Rubbish, piffle, tommyrot, drivel and utter bilge

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Tempus Bloody Fugit

Well, as random mutterings go, this one is likely to be really random.

It is an odd thing to come back to one's homeland after an 18-year absence. Certain things have stayed the same. Other things have changed.  Change is inevitable. One has to accept that as fact and move on.  Often it is hard to do so. Especially when one has for so long idealised in one's mind how something is going to be, how it's going to look and feel. I realise I am 18 years older, but somehow it can be hard to accept that my peers have also aged. In my mind's eye they are all the way I left them. Of course, there are those that I have recently reconnected with through the joys of FriendsReunited, MySpace and Facebook, and so I was prepared to see them older. Some look great. Most look the same,  just a little greyer and crinklier.

It can be a crushing disappointment to see someone that you fancied in school twenty years on and discover that they have not aged well. One likes to imagine the scenario of the reunion and play it out in one's head, including how the other person is going to look. When that day finally comes and you see that the eyelids have drooped, the brow is furrowed and those little downward lines at the corners of the mouth are very pronounced, it makes your heart sink. The hair is still the same, the face the same basic shape and layout, but the bits that have aged have no endearing qualities, rather, they have turned what used to be a pretty girl into a haggard adult. And even though I'm a married man and there would have been nothing vaguely romantic about a chance reunion, it still made me shy away and think "Wow... dodged a bullet there".

Doubtless I'll run into her again, but this time I'll know what to expect. This time I'll stop and say hi. It is also inevitable that this scenario will happen many times as I bump into other old crushes and acquaintances. It's just another reminder that I'm getting old. Such as all the young folk I work with that were busy getting born around the time I went to the States in the first place. It blows my mind to think that there are people who are buying their first legal beer in a British pub right now that were being born on the day that The Silence Of The Lambs  won five Oscars. Nostalgia can be a wonderful thing, but getting older is a bitch.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

100 Records That Shook The World, #80


The Shadows

"Before Cliff and The Shadows, there had been nothing worth listening to in British music." - John Lennon

Ah, now here is where it gets really interesting. So far in this list we've seen not only how one style of music can influence another, but also how it can be tweaked and messed with to become yet another, and another, and then finally meet up with another variant of the original to become yet another distinctly different style. I think it is fair to say that if it weren't for the Shadows, and specifically Hank Marvin's guitar style, then we would not have had Dick Dale, The Ventures, Jan & Dean or indeed The Beach Boys. And if we hadn't had The Beach Boys, who knows what else we would have missed out on? And if it hadn't been for this Jerry Lordan-penned tune, that had been recorded previously by Bert "Play-In-A-Day" Weedon but had then lain dormant in a vault, then the face of music today would be vastly different.

The Shadows were formed from The Drifters, a permanent backing band for the young Cliff Richard. The Drifters had been formed from the ashes of three skiffle groups. After Cliff and The Drifters' first single, "Move It", they were booked for Jack Good's seminal "Oh Boy!" TV show and their producer Norrie Paramor asked Johnny Foster to recruit a better guitarist, who went to the fabled 2i's coffee bar in Soho, with the intent of finding Tony Sheridan. He wasn't there, but who was there with his red Fender Strat and Buddy Holly glasses? Hank Marvin. After some success with Cliff the record company also marketed The Shadows as a separate act,  although the band's internal struggles were hampering their first album's progress as first Jet Harris and then Tony Meehan left, eventually recording as a duo for Decca.

In 1960 at Abbey Road studios, singer-guitarist and chirpy cheeky Cockney chappie Joe Brown gave Hank Marvin an Italian-built echo chamber (a Meazzi Echomatic, for the musos out there) that he had bought and didn't like. With this one small gesture Joe unwittingly turned The Shadows into an almost legendary force overnight. Hank used the Meazzi to great effect and when Apache was released in  the same year, it stayed in the #1 spot for five straight weeks. Weedon's version was released and got to #24. The song was covered by The Ventures also.
In 1973 a strange version by The Incredible Bongo Band came out and, while not a resounding success, became a foundation for hip-hop as we know it today. The Sugarhill Gang sampled heavily from the Bongo Band version in their own 1981 version, particularly the bongo intro which will be familiar to anyone who listened to music in the '80s and '90s. It is probably the most heavily sampled snatch of music besides the beat of James Brown's 'Funky Drummer'. In 1995 it gained more attention due to an episode of The Fresh Prince Of Bel-Air called "Viva Lost Wages" in which Will and Carlton (Alfonso Ribeiro) dance to the song in order to pay for their trip back home after losing all their money in a casino. 

For more information about this song see All Roads Lead To Apache.

Now, you see how one little tune can change everything? 

First, here's Hank and the boys:

Now here's the Incredible Bongo Band:

And finally, that scene from Fresh Prince, Will and Carlton dancing to Apache (Jump On It) by The Sugarhill Gang.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010


I was tinkering with the ol' blog tonight, and I was asked if I wanted to add Amazon to my pages. Y'know, little ads in the sidebar that would be vaguely related to what I was writing about. And for a moment I actually considered it. But I thought, naaah. I have enough ads on my pages already, and unless my readership was to get a sudden boost overnight, I would not really get enough click-thrus to make it worth my while. And then I thought, naaaah a second time, because even though it's nice to get good deals, and even though Amazon has a LOT of those good deals, and even though I admire the spirit of entrepreneurship with which they were founded, I hold them and others of their ilk squarely responsible for the slow lingering death of the common bookshop. I love bookshops. Especially old ones that have been around since the time of Lloyd George or Teddy Roosevelt. Old ones with creaky stairs and ancient books and cobwebs and a musty smell that could be old books or maybe the owner. Because shops like that always fill me with quaint and romantic notions about reading poetry in a country churchyard or perhaps stowing away below decks on a steamship bound for darkest Africa a la Joseph Conrad.  Shops like that are getting few and far between. Even big chains are feeling the pinch with Borders closing all its UK stores and its UK website in late 2009 and going into liquidation. The big boys in books are Barnes and Noble in the USA and Waterstone's in the UK. There's a Waterstone's in my High Street. There's probably one in yours too.
It makes more sense to me to purchase books from thrift and charity stores - often they are in pretty decent condition and - this is the main point - you're hopefully buying a book to read it, yes? So why worry about a couple of scuffs on the cover, if it's in otherwise good shape, what's the difference? Plus, if you buy it from a charity shop the money will be going to a worthwhile cause. I have recently picked up some good book bargains from some of the above stores, namely:

