Broad Oak: your emotional support animal

Friday, October 20, 2017

FRIDAY MUSIC: Slovenia's Got Talent, by JD

This week we present the Gimnazija Kranj Great Symphony Orchestra! There is very little information about them on the web apart from lots and lots of videos. The only thing I can say for certain is that they are a Youth Orchestra in Slovenia and they are very good as you can see from the enthusiastic reception given to them by their audiences.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

The Basque Country, A Timely Visit, by Wiggia

Our trip abroad finally took place this year after several canceled efforts due to ill-timed health problems over the last 24 months. Not that all went well on that front, as the wife managed to twist her knee prior to going and it restricted any walking to slow ambles or none at all; on return, a visit to the local surgery showed this to be not a ligament problem as thought but osteoarthritis which has already struck the recipient in several areas, so this is almost certainly the last of my European tours that we have so enjoyed over time.

Northern Spain was a choice for two reasons: firstly, the last time we went there was exactly fifty years ago, the year before we married; and secondly it afforded to avoid the long tiring drive down through France by using the Portsmouth to Santander ferry, a much more relaxed way of travelling and no need for a day to recover after the drive, plus it takes 24 hrs as against two days by road unless you are young and simply don’t stop as I did the first time we ventured south.

Our first stop was Oviedo where having arrived in the dark our satnav decided to die as we approached the city, drawing us into the centre rather than skirting round it to where our hotel was. Needless to say it was festival week and the place was teeming with people on the streets and traffic barely moving. I persevered, with much swearing at the dead guide, until we cleared the worst of the crowds, stopped in a quiet spot and took great delight in being able to foil the damned satnav by producing my old one from under the seat - nobody likes a clever dick but I was right to be smug as it fired up and got us to our destination.

The dead satnav of course was not dead but for a strange reason the micro card would not sit in its slot and kept coming springing out causing a blank screen, solved with a piece of electrical tape also from under the seat; I will have to have a proper look under there to see what other goodies lie waiting to rescue me.

Nice city. Oviedo, and they know how to put on a festival. It seemed every street in the centre had an attraction going at various times of the day and night and whilst in the covered market area a strange but familiar sound came closer: bag pipes, a marching band proving that the Celts have infiltrated this far south to inflict this strange sound on the populace.

The festival is something that we at home are not generally very good at, with exceptions of course, but there is a vast difference between this week-long indulgence in arts, fairs, street theatre and of course eating and drinking and the local efforts I have been witness to that comprise of three lorries with a motley local WI float, a reluctant 12-year-old Carnival Queen and the inevitable Morris Men who for reasons unknown have gone from being a rarity (better days) to what is now a guaranteed place in all carnivals, such is the desire of grown men ? to wave hankies in the air; but I digress.
I am not going to give a running Trip Advisor report on hotels stayed at but I will say all were top class and the staff to the last in all did their best for us; a long time since I could say that about a trip.

One thing became obvious very early on in this tour: the roads around Oviedo alone comprise of more infrastructure that works than in the whole of East Anglia - yes I know we paid for a lot of it through the EU but they have it and we don’t, something very wrong there.

Oviedo is a good base for the delights of northern Spain's wonderful scenery and coast, trips to the enchanting town of Aviles which at first sight looks like an industrial hell hole on the Ria de Aviles but don’t be deceived: the centre is a wonderful mix of styles in architecture and on the opposite bank is the site of the Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer, largely responsible for Brasilia, an exponent of modernism; it might not be to everyone's taste - "Telly Tubby land" said the wife - but it is very eye-catching and much is stunning in a modernist way.

Visiting there made me realise just how much contemporary design is in evidence in this part of Spain. There are more shops in that style than in Italy, a country I know very well, and the same style can be seen in hotels, offices and in the design of many homes. In Oviedo the hospital that can be seen for miles resembles a huge multi-layer cake.

Gijon with its two beaches and the inevitable working fishing port is also worth a trip for the harbourside area alone and a bit further north the Penas lighthouse in the style of the area, part lighthouse as we know and part house, this one has a very good maritime museum beneath it.

The other outing from Oviedo was to the Picos de Europa, a stunning national park with Dolomite style mountains and beautiful lakes and valleys. This was one trip limited by the other half's problems as most parking is deliberately well away from the best views and sites though with a modicum of “off-roading” and cries of “You're not going down there!” I  manage to get to some lesser and much quieter spots that were worth the risk of never returning up the road we had come down awhile before.

We left Oviedo and our beautiful hotel converted from a castle and headed to the part of the trip reserved for me, though I could not use those words when explaining that  La Rioja was an essential visit on this trip not just for the wine. I lie a lot in these circumstances, in fact it is a classic wine-producing area surrounded by mountains that give it a backdrop to remember, not unlike many other wine-producing areas world-wide that have the benefits of altitude and the water and protection from the elements the mountains provide. 

Bodegas Ysios, LaGuardia (Rioja country)
Rioja also reflects the desire for modernism in its bodegas. There are many fabulous new buildings in the area plus the Frank Gehry-designed Marques de Riscal hotel; whatever you think of Gehry this building is quite a landmark, worth visiting but very expensive to stay in. I suppose the problem with Gehry is as he has said himself, “The first building was the best and it is all downhill now”; not totally true but there is a modicum of truth in those words.

The Marqués de Riscal Vineyard Hotel, designed by Frank Gehry
To dig out suitable bodegas to visit involved some pre-planning before we left home, but my select list were all bar one visited and the wines sampled and purchased when they came up to the mark.

Which brings me to the second hotel we used: totally different from our castle, this was a derelict merchant's house in the middle of a  nondescript village. Completely renovated a few years ago, it provided comfortable rooms, an amazingly good and cheap restaurant and the only bar in the place where the locals gathered. Very drinkable white wine was available for 90 cents in the bar and the same was 6 euros in the restaurant; you could buy the wine in the local bodega over the road for 2 + euros.

