Monday, 25 May 2009

Figgis in Wonderland

Do you ever get one of those days when everything, I mean absolutely every last damn thing, seems entirely insane? Every word uttered, every action performed by every imbecile in the whole wide witless world including oneself, fatuous, inane? When each exchange sounds incomprehensible; every journey proves aimless; all pronouncements, vacuous. Turn on the TV and every channel's broadcasting the preposterous; the radio, bizarre. I realise, dear Reader, that this is not a revelation, more a mental aberration, a bit like Michael Douglas in "Falling Down", only without the psychotic backlash.

These episodes are disconcerting, and I'm glad they don't happen often. This afternoon I was plunged headlong into the world of the absurd for a short time, then gradually it wore off like the lingering disquietude of a bad dream.

I could, of course, be heading for the snake pit. Three years ago I had my first heart attack, and I was convinced it was indigestion.

Sunday, 24 May 2009

Oh Lord, Kumbayah

Talking of wandering acoustic guitarists, I have a litany of tales, and some feature the author as aggressor. In the following however, I am innocent.

A while back, my family and other animals undertook an odyssey by air and sea to the remote island of St. Helena in the South Atlantic Ocean. In 1949, Ma left the island to begin a new life in England, and, 50 years later, we were returning to our roots.

The first evening ashore, Nelly and I find ourselves at Donny's Bar down the sea-front, surrounded by hoards of new-found family and friends, and gregarious islanders. Ever-growing ranks of gin and tonics, beers, cocktails and sundry libations range along the length of the bar waiting to be downed, so naturally we down 'em.

By about 1 in the morning, I've been talking bollocks for four hours already, and Nelly's staggering around somewhere, chatting everyone up and having a whale of a time. A huge man-mountain, calling himself Hog (pronounced Hoag) invites us to go fishing on his catamaran the next morning and we agree enthusiastically.

Hog then announces that it's time to go down to the Honeymoon Chair. Sounds perfectly reasonable to us, so we follow the small crowd a ways down the sea-front promenade, until we arrive at a huge white marble chair, very decorative and there to commemorate something-or-other.

We take up our positions and Hog reaches behind the Chair to produce a black bin-bag which subsequently turns out to contain a substantial supply of beers. Hoorah! Beers duly distributed, there's an air of anticipation and expectancy. Then, a guitar is produced, strings are tuned, and things take a turn for the worst.

As if on cue, the assembled launch into a full-throated rendition of "Kumbayah". Nelly, who has an extraordinarily high embarrassment threshold, joins in with great gusto. A range of decoy tactics and escape strategies flash through my mind. It's obvious to me that the group intend to perform the long version. In the end, I opt to simply walk away, leaving Nelly to it.

Of course, we forgot about fishing and the catamaran, and never saw Hog again.

The Firepit

We were mooching round Morrisons the other day, and in the garden section we came across a firepit, for £30. Nelly recognised, in that moment, that a portable firepit was what was needed to nudge our lives toward completeness, so she bought it.

The impetus for acquiring a firepit began on a camping trip to North Wales a couple of seasons ago. We'd left it late to book and couldn't occupy our favoured pitch, which is sheltered and serene, and instead found ourselves pitched on a windy headland overlooking the beach.

A day or so later we were joined on this blowy little promontory by a couple and their two young lads. Chris and family. As they began to set up we could see that they were serious campers. From their van they produced, amongst a myriad of home comforts, an industrial barbecue, a full set of garden furniture, bicycles, pup tents, a gazebo, firepit, and a partridge in a pear tree, and all enclosed within a rainbow stockade of windbreaks. Soon there stood erected an extensive and thoroughly well-appointed compound, and we were full of admiration.

As the evening closed in, the wind really began to whip up. Before turning in for the night, I had the presence of mind to deploy the internal bracing system our tent boasts. The girls slumbered on through it all, but at 5 in the morning I was awakened by the howling storm and opened my eyes in time to see the tent wall, pushed in by the wind, topple the cooker over. I leapt out of bed and deftly managed to catch it before it crashed to the floor. Unbattening the hatches and stepping outside, I surveyed the damage.