John Peel - Margrave Of The Marshes. John Peel was a hero of mine, I loved his show and I picked up this book in practically new condition, in hardback, for £1 at The Cats Protection Society!

Piers Morgan - God Bless America. Subtitled as 'Misadventures Of A Big Mouth Brit' this is Piers' story of his experiences on America's Got Talent and Celebrity Apprentice and all the other experiences they led to. Even if you don't like Piers, this is bloody funny. Cats Protection Society again, brand new, £2.

 Michael Moore - Stupid White Men. I just started reading this book the other night and it is searingly funny, but of course if you don't like Michael Moore or his politics then you are going to hate it. Paperback, pretty good nick, £1.

Nick Hornby - About A Boy. Loved the movie, love the book. Paperback, 50p.

These, I trust you'll agree, were some pretty stellar deals. The best thing to do is not to go into a bookshop or charity store looking for a specific book, but to let the book come to you. To call your name, if you will. This way you are not disappointed and you come across some real gems.Stick it to the big boys! Bring back the old time bookshops! And viva la Oxfam!

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Saints, Sinners, and the two Harrys

Dear Diary,

Today was a very exciting day. First I won the lottery and then I went on a horsie ride. My horsie Dobbin and I won the Cheltenham Gold Cup. Also the Silver Cup, Bronze Cup, Tin cup, china mug, and thimble. Then I went home for my tea and guess who was there? Queen Elizabeth II. Her Maj. Old Liz-features herself. We played Space invaders and I beat her twice. Then she punched me. She's got a mean right hook, that old Queenie.  Then Claudia Schiffer came and tucked me up in bed. 

I've never kept a diary. I've had diaries before, but back when I was a kid my life was not crammed full of stuff to write about, so I never did. Anyway, that's by the by. I just wrote that stuff because it was way more interesting than anything I have to talk about, but still, I have to make myself write something - it's been three days for Pete's sake. Here's a thought - who are the Pete and Mike we hear about in for Pete's sake and for the love of Mike?

It's known as a "minced oath". To mince words so as not to offend anyone. The substitution of one offensive word with a less offensive one. Think of St Peter. Think of the omnipresent medieval church and think of hitting your thumb with a hammer. You can't swear, or else the local priests will have you up before the Bishop and the Lord alone knows what the outcome of that will be, so you exclaim, in the appropriate tone of voice, "For Saint Peter's sake" and carry on erecting the shelves. This phrase was amended to "For Pete's Sake" in later, less religiously oppressive, times. Betcha didn't know that. I certainly didn't. I had not really even thought about it until now.

Similarly, for the love of Mike refers to St. Michael.

This particular expression began as a substitute for an outcry of surprise or anger, namely, "for the love of God!" But the speaker decided that using God's name in this way was blasphemous and therefore decided to substitute something else for the word God.

In this case, St. Michael.

The phrase began as "for the love of Michael."

It was a soldier's mild curse. St. Michael is the patron saint of warriors and soldiers and he looks after them on the battlefield. St. Michael the Archangel is the chief of the heavenly host, the celestial army that defends the Church. He fights the rebel angels and the dragon of Revelation. He is patron saint of knights and of all trades allied to the production of weapons and scales.

Indeed, the word archangel in its original Greek means literally 'chief' (Greek,arkhos) + 'angel' (Greek, aggelos literally 'messenger' of God). In later ecclesiastical Greek the two roots meld to form arkhaggelos 'angel of the highest order.'
Note that in the currently accepted transliteration of ancient Greek the digraph gg stands for a nasalized syllable, so that aggelos would be pronounced approximately like anglos with a hard g. In precise and fussy enunciation the e would be sounded too.

That enough info for ya?


I finally got to see some episodes of Father Ted today. I can't believe I have never seen it until now. It was hilarious.  A bit later  Harry Potter And The Philosopher's Stone  was on. Love that movie, even though the USA changed the title to Sorcerer's  instead of Philosopher's,  and then various school districts tried to ban the book because it was about wizardry and witchcraft. Would they have banned it if it had been kept as Philosopher's? I think not, because most Americans probably don't know their Arius from their Ehrenfels

Later I watched the end of Harry Hill's TV Burp, a show I had been resisting for 3 reasons. 
1) The title. Enough to put you right off your dinner.

2) Harry Hill himself. Bald, horn-rimmed glasses, a fixed "ha-ha-aren't-I-funny" grin on his face, and a huge white shirt collar bursting out from his jacket, he looks like the kind of annoying prat comic I've always hated.

3) The fact that some local woman has gotten mentioned in the local paper 3 weeks running because she knitted a Harry Hill meerkat and sent it to the show. This is newsworthy?

However, turns out that TV Burp, despite its awful title, is basically the same as The Soup, whereby the week's TV shows are satirized and skewered, much to the amusement of the studio audience. Burp has been around since 2002, whereas Soup first aired in its current format in 2004, but was basically a revamped Talk Soup, which has been on the air since 1991. 

I actually thought TV Burp was quite funny. I was just disappointed that tonight's show was the last of the season and that it would be back in the Autumn.