Haro, the wine capital of the region is a must as four of the best wineries in Spain are all grouped around the station area and all have tasting rooms. Muga was the best as it was really a bar and you could taste their finest for a modest fee in very nice surroundings. For those visiting these places you will be tempted to buy but restrain yourself as the Simply supermarket down the road has an enormous selection of Riojas on sale right to the top level and lower prices than the bodegas were selling, as much as a third or more cheaper in some cases, so you should taste in the wineries and buy in the supermarket.

Whilst visiting the neighboring Vina Tondonia one could not help notice an event going on in front of the winery: a large batch of young schoolchildren were making their own wine with the help of the owner, miniature grape presses and various jars bottles etc meaning that grape-stained little hands were much in evidence and a great time was being had by all; this is evidently an annual event at harvest time and was the owner's idea as he had been introduced to wine making the same way when young and has carried on the tradition. I can’t imagine the making of alcoholic drinks at that age would go down well with our PC brigade but it went down well here.

Children learning to make wine
There are some very pretty villages in the Rioja area. We only visited a few but Laguardia, Sajazarra, and Najera spring to mind as well worth visiting along with San Vicente de la Sonserra for its hill top location and views that go with that.

The only failed find with my wineries was Bodegas Muriel: whatever I did, nothing on map or sat nav found the actual winery until I saw an arched entrance with the name. Quickly I turned in but soon realised I had simply driven into the vineyard itself down an ever more bumpy earth track; more cries of “You're not going down there!” but more off-roading got me back on tarmac and I never did find the winery. All of that makes a change for the destination I usually end up in when lost: the industrial estate wins every time.

The colours at this time of year are stunning with the grape harvest in full flow; the leaves on the vines are changing to autumn colours - the genre Vitis is known for coloured leaf climbers but the grape vines are not far behind with ribbons of orange and yellow hues adorning the fields.
I could have spent another day or so in Rioja, it is a lot more than just a wine region with its own style of landscape that compliments the rest of this gorgeous region.

Soon it was time to head north to the coast. Getaria was our destination but finding the hotel produced a story of its own. Once again the vagaries of the satnav came into play: whatever version of the address I put into it the result was a dead end. Numerous requests from the natives produced much pointing and "back there" signals but still no hotel. I pulled up in the street we were on and got the map out - it didn’t help - and then espied an ambulance parked up opposite: he must know the area so I went over with the address.

I handed him the address and he looked long and hard and said nothing, eventually he said "Español?" hoping I could converse as he spoke no English; after I said no he gesticulated and I grasped he was going to take us there, so we arrived at the hotel - which was nowhere near where we had been looking - behind an ambulance, a first for me and something I doubt would be repeated in the UK.

Unlike the previous stops this  was a very modern hotel but very well laid out and comfortable with views over its own vineyards towards the coastal outcrop at Getaria and lighthouse and the lighthouse on top.

One can imagine with the huge Atlantic swell all those lighthouses earn their keep and now of course that swell is haven to surfers who are everywhere along this coast. 

You know you are in Basque country here: all the signs and names have unpronounceable names containing lots of Xs and Zs in combinations that baffle and the Basque flag is flown proudly.

Here on the coast you realise how important fish is to these people: all the small ports have boats of all sizes out all day and into the night, the restaurants  all have fish-dominated  menus and it is an insult (as it is all round this coast including Portugal) to ask for anything but fish, so we didn’t. God knows what we spent on turbot, sea bass, sea bream etc all priced by the kilo, but they were the best fish meals I have ever consumed so it was worth it; but it does not come cheap. Saturday night saw the locals indulging in the same fish: they are prepared to pay for the good stuff as in Japan, where fish is of a higher order in the scheme of things food-wise.

Getaria is home to a superb modern museum dedicated to the late fashion designer Balenciaga who was born here. It's not my thing in the normal run of events but I was very impressed with the layout and presentation of some beautiful clothes... have to be careful here I might just step over the the current gender boundaries and be seen in a dress !

Just up the coast San Sebastian beckoned. It seemed much bigger after fifty years and inevitably is but the handsome buildings in the center all shone and the festooned bridge at the river mouth was just as remembered. The place was teeming with people and had that look of affluence you see in big cities, and whilst the outskirts are like those in most other cities. the  central harbour-side part and promenade is still very good. San Sebastian is another foodie paradise but we stayed with the fishing village fair and did not eat there.

Round Getaria and along that piece of coast a white grape is having a resurgence and is drunk with fish by most of the locals. The grape is Txacoli; not seen in the UK, it is a dry wine with natural spritz and is poured using an aerator on top of the bottle, Whilst the “good with fish” meme may stand up, to me it was the nearest thing to lemonade I have ever encountered in a wine: no subtle hints of lemon here, great gobs of it, not unlike but more overpowering than NZ Sauvignon Blancs that have lost the plot and taste only of gooseberry. No, I did not bring any back, even for the novelty value, though the wife did not mind it; I stuck to the Alborino, which is constantly improving here. There are other rare white grape varieties and I tried a few but in honesty they offered nothing out of the ordinary; but I may not have had the best of them. Needless to say, the names of these grapes all started with the letter X !

I saw little TV on this trip but the Catalan referendum was wall to wall with constant shots of the protagonists and the various police forces being shown in good/bad light according to whose side you followed. What little I could gather from the locals - who managed to find three old ETA members who appeared on TV with masked faces and berets, plus one man with a flag - was that it was as much a protest against the government in general: Rajoy along with all the western leaders is seen as a weak self-serving politician (as they all are nowadays; no change there.)

In fact an interesting part of the trip was meeting various people from all over Europe, the States and Canada who all said the same thing: the general consensus was we are not being served well by any of them, as the status quo does not like being shoved even slightly to one side. The full Trump is evil and the farce of Obama care was spelled out in very plain language. None was a good omen for the west as the problems are mutual and are simply not being addressed.

And just one other thing before the last stage of the journey: Spanish TV is ruled by women. One news program I watched did not have single man in the studio or on location, not one. Even the totally over the top football coverage was not dissimilar; and the face of Zinadine Zidane staring out of the screen was almost 1984 in its omnipresence; and if you believe them, Harry Kane is already playing for Real !

