Friday, 25 May 2012

Duke Special and more

Last night I trekked across town in the heat (Central line and Victoria line - actually not tooo unbearably sweaty) to the Union Chapel near Highbury and Islington tube station. Got there a little after 7pm to see the line of ticket holders still queuing to get in (the line was moving - it was just taking a while to get in).

Inside I spotted a good spare place in a central pew fairly nearly the front. Laid down my cardigan to hold the spot and queued to buy an icecream tub. Once in my place, I had time to photograph the beautiful ceiling,

and to tweet, and then the first support act was starting. He was quite good (and I later bought his CD, which was only £5) but I must confess I did carry on tweeting during his set. He had old TVs showing odd images (or, in one case an actual video of his song) Boxes used a lot of pre-recorded backing track music and beats. Hmmmm.

The next (main) support act were on next - Foreign Slippers. This singer is Swedish and she wore a retro looking red suit with matching red hat (later Duke Special was also wearing a bright red shirt - colour co-ordinated!) As she started to sing her first song at the piano, I thought her voice sounded like a female version of Antony and the Johnsons - although a bit less mannered. She does have a superb and beautiful voice. I liked some of her songs very much; couldn't hear all of the words and greatly disliked the songs when she used a horrible thumping pre-recorded drum track.

An interval gave me time for a pre-emptive loo visit AND the opportunity to go mad o the merchandise stall and buy a CD from each of the night's 3 acts. This included the new CD by Duke Special even though I hadn't heard any of the songs (a bit risky perhaps?)

This is the third time I have seen Duke Special live. the first was at the Shaw Theatre with a full band. The second was solo (just with piano) at the wonderful Wilton Music Hall. And this time he had a drummer (with a lot of big bass drum featuring) and a Hammond Organ player - plus of course the piano. And a couple of guest vocalists later on in the set (the drummer also provided some harmonies on a few earlier songs)

It was a mixture of songs from Under the Dark Cloth (I particularly love the long explanatory introduction to the Rita di a Costa one),

some older 'classics', including FreeWheel, Last Night I nearly Died and Digging an Early Grave, one Ruby Murray song and several from the new CD. I tried to keep track of the set list - although I think I may have missed some, and/or got the order wrong. I may come back to edit further, but this is my initial attempt (some titles not correct)

For me the highlights were the beautiful stripped back version of Freewheel, featuring guest vocals by Foreign Slippers, plus a final section of what sounded like extemporized lyrics referring to the Union Chapel venue itself and (very movingly) God - really stopped me in my tracks that did: quite a moment. It seemed so appropriate, in a song about Freewheeling, for him to stop a moment and just let his mind freewheel about what was right there and then in that very moment. I felt privileged to share that unique live experience! (I recorded part of it, but missed the first section sung by Duke Special before the section sung by Foreign Slippers)

I also loved the I am Perfect song with so many clever opposites - far from obvious ones and very subtle in the rhyming. The line about the words crawling back inside the ink was another real 'wow!' moment!

Spiritual America - Dark Cloth
Rita di a costa - Dark Cloth
Hand of Man - Dark Cloth
Snakes in the Grass (from the new CD)
Nothing shall come between us (from the new CD)
Last Night I nearly died
Apple Jack
Punch of a Friend - from new CD (& single)

Lost Chord ( I misheard this title as Wasps Court!) - duet with Foreign Slippers - from new CD

Freewheel (duet with Foreign Slippers) - with improv references to the venue itself. ONE OF THE HIGHLIGHTS OF THE NIGHT FOR ME!!

Condition (I am perfect) - from the new CD  (the words are crawling back inside the ink) A WONDERFUL SONG!!

Happy Days and lonely nights (a Ruby Murray song)

Wanda - Hector Mann

Salvation tambourine (I could go to London)

Hard times (duet with friend he pulled out of the audience)

How I Learned to love the Sun (oh the feeling) (from new CD) - with umpapa style - also featuring Duke singing part of the song up in his falcetto range - which I'd never heard before. Not sure about that aspect.

I wish I was a fisherman (Foreign Slippers song - with Duke singing harmonies) - I've found a You Tube video of this on a different night - see below. It's very lovely.

FINAL ROUSING ENCORE = Digging an early grave (with audience joining in, and also some from front rows invited up onto the stage!)

BBC Recording - was it worth the heat?

My main reason for going to Rufus Hound's Teenage Diary radio recording last night was to get QI tickets. It was very hot in the bar, where I ended up waiting for a VERY long time! Moreso because it turned out my ticket number - 488 - was among the last to be called to go into the actual studio (they started with 301 and went up 20 at a time) However, on the plus side, there was a single seat quite near the front, so I did ok!