I was greeted with a scene of complete devastation. We were allright Jack, but next door's once-impressive homestead was gone. The small field was littered all over with clothes and games and kitchen equipment and dirigibles and all manner of camping stuff, a tent hung broken and torn in a far hedge, and in the middle of this desolation lay four sad piles. Chris and family. I gathered up their stuff as best I could and woke Chris up. "We'll be needing a new fuckin' tent, then" he observed.

We were about to invite the family for a hearty breakfast by way of consolation, but in no time at all they'd gathered up enough pans and plates, retrieved the bacon from down the beach, mushrooms from behind the toilet block, set the barbecue on its legs and fried up a full english. A couple of hours later, we helped them pitch their new tent, bigger and with better weatherproofing credentials.

The rest of that day had a celebratory feel to it. The wind abated, and it turned into a scorcher. Minty spent the entire day on the beach, in a succession of swim suits, clambering over rocks and investigating rock pools with the other kids, whilst we swapped beers and camping stories with our neighbours. That evening, Chris carried his firepit down to the beach, sparked it up, and a party was born. Everyone came, all the kids had a great time chasing about and collecting wood for the fire, until they fell asleep one by one, the booze never ran dry (eh Nelly?) and it was light before we turned in.

We'll be taking the new firepit with us camping this week, and hoping the weather's mild. It occurs to me that firepits might attract wandering acoustic guitarists - we must be on our guard.

Saturday, 23 May 2009

On Pork Pies

Nelly gave me a small pork pie this afternoon. I don't often eat pork pies, perhaps one every 7 years or so, because I find them quite horrible. This has not always been so.

I spent all of the Eighties in Southern California, first in Los Angeles, then in Orange County. Southern California has many things to recommend it, but there were a few items of British culture I sorely missed.

Manchester United - the general manager of the outfit I worked for in L.A. liked to take the piss, especially when it came to the quaint customs of the English. Take soccer, for example. The fact that the outcome of a football match could result in a 0-0 just had him hooting with hilarity. Went to a few Dodgers games, and I enjoyed that, but it weren't no substitute for standing in the Stretford Paddock at Old Trafford with my mate Jud, watching Best, Law and Charlton.

Liverpool were winning everything during the time I spent in the U.S., but that situation has since been redressed I think.

Coronation Street - everyone in our gang avidly followed Correr. Jud and I even organised a Coronation Street Party, which apparently was a great success and the photos emphatically bear that out. I wound up not attending after a row with my date. Jud went as Alf.

Living in the U.S. back then with as yet no Internet, one relied on updates via phone conversations and letters from England. Returning to Blighty in the early nineties I persevered with Correr up until the plotline concerning Mavis and Derek and a missing garden gnome - I've watched just the one episode since then, the one in which Gail's serial killer husband met his end, predictably, in the canal.

Pork pies - pork pies, along with bacon and sausages, as we know them, don't exist in the U.S. I was tipped off by an English acquaintance to the existence of an English butcher in Chino, who did pork pies, and Topper and I would drive the 70-mile round trip to get our greedy gobs on them. Nowadays of course I realise that pork pies, at least the ones you get in the supermarket, are dry, tasteless and unpleasant, and perhaps they always were.

I ate Nelly's offering today and it was quite nice, an acceptably good pork pie. I notice there's jelly in it, and this definately helps. Has jelly in pork pies been outlawed, for our own good?

Friday, 22 May 2009

Tune Ends Too Soon

Last summer, as we drove home from the Camargue in the south of France, where we'd camped on the beach at Sainte Maries de la Mer, I was keen to wow Nelly and Minty Fresh with a drive through the spectacular Ardeche Gorges, a series of dizzy canyons, with the river way down below, as it tumbles down from the Massif Central to the Mediterranean.

Glorious late afternoon, the colours of the landscape and the vegetation popping against the vivid blue of the sky, Minty fast asleep in the back, "Life Is A Long Song" by Jethro Tull playing. It's late in the season so there's not a lot of humanity in evidence and definately a Kodak moment. Nelly's videoing up a storm as the road descends to the bottom of the canyon, and we round a bend to behold the famous Pont d'Arc, an enormous natural arch spanning the Ardeche.