Whilst still visualising Spanish women, they still do wear the sexiest shoes - crippling, but sexy.

And one  observation that was puzzling: there seem to be an inordinate number of old “S” type Jaguars in these parts. One we came across was actually out on hire. Were they a big seller in Spain? I have no idea.

As the trip drew to a close the weather turned foul. We were in a cloud with rain for the last two days and when we left Bilbao on the ferry back the harbour could not be seen as the cloud base was so low. As for Bilbao itself we had no time to do it justice, just one venture into the centre and sample a couple of those wonderful tapas bars - some are really amazing - and back to the hotel for an early start to get the ferry.

A final anecdote: on the multi-laned highway to the port there were five visible accidents involving multiple vehicles in the space of less than a mile; this was on both sides. The irony was that huge signs saying "Drive carefully, this is an accident black spot" were evident everywhere; their driving is still appalling.

As JD is more than aware, having spent time in the country, this part of Spain is a foodie's paradise.  I have never eaten so well across the board, not in France, Italy, anywhere. I would love to return but another fifty years hence? I doubt it !

Friday, October 13, 2017

FRIDAY MUSIC: Iris DeMent, by JD

Iris DeMent is another excellent singer/songwriter who is not as well known as she deserves to be. She has a very distinctive voice which may not be to everyone's liking but there is no denying her wonderful talent and she is highly regarded among other musicians.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Terry Downes, by Wiggia

It unfailingly jogs the memory when someone you had forgotten about or presumed dead ! is actually pronounced dead and their obituary appears.

So it was with Terry Downes, a larger than life character who became world middleweight champion when that title meant something, there was only one version and when you won it you were king.

His all action style learnt whilst a marine in the States made him an instant success when he returned home and he filled the newspapers at the time with his success and his personality. Although tagged a cockney he was living in Paddington, west London in those early days and never actually ventured within the sound of Bow Bells, but his accent said otherwise and it was a trade mark of his to use rhyming slang. His career was blighted by a propensity to cut easily and in those days they did not stop fights as today and he ended in some looking as though he was in a slaughter house, his “perishing hooter” being the main culprit.

He was one of the few people who beat Sugar Ray Robinson; Robinson was past his best and Downes said at the time “I only beat his ghost.”

Until his death he was the oldest remaining world champion, and unlike many of his ilk he was shrewd with his money, owning a chain of betting shops that he later sold to William Hill.

In those heady early days after his retirement from the ring he appeared in many films in cameo roles being instantly recognised, such were his characteristics.

Why am I writing about him? Not my sport but at the time he was a huge star in sport and as a nation we were hungry for sports idols and he filled that bill plus in the early sixties.

Behind the scenes he did an awful lot of charity work for which he received the BEM.

And later in the eighties I met him by chance. I was working unknown to me two doors away from his home in Mill Hill north London, a large pile and grounds with a putting green. One day we were out front when he arrived in his Rolls Royce that did not have standard paintwork. A couple of my boys stared at this car and when Terry got out he said “Like the paint?” and a short conversation took place. He was what he was, no side, a bit flash but didn’t care. 

He sold the house later for a large sum for redevelopment on the large plot and that until the announcement of his passing was the last I heard of him, a one off from a different and ever more distant age.

As the picture above shows he was more Rocky in real life than the film could ever be; the last paragraph from his autobiography sums him up pretty well……. 

“I’ve lived the life I wanted, been blessed with a good family, done all the things I ever dreamed of, from birds to booze. I haven’t got a lot of money but I haven’t got to go out and get any. I’m too old to alter. Accept me as I am.”

Monday, October 09, 2017

Catalonia: Cui Bono? by JD

As I have said, there is no point in trying to write anything sensible on this issue as the propaganda war has been won by the separatists. Puigdemont is a journalist so he is well versed in the art of manipulating public opinion. Since last week's 'referendum' the promised Declaration of Independence has not yet been announced. They were thinking about it; then there would be an address to Parliament on Monday; the Constitutional Court cancelled Monday's session; then it was announced the Puigdemont would address Parliament on Tuesday afternoon; latest news is that they have decided to think about it some more. The word farce has been used a number of times over the past week and the longer it takes to make a decision the more it will look like a tragic pantomime!

So while we are waiting for something, anything, to happen here is a synopsis of future events -

Mister Puigdemont in this video explains in detail why he has no alternative but to declare war on the 'oppressors' in Madrid-

On 1st September Puigdemont and other 'separatists' in the Catalan parliament approved la Ley de Transitoriedad which would allow for a declaration of independence from Spain. The law was subsequently disallowed by the Constitutional Tribunal because it did not receive the required number of votes in favour as well as being against not only the Spanish Constitution but also against the Constitution of the autonomous region of Catalonia.

(The law to allow last Sunday's referendum was also illegal in that it received only 72 votes in the Catalan parliament against the required 90 votes.)

Puigdemont intends to declare independence using this particular Ley de Transitoriedad which will allow him to become 'supreme ruler' of catalonia.

Why does this remind me of Arthur Scargill?

"How far he would go in his solitary hall of mirrors to ensure a constitution which placed him at the centre of all things many have reflected on."

It also reminds me of something else-

"Fools dwelling in darkness, wise in their own conceit, and puffed up with vain knowledge, go round and round staggering to and fro like blind men led by the blind."
- Mundaka Upanishad.

'Knowledge' in this context refers to 'lower' knowledge defined by Paramahansa Yogananda as - "The lower knowledge is the knowledge of the phenomenal world. In reality it is ignorance, for it does not lead to the Highest Good."

I can hear Emperor Carles now, standing on a balcony somewhere in Barcelona shouting "Long live Freedonia!"


Well, who knows? It might happen!

Above I wrote that the Separatists have won the propaganda war and a week on the TV and newspapers are still echoing that propaganda, especially on the subject of the Police's heavy-handed, brutal tactics. No dissenting voice has questioned the images presented to us.

Over recent years 'conspiracy theorists' have seized on events in the news and scrutinised every image and film clip in forensic detail to produse their own version of what happened, always finding an alternative. It even happened last week with the gunman in Las Vegas. But nobody has questioned the images from Barcelona last Sunday. I wonder why?