Ah well...

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Spin The Black Circle

I had a Scalextric racing set in the 70s that I got for Christmas one year. It had belonged to my Uncle Steve and he and my Dad had stayed up late Christmas Eve setting it up and then playing with it for hours on end. It was fun to play with but a real drag to have to get it all out and set it up every time. Many a time I would be fed up with it after setting it up and just have to pack it back up again. So when a few years later a young dentist that worked at the same practice that my Mum was a Registered Dental Surgery Assistant (R.D.S.A., dontcha know) offered to trade me my Scalextric for 2 LP's I was curious. Which LP's, I wanted to know? One was The Stranglers' "Black & White", a dark, menacing LP full of classics such as Nice'N'Sleazy and Do You Wanna, which also came with a 7" single on white vinyl containing, among other tracks, their brilliantly disturbed version of Walk On By. The other LP was a rare gem, The Last Inca by Adrian Wagner.
I was immediately interested in this because at age 11 I was a bit of a prog-rock nut, being into ELP and Vangelis, loving his Spiral LP to death, and when some time earlier I had watched an edition of the TV news magazine programme Nationwide I had seen a piece about Mr. Wagner and been mightily interested. He had recorded an album entitled Instincts at his home studio and I have the distinct memory of seeing a shot of Adrian in his bathroom, sitting on the lid of the toilet with his drum kit around him and mics everywhere, flushing the toilet and then laying down a solid rhythm. I thought, "This guy is a bit bonkers... I love it!"

Adrian Wagner was a descendant of the famous classical composer and a founder of the famous Electronic Dream plant, makers of the famous Wasp synth in the 1970s. The Last Inca is an entirely instrumental album based on the story of the Inca civilization and how it died out. I loved the album, I loved the sleeve design (by Hipgnosis), I loved the little booklet that came with it... it was fantastic.All that, and it was released on "The Famous Charisma Label" which I loved for...well, the label design, and the fact that it was Genesis' label. And now I find out that it was subsequently re-released along with Instincts as a double CD entitled Inca Gold. It's on my Christmas list, so if anyone needs any gift ideas...

The Vinyl Solution

In this age of digital cameras, camera phones, CDs and MP3s, DVDs and Blu-Ray, HDTV, satellite and cable, no-one under the age of about 30 appreciates what I am about to write here. Do you realise CDs have been around for almost 30 years?
The first album on CD was Abba's "The Visitors", although this was only a test pressing done for demo purposes on TV's "Tomorrow's World" in 1981. The first commercially available CD was Billy Joel's "52nd Street", released in Japan in 1982. MP3 has been around since 1996!
When I was young, movies were not on DVD or even VHS. They were on telly on a Sunday afternoon, or on my grandparents' living room wall. We had no video games or cable or satellite. We had Monopoly, or three TV channels on our black-and-white telly. Did I feel deprived? No. I never thought I'd turn into an old coot either, but here it is, even though it pains me to say it... "Kids... they don't know they're born these days."

I was dismayed to see on the website that along with Aunt Bonnie's fruitcake and tube socks, cassette tapes were listed as a crappy gift.They received a 7 out of 10 in crappiness. Holy Dolby noise reduction, Batman! I think I must be getting old.

I first started to feel old when I lived in Washington State and my first wife and I operated a daycare facility from our house. We hired a couple of high school seniors to help us out in the afternoons. One of these girls, a lady by the name of Shadie Lane (honestly!) was chatting to me about music one day. Now, bear in mind first of all that at this point in my life I was only 32 or so and still considered myself somewhat hip (I still do). It came to light during this conversation that young Shadie had never ever heard of Blondie (the band). Well, I almost did a spit-take. "Whaaat?" I spluttered, scarcely able to conceive of the notion that there were people alive on the planet who did not know of the delights of Deborah Harry et al? I tried to jog her memory by naming a few songs. "You know..." I said. "Rapture? Atomic? The Tide Is High? Ring any bells?" but to no avail. She had been born in 1981, you see, and hence Blondie had been sadly disbanded by the time she had been old enough to form any opinions about music. "By God, I'm a geezer," I said to myself. "The Geezmeister. The Sultan of Geez."

I've always tried to keep an ear to the ground when it comes to music. There is much new stuff that I like. Some of the current music is just guff. (God help me, I caught myself humming along to Lady Gaga today.) It always gives me a warm fuzzy feeling when I talk to someone of the same approximate age as myself who actually likes the new stuff too. My friend Lee, an attorney in Gainesville, GA, is about the same age as me and he was talking to me recently about the delights of the Arctic Monkeys and Kaiser Chiefs. But sadly, mention anything prior to about 1995 these days and you will likely be met with quizzical expressions all round. 

I've always been into vinyl and tape. Don't get me wrong, I like CDs and appreciate all the MP3 downloading and YouTube watching available, but there was something a bit more.... I dunno, tangible about an LP or a cassette. On an LP you can see the grooves, the individual tracks. I liked getting sleeve notes, inlay cards, bonus 12" singles and lyric sheets, studying the label designs and noting the comments written into the out-tracks by the guy at the record plant who mastered the disc (Arun Chakraverty, anyone?). I loved getting stuff on different colours of vinyl. While it is true that you can get a lot of freebies with CDs, I have yet to see the gatefold sleeve on an iTunes download. I mean, what are you gonna get your idol to sign when you go to a concert?

P.S. A little side note - evidently, CD sales are down, and Vinyl sales are up - although their numbers pale by comparison to the increase in digital downloads.

Roll 'Em!

Had another nostalgia moment today. I volunteer at two charity shops in Tenterden, the British Heart Foundation on Monday and Friday mornings, and at Cancer Research UK on Tuesday afternoons. Today was the latter's turn to be graced with my luminous presence, and while there I noticed on display a mint condition 8mm projector, a Bolex 18-5 to be precise, alongside an Agfa Movex 88L 8mm cine camera, also mint, both in carry cases with instruction manuals etc. I'm not sure who donated them, or why, but they got me remembering my childhood.