I didn't buy a single drink in the bar. I had bought KFC and a cup of tea - consumed these, then managed to find a chair for most of the rest of the time, quick trip to the loo and then had to stand for the last bit till I got in. The guest was interesting enough - not exactly a draw, but good for the purpose of the show. It was Julia Donaldson, the author of The Gruffalo, and also the Magic Paintbrush.

I was left with a vague curiosity about my own copious volumes of teenage diaries. Not long ago I looked at my youngest teen diaries - the one recorded in the 'lockable' 5 year diary, which only gave space for very short entries each day. These were sporadic - resumed from year to year, giving quite interesting parallels.

But my later diary was the hilariously titled 'The Living Breathing Heather Douglas in Print' - known (to me) as TLBHDIP, and further shortened to just TLB. I kept this title for volume after volume. I know it's mainly tedious accounts of endless boy obsessions. But maybe I could find some gems in there. It occurred to me that it might be interesting to type any such extracts as blogs and launch them into the realm of the internet. I suppose I could even scan some pages. It's an arrogant thing even to consider doing. But we shall see.

The Waterboys

I went to the Waterboys gig at the Hexagon in Reading a week or so ago (Tuesday 15th May 2012)
Prior to going I only really knew their recent album 'An Appointment with Mr Yeats'. The first half (and the encores) of highlights from their whole back-catalogue was a great discovery. I found the loud rock numbers a bit OTT on my ears - preferred the ones with more of a celtic feel (when the electric fiddler was part of the sound texture); and I also preferred the quieter ballads.

Although I had been looking forward to the Yeats part of the show, those particular songs didn't quite work as well live as I'd hoped. I still love the album, mind you! My very favourite song from the album - Let the Earth Bear Witness - wasn't featured (they only did 8 of the songs out of the 14 or 15 on the CD)

The Set list (not sure of some of the actual song titles yet - will have to hunt around on youtube etc)

1. How do ya like (Nothing) ?? Very loud rock and roll style
2. Indian Summer - killing my heart when you go away - another loud one
3. The Thrill has gone (from Pagan Place) - not played often. A sad song  (liked this one a lot!)
4. (piano led) I remember Johnny come lately
5. A girl on the swing (I redorded a snippet of this one)
6. How long will I love you (as long as the stars are above you) = acoustic guitar and keyboard only
7. Glastonbury Song (5 playing - not fiddle)  - There's a green hill far qaway, Going back there one fine day (blinding spot lights - shining out at audience, and back-lighting lead; green red yellow in turn; swivelling up, down and side to side
8 (segue into ) Bright Lights Big City  (Banter with fiddler when he re-entered; the old ways - tell us? no)
9. Pan Within (Come with me on a journey underneath the skin)
10. Lonesome Wind (like a hymn) - one of my favourites in the show!


1. Hosting of the Shee (come away, come away)
2. News for the Delphic Oracle  (nymphs, dolphins etc)
3. The Song of the Wandering Aengus (Little Trout to girl) VERY MOVING = one of my favourites in the show
4. White Birds (v simple, delicate)
(drunken idiots in my row - v annoying)
5. Mad as the Mist and Snow - acoustic guitar and keyboard only. Then fiddler re-entered, wearing a black mask. Others later re-entered, built to a crescendo. Suddenly dark  and just beat and guitar
Then fiddler lit, and keyboard player now in a mask too =- a discordant duel Mike also at the back also in a grotesque mask. - then came forward with a big black book. The mask had 3 faces on it. Read from the book - Yeats poem: Falconer.... The Centre cannot hold....Surely some revclation is at hand, surely the 2nd coming is at hand....
6. An Irish Airman forsees his Death (This life, this death...)  Started drum and keyboard only (marching style) Steel guitar solo later.
(Rebecca whatserface observation in lead-in to next anti-corruption song)
7. September 1913 (written 100 years ago - "could've been written five fucking seconds ago!")
(Romantic Ireland's dead and gone, it's with O'Leary in the grave in the grave)
(Grid of diamonds design for the back-lighting on this one.)
8. Politics (Yeats as an old ma wishing to be young enough again to woo a young woman he's just seen across a public space) "last of this section of the show"
Harmony vocal from the keyboard player (hadn't noticed any previous harmony singing on any songs??)

FIRST ENCORE  (pretty long break...)
1. Don't bang the Drum - title?? (Kalidescope lighting pattern on back wall. Spanish feel to trumpet sounds.)
2. The Whole of the Moon (started with a reggae rhythm, and then went into the normal version)- fiddler playing guitar for this one - now wearing gold lame jacket.