Allow me to shed a little light.

Start with the woman who had her fingers broken one by one. This was widely reported but no details of who she was or which hospital treated her injuries. Well, her name is Marta Torrecillas. She appears in TV images being dragged down a shallow flight of stairs and shortly afterward she reappears on TV waving a heavily bandaged hand and shouting at the cameras. Unfortunately for her the TV networks and newspapers have had great fun over this past week examining the videos and photos and finding very large holes in her story. Eventually she was obliged to admit that it was all lies.

The MSM and bloggers have ignored the truth of this story. The only thing I can find in English is this from the Metro-

There were a lot of photos shared on Twitter showing alleged Police brutality. The most familiar and cited by bloggers and journalists was one of a confrontation between Police and Firefighters. The photo was first published in 2013 and was taken at an anti-austerity rally. All of the other photos, as far as I have been able to ascertain, were taken at other demonstrations going back to 2011.

In the matter of hundreds of injuries suffered at the hands of Police and Guardia Civil, I have been reading and reading and as far as I can see only two people needed hospital treatment and one of those was for a heart attack. Where were the 'hundreds' treated and who recorded the numbers?

It would seem that journalists and bloggers and the twits on Twitter are not reporting things they believe to be true but things they want to believe are true!

It seems time to rephrase that old saying, "There are lies, damned lies and there is Twitter!"

A brief word on the 'politics' of it all. Jose-Maria Aznar said this week that Mariano Rajoy was incapable of making decisions. Felipe Gonzalez said that he would have annulled the Catalan Regional Parliament and transferred all powers to the central government (under article 155 of the Constitution) and he would have done that last Sunday. Alfonso Guerra, who was deputy prime minister under Gonzalez, was more forthright. He said last Sunday was an attempted coup d'etat by the Catalans.

I could go on but the saga is not yet complete so this editorial in El Mundo is a good account of the story so far.

La ola que devora Cataluña ( the wave that is devouring Cataluña):

UPDATE (23:41 8 October) - JD adds:

Don't know if you saw the Catalan parliament session. Within about five minutes of Puigdemont starting to speak I knew he was the one who had blinked first. And so it proved, he rambled on for ages about conciliation and peace and tranquility and this week's most overused word - dialogue! At the end he declared independence and then suspended it for a few weeks to allow for this famous 'dialogue' And then they all made a big show of signing the piece of paper telling the world they were a new 'nation' Ha!

A few brief and hasty obsevations:

Inés Arrimadas, leader of Ciudadanos, and the main opposition leader spoke immediately after Puigdemont."la crónica de un golpe anunciado. Nadie ha reconocido el resultado del referéndum. Nadie en Europa reconoce los resultados. Esto no iba de urnas, va de fronteras. Ustedes son de lo peor del nacionalismo. Son la antítesis del proyecto europeo". "the anouncement of a coup d'etat. No one has recognized the result of the referendum.No one in Europe recognizes the results.This was not a ballot. You are the worst of nationalism. You are the antithesis of the European project." Those are pretty strong words.

Miquel Iceta of the PSC (socialist party of catalunya) said tonight 'the problem is not Europe nor is it Spain, the problem is us, catalans'

The CUP who are the most extreme left party within the coalition called it a betrayal to declare independence and then suspend it for a few weeks. I noticed that the members of the CUP didn't join in the standing ovation at the end of Puigdemont's speech. They are the largest party within the coalition; I think they are, but they are the ones whose support Puigdemont relies on.

This looks as though the members of the ruling coalition will start fighting among themselves and Puigdemont could be replaced. He was not their choice, he was appointed by his predecessor Artur Mas after Mas was barred from holding public office for two years after organising an illegal referendum in 2914. He is currently under investigation for fraud.

Catalan politics is very confusing and trying to understand the shifting alliances is like trying to unravel a plate of spaghetti.
If I were Rajoy or his advisors, I would sit back and do nothing and watch the unfolding farce. It might end up with regional elections in Catalonia. As you are probably aware a lot of large companies are moving their head offices away from the region to Madrid or Valencia or Alicante or Mallorca. The big one is SEAT who are considering moving their assembly plant out of the region and Nissan would certainly do the same. An independent Catalonia would be out of the EU and those two car makers would then be liable for trade tariffs if they remained.

I read somewhere earlier today that Catalans are historically forever picking fights with people and always losing them. Can't find the link now because stories are appearing and disappearing rapidly with the changing events. But it reminded me of what Ortega y Gassett wrote - the catalans are not capable of governing their own affairs and did not have the necessary strength of character to create a unified nation as Aragon and Castilla had done.

It will probably all change again tomorrow :)

Sunday, October 08, 2017

Exhibition Road was an accident waiting to happen

We were there yesterday morning, before the minicab hit eleven people outside the Natural History Museum, and remarked even then how unsafe Exhibition Road felt.

We were visiting the V&A but came before opening time, so strolled up the road past the NHM - already there was a long queue of families waiting to get in there; it was much longer when we came out of the V&A after noon.

For most of its length, Exhibition Road has no curb (so much for "car mounted pavement" in the Guardian and Daily Star) or traffic lanes.

What look like "pavement" demarcation lines in the above photo from the excited coverage in the Daily Mail five or six years ago are actually drainage, and now from ground level they are almost invisible, as seen in the more recent picture below:

Image cropped from Google Maps Street View

The criss-cross pattern in the block paving seems expressly intended to confuse boundaries - and it was! The "continuous shared space" - an idea adopted from Holland - was to make "motorists take more personal responsibility for their own actions and drive more attentively", i.e. make accidents easier to happen. The same logic would have local Councils mist-spraying pavements in icy weather so that people would walk more carefully.

Whichever authorities govern the road, they have resiled somewhat from the bash-nanny approach and now there is the odd metal post and concrete flower box to give us hedgehoggy pedestrians some assurance that we're not standing in the middle of what old Brummies used to call "the 'orse road". But yesterday it wasn't enough.

There may well have been other factors in that collision; this was another one.

