Friday, December 31, 2010

Chimes at Midnight!

clock at midnight

Well there goes another one...

Happy New Year, Everyone!

Monday, November 01, 2010

Musical Postcards: Mumford & Sons

In previous posts I may have opined to the effect that contemporary popular music is inferior to that of my youth (60s and 70s). Well I went to see this lot in Seattle last week (Thanks, Olivia) an am delighted to report that they've gone a long way to redeeming this current generation's penchant for dire, milk-toast pop and heinous rap. Great job guys -keep up the good work. A brilliant concert all round.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Where There's a Will There's a Way

I'm excited. Soon I shall be going to see this production at Ashland Shakespeare festival:

"Shakespeare?" you ask. Well, yes. I should point out that the clip above is the stage adaption of this film (I'm not responsible for the wretched music that starts playing halfway through):

Still not getting it? Don't worry, it's a bit tricky. The second clip is from the film is Throne of Blood, by Akira Kurosawa and it's an adaption of the play in the clip below -a very entertaining film version of the original, if you see what I mean. Note that these last two clips are different interpretations of the same scene.

Brilliant or what...? Old Bill is great in any language!

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Something Wrong with this Picture

Last summer I was going to the gym 2-3 times per week. This year I'm going to the physical therapist 2-3 times a week to fix the damage to my musculoskeletal system (L frozen shoulder if you must know) I incurred in last year's activities. According to my doctor, the problem should resolve in about a year whereupon I can go back to the gym. There's something strange about this cycle of events...!

Friday, June 25, 2010

Peter Alexander Greenlaw Quaife

Bass player extraordinaire with The Kinks. You really got us and influenced a generation of guitarists. Requiescat in pace.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Customer Service

Customer service flyer

Now here's an insight into some local salesmanship tactics. The other evening, sometime after 6.00pm, I was settling down to an early dinner when there was a knock (or rather a pounding) on my front door. I felt disinclined to answer as such intrusions are usually made by someone trying to sell me something. It may be a sign of the times but I can't remember when a friend or neighbour just showed up without giving prior warning. Anyway the knocking, or perhaps I should say hammering continued along with additional ringing of the doorbell. I was even more disinclined to answer but frankly disturbed by the aggressive nature of the intrusion. Later on I happened to go outside and noticed a flyer attached to my door. Across it was a hand written note -see above. Perhaps not the kind of sentiment that is conducive to customer relations in a depressed and competitive market! Interesting that the company concerned is hiring only people of the highest integrity.

PS Snark aside, hostile and abusive behaviour from frustrated salespersons with anger management issues is not acceptable. I informed the company concerned and sent them a scan of the above note. They replied that the individual in question was being invited to discontinue his employment. Ugh! No matter how rude, I don't like to see people losing their jobs. Overall I'm left with a bad taste in my mouth...

Thursday, May 27, 2010


Does anybody else like the look of this...?

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Film Review: Saving Private Robin

Devotees of this site will be aware of my penchant for low-brow entertainment. Normally I don't complain when my pursuit of lowly art forms causes disappointment but on this occasion I'm going to make an exception. At the weekend I had a need to disengage my brain from reality and following the voice of my inner child, trotted off to see the latest remake of Robin Hood. It sounded great on paper: a failsafe historical plot with one of my all-time favourite boyhood heroes, a cast of stellar actors and a director with a terrific CV and a string of highly entertaining, well-made box office successes to his credit. As it turned out the whole was quite decidedly less than than the sum of the parts. The actors struggled with an historically absurd Francophobic plot that made Plan 9 from Outer Space look like an Oscar winner and relegated the Sheriff of Nottingham to a comic relief bit part. In general the whole production was turgid with cineamatic clichés, looked lazy and to this punter conveyed the impression that artistic direction had been more than a little compromised by too many glasses of after dinner cognac.

So, Sir Ridley, here are a few suggestions for future projects:

• Avoid those shaky-cam battle scenes shot through a blue filter to maintain aesthetic distance as they are getting more than a little old.

• Likewise is the overuse of CGI which do not suspend my disbelief.

