Friday, October 31, 2008

Back extension

Our house development extension is coming on. Sadly, it's very difficult to take a picture really shows how extensive the extension is! In fact this picture is already "old" - there's already another "window" upstairs on the right - the roofer is coming in next Tuesday to put on a ^ roof on top on the right. Well, the framing. The extension bit on the left stays single-storey with a / (sort-of) sloping roof... matching the house next door (you can just about see the \ slope on their extension.) It's been curious to find that before the walls gained height the floor area of the extension bits seemed really (too!) small... but as the walls went up you could see things as actual future rooms... not huge (they aren't!) but definitely live-able. Although the dull grey building blocks make spaces seem smaller than they will look once plastered smooth and lighter-coloured. Still much to be done... but in fact the main structure of the extension is all-but complete.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Leaving The Rock

Because of dph's birthday party we missed the last night at the Rock. It was probably a good thing, parting is rarely a sweet sorrow no matter what short, bald Elizabethan playwrights might tell you. Here is a photograph of my last night. For the sake of future chroniclers of the Rock Era, that's Graham, Jennifer, Owen and Sail.

Breaking News

The first recession of the 24 hour news era allows us to see just what the media can do with a good old-fashioned crisis. I admit that, like so many others, I have been glued to the TV screen during recent weeks watching marble-faced markets collapse with all the resistance of polythyrene. But the need for constant breaking news, constant comment, constant speculation has brought its fair share of good, old-fashioned nonsense.

The other day I was half watching News 24 whilst doing something important like playing spider solitaire when the red banner "Breaking News" started flashing on the screen. TV is quite skilled in using the "Breaking News" approach to capture your attention and, like the stark reality of a Soho strip club, the eventual product is never as exciting as the glossy headline. In this case the screen eventually changed to "Breaking News : New York Stock Exchange Closes". Granted, it would have been breaking news if the Exchange had closed because the stock prices had collapsed so far as to finish off global capitalism, but in this case the Exchange had closed because it was the end of the days' trading.

And then you have the "experts" they drag on screen to fill a quiet ten minutes or so. The quality of such expertise can be judged by the fact that a couple of years ago, some poor taxi driver - who had simply gone to Television Centre to collect a fare - was dragged in front of the cameras by mistake and interviewed for ten minutes on the latest Microsoft operating system. A few days ago there was an "employment expert" commenting on the impact of the current crisis who actually came out with the following : "It's possible that over 50s will be subject to increased discrimination in the down-turn. There is no evidence, but it is possible". Yes, it is possible, just as it is possible that the moon is made of green cheese. There is no evidence, but it is possible.

Finally, in this little selection, there was a so-called "Bank Economist" (can such things really exist given what has happened over recent weeks) who said "We will get through the current crisis, I'm almost sure of that". Almost sure?. Well, that's comforting.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Another day, another shed

Jane and I eventually cleared away our shanty-town corner of our "wood shed" (that looked so fine when I built it, too many years ago for me to care to remember) and bought and fitted this smart little garden chest - I know, it needs some weathering (it'll happen!,) too bright by half at the moment. (One advantage of owning a building site is that we had a skip to dump the debris in.)

Clearing things was curious - one toad seemed to eye me as if to say "Have you finished messing around yet - is it safe to go back under that brick?" You think I am anthropomorphising? Hah! I saw it creep back under the moment I had replaced the brick having in between tried to chase it far enough away not to get caught as I heaved the fence back behind into place and fitted bits to hold the fence in place - the toad was back to my left even as I hammered in a peg I hoped I could then use to pull the middle of the warped fence back into semblance of line....

Which actually worked quite well. The plan was that screws through the peg would pull the fence panel very nearly straight again after years of being allowed to "bow". Look at the photo forensically - the panel is darn nearly linear again! And I'd guess the small toad is back under the brick on the left... and probably the large one back on the right - one wonders if it's the same toad was there when we built the previous wood shed... it could be, they live quite long.

Curious thing, this blogging and electronic world. Long ago Jane said I should write a blog about our boat conversion to diesel-electric drive to entertain myself and in case people might be interested... so I hammered out a fairly messy blog, not very organised - organised it slightly better recently....