Friday, October 06, 2017

FRIDAY MUSIC: Saat Masaale* by JD

*Seven spices (Hindi).

Here is a miscellaneous potpourri of music which defies categorisation but it is all good!

Friday, September 29, 2017

FRIDAY MUSIC: Rhiannon Giddens, by JD

Yet another excellent 'hidden' gem of a musician by the name of Rhiannon Giddens

As can be seen in the Wiki profile she covers virtually every musical genre you can think of. As well as playing fiddle and banjo she has a magnificent and soulful singing voice. And anyone who can make a kazoo sound like the most raucous jazz/blues instrument you have ever heard is clearly a musical genius!

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

A letter to the National Archives

The National Archives

Tuesday, 26 September 2017

Dear Sirs

75th anniversary publication request -  document AIR 20/4870

As you know, in 1944 the writer H E Bates was commissioned to write a monograph on the defence of Britain during the Blitz of 1940-41, which was titled "The Night Battle of Britain."

May I ask whether this study by a now world-famous author, written so close to the events it describes, will be made available online in time for the 75th anniversary of its completion, i.e. 2019? That year will of course also be the 75th anniversary of the D-Day landings.

Alternatively (or in addition), would the National Archives consider permitting hard-copy facsimile publication?

Friday, September 22, 2017

FRIDAY MUSIC: Hillbilly Moon Explosion, by JD

YouTube always offer their 'recommendations' as well as the music you are actually looking for. Occasionally there appears something interesting and one such was Hillbilly Moon Explosion.

A strange mixture of Rockabilly, Reggae, Swing and other pop styles mixed in with 1950s style smoochy, cheesy 'Dolce Vita' type ballads. Very bizarre and very different but it works!

Monday, September 18, 2017

A Transsexual Coincidence

One thing leads to another. It certainly did last Wednesday, when blows were exchanged at Speaker’s Corner between transsexuals and feminists who don’t wish the former to have the rights they enjoy themselves.[1] These TERFs[2] don’t seem to realise how old-fashioned their prejudice is.  For transsexuals play a key part in a novel from 1960 that took nearly 50 years to get published.[3]

Murray Sayle’s “A Crooked Sixpence”[4] tells of an Australian journalist who comes to London following a girlfriend and manages to get a job on a newspaper, the Sunday Sun.[5]  Largely based on his own experiences from the 1950s[6], the book describes the underhand stratagems by which “human interest” journalists got stories to titillate their readers, regardless of the damage they caused to obscure individuals in their hypocritically moralistic exposés.[7]

A game-changer in the tale is a transsexual who offers to tell his/her story, naively hoping for fair coverage. (This was very modern: in 1961 the Charing Cross Gender Identity Clinic - the first in the UK[8] - was still 5 years into the future. But the successful fashion model April Ashley was just about to be outed as a transsexual - in the Sunday People.)[9]

The brutal editor, Barr, gives O’Toole his brief: offer £25 and “that bollocks about explaining his tragic plight to the public”, then turn on the trans in print:

“I see the angle like this: “This disgusting pervert has had himself mutilated to get money from the innocent British public. He even had the nerve to ask money for the revolting details of his sickening operation. You ought to be in a prison or a mental home, you're not fit to breathe the same air as the decent people of Britain, you contemptible beast.” With this twist, it ought to make a page lead.”

More than half a century later, the decent TERFs of Britain are turning on the often tremendously brave transsexuals, in a location famously dedicated to the principle of liberal tolerance.

[2] “Trans-Exclusionary Radical Feminists”
[3] Originally published in 1961 but pulped almost immediately because of an attempt by a broke toff to sue the publishers: Michael Alexander was the model for “Michael Macedon”.
[5] Based on The People, which was taken over by Mirror Group in 1961. Now called the Sunday People:
[6] He quit in 1956, like his fictional hero James O’Toole.
[7] There was another book about Fleet Street - “The Street Of Disillusion” - published three years earlier (in 1958) by a man called Harry Procter. Like Sayle, Procter left the profession in disgust; but Sayle was to return a few years later and earn distinction in serious investigative journalism.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Merkel's refugees: a twist

Germany is not inviting refugees/migrants out of love for them, for if that were so the incomers would not be kept in such degrading conditions. They are

"effectively warehoused in wholly inadequate conditions, housed twelve to a “room” in what are no more than, and indeed described as, “containers”. Existing on disgusting food, jobless and with no apparent means of emerging from these holding pens, these migrants have in effect been abandoned by the German state."

The real motive is to wipe the guilt blackboard clean so that they can get back to hating Jews, says Melanie Phillips in this review of undercover Jewish investigator Tuvia Tenenbom's latest book, "Hello, Refugees!"

Friday, September 15, 2017

FRIDAY MUSIC: Joan Osborne, by JD

This week's musical treasure is Joan Osborne:

Maybe not as well known as she deserves to be but she is a very good 'soul' singer and seems to fit in quite happily in other genres; I first heard her on the BBC show 'Transatlantic Sessions' and one or two songs below come from that series.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Notes Towards A Blueprint For A Self-Destroying Financial Machine

There are many elements to the current economic system that threaten to tear it apart; so many that we will have to approach the design piecemeal, with the hope of eventually integrating all the pieces into one flowchart.

One aspect is the benefits trap. Undermining our domestic workforce by putting them in competition with far lower-paid people around the world has meant wages have stagnated, while in order to keep up with inflating living costs those out of work cost more to keep and those in work often need some form of in-work financial supplement.

The gap then narrows to the point where the unemployed cannot afford to work and the lower paid wonder why they bother to work. Responding to Sunday's post here, "Jack Ketch" says:

" A life on welfare today probably gives you a better standard of living than a working man had 40-50 years ago"

Bollocks does it! If I wanted to live in that kind of poverty, the soul destroying grinding poverty of Granddad's era, I'd go get a job....and yes I am genuinely on benefits. We pull in something like £1k a month cash in hand and the rent is paid. Going to work is a luxury many can't afford, that's the stone cold truth.