• Find a location other than Bourne Wood for photographing battle sequences as the good people of Surrey are getting fed up with siege engines, Romans, Gauls, Visigoths, English yeomen, cavalry horses, sundry actors painted up in Kensington Gore as well as armies of cinematographic production people traipsing past their front doors every year or so.

• Don't use silly one-liners that are supposed to be movie industry in-jokes: they instantly kill the realism for which you are renowned. I didn't spend $10 to see something that looked like it was derived from "Men in Tights" or a production involving Kevin Costner...

• Don't be lazy and filch scenes from your peers (including Kurosawa and Spielberg) as we do notice and anyway you can do better than that...

I hope that helps a bit -please feel free to contact me if you need a consultant for "Alien Prequel"; my rates are very reasonable.

And finally (I do hope I'm not rubbing your nose in it) the all time gold standard for Robin Hood can be viewed below:

Thursday, May 06, 2010

Looks Like a Glazed Donut

Well for those of you who voted for them, I'd like to say (respectfully) that you have short memories. Well shorter than 13 years. And I hope you know your place. Now if you'll excuse me, I'm off for a stiff drink...!

Friday, April 30, 2010

Friday Music Blogging: The Sensational Alex Harvey Band

I've been reminded of this jolly bunch in conversations elsewhere. The late great Alex Harvey and his sensational band -1970s British rock at its best. I saw them in Cardiff c1973. Excellent stuff!

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

An Apple a Day


I've been a fan of Apple Computer since my first purchase of a "Fat Mac" back in 1985. Indeed said computer still sits in my basement although I think it will be awhile before before it becomes collectible enough for me to recoup the $2500 I paid for it 25 years ago. But I digress. Although I've never been a particularly early adopter (I've seen too many 1st generation products with major design flaws for my liking), new products from Apple always pique my interest. So last week I read avidly the specifications of the rumoured 4G iPhone at the online technology site, Gizmodo. This scoop was made possible not by a pre-release of the phone but by an unfortunate incident. Apple employee, Gray Powell, left his phone in a pub in Redwood City, California after a celebrating his birthday. The phone was found and despite some considerable effort to return it to Apple (the customer service dept did not appear to take the finder's phone calls seriously) it found its way to Gizmodo. $5000 exchanged hands and Gizmodo published a highly detailed technical analysis of the device. Apple's culture of product development secrecy is well known and it was a pretty sure bet that CEO, Steve Jobs, was not amused by these goings on. Apple duly wrote to Gizmodo and requested the return of the phone: Gizmodo complied promptly. Was this the end of the story? Hell, no. On return from dinner one evening earlier this week, Gizmodo editor, Jason Chen, found his house swarming with police from the multi-agency Rapid Enforcement Allied Computer Team (REACT). They had a search warrant, had knocked down his front door and seized Mr Chen's computers, digital cameras, servers and other equipment. Understandably, this heavy handed approach has caused lawyers to be involved and the outcome of the saga will probably involve a lot of litigation and millions of dollars. One thing is clear, don't mess with Stevie unless you want a fight...(vid below says it all: don't play it loudly at work or in the presence of children):

Monday, April 19, 2010

The Song Remains the Same

The UK's Independent newspaper reports that Led Zeppelin's "Stairway to Heaven" is the country's favourite rock song. I have to confess, I've been quite partial to this ditty myself ever since I heard it back in 1971. Dinosaur music indeed! But there should be no doubt that the song is an enduring modern classic that has spawned a million covers and to the chagrin of guitar shop owners everywhere, the opening riff must have been copied by just about every garage band member on the planet. Some of these covers are in themselves near works of genius and I thought it worth mentioning them here:

First up is this neo-classical rendition by Australia's Benaud Trio which is possibly the most emotional version I've ever heard:

This interpretation by Dread Zeppelin is brilliant: a reggae band with an Elvis impersonator for a lead singer. What's not to like...?