Thanks to an article in Waterways World some people had a look, clearly mostly didn't really get much from it since they kept asking me questions were already answered in the blog...

I had my first comment ever on it the yesterday. (Other comments had all been via email referring to it.) Somebody found it interesting... would I care to email him? I've looked back, didn't really take in the clue.... I emailed, he emailed back, would I care to advise for their project about diesel-electric hybrid drives they were developing where the relationship will be commercial? Hang on, he is asking me to be a paid consultant! But it was supposed to be a joke I should set myself up as one.. ...

But because of the blog (and perhaps he read the article although he's not said-so, yet) he's asking me if I would agree to be one!

I've no idea what to charge but I've already said "Great." I still wonder if I shouldn't just sit and contemplate this shed.

Or read AB's far more amusing blogs. Hey ho.

Cowcliffe Hill Road (Again)

Every time Amy and I walk down Cowcliffe Hill Road we take a photograph. There is something about the scene, the shadows and light, and the shapes. This was taken this morning.

.. And Finding dph

Diana Decker certainly exists (or existed), but what about dph. I know that there are many out there who believe that dph is a figment of my imagination. You will recall that almost two years ago I announced that the services of dph had been acquired as one of the contributors to this blog and since then, nothing has been heard of the legendary raconteur, guitarist and Professor of Protein and Nucleic Acid Biochemistry. However, I now of photographic proof of his existence. The picture was taken at his 50th birthday party on Saturday as he explained his latest research project to me. He has far too many friends and therefore there were far too many people at the party. But perhaps they also turned up simply to see whether he exists or not.

Looking For Diana Decker

With the Rock gone, what is there left to live for? Quite a lot, I would have thought, but perhaps my subconscious knows more because I think I am dying. It's not that I feel unwell, it's just that bits of my past life keep flashing in front of me in a manner similar to what happens if you are about to be shot or run down by a car (or, at least, such things happen in a large number of the books I read). Last night I had a vivid dream about the bus journey from Keele University to Hanley. As I looked out of the murky bus windows I saw buildings, streets and factories I hadn't seen for thirty years. I could even small the oatcakes browning on the grill of an Oatcake Shop down a little narrow street. The dream was spookily real, and if it hadn't have been for the woman with a goat's head travelling up the road at 80 mph in a children's pram I would have difficulty telling the difference between dream-time and real-time.

But the dream was only a minor element of my current mental queasiness. A much more prominent indicator that all is not well in the head of AB is the fact that I keep hearing Diana Decker. As I walk into rooms, I hear her. As I walk through the woods, I hear her. As I climb into bed at night, I hear her. Sometimes she is talking, sometimes she is laughing : normally she is singing "If I Had A Golden Umbrella". We had this record when I was a child. An old 78 rpm with, I think, "Poppa Piccolino" on the other side. She does not sing "Poppa" much in my company, limiting herself to endless choruses of "Golden Umbrella". The words provide a strange insight into my mental state : I need a golden umbrella (with the sunshine on the inside and the rainfall on the outside).

Needing to reacquaint myself with the record I find a copy of it on YouTube. It is a weird little film which simply shows the record turning round and round on an old record player. It is almost hypnotic. Listening carefully to the record again after all these years I realise that the extracts Diana sings to me come from different stages in the overall performance. As the days have gone by the phrases she sings seem to come from nearer and nearer the end of the record. She is telling me something, but what? I need to find her and ask her. The problem is I can't find her. If you Google her you get many hits all promising to tell you about her career as a singer and an actress: but there are few facts available. Bizarrely, she did star in Lolita in 1962 but there is little information after that. It appears that she was born in 1926 so - if she is still alive - she will be 82 now. But where is she? If she is out there and reading this, please get in touch. I need some answers.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

RIP : The Rock Tavern

There is a good chance that my attendance at the Rock Tavern's Friday Night Quiz tomorrow will be my last ever visit to the pub. Unless a Russian Oligarch or a Saudi Prince can step in at the last minute and buy the place, its doors will close for ever on Saturday night. Martin and Lesley have had to give up their fight to keep the business going, and in the current bitter business climate the identification of a potential buyer must rank alongside the Second Coming in the list of miraculous probabilities.