Nelly declares that everything is too beautiful, and that we simply have to turn round, go back and then drive down again so that she can do a better job with the camera. I do a u-ey whilst she cues the Tull, and we drive back a couple of miles, the road climbing steeply away from the suitably videogenic rock arch.

Now I need to find another turning place and it looks like there's one up ahead on the right, on the edge of a terrifying plunge to the river, several million metres below. Perfect. Now remember, I'm towing a trailer, and I need a bit of space to manoevre, and as I pull onto the layby I see that right in front of us is a great crack in the gravel surface, and I stop sharpish.

We have a problem here. Can't move forwards, can't move back as I'm not about to reverse a trailer along the narrow lip of the Abyss. Going to have to detach the trailer. Nelly hops out to keep an eye on things and I move forward just a touch, and as I do so the wheels spin in the gravel, the whole kit and caboodle lurches backwards, my foot slips off the brake and we hurtle backwards toward the edge and Certain Doom.

How ridiculous. Mercifully I find the brake just a split-second before sailing off into oblivion, and we're saved from total catastrophe, but not before the trailer has jack-knifed and slammed into the rear corner of the car, giving Minty a rude awakening and she's not happy. Nelly's not either, and as the dust settles, I can almost feel the steaming weights in my trousers.

Much of this episode is captured on DV and we can laugh about it now, as they say.

We're off to North Wales next week, and earlier today I gathered up the DV camera and tapes in readiness for the trip. Came across the tape featuring the above stunt, and was mightily disappointed to discover that some idiot has recorded over our adventure with an hour of Christmas Day present-opening.

Thursday, 21 May 2009

Talking of Schubert

I am somewhat of a newcomer to the delights of Schubert. Of course, this is how it usually goes - I discover a piece by a previously ignored composer, and then listen to everything I can get my ears on.

Being aware of his reputation, I'd tried over the years: the Unfinished Symphony; his Great Symphony in C - his ninth and last - plus others. It wasn't until I heard the piano impromptus, specifically Impromptus Op. posth. 142, that I had my epiphany. Intense, pulsating, sparkling and sublime, I set about ransacking the local second-hand CD shops of all Schubert, and I'm still wading through it.

There are many high points, but the Fifth Symphony just does me in. I can never listen to Beethoven's Seventh without filling up (it's essentially an expression of insane joy - go figure), but, in my entirely unqualified opinion, I reckon Schubert's Fifth matches Ludwig Van's achievement, perhaps even surpasses. Minty Fresh's 5-year-old lugs would prick up when I played it, and we'd have an enthusiastic performance of the latest moves garnered in ballet class, and nowadays she'd quite happily la-la-la her way through every note of every movement if you let her.

Schubert died of syphilis at 31. Despite his short life, he produced a wealth of symphonies, operas, masses, chamber music pieces, and piano sonatas. I want my lugholes back.

Today is Thursday

I don't have to do anything today. I don't have to go to work, I've got no admin crap to sort out, I'm not picking Minty Fresh up from school, and I'm not down as tonight's cook.

I had half-planned to do something outside in the garden - there's plenty to do - but it's raining on and off.

I had expected to be able to hear today. Quack reckons lugholes impacted, and suggested I visit the local drop-in health centre for a syringing, which I did earlier, but no joy. Healthcare professional there was quite lofty and said that I should come back in a week.

I have new music on my iPod, waiting for improvement in lughole status. Eclectically, a Schubert quintet, plus a collection of his piano sonatas, and Eminem's new album, Relapse. Caught Eminem on the Jonathan Ross show at the weekend, where he performed "We Made You", a song off the album. We were treated to a rendition of "The Real Slim Shady" by 4 Poofs and a Piano, Ross was embarrassing and ingratiating ("Genuinely, I'm a big fan!"), and Eminemslimmarshall came out of it looking pretty dignified and mildly amusing, if a little severe. Eminem introduces the song with "Guess who... d'you miss me?" - I for one am glad to see him back.