SECOND ENCORE (with guest guitarist from NY - introduced just before Knocking on Heaven's Door)
1. Man is in Love (not sure of the order - was this the first of 2nd encore?) - acoustic guitar and fiddle only (the others dancing irish style around back of stage as they came in; referred to in next bit of chat as 'the watermelon dancers')
2. Knocking on Heaven's Door
3.. Wish I was a Fisherman (got the audience to join in with twirls)

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Roald Dahl Museum

Got the chance to go to the Roald Dahl museum and story centre in Great Missenden last week - with a Year 3 school trip (they were short of parent helpers, so drafted me in (as a TA), since I work with the class 4 afternoons per week). Trips can sometimes be hard work - depending on the children, the destination, the staff, and the organisation/planning. This one, however, was both easy and great fun. Very few difficult children, and none in the group of 5 for whom I was directly responsible. The travel only took about 45 minutes each way, and the Education Officer at the Museum was EXTREMELY good - I was very impressed.

Even the potentially tedious half of the day spent on a map-making exercise along the main street of the village went well. We did rather a lot of extra walking - because we went both to the churchyard to see Roald Dahl's grave, and to Gypsey House, where he lived (and where his widow still lives). We got tantalising glimpse of both the house and the garden (I found it touching to notice that the main door of the house was yellow, with yellow tulips on either side, having earlier been told that yellow was Roald Dahl's favourite colour). I'm glad we risked a short distance along a road with no pavement to get there (we were very careful indeed to ensure the children were safe at all times!) The garden was open that day, as part of the British Garden Association programme - so it was a real shame we couldn't go in (the children would have been free, but it was £4 per adult - and (more crucially) we didn't have time. I checked the list of dates once I got home, but they all fall on mid-week working days for me, so no chance of going.

It started to rain before we got back to the museum to meet up with the rest of the group and to go back to the coach. But just a light drizzle, so (given what it COULD have been like) no real complaints.

I was somewhat disappointed that - when I asked if he'd like to visit the place - Bob was so entirely uninterested in going to see the museum or village. Hey ho. Mind you, the museum is very much targeted at children, so maybe he's right.

Monday, 7 May 2012

News from Gardenia - spoilers! (don't read this blog unless you've already read the book)

This book has got under my skin. I'm not sure why. There's plenty to like (and Bobby is so lovely I was predisposed to like his book anyway). As he promised me on twitter, there aren't any sex scenes as such - although a sexual relationship does feature (it's just that the actual love-making isn't described - a welcome change from that particular toe-curling feature in ALL his previous books).

The novel is written in the first person and, while the central character isn't Robert (obviously) - he's younger for one thing - I can't help seeing Gavin as his creator (and of course the audiobook cannot but strengthen the association). He's a sympathetic character certainly, but perhaps a bit of a cipher: the necessary provision of our era's perspective on the future of 200 years in the future.

I thought it an interesting decision that Gavin isn't a parent (less of a wrench to be leaving his 21st century life?) and has a seemingly problematic relationship with his wife. Is it unfair of me to find it slightly predictable that Gavin so quickly finds a woman who wants to have sex with him - and to have his baby?  Overall I wasn't keen on this 'utopian' vision of relationships between men and women - devoid of one-to-one commitment (it seemed). Although at least Robert does have it both ways - mentioning that not everyone in Gardenia lives in such communities, that some still live in smaller houses. I shouldn't feel so threatened by this - it's certainly true that even in our era there are quite a range of arrangements.

The route from 'here' to 'there' is attempted -  via the history book Gavin is given to read - and it seems that utopia has only come about as a result of some fairly horrendous dystopian intermediate steps! In particular the shockingly fascist and eugenic population control through sterilisation of less intelligent males. So, the move towards reducing the world's population can only be envisaged as taking place due to something as morally repugnant as that!?! That's such a high price! Does the end justify the means? I am not persuaded. (On the other hand, I like the fact that Robert keeps his history 'dirty' and rough around the edges - more believable in a way I suppose)