I cannot let the passing of the Rock go without comment: I have spent too many happy evenings there enjoying decent beer and excellent company. More than most statesmen, more than all aristocrats, it deserves an epitaph. More than many colleagues it will be missed. Sadly missed.

Above all the Rock was just a little local pub. It was nothing grand : the metalwork didn't shine, the chairs had seen better days and it attracted dust more successfully than it attracted customers. There was just the one bar and the room had somehow to accommodate a few tables and chairs, a pool table, a dart board, and an over-sized television. It had no great architectural merit (although the splendid Ramsden windows were rightly recorded by the Brewery History Society), nor did it pride itself on a wide range of beers and wines. If you were lucky there were a couple of lagers and a draught beer available and a supply of little bottles of wine. It did advertise food, but few had ever seen it served. It had a darts and dominoes team which just about managed to keep going, it had a popular karaoke, and - of course - it had its Friday night quiz. And it had its regulars.

Being a pub regular is a feeling like few others in life. As you walk through the door you know your favourite drink is already being poured. You can stop and talk to any one of a dozen or so other people who you have the privilege of knowing simply because you are a regular. They are not relatives (OK in my case some of them are), they are not work colleagues, they are not neighbours. They may not share your interests, your beliefs, your likes and dislikes, your experiences or your hopes and fears. They share nothing other than a common meeting place and a willingness to share friendship. And this is what makes this type of local pub unique. Go to the Rock and you cannot bury yourself in your Guardian, you cannot take refuge behind your Neighbourhood Watch poster, you cannot fence off "us" from "them". There is a commonality of spirit which any religious congregation would aspire to, should aspire to.
Once closed, such doors will prove frighteningly difficult to open again. Once lost such friendships will prove almost impossible to find again. Those who would like us all to sit at home drinking our cheap supermarket booze and passively watching a series of fake celebrities pout and preen on the television will smile with satisfaction this weekend. Me, I will weep a little.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Marsden Jazz Festival

I have put a collection of my 2008 Marsden Jazz Festival on-line. They can be found within my public Picasa Web Albums. The photograph above is from the series and one I am particularly fond of. It was Saturday lunchtime and the start of the parade by Dave Brennon's Jubilee Parade Band. I have been taking photographs of them for years and they have been marching up and down the streets of Marsden for even more years. This year it was cold and wet and I felt sorry for the band as they gathered at the top of Peel Street. I said to the saxophonist, "It's a poor day for you, I'm sorry about the weather". But he would not have a bit of it. This was nothing compared to conditions he had played in before. A little wet drizzle wouldn't put him and his colleagues off. We stood talking for a few minutes more. And then there were a couple of bangs on the big bass drum and the leader blew his whistle. The band fell into step and started marching down Peel Street into the rain. Magnificent.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Beginnings And Ends

The end has still not come, but the beginning is already here. This is the complicated state of affairs on my desk at the moment. If you take a look at the desk under the window you will see a fine display of silver and black set against a faux ash desk. It is such a fine display that you would almost call in a vista, which would be quite appropriate. This is the new computer with its "Big Boy" 22 inch widescreen and its Microsoft Vista operating system. So far I have managed to transfer all my music and half my photographs : but have hit a stone wall in relation to internet access. No great surprise, I expected problems with internet access, people predicted problems and I have problems. This means that a second desk - dirty old softwood with chipped metal highlights - holds my old computer, still hobbling away, still connected to the internet. I need to phone my internet service provider and get some new disks and cables, but something is holding me back.
It is the "new beginnings" paradox (the desire for a perfect new beginning which sweeps away all the confusions of the past, but the need to get things just right means that the beginning is continuously postponed) which affects certain personality types. Like me. Back in the pre-digital days I used to always have this problem with diaries and notebooks. I would spend so long preparing for the perfect diary experience that I never got chance to write what was happening in my life. Whenever I decide to write a book I spend so long lining up my pencils and notebooks that I never have time to write the book. I take so long devising filing systems, I never have opportunity to file things. And so the new computer sits there and looks clean, uncluttered, and unused. At the end of the day, isn't a perfectly formed blank page better than one covered in mistakes and crossing-outs. Of course it is.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