My grandfather, Len, had a cine camera and a projector, both Bell & Howell as I recall. During the late '60s and throughout the '70s, he took a great number of films. When my sister and I would go over there he would occasionally get the projector and screen out and give us a show. We would close the curtains and shut the lights off and watch a few choice gems. The one where my sister and I were outside in the back garden and I was doing some peculiar rubber-legged dance dressed in an old khaki army tunic and a stetson. The film of Great Auntie Dot and Great Uncle Jim's visit in about 1976 (I think it was the same one where Elsie was cutting up peaches in the kitchen, because for that one summer, one of the hottest on record for the UK, the peach tree that Len grew went nuts and actually produced fruit). In the clip, Dot and Jim, who were not the most sprightly pair, were filmed in slow motion, making their every movement seem laboured.
Len also used the slo-mo and speeded-up techniques to great effect in the film of the football game in the back garden. In this, my sister and I were very young, probably 3 or 4, and my Dad and Uncle Steve, among others, a kicking one of our balls about and we are desperately trying to get a kick in. My sister was filmed in fast motion zipping about and trying unsuccessfully to get to the ball, and when the ball finally comes her way, she picks it up and runs with it.
My Grandparents' house sits down below road level and the driveway is very steep and consequently there are a set of steps going down toward the front door. My mother is shown in an early flick trying to negotiate a pram containing either me or my sister down these steps. That's great, grandad! Instead of lending a hand, why don't you film the poor girl in distress?
Often, these film shows were done after much begging by us kids. If nothing worthwhile was on TV we would plead with him to show some films, and eventually he'd give in, although secretly I think he wanted to from the get-go. He would sit and make jokes throughout the entire screening. After he got rid of the old projector in favour of a newer model, he would have even more fun because this one could play the films backwards as well as forwards. He delighted in saying things like,"We're walking backwards today" and other comments.

While Len was the king of the movies, Grandad Eric was the slideshow man. Many happy evenings were spent at Kath & Eric's house watching the latest set of slides on the big screen. Eric and Kath were always taking pictures wherever they went, it seemed. He had a collection of cameras new and old that would have rivalled many museums. Again, Eric liked to narrate the slide shows and in fact gave lots of talks in various places accompanied by his slides. I consider myself lucky to have had two such humorous Grandads. I think they both contributed hugely to the development of my sense of humour.

Now, where's my camera?

Sunday, March 14, 2010

100 Records That Shook The World, #81

It Doesn't Matter Anymore
Buddy Holly

In the last instalment we talked about The Day The Music Died - February 3, 1959, when Charles Hardin "Buddy" Holly was killed in a plane crash along with The Big Bopper and Ritchie Valens. Just a month and a half later this song topped the UK charts, the first posthumous No.1 hit. It was a double-A side with "Raining In My Heart". The song had been recorded in New York City in late October of '58, and the story goes that Paul Anka had promised to write Buddy a song specifically for that session with orchestra leader Dick Jacobs. Anka had forgotten, and when Buddy called him and asked for the song, he banged it out in a matter of minutes. Buddy rushed into the session with the song three hours before they were due to start recording and Jacobs only had time to do a rushed arrangement, which is why most of the strings are pizzicato.
Buddy may have been the only man to ever sing the words "golly gee" and have them mean something so dark and fierce in this anthem to a lost love. "I've done everything and I'm sick of tryin'/I've thrown away my nights and wasted all my days over you".... Brilliant song, brilliant performer, and the record, even 51 years later, sounds as fresh as if it was recorded yesterday.

RIP, Buddy. 

The Disappearing Days Of Youth

Last Friday I went out for a drink with my old chums Jon and Bish, and I realised that it had been about twenty years since I'd last been in a proper English pub. Of course these days in the States they have pubs, or at least they think they have pubs, but really they are either bars with a few British items thrown in (such as a Union Jack mirror on the wall) or a restaurant with a bar that happens to serve a dark beer. Pubs are a different thing.

These days, of course, to compete with the burgeoning number of restaurants which seem to have increased about 50% (at least in my town), most pubs now feel they have to have an extensive bistro-type menu. But it is hard for someone such as myself to get used to this, when back in the day, the most extensive menu you could find in an average pub was the choice between salt & vinegar or cheese & onion crisps. (I tell a lie, actually - The Eight Bells, God rest its soul, did have a restaurant in the back part, but that wasn't always open, and you could buy sandwiches at the bar. But since The Bells is no longer there and Cafe Rouge is in its place, the point is irrelevant. I also remember Ye Olde Cellars back in the 1970's having a restaurant section, but that went away   around the time I started to be old enough to buy beer. So - whatever).

Back in the early '80s I was the drummer in a rock(?) combo known (perhaps infamously) as The Grass. To this day, I think that was a terrible name. However, we must have impressed some people because during 1983 we played several pub gigs in the local area, and even got return bookings from some shows. So...?

Some of the pubs were lovely places, replete with good beer, dartboards and kindly landlords, and somewhat receptive audiences. Some, however, were nightmarish, as were the owners and customers. The sort of places you walk into and the room turns stony silent and everyone turns to look at you as you adjust your collar nervously and ask under your breath "What do people drink around here?"