Similarly, democracy is sacrificed as a step towards this utopia of no government, no police, no laws (why does this need to be a feature of utopia? Why anarchy?? There is some crime, we are told, but nothing like as much, and no prisons -  just small secure living places for those who commit such acts.No hospitals, although advanced forms of medicine are available locally, and most people live healthy long lives. And (of course?) there's no money. Free and plentiful energy has been harnessed from renewable sources (mainly the sun). and there's lots of recycling being done - not least the reclamation of the metal and plastic previously used (and thrown away) by us - the previous generations. But (as in certain Star Trek episodes) there is a growing lack of specialist knowledge to be able to maintain the advanced technology being enjoyed. But this is a recognised problem (albeit one not being tackled) and there's a sophisticated awareness, on the part of the New Gardenian citizens, that 'this too will pass'.  (Jules Verne's TIme Machine story springs to mind - a story I only really know via the 1960 film -  with its soft surface dwellers of the far future, but  - in the case of New Gardenia - no underground trolls)

London has disappeared - flooded by the rising sea level. That seems logical. I was, however, not so sure about the well established forests. They are there, I assume, as a way of combatting excess carbon; and also as a natural consequence of no longer having grazing animals. But would the forests have had time to grow to maturity? It would mean that vast replanting would be having to start very soon! (I think there is an explicit mention of such a programme at one point). Why are nationwide subways better than surface tracks? Is it just a case of freeing up more land for cultivation? The exclusion of personal units of autonomous transport (ie cars) seems fine however.

How much land would be needed to feed everyone, on such a micro level (with no big specialist farms? just lots of small community gardens everywhere?) Specialism no longer exists - everyone (in Gardenia anyway) has to do their own share of the growing. It goes so much against the grain - to abandon specialisation (baby with bathwater?) and - in jettisoning commercialism and industrialisation, to take out all forms of trading. Just goes to show that one person's utopia (based on the prime objective of sustainability) is another person's polemical powder-keg. I am left thinking about what I would hate in such a world.

It's a world without television, without films (in Gardenia at least). No-one consumes entertainment, or makes such entertainment. (a child does mention watching old films - and 'the book' seems to provide access to lots of information, in a similar way to the internet, and also provides the means of communication, in place of phones. email etc.). I did love the depiction of these 'books'

There's a tiny bit of art - the sketching done by one character - on old fashioned paper with (presumably) old-fashioned pencils - both of these made where and by whom? (and there are digital paintings on the wall). No mention of novel writing / fiction or poetry. The clothes - made where and by whom? No possessions (so no temptation to steal....apparently). Very much the world of 'Imagine' by John Lennon - in Gardenia at any rate. Not sure I'm quite so optimistic about human nature in even in such a non-stress environment.

I could accept that the eating of meat had vanished (it's certainly a less efficient way of generating nutrition for the same amount of land).

I very much liked that the world is shown as remaining varied. Gardenia is not the only system - and Gavin has a whistle-stop tour (a slight but handy plot device to have Gavin visit the descendents of his wife and her second husband), visiting some other major cities where the system of money is still used (with a vicious remnant of America as an unpleasant sounding state which we don't visit but hear about - with an hint that it's a whites-only enclave.)

Loose ends - the games (themed on particle physics) are never explained, which I found somewhat frustrating. And of course the VERY annoying ending! It sets up for a sequel - there jolly well better be a sequel!

It's easy enough to take pot-shots at anyone's vision of the future. I am aware that Mr L has spent a lot longer researching and thinking about this than I ever have. But I don't necessarily think I therefore have to agree with everything he's put in the novel - it is designed to be polemical I think. It certainly engages and stimulates and challenges. Indeed, I am left wondering why some of the ideas bother me SO much? Says more about me and my assumptions than anything else!

Whatever really does happen in the end, there will be much that just 'happens' rather than being planned. Like evolution itself, there is an element of blindness and chance. Hopefully we will stumble upon things that help and things that work - things that prove useful and 'fit' for survival. We already work outside and beyond strict biological evolution (a great deal of medical intervention could be viewed as bucking that cold hard logic) and we are rightly warned about applying evolution as an analogy to non-biological systems, such as societal 'evolution'....But what I'm getting at is the impossibilty of one great big coherent plan being actioned with no wrinkles or quirks. That doesn't mean we shouldn't try to action some plans - try to work on the problems we already know about. But there are bound to be bumps and kinks along the way.

That's one thing I particularly like about the book - it's a utopia which still has fallibility and rough edges.

Greenwich - May Bank Holiday

It's a long way to go - from Ealing in the West all the way by Central Line and DLR to the South Eastern side of London, but that's what we decided to do today, to reach the heart of Royal Greenwich. In fact it didn't take *that* long, was a very easy journey and was well worth it. Overcast skies and spitting rain featured from time to time: a typical May Bank Holiday. And (equally typical) throng upon throng of fellow visitors - British, overseas, young and old.