As the old song goes:

I was outside a lunatic asylum one day, busy picking up stones
When along came a lunatic and said to me, "Good morning Mr. Jones,
Oh, how much a week do you get for doing that?" "Thirty bob!" I cried.
"What, thirty bob a week, with a wife and kids to keep?
Come inside, you silly bugger, come inside."

"Come inside, you silly bugger, come inside, you ought to have a bit more sense.
Working for your living, take my tip, act a little screwy and become a lunatic.
Oh you get your meals most regular and a brand new suit besides.
What's thirty bob a week with a wife and kids to keep?
Come inside you silly bugger come inside."

See here from 2:05 for a visual metaphor:

Jean Tinguely - Homage to New York (1960) from Stephen Cornford on Vimeo.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Welfare State, meet your end

Peter Hitchens hits the nail on the head again today. Under the headline "Our drug-addled louts are the REAL reason we need migrants" he runs through the four plagues withering Britain:

- undisciplined, fatherless children;
- the failure of the education system to differentiate - not to access the same learning in many different ways (turning teachers into overworking, PC-ridden drudges), but to teach what is most suitable to that child's abilities, including vocational skills;
- giveaway welfare, and a laissez-faire approach to the habitual intoxication that lets youngsters grow up feckless and feral;
- courts that don't enforce the law

Michael Heseltine appears to second Hitchens' solution. While he now says "There have to be controls on immigration across Europe" - which I think is a forced change from his previous position - he points out the shortage of manpower in the public services:

"There is no alternative supply of skilled labour from our own population...It would take a decade to train up enough British workers to fill the gaps."

Fine, do it. Yes, let's admit foreign labour to remedy our shortfalls, but let's also tackle the real problems we have in our disorderly society. Because if we don't, goodbye the Welfare State.

75 years ago, William Beveridge produced his report, aiming to slay the "five giant evils of society": squalor, ignorance, want, idleness, and disease. We now have them again, but in a different guise - their modern versions are voluntary.

The long-term solution is not more immigration. The country is already incapable of feeding itself without massive food imports, which will become much more expensive for us as the differences in global pay narrow. If somebody comes in and pays less in taxes (direct and indirect) than he and his family take out, the wealth of the country declines; especially if by coming in ready and able to work he helps cement his British underclass counterpart in toxic idleness.

Our system doesn't challenge enough. The social workers I meet think that for a client to have a need is to have it met, and I'm not hard-hearted enough to say that underfed children should continue to sleep on sofas in dingy, dogbeshitten houses; but nobody seems to want to strengthen the family by enforcing marital/quasimarital responsibilities, particularly on men - but even if they did, where's the work and training? Where are the negative consequences for crime? What, other than pleading, wheedling and emotional manipulation (and they are trying, believe me), are teachers allowed to do to enforce discipline in the classroom?

People respond to game rules:

"I have a little boy, younger than you, who knows six Psalms by heart: and when you ask him which he would rather have, a gingerbread-nut to eat or a verse of a Psalm to learn, he says: 'Oh! the verse of a Psalm! angels sing Psalms;' says he, 'I wish to be a little angel here below;' he then gets two nuts in recompense for his infant piety."

- Charlotte Bronte, "Jane Eyre", Chap. 4

The rules are long past due an overhaul. We've helped create the underclass in pursuit of other objectives: Labour and the LibDems, riding their hobby-horse of melting-pot immigration; the Tories, exploiting their opponents' Johnny-Head-In-Air idealism to bring in cheap labour and swell the bottom line of their business backers. Who defended our industry and its domestic ownership, our intellectual property, our R&D, our trade in real things?

If the decline continues, Beveridge's wonderful system will crack.

Saturday, September 09, 2017

"Elitist" education and Britain's survival

James Delingpole on the famous scientist James Lovelock:

Born in 1919 into a working-class Quaker family, [...] Lovelock’s experiences at a grammar school in Brixton made him a firm believer in selective education.

‘It wasn’t the teaching, it was the kids,’ Lovelock says. ‘When I came back from the summer holidays when I was 13 there was one boy called Piercy, who said: “I’ve been spending the hols swotting up on quantum theory.” This was 1933. It was utterly new. It wasn’t taught in universities. “And if any of you are interested in discussing it…” And we did. Now this is the unique education only a grammar school could give because it had selected. No bullies. No nasties. Just kids who were intelligent enough to be interested in the world around them… Egalitarianism is utterly evil. It’s contra Darwin.’ (i)


"If it's the last thing I do, I'm going to destroy every fucking grammar school in England. And Wales. And Northern Ireland."

- Anthony "Tony" Crosland, in 1965, as quoted by his wife in her biography of him. (ii) "Tony" attended an independent school (Highgate) and went on to Trinity College, Oxford, returning after the War to read PPE and become a don there.

As so many others have done, I ask, why grammar schools? Why not abolish private schools, if he was so intent on eradicating privilege?

Or was there some subtler plan? Was it to kick away the ladder of opportunity for talented working-class children like Lovelock, so that their resentments would fester and burst out when the chance of Revolution came?

Perhaps it was not so bad as that. Maybe the aim was more to blur the social boundaries by sending all secondary school children to comprehensives.

The first comprehensive I taught at - then the largest school in Birmingham - was ferociously disciplined and high-achieving in the late 70s/80s, under a whisky-drinking workaholic martinet who didn't live to pick up his pension; but he was exceptional and had turned the school around from earlier underperformance.

I was told that when the school was first "comprehensivised" in the Sixties it had enjoyed the support of the sort of parents who previously would have sent their children to grammar or private schools. Over time, as they perceived that great experiment was turning out a failure, many of them took their offspring elsewhere.

Part of the turnaround was to sort the c. 400-a-year new intake into streams and sets, with annual exams and re-setting children as appropriate. This certainly suited the many aspirant working-class parents - but I'm pretty sure that it had attitudinal consequences for those classed as being varying degrees of "failure". High - and sometime physical - discipline and staff coordination maintained order and made even unacademic children sought after by employers in the area, who wanted smartly-dressed regular attenders used to taking instructions.

