 2010


I was sat on the bus today, across the aisle from a very prim and proper-looking woman, perhaps starting to head towards late middle age. She was stylishly but not extravagantly dressed. She looked a mixture of approachable and no-nonsense; assertive, independent; possibly in a senior, powerful job.

These were my immediate assumptions, anyway, I've no way of knowing how accurate they might be.

What I certainly didn't expect was that, when I suddenly heard the opening riff to Paranoid by Black Sabbath, it would be the ringtone on her telephone.

I like being surprised like that.

Saturday, 11 December 2010

End of the week

I was in conversation with a senior member of staff today, at a social event. Given the intensely fraught nature of the work and of the organisation itself in recent months, this member of staff was talking about how the atmosphere was, when he had recently been at the main office.

Poker-faced, I replied that I hadn't been there for a while, but that I could well imagine the atmosphere there, given that I've seen Downfall.

I'd like to think that, at certain times, there is a value in such gross exaggeration: that a carefully-calibrated overstatement can allow the actual truth of the situation to pass through and to register almost undetected.

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

One giant leap

I just used that knife again.

No maiming or mishap occurred. I have clearly learned something this week.

I'd better be careful when I do the washing up though - the knife is in the bowl and may be lurking, shark-like.

Monday, 6 December 2010

A letter to my younger self

To me, aged about 20 minutes younger than I am now:

Dear trousers (yes I still use the lower-case, even in the future),

That new knife you bought for chopping up food. It's very, very sharp. That's why you bought it.

So if you happen to be surprised when you cut your fingers open when you're preparing your dinner - because you've forgotten that the knife is very, very sharp, even though that's why you bought it - then don't expect any sympathy from your future self. In fact, your future self thinks that you're a bit of a twat right now.

Yours, trousers (with sticking plasters on his fingers).

ps you're aging well.

Friday, 3 December 2010

Misreading the signs

Misread at the counter of a local pharmacy:

Effective relief for the symptoms of margarine.

Which is far better on every level than the one I misread in the dairy section of the supermarket a few days ago:

Manure Cheddar.

You'd think I might have developed a little more manurity than that by now.