Greenwich itself - away from the fine Maritime buildings - featured multiple chip shops and souvenir tat shops, a fundraising pearly king (with similarly decorated black cab), young sailors in traditional garb, traffic jams, patriotic bunting, a tattoo and piercing studio and a palpable seaside atmosphere (despite not being on the coast!) A fine Hawksmoor church (St Alfege) proved photogenic - ostensibly at the heart of modern urban life, when taken from one side, but deceptively rural-looking from the other. The revamped and uplifted Cutty Sark also looked very fine. Like children at a sweet shop window, we peered through the smoked glass to see the shiney hull hidden within that glazed 'payment zone'.

The chance to walk under the Thames itself, via the 1902 tunnel, and to 'drive' the driver-less DLR train were simple pleasures we could not resist. ('How old are we?' Bob asked rhetorically, before realising - to his horror - that our combined ages already take us well over the 100 mark - eek!)

On arrival at the National Maritime Museum, our first port of call was....the loos, then a long queue for our tickets, and (cunningly) a simultaneous queue for the cafe. We both then rapidly chomped our way through posh wholegrain baguettes with brie, cranberry and rocket and quickly (with barely a minute to spare until our 1pm booked time-slot) headed - at last - for the special exhibition in the National Maritime Museum - "Royal River: Power, Pageantry and the Thames"

I had pre-booked our tickets online the day before (£11 each plus booking fee!) It was okay....but not brilliant. I felt vaguely disappointed - perhaps having built it up into something it could never be. There were a few highlights, and I learnt a few fairly interesting things I hadn't known before - but to be honest, there is a lot to enjoy in Greenwich (and - according to Bob - at the nearby Museum of London in Docklands) which is free, so paying for that exhibition felt a bit silly. Bob is refusing ever to go inside the Cutty Sark, due to the entrance fee, and ditto the Royal Observatory (which I would, in contrast, LOVE to go into, despite the charge). On this occasion, we didn't look around the rest of the National Maritime Museum - which is free. Perhaps we'll go back when it's a bit less busy!

After the exhibition we had a good look around the shop, but (with no thimbles to be had) resisted all but one impulse purchase (a book about Inigo Jones for Bob). Another visit to the posh cafe followed - for a drink and a small but exquisitely expensive sweet treat (in my case possibly the nicest chocolate eclair I have ever had). We sat outside sheltering from the light drizzle under the big parasols.

I'm so glad we decided to go and have a look at the Queen's House next (which had been designed by Inigo Jones). The entry was free and I quickly googled a bit of info before we headed over, which gave us an idea of what to look out for. It was lovely - not many original features (no furnishings etc), but those that did remain were elegant and very pleasing to the eye - namely the very striking marble floor in the great hall and the delightful tulip spiral staircase.

The extensive art collection (from Elizabethan to modern) housed in the property was too much to take in - instead we skipped through, focussing on just a few works here and there. And, to be honest, that was a pretty good way of doing it! Surprisingly, although there were *some* people around, the Queen's House far less busy than the rest of Greenwich - including the outdoor areas, even in such iffy weather!

The numbers streaming up and down the hill to the Observatory (and prime meridian) were quite a surprise. There were a lot of temporary barriers up everywhere, and what looked like scaffolding or some kind of temporary seating structure - was it something to do with the Olympics? Or the Jubilee? Or some other event? Frustrating not to know. Pretty ugly whatever it was.

(Post script: Spotted a sign outside for a Titanic 'garden of remembrance' - it turned out to be a pathetically small area of border. I couldn't help feeling it was worse than nothing, being so insultingly tiny!)

Sunday, 6 May 2012

Ham House

Ham House was pretty impressive today. Bob got all squeamish about the wealth on display: they really did go OTT with the lavish decorations and furnishings - real 'look at how rich we are' style! Loved the period authenticity - the house dates from 1610 and (after a serious of improvements and extensions) much of it remains virtually unchanged since about the 1670s. 

I liked the fact that the guiding (wealthy) hand shaping the house's style was that of a woman - Elizabeth Dysart (later Duchess of Lauderdale when she married for a second time)

Both Bob and I liked the servants working quarters in the basement very much indeed. Much simpler in style (obviously) and the real 'engine' of the house - the kitchen, the beer cellar, the meat hanging room, the servants's dining room. And - last but not least - the Duchess' great innovation: one of the first bathrooms ever built in this country (in 1675). This at a time when washing was not considered essential (she had a back staircase from her bedchamber directly to this bathroom) Apparently (although no longer to be seen), she also had a bathhouse built for her servants - outside in the courtyard, adjacent to her own bathroom.

I am fascinated by this woman and want to find out more about her.