If the Dublin-based Mexican duo, Rodrigo y Gabriela, ever come to Seattle I shall be sprinting for tickets. Attacking rock rhythms naturally convert to percussive flamenco guitar:

Any compilation such as this needs a jazz version: here's the amazing Stanley Jordan.

Australian tribute bands are the greatest. No spoilers here -I'll let this performance by The Beatnix take you by surprise:

And if your not impressed by any of this here's the definitive performance:

Thursday, April 08, 2010

Black Belt


My iaido shodan certificate (menkyo) has arrived. I think it looks rather fine and am quite proud. It felt like earning a degree which in some ways it was. A trip to the framers is warranted...

Thursday, April 01, 2010

A Place in the Sun -Sort Of

I need some time off. This place sounds nice (anybody remember 1977?):


Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Streets of San Francisco

sf chase

Today is the late Steve McQueen's 80th birthday. Hard to believe he was only 50 when he skipped out to the Great Macho Dude Ranch in the Sky. It's also 42 years since the release of Bullitt, possibly the best cinematic car chase of all time. It never gets old and had quite an effect on me at the time; for awhile I started double de-clutching when shifting UP. This muscular technique sounds great in a muscle car with a high displacement engine but slightly silly in a 425cc, 2 cylinder, Citroen 2CV. And back in the 80s when I was a resident of San Francisco I failed quite miserably in an attempt to make my Pontiac Firebird jump down Chestnut Street (to be fair, I was probably 200 horsepower short of Mr McQueen's tuned and modified 6.4L fastback Mustang GT. I did however get pulled over by a policeman who gave me a lecture (fortunately no ticket) for chirping my tires...

Embedding codes for this YouTube clip are not published so to view click here.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Wearing of the Green

Racing Green

I was looking for a photo of something green to celebrate the day and I found this. Irish Racing Green? Well not exactly but it'll do. Happy St. Patrick's Day, everybody! And drive safely, too.

My thanks to either Chuck Goolsbee or Olivia Morrow for the photo and my apologies to both for not remembering who took it in the first place.

Thursday, March 04, 2010

Debts of Honour

mf Michael Mackintosh Foot, 23 July 1913 – 3 March 2010.

I was very saddened to read of the death of one of my political heroes, Michael Foot, yesterday, at the grand old age of 96. He was an old style, Old Labour, politician of the highest integrity and a terrific intellectual. A was also a fantastic orator with great depth and unashamed campaigner for peace. He was not, unfortunately, a master of image management or snappy soundbites and was thus an easy target for the right wing media. A case in point was his choice of coat for a memorial service at the Cenotaph in 1981. Shame on them for their superficiality. Neither was he a miracle worker and when leader of Britain's polarised and fragmented Labour party in the early 80s, suffered a humiliating defeat. But he should be remembered as an inspirational politician of principal and courage. Requiescat in pace.

Friday, February 26, 2010

War Stories: The Douglas A26 Invader

As a long time enthusiast of historic military aircraft, I couldn't pass on a visit to the newly opened Lyon Air Museum on a recent trip to Southern California. Among the many excellent exhibits this WW2 vintage, Douglas A26 Invader light bomber stood out from the pack. The Invader mostly served in a ground attack role. It wasn't as pretty or as innovative as the iconic DeHavilland Mosquito from which it drew some inspiration but had great longevity. The US military retained the aircraft through the Korean and Vietnam wars and and was used by various airforces around the globe until the 1980s.

A26 Invader
Douglas A26 Invader beautifully restored and looking quite menacing with its black paint and shark's teeth nose.

A26 Poster
Poster from the exhibit. I'm not sure if you can see this but some of the forward firing machine guns were mounted in the cockpit by the co-pilot's (right seat) legs. Firing them must have been unbelievably noisy for the crew and the cabin would have become very hot and smoky.

Nose with bomb sight
Head on view of the plexiglass nose showing the famed Norden bomb site.

This particular aircraft survived 22 missions: its targets included three convoys and a train.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

A Drop of the Hard Stuff

At dinner with some colleagues the other night I dredged up this memory from the recesses of my grey matter. Every word of it is true, honest.