Last night I revisited the William Caxton at the end of the town, one of the pubs I used to frequent in the late '80s, which used to be populated by old geezers sitting on their own stools at the end of the bar, playing dominoes and shove ha'penny and drinking black & tan before it was hijacked by the cool and trendy types. I went there with my old buddy James and the first thing that hit me as I walked in was the aroma of something frying, possibly fish or chicken. There were about 5 or 6 people at the bar, engaged in conversation with the landlord, and the other side of the pub had about 2 or 3 people in there also. It seems the Caxton is now a Shepherd Neame pub. Back in the day Both the Caxton and the Bells were owned by Whitbread, and my favourite beer, Fremlins Bitter, was brewed by them following their acquisition in 1967 by Whitbread. Whitbread sold out to Interbrew of Belgium in 1997 for £40 million and in the last few years Whitbread has been pretty much out of the pub game, preferring to focus on Premier Inns and its restaurant brands such as Costa Coffee, Brewers Fayre (where, startlingly, you cannot get a beer but you can order wine with your meal), Beefeater, Taybarns, and Table Table, which are apparently pubs but that do have a full-service menu. There are four in Kent - Dover, Folkestone, Sevington and Herne Bay. The only beers they have on tap are four lagers - Beck's, Fosters, Stella and Carling - and Guinness and Tetley's Smoothflow. Interbrew are now known as AB-Inbev, (the AB standing for - wait for it - Anheuser-Busch), and on their website I looked up their local brands. The only two British brands I saw in a looooong list of brands were Boddington's and Bass. This sucks.

Anyway, so.... back to the Caxton. I had a pint of Spitfire Ale, very nice indeed I must say, and Jim had Master Brew, which I have yet to try. As we sat and reminisced and drank, we noticed an Elvis impersonator was setting up his PA. As the pub began to fill up we thought we'd better find somewhere a bit quieter to drink. We zipped on down to the Vine Inn, a pub I think I only went into once in the '80s, a night I seem to remember playing U2's "Desire" on the jukebox about a dozen times. The interior of The Vine has been completely remodeled and is now replete with comfy leather armchairs in which to enjoy one's beverage. Again, this is a Shepherd Neame pub and so Jim once again partook of the Master Brew but I plumped for Bishop's Finger, an odd-named brew but very satisfying. I noticed, as is my wont, a typo on the Specials board. I can't remember the whole thing unfortunately, but I do remember that it was some type of "Wanton". Hmmm.

Of course, we cannot turn back the clock and have things back to the way they were. Nor should we. Progress, mate. But I wasn't really ready for pubs to be warmer, comfier places with full service menus and espresso machines. In my early years pubs were cold and draughty and had nasty bathrooms. Some of my favourite snacks are gone too. Remember "Mignons Morceaux"? Phileas Fogg used to make those, and they were wonderful little crunchy rounds of garlicky bread. Just perfect with a pint. But alas, along with their counterparts Punjab Puri and Shanghai Nuts, they are no more. Ah, calamity! Phileas Fogg snacks are still around, but even though their crisps, poppadoms and nuts are, I'm sure, very tasty, they aren't Mignons Morceaux. Is it just me? Am I getting old and nostalgic and misty for a bag of mini-garlic-bread? Yes, I am, dammit. Nothing lasts forever, it is true - but it seems as time goes on, nothing lasts even five minutes anymore.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

The Cream Has Turned To Curd

Are there no original ideas anymore?

I was just browsing the Interwebneticonomatic and idly looking at a list of movies that are slated for release next year.
First, you have your remakes.

Footloose Must miss!
Straw Dogs
Red Sonja
The Thing
The Incredible Mr. Limpet Really?
The Crow
Girls Just Want To Have Fun 
Drop Dead Fred
Total Recall
Death Wish
Escape from New York
Seven Samurai
The Blob
Short Circuit Nooooooooo!!
They Live

Then you have your TV spinoffs... first, the live-action...

Gilligan's Island
Arrested Development
Dark Shadows
Saved By The Bell
Pee-Wee's Playhouse There are literally no words.
Battlestar Galactica
Wonder Woman Sorry, but if Lynda Carter and her magic breasticles are not in it...
Magnum P.I. Sorry, but if Selleck and his magic 'tash and eyebrows are not in it....

Then come the cartoons...

The Smurfs
Grayskull He-Man, of course.
Dragonball Z
Cowboy Bebop
The Adventures Of Tintin: Secret of The Unicorn As a Brit, I'm really looking forward to this one.
Ghost In The Shell

Then you have your sequels:

Pirates Of The Caribbean: On Stranger Tides
The Chronicles Of Narnia:The Silver Chair
Another Batman movie (as yet untitled)
Another Twilight movie
Wild Hogs 2
White Chicks 2
Spawn 2
Another Bridget Jones movie
Transformers 3
Another Alien sequel (sorry, prequel)
Raging Bull 2
The First Avenger: Captain America
Ghostbusters 3 Noooooooooo!
Harry Potter: The Final Deathly Doom or whatever
Another Bond flick
X-Men Origins:Wolverine 2
Rambo V:The Savage Hunt. Isn't Sly about 87 years old by now?
Underworld 4
The Brazilian Job  Sequel to The Italian Job.
Deadpool (another X-Men Origins flick)
Sherlock Holmes sequel
Superman:Man Of Steel
Sin City 2
Terminator 5
Mission:Impossible IV
Zombieland 2
Kung Fu Panda: The Kaboom Of Doom
Puss In Boots Shrek prequel.
Night Of The Living Dead:Origins
Bubba Nosferatu:Curse Of The She-Vampires Sequel to "Bubba Ho-Tep".
Cars 2
Death Race:Frankenstein Lives
Happy Feet 2 in 3D
Men In Black 3
Friday The 13th Part 2 A sequel remake or a sequel to  a remake? Who knows.
National Treasure 3
Halloween III
Scary Movie 5 Seems to me there aren't any new genres of horror to spoof, except remakes. Is this a remake?
Another Jason Bourne film
Super Troopers 2
Silent Hill 2
Ghost Rider 2
28 Months Later 
Get Smart 2
Evil Dead IV
The Ring 3

Then there's your  movies that don't come under the previous categories:

The Flash Another comic book hero brought to the big screen.
What Boys Want Remake of "What Women Want" wherein a teenage girl gets to hear boys' thoughts. Why? We all know what teenage boys want.