The End Is Nigh

At some point in the not too distant future I will be gone. The end is very close now. Those things which used to be quick and easy now seem to take a mountain of effort and an aeon of time. I must confess that I face the future with a degree of fear and a great deal of trepidation. One hears all sorts of stories about what happens next and I have yet to find anyone who says that life after Windows XP is a better, brighter thing. But Vista awaits and I can no more escape its clutches than I can escape tax ... or death. Having made the necessary (and if you could experience the huffing, puffing, creaking and groaning of my current set-up you would know just how necessary it was) decision to get a new computer I have kept putting the deed off: best to wait until after the summer; I will have more time after Marsden; wait until the stock market recovers ..... that kind of thing. There is obviously a psychological reason for this - something akin to taking your dog on its final journey to the vets. You know you can buy yourself a new puppy but you will have all that wiping up and cleaning up and drying up to face. And all my friends who have already experienced Vista tell me as messy puppies go, Vista could win prizes. I am due to go to the shop this afternoon to make the purchase. That way I can keep the old girl going a bit longer while I toilet train the new model. But it is raining. And there is an episode of Diagnosis Murder I have never seen on TV this afternoon. Perhaps I will leave it until tomorrow.

Monday, October 13, 2008

The Horticulturalist's Lament

I am not the kind of person to scoff at other people's misfortune. Just look at my response to the current financial crisis. As I watch the major banks having to beg for financial support, I take no pleasure. As I see city bankers, once flush with cash, unable to look interviewers in the eye as they occasionally accept that mistakes might have been made over recent years, I do not have a knowing smile on my face. As I see fat cats attempt to trade in their over-sized SUV's in exchange for a tin of soup, I do not mutter "I told you so". Nevertheless, I could not control a slight frisson of spiteful joy when I received an e-mail from my friend Mark the other day.
If you recall, Mark was the person who introduced me to the potato tub. Indeed it was Mark who bought me my starter tubs and seed potatoes with the promise that I would have - as Dr Johnson once nearly said - potatoes beyond the dreams of avarice. You may also recall that I was a little disappointed with my eventual crop, providing as it did, enough potato to make a small bag of crisps. When I spoke to Mark about this he had no explanation for my lack of prowess, he, he pointed out, normally left his potatoes in the ground a little longer and experienced a magnificent result. It is therefore with just a little bit of pleasure that I read the e-mail which stated:

I left them in the ground too long and now they emit quite a pong A deadly threat I cannot fight that wretched plague potato blight!

My pleasure was short-lived however. My good lady-wife visited the said horticulturalist this weekend and returned with a carrier bag full of his potatoes. They certainly don't pong. I cooked a couple last night and they were delicious. And as for their size! I enclose a photograph of three of his with one of mine. I offer no prizes for telling them apart. So my response to Mark is simple:
Too long they sat but even so
Their size reveals that they did grow
Mine are shrivelled and way too small
A plague on horticulturalists all.

Monday, October 06, 2008

Wot! No Haiku

There used to be an advert for the brewer Watney Mann which had a character peering over a brick wall with the slogan "Wot, No Watneys" painted on it. I went in search of a copy of it today but was completely unable to find one on the web. There may well be one, but it just isn't indexed under any logical words such a Wot or Watneys. This, in itself, is not important, it is just a surprise these days to find a nil return from the great world-wide web.
Much as I would like to go on about Watneys - the story of the brewery is quite fascinating actually - I haven't time. In fact I have no time to write haiku's, produce postings, or blog in any form at all. This coming weekend is, of course, the Annual Marsden Jazz Festival and therefore I am new deep in leaflets, menus and adverts. So this is merely to assure people that normal blogging will resume as soon as possible. Until then, enjoy a pint of Watney's Draft Red Barrel. Cheers!

Black Friar

For a time, during the late 1970s, I had a job leading parties of foreign visitors on tours of historic London pubs. One of my favourite sto...