Some years ago I was at Heathrow waiting to catch a flight to San Diego. It was Christmas and the airport had a festive atmosphere. I'd been extremely busy getting ready for my flight and the journey out on the Tube had been a scramble so I was looking forward to an hour of relative calm browsing mindlessly through the huge Duty Free shopping area. While I was shuffling around, a pleasant lady with a tray full of small plastic glasses containing amber liquid said,

"Would you care to try a Scotch, Sir?"

Now I wasn't shopping for whisky and rarely buy the stuff. Besides it was 11.00am and really a little early in the day. But then I told myself I'd been up most of the night packing, I was about to undergo an 8 hour time zone change and I could sleep on the plane. This was a time to relax. So I took one of the samples. It was fairly ordinary, cooking grade, blended malt. I knocked it back, thanked the lady and told her I wouldn't be buying a bottle.

"Oh", she said, "I have some much better stuff here, try one of these"

She produced another tray and I remember clearly it was Laphoraig of quite a decent vintage. But slamming back Scotch before lunch time is not really my thing and I hesitated...

"Go on" she said "you look a bit stressed, this will help you relax before your flight, and besides there's no obligation to buy anything"

It was hard to resist this logic. I agreed that I was a bit tense and accepted the second dram; it was much nicer than the first.

"I know what it's like" continued the lady, "I have a lot of stress at home"

"Oh", I rejoined, "why's that?"

"It's my husband, he's quite unwell", she said gravely

"What's the nature of his illness?" I asked, thinking I might offer some words of sage advice

"Oh, he's an alcoholic; would you like to try another?

I ran for my flight....

Sunday, February 07, 2010

Johnny Dankworth

So it's farewell to stalwart of British jazz, Sir John Dankworth who departed for the big-gig-in-the-sky yesterday. Sir, you were amazing, not only for your virtuosity on alto sax but for numerous compositions including the theme for The Avengers. Requiescat in pace.

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Next Year in Monte Carlo

A shot of the Col de Turini in the Maritime Alps that towers above Monte Carlo. The mountain is known for a series of severe hairpin bends and is a notorious, classic stage of the rally. The photo here doesn't look too bad but imagine driving this route flat out, at night, with fog, snow and ice to contend attrition is always high.

I suffered severe withdrawal symptoms by not competing on this year's Monte Carlo Historique. As I write, the competitors will be getting down to some serious partying in the Sporting Club and celebrating their victories or drowning their sorrows. All with have epic stories to tell. Next year Mad Dog rallying will be back with a vengeance. In the meantime here's a nice clip of Paddy Hopkirk (winner, 1964) and Rauno Aaltonen (winner, 1967) explaining why the Mini Cooper was such a good rally car as well as talking about the unforgiving nature of the Col de Turini.
And as Mr Aaltonen states (talking about the run over the mountain):

"Certainly we had many memorable moments...because if you don't have them you're too slow".


P.S. Despite the fact that Mr Hopkirk and Mr Aaltonen are now both in their seventies, they are still evidently certifiable maniacs when they get behind the wheel.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Tao Drummers

The Tao Drummers on stage performing an encore. Apologies for the shaky camera work but the audience were very mobile at this point in the proceedings and you can't expect too much from a hand held point-and-shoot. If you want a more professional view, take a look here.

If you've never seen Japanese taiko drumming before, I can highly recommend it. I saw this jolly troupe in Seattle last night. Occasional clowns, sometimes samurai, in part anime characters, always fantastically exciting musicians, they didn't fail to entertain for a second in their two 50 minute sets. Fantastic! Am I too old to take up drumming?

Friday, January 29, 2010

Rallye Monte Carlo Historique

E on CDT
A classic photo of the E type Jaguar of Merrick and Merrick in opposite lock across the top of the Col de Turini on the 1962 MCR. They appear to have driven over the mountain in the reverse direction from La Bollène Vésubie and instead of heading down to Sospel and back to Monte Carlo, look to be going straight ahead to Peira Cava and then facing the Col de Braus and the Col de L'Orme before getting any rest.

As I write, the Monte Carlo Historique rally