Now, I was going to comment on each and every one of these. But I don't have the time or the energy. I think my point is illustrated. Consider this, folks. I culled these titles from a list of  2,845 movies scheduled for release in 2011. Bear in mind that some of them are in pre-production, which means that they may not even get made. Bear in mind also that of the list of 2,845, I only got as far down as number 321. We have only just scratched the surface. Who knows what horrors may have lain in wait further down the list? Guess we'll have to wait till 2011 to find out....

Monday, March 8, 2010

100 Records That Shook The World, #82

La Bamba

Ritchie Valens

Richard Steven Valenzuela gave us what would be the next turning point in rock & roll history - the infusion of a rock beat into a traditional Mexican song, on a double A-side with "Donna" on the flip. Ritchie was proud of his Mexican heritage, and wanted to honour that, but having been raised in an English-speaking environment, he had to learn the lyrics from his Aunt Ernestine phonetically. 

Of course, tragedy struck for Ritchie, Buddy Holly and J.P. "The Big Bopper" Richardson on February 3, 1959 near Clear Lake, Iowa when the small plane they were travelling in crashed. Ritchie was three months shy of his 18th birthday. However, "La Bamba" has influenced many musicians since, including Los Lobos, Los Lonely Boys, Selena, Led Zeppelin and Carlos Santana. 


Sunday, March 7, 2010

Everybody's Got One

Usually I'm jazzed about the Oscars. Not this year.

The other day I had a conversation (well, not so much a conversation, more a heated debate, really) about movies. What started it was one of my dear friends saying on Facebook that she would not be spending her hard-earned cash on going to see the new Gerard Butler flick (despite his devilish good looks and all-round general buffness, not to mention his rakish Irish brogue that makes women go all moist and fluttery), purely because she found his 2009 movie, The Ugly Truth, in which he starred alongside the lovely Katherine Heigl, to be utter codswallop. She also mentioned that since the new movie, The Bounty Hunter, co-stars the also-very-lovely Jennifer Aniston, that will give her extra reason not to see it, describing it as a "stinker move".

This started a debate in which one person put forth the theory that any movie starring Ms. Aniston, or indeed anyone named Jennifer, is utter crap, citing a stack of movies starring La Aniston, along with titles by Lopez, Garner, and indeed, Ms. Love Hewitt. Now that got my goat.

I am a fan of all of the above. Ms. Aniston's  The Break-Up and Along Came Polly are among my favourites. I love Jen Garner in Daredevil and Elektra. J-Lo did some sterling work in Enough, The Wedding Planner and even Maid In Manhattan.

In the end we agreed to disagree. It's clear that when it comes to movies, it's all a matter of personal taste. People like different things in different ways for different reasons. For some obscure reason some people like gory slasher movies, some do not. You don't see Hostel 2 or Saw V sweeping the Oscars, yet people like them and watch them. So all I can say is, you like what you like and you hate what you hate. No amount of debate on Facebook is going to alter anybody's likes and dislikes.

For this reason, I am avoiding the Oscars like the proverbial plague. Because when you get down to it, the members of The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences are just people after all, and their opinion may not be representative of anyone but themselves. They have their opinions, and you know the old saying about opinions...

But I will not hear a word against the Jennifers, or Gerard Butler.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Si thi, by eck, tha knows

A strange phenomenon has occurred while I've been across the pond - namely, that Northern accents have become suddenly in vogue. Let me see if I can explain this. Back when I was growing up, TV presenters had that standard Home Counties accent that became known as BBC English. This is the one aside from the Dick Van Dyke chimney sweep accent that all Americans try to emulate when talking about English people. Apparently there are no other English accents. At least not until a few years back when they started to hire people who sounded like they'd just come from Preston or Leeds for commercials etc. I really started to notice this a couple of years ago when you could not turn on the TV in America without seeing the ultra-annoying infomercial for the "Magic Bullet".

I then started to hear Northern voice-overs for the Pledge commercials. Little did I know that the few I was hearing in the States was merely the tip of the proverbial iceberg. Almost as soon as I get here, I start to hear them. Used to be you'd hear northern accents on TV quite often, usually comedians etc. or in commercials for things that were traditionally Northern, for example, the Tetley tea folk with their flat caps, the two old geezers in the pub who advertised John Smith's Bitter, the Hovis commercials, Last Of The Summer Wine, Wallace and Gromit etc., but the announcers and newsreaders and weathermen all had distinctly Southern accents. But now they're cool, apparently, or at least to the ad men and TV producers.

Don't get me wrong. I am all for diversity. It's actually nice to hear different accents. Generally speaking, the accents up North are fine. But the plummy Southern ones have all but disappeared with this influx of 'ee-by-gum-I'll-go-to-the-foot-of-our-stairs' voices. It seems that in order to jump on this bandwagon and prove their cool to all the young people (and by 'young people' I mean people younger than me) the ad companies have to provide us with seriously over-the-top Northern accents just to make sure we notice them. Case in point - Foxy Bingo. For some obscure reason, Bingo the game, which used to involve going out in the evening and playing socially with friends at club or pub has gone the way of online poker, becoming a solitary game you don't even have to get out of your chair to play. No wonder we're all a bunch of fat bastards. The commercials are on the TV constantly. Foxy Bingo's commercials are not only scary, involving a human upon which, through the (ahem) magic of CGI computer animation, a fox's head has been placed, but annoying too, involving the fox having just about one of the most irritating Northern accents ever heard. I am a tolerant man. I can usually sit through any old pile of shite. But as soon as this bloody fox starts up with the line "I've got balls, they're multiplying" (in itself a worrying statement) and then the way he says the word "Bingo".... well, see for yourself. You'll understand.