But there were lots of other schools not run by overworking heads with first-class brains. Lovelock is right - there needs to be somewhere for "swots" to develop their minds, without having their heads forced into the lavatory by chippy thugs.

And we all need those grammar school children. Ironmonger's son General Bill Slim was one (iii), and without him the Japanese might have overrun not only Burma but India.

Today, as Britain continues (as it has done for decades) to be undermined by the Left and sold off piecemeal by the Right, we need to lead in science and technology again if we are to feed our overpopulated nation. Agricultural self-sufficiency is not an option.

Grammar schools; and a belated defence of our industrial base.



Friday, September 08, 2017


The BBC Promenade Concerts are always good value and have become more varied in scope during recent years. There is now a regular evening of big band jazz but this year's offering was rather lacklustre as Wiggia pointed out in his post the other day. The whole evening was rescued with the appearance of Hiromi who gave a very hyperactive and barnstorming performance. Absolutely magnificent!

She has the spirit and the exuberance of Dorothy Donegan who featured here in January of this year-

But Hiromi is not just a brilliant jazz pianist, she plays classical music equally well having started at the age of five: from her Wiki profile:

"Hiromi started learning classical piano at age five, and was later introduced to jazz by her piano teacher Noriko Hikida. At 14, she played with the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra. When she was 17, she met Chick Corea by chance in Tokyo, and was invited to play with him at his concert the next day. After being a jingle writer for a few years for Japanese companies such as Nissan, she enrolled to study at Berklee College of Music in Boston, Massachusetts. There, she was mentored by Ahmad Jamal and had already signed with jazz label Telarc before her graduation."

Her natural talent is self-evident in the videos below but especially so in the first one, an inspired version of the famous Canon in D by Johann Pachelbel. Beginning with a metallic damping of the strings to make the piano sound rather like a harpsichord, she then weaves in and around the melody but at no point does she lose the tempo or deviate from the chord structure of the piece. This is pure genius!

Thursday, September 07, 2017

The Old Boy Network

December 1970: we meet up with an older school acquaintance for a drink the night before our Oxbridge interviews. In the Turf Tavern and by the warm light of candles (power cuts, again) we sup delicious, fruity cider - hardly like alcohol at all. Which come first light violently disagrees with me, repeatedly.

After breakfast - dry cornflakes that nevertheless trampoline back up - the dons ask me whether Shakespeare's plays had to be based on real experience. White-faced, which doubtless they take for nerves, I say no. And don't elaborate. Next I have to meet the Principal, crossing his deep pile white carpet determined not to decorate it in a way that will never come out. Since my family are in Cyprus, he asks me if I know the Governor. Honestly and bovinely, I say no.

Somehow they didn't hold it against me.

Not so for lion-hearted Monty Modlyn in the 1940s:

You know, it's terribly difficult for an ordinary bloke who's been to an elementary school to get a job in life with any position in some big organisations. I remember applying for a job as an outside broadcast reporter for radio with the BBC, and being invited to attend an interview in Portland Place.

The Chairman of the Board was a very tall, slim gentleman, and even when he was sitting down he seemed about 6 feet tall. His name was Lotbiniere but he pronounced it Lowbinyare.(i) I had to go in front of him and two or three other people who were nearly as high, and he said. “Why do you want this job?” And I said, well, I think I've got the dash I'm able to chat, I like meeting people. At this time there were very few reporters on the BBC, just after the war.

Then he said to me, “May we ask you, what school did you go to?” When I filled in the application form I'd put down Westminster School, you see, so he said, “You went to Westminster School?” and I said, “Yes, Westminster Bridge Road Elementary LCC School.”

Well, the poor man nearly had an apoplectic fit. I thought he was going to drop down dead, and the three other people with him seemed nearly as bad. I felt that I wanted to rush forward and give them water from the jug which was on the table. “Westminster Bridge Road Elementary LCC school!” It was enough to give anyone in his position a nasty shock.

I discovered of course afterwards that he was an old Etonian, this Mr Lotbiniere, a very fine gentleman, well spoken, with a very distinguished position in BBC radio and later in television. I believe his sons are there now;(ii) it's a kind of tradition there, that there's always a Lotbiniere, or Lowbinyare if you pronounce it correctly.

I told the story to a producer many years afterwards, when he asked me why I never had a regular job with the BBC, but always had to get free-lance work. He was a fellow who worked for many years as a producer on the BBC. He told me that when he had to go before a board and was asked what school he went to, he'd been more on the ball than me and said he went to Canterbury School. There's a very big public school at Canterbury, and they all assumed he been there, but actually he went to a very ordinary school in Canterbury. When the Chairman of the Board said to him, “Did you know Mr So-and-So?” he said “Oh yes, very well.” “What a charming man,” said the Chairman of the Board. “Yes, isn't he just,” said my friend. “Right, now. Yes, the job’s yours,” said the Chairman.

Until this very day, my friend told me, they still don't realise that he never went to that famous Canterbury school. Very much the old tradition. (iii)

But just perhaps, they did indeed realise. Here is Northcote Parkinson who, having explained the traditional British method of candidate selection by family connection, goes on to discuss the Navy version:

The Board of Admirals  were unimpressed by titled relatives as such. What they sought to establish was a service connection. The ideal candidate would reply to the second question ["To whom then are you related?"], “Yes, Admiral Parker is my uncle. My father is Captain Foley, my grandfather Commodore Foley. My mother's father was Admiral Hardy. Commander Hardy is my uncle. My eldest brother is a Lieutenant in the Royal Marines, my next brother is a cadet at Dartmouth and my younger brother wears a sailor suit. “Ah!” the senior Admiral would say. “And what made you think of joining the Navy?” The answer to this question, however, would scarcely matter, the clerk present having already noted the candidate as acceptable. Given a choice between two candidates, both equally acceptable by birth, a member of the Board would ask suddenly, “What was the number of the taxi you came in?” The candidate who said “I came by bus” was then thrown out. The candidate who said, truthfully, “I don't know,” was rejected and the candidate who said “Number 2351” (lying) was promptly admitted to the service as a boy with initiative. This method often produced excellent results. (iv)

Was there really a "So-and-So" at Canterbury? One wonders...