I am not saying I would like to return to the old days, when BBC announcers wore dinner jackets and spoke as if they were John Mills in This Happy Breed. But there are other accents in this country. When's the last time anyone heard a Dorset accent or even a Scouser announcing something or reading the news? Never. Usually one hears a Dorset accent in a comical vein (oh, they are so  funny the way they say 'bain't' and 'thank'ee' aren't they?), and Scousers usually get to play  unsavoury types on soap operas.

Well, at least they are still "English" accents. Could be worse. Could be French.

Friday, March 5, 2010

How A Man's Mind Works

I was a bit disturbed this morning when I noticed on Facebook that one of my friends was tagged in a photo album. The person in question was a young woman I had previously worked with. She's about 20 or so, and in a college sorority, so therefore prone to participate in all sorts of wacky college-type antics, most of which usually only pique my curiosity to maybe a tenth of a degree. The album in question was called 'Snow Day Antics' and had pictures of her and a bunch of college chums indulging in a bit of snowy fun, which they don't get a lot of in Georgia. However, then there were a bunch of pics of her and about 4 of her sorority sisters wearing nothing but bikinis. Then there were guys in their undershorts. Then all of the aforementioned were photographed outside in the snow having a snowball fight. Yeah.

Firstly, this had to have been a guy's idea. I'm sure beer was probably involved. I'm sure all the guys reading this know what I'm talking about. You're hanging out with a bunch of friends, you've had a bit to drink, and you think to yourself, "Hey - there are hot girls in this room - how can we get to see them 90% naked without making them think we want to see them 100% naked? I've got it - bikini snowball fight!"

They all appeared to be having fun. I'm sure they were. I'm pretty sure if that opportunity had ever presented itself to me as a young man I would have seized it with both hands and clung on tightly. I can't help but think, though - the guys probably had a lot more fun than the girls.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Thrill rides

I had quite forgotten, in my many years over in the Colonies, the sheer joy of riding on the 400 from Tenterden to Ashford. If you've never experienced this thrill-a-minute ride, I urge you to put it on your Bucket List. I guarantee you will never yearn for Alton Towers, Six Flags, Universal Studios theme park or Disneyland ever again. That the ride is bumpy is one thing. That the streets are narrow is another. But nothing compares to sitting in a long metal tube on wheels with no seatbelts and edging out into a roundabout whereupon some silly ass decides to shoot out and cut in front of the bus, causing the driver to naturally put his foot on the brake, thereby catapulting the little 3-year-old girl on the back seat with her mum into the aisle and causing the kid to bonk her head on the floor, thereby making her cry all the rest of the way.

There are two wonderful moments on this ride, back and forth.

The first is when you hit Bethersden. Here the bus has to go off the main road (A28) and go round the back way, through the village proper, and stop to pick up and drop off. The stop is by The George Inn, which happens to be across the street from a small village store. Last time I rode the 400, about a month ago, there were delivery vans outside both of these establishments. As the road through the village is narrow, there was only a centimetre or so to spare when the driver squeezed the big double-decker through. Today, there were cars parked on one side of the street and the bus coming back the other way outside The George. Again, a narrow squeak.

The second is at Great Chart.
Many moons ago, as Ashford was becoming more and more built up with the addition of new housing estates in Singleton, it was decided to build a bypass where the road turned at Great Chart so that the great influx of new cars and trucks would not have to go through the tiny village and could enjoy greater space on a dual carriageway. That was all well and good for those people, however, the bus had to still travel through Great Chart so that the townsfolk could catch the bus to Ashford, presumably after spending all day boozing in The Swan. Great Chart is not a terribly long walk from Ashford, but the bus still thunders through there, even though the road is fairly narrow and one side of the street seems to be covered up with parked cars. Another white-knuckle moment.

Don't get me wrong, I love buses. I grew up riding buses. My Dad used to be a bus driver for Maidstone & District, the M&D as it was referred to. Before my Mum got her driver's licence, going for a day out meant a long bus ride to Maidstone or Hastings or Ashford or even Canterbury. Those were great times. Even when I was older, in my teens and early 20's I would still catch the bus to go somewhere rather than learn to drive.  I love the smell of buses, that dirty, diesel smell. It somehow makes me think of those halcyon days of my youth when I had not a care in the world except where the nearest record shop was. (All the young'uns scratching their heads - what's a record shop?). I am a firm believer in public transportation. Always have been. When the buses were privatised I was a bit sad. We lost some of the more rural routes, and all these different companies were suddenly doing the buses rather than the M&D I had become used to. But it's good to know that if I want to sit up on the top deck of a bus and hurtle round a hairpin bend in a narrow country lane, that option will not cost me a plane fare to Florida.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Criticism vs. Insults

We have a thing over here in the UK called the United Kingdom Independence Party. Now, I've never thought of myself as a Conservative in any sense of the word, but this group interests me, for two reasons. Firstly, their primary aim is to withdraw Britain from the European union. I can see both sides of this argument, but I like it mainly because of the second reason, which is their former leader Nigel Farage. He's an MEP, a Member of the European Parliament. he was recently accused of lining his pockets with gold, but he's a politician, and as far as I can tell, they're all in it for the money and to make themselves feel important. There's not a one of them I'd trust to sit the right way on a lavatory. However, it is what happened on the 24th of February this year in the Euro Parliament, and the furore afterwards, that interests me.

On that day, Herman Van Rompuy, the first long-term President Of The European Council, gave a speech. Afterwards, Farage taunted Van Rompuy thusly:

Today Nige was summoned to the President of the European Parliament and fined 2980 Euros, about £2700 or ten days' expenses. He was asked also to apologise publicly to the people of Belgium.

He said he would do no such thing. I am inclined to agree with him when he Twittered, "Free speech is expensive in Brussels."

He continued "I am not going to apologise to Mr. van Rompuy, and i am not going to apologise to the people of Belgium. Surely I am entitled to have a dig at a man representing 500 million people, who gets paid more than the US President and who has not been elected by us?".

Ah... only in Europe, eh?

You Are A Fan

I like Facebook. I am not ashamed to admit I am probably on the site more than I should be. Big deal. However, there are a few things on the site that annoy me. The one that really gets my goat is where they try to get me to 'become a fan' of something or someone purely based on what I am already a fan of. This concept in itself is not a bad one. After all, it makes perfect sense that if one thing is similar to another, and I like one of those things, then it's just possible that I may find the other one similarly entertaining. However, some of the ludicrous suggestions that pop up are laughable. Who decides what things are similar to others? Just a minute ago it was suggested by Facebook that simply because I am a fan of Lee Evans, a very funny comedian and actor you will all remember as Tucker from There's Something About Mary, that I might be interested in becoming a fan of Cheryl Cole, a stupid trout who purports to be a chanteuse. Similarly, because I am a fan of the online game known as Plants Vs. Zombies,  the 'book seems to think I might like to become a fan of Manny Villar. I said to myself, "Who he?"

He's a Filipino politician.

Let's see if we can connect the dots here..... Zombies... Night Of The Living Dead... George A. Romero... Romero sounds Spanish... so does Villar! I get it!

It'd be like saying you'd be a fan of me because you are also a fan of roast beef.

Listen up, Facebook. If you cannot connect two items in one simple step - then chances are I'm not gonna be a fan, alright?!

All I can suppose is that Facebook, instead of going through the regular channels when they need to hire staff, has either decided to just reach out the front door and grab whoever happens to be walking past at the time, or they found some unemployed chimps down at the Zoo and offered them the job. Some sort of new initiative to promote diversity in the workforce, I expect.

Monday, March 1, 2010


Hello, and a Happy St. David's Day to one and all. First and foremost I want to tell everyone about my new blog, The Food Of Jeff! over at  I decided I not only read a lot about food, but wrote a considerable amount, so a separate food blog was inevitable. I plan on telling you about food I've eaten, food I would like to eat, my favourite restaurants, my least favourites also, recipes, etc. You get the idea.

It being St. David's Day, I am reminded of my trip to Wales back in 1994. I had never been to Wales before then, which is staggering in itself. I came over from the States with my first wife, our son Charlie, who was not quite four, and our friend Susan from California. We managed to pack a lot into the 3 weeks we were here - a whirlwind trip around the country, a day trip to France, a ferry to Ireland, and not to mention my Gran and Grandad's Golden Wedding, at which I had to be the MC, for some obscure reason. But it was the trip to Wales that really sticks in my memory. We had rented a car, a Renault Clio, at Gatwick, and drove ourselves down. We took off on a trip around the country and went to places like Oxford and Cambridge and Stratford-On-Avon and then, North Wales. We stayed in B&Bs along the way, and our first night in Wales was spent in Llandudno. We wanted to have a good takeoff point for the trip to Portmeirion. My wife and I were big fans of Portmeirion pottery, which of course is no longer made there but in Stoke-On-Trent. However, I was interested in seeing the village at Portmeirion for the architecture, and for the fact that it was the setting for one of the coolest shows ever, The Prisoner starring Patrick McGoohan. It was a beautiful place, very pretty and a bit spooky too.

Well, we all enjoyed traipsing around the gardens and admiring the Italian-themed buildings, and after that it was off to the Isle Of Anglesey. I said we couldn't come to Wales without seeing the longest place name in the British Isles, now could we?
So we drove to a little town on Anglesey called Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantisiliogogogoch. It's important to remember that in Welsh, the 'll' makes a kind of cross between a 'ch' and a 'th' sound, but almost like blowing a bit of air into your cheeks when your jaw is slightly apart. (I'm trying to describe what I'm doing to make the sound). So 'pwll' is pronounced somewhere between 'porch' and 'porth'. Remember to not pronounce the R either! It's sort of like Chlan-vire-porth-gwin-gith-go-geh-ricch-weern-dro-bor-chlan-dis-ilio-gogo-goch. What it means is this: "The church of St. Mary in the hollow of white hazel trees near the rapid whirlpool by St. Tysilio's of the red cave".
Here's a pic of the sign at the railway station, where of course we went, because it is the longest railway station place sign in the world:
We the went to the visitor's centre, pictured below:

As you can see, it is round, and the place name goes around the wall on the inside, which is just visible also in the pic. Inside there is a little station where you can get your passport stamped. Here's mine, on the right. 
The next thing was to go to Holyhead and take the ferry across the Irish Sea to Dun Laoghaire and visit Dublin, have a pint or two of Guinness, and head back to Holyhead. We stayed the night there and the next thing on the agenda was Blaenau Ffestiniog. Why? I was hoping you would ask.

Blaenau Ffestiniog has a narrow gauge railway that was built in the late 1860's to connect all the slate quarries in the area. It goes 13 and a half miles, through steep hills and beautiful valleys, so green, I never thought that shade of green was possible in nature. We got there fairly early in the morning and, what do you know? There was an Early Bird Special. A special carriage with a glass roof and chairs that swiveled to give panoramic views. I seem to recall cups of tea and a snack included too. What could be better? We wound through the hills, past little stations with wonderful evocative names - Tanygrisiau, Minffordd, Tan-Y-Bwlch, Porthmadog... ah,  it was almost like being pulled by Ivor The Engine himself. I half expected to see Jones The Steam at the footplate, and Dai Station on the platform. Hauling a load of coal to Grumbly Gasworks... 
Ah, great times. We had a wonderful trip, but I think that train ride is what will always stay with me.

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