A major reason why such an approach could be useful, apart from the ability to draw on a well-developed network of social links, is that in the days before Welfare, kinship and friendship had iron rules and responsibilities - think how Lydia's foolishness in "Pride and Prejudice" risks social ruin for all the Bennets. A man from an old Navy family would be prepared to die horribly rather than dishonour his own people.

But I'm glad to have had that chance to be one of what, some years later, a fellow boarding-house guest scornfully referred to as "Lord Nuffield's thousands" - something that a generation before, pre the expansion of tertiary education, would have been almost unthinkable.

(ii) not excatly:
(iii) Monty Modlyn, “Pardon My Cheek” (Hutchinson,1973), pp. 51-52
(iv) C Northcote Parkinson, "Parkinson's Law" (1957), chap. 5

Wednesday, September 06, 2017

Modern Jazz: A Japanese Thing ! - by Wiggia

I know JD is doing a piece on the Japanese pianist Hiromi, who saved a dire BBC Proms big band night after the band leaders decided to indulge themselves in their favorite instruments to such excess as to be boring - over two hours of mainly trumpet and asst brass is an indulgence too far. I only watched it because my nephew was playing in one of the bands; to feature one sax solo in that time from him who was voted by his peers this year as the best saxophonist in the country is a real waste of talent. But this is not about that. Having got it off my chest, it is about the impact Hiromi had that night and everywhere she plays, it is a talent extraordinaire.

What she did do is draw attention to the fact that modern jazz is very popular in Japan. Much of the music is original and they do seem to have more females playing in the genre than anywhere else.

It appears that jazz started to be played in Japan in and around 1910. The reason it filtered back there was that the ocean liners that plied their trade into the States at that time had bands/orchestras on board and when docking in places like San Francisco the musicians would go to see the local jazz bands and buy sheet music and records that they took home with them. Some also played in hotel lobby orchestras while in town.

With the advent of popular music in the late twenties Japan became exposed to American music in films. Much of the music had jazz overtones and the hip guys and girls of the period became in effect flappers and dandies in the dance halls.

It was after WW11 that the floodgates opened, Many American soldiers who were stationed in Japan after the war were musicians and formed dance bands to play locally, but to fill the numbers they recruited Japanese musicians.

In the fifties and sixties Japanese musicians started to make an impression in their own right, the most famous being Toshiko Akiyoshi the pianist, an uncompromising lady from the start who would play be bop and insist to the clubs that she played there would be no vocalist, just her and her band playing be bop; not always the popular choice amongst club owners.

By this time they were being recognised abroad especially in the States but not necessarily treated as equals, there being a comparative tone to the reviews of their music, rather like Matt Munro was referred to as the English Perry Como rather than just Matt Munro.

The Japanese started to go their own way as simply being an outpost for American music was a dead end, so they experimented with various set ups and incorporated Japanese music in their jazz, especially when playing abroad, for obvious reasons: playing Count Basie when Basie was still alive was pointless in America.

Today the music is seen as hip and sophisticated, a culture of its own. In popular terms it is on a par with the same music in say the UK: not much exposure on the radio or TV but it has a fan base, and it has made its mark abroad with now Hiromi and the sax player Takuya Kuroda who landed a Blue Note contract which in itself is an accolade.

I am not going to put up anything by Hiromi as JD is going to do an extensive post on her. I have drawn the short straw and have had to ferret through unknown territories to come up with the weird and the hopefully wonderful.

Toshiko Akiyoshi is an international star as a pianist and a bandleader, plus she won the Best Composer and Arranger award in the reader's poll in Downbeat, the first woman to do so. Here she is with her trio in 1958:

And here playing the Village at her 60th anniversary concert:

and here conducting her big band with Long Yellow Road:

and finally at the Monterrey jazz festival in ‘75 with Clark Terry on trumpet:

Takuya Kuroda playing RSBD now on Concord records; this from 2016:

and here with "Everybody Loves the Sunshine":

The Swing Girls - First and Last concert !

In Tokyo, the Teikyo High School Band, the Swinging Honey Bees:

Another of many talented lady Japanese pianists, Junko Onishi with her trio:

and the last of these, Senri Kawaguchi (the drummer) has a blast with her all-girl group and "Lover Come Back to Me":

- follow that!

Nice !

Tuesday, September 05, 2017

Strong Men And Food

A man in the Berwick garrison, in 1597, when times were hard and inflation had increased rapidly, got a daily ration of a twelve-ounce loaf, three pints of beer, one-and-a-half pounds of beef, three-quarters of a pound of cheese, and a quarter of a pound of butter – this was a considerable reduction in what his ration had been some years earlier.[i]

In the old days, you needed more calories.

And more muscle. There’s a lovely moment in Michael Crichton’s “Timeline”, a novel about a group of time travellers who go back to fourteenth century France to test their historical understanding. One of them, a fit young fellow, gets challenged to a joust. The squire assigned to help our horonaut into his armour looks at the American’s gym-buffed physique and enquires politely, “You have had a fever?”

For today’s soft life, a man needs c. 2,500 calories a day[ii] but many eat much more.[iii] However in wartime it’s a different story – in the cold, sodden trenches of WWI “it was the stated aim of the British Army that each soldier should consume 4,000 calories a day”.[iv]

In WWII, the Japanese – then a smaller-bodied people because of a shortage of protein in the national diet – were issued less in the way of rations, but supplemented it with local foods and vitamin pills.[v] American field rations varied from the 2,830-calorie “K” (short duration; overuse could lead to malnourishment) to 4,000 calories for jungle warfare and 4,800 for mountain missions.[vi]

In 1970s civvy Britain, it was lino floors, no central heating and much walking. Maybe that’s where I’ve gone wrong. I could save a fortune if I turned off the CH and garaged the car; but would the cost of a high protein diet wipe out the advantage? Still, I’d be fitter…

Mine’s a double quarterpounder with cheese – Cheddar, not that yellow plastic stuff.

[i] George MacDonald Fraser, “The Steel Bonnets” (1971) - Collins Harvill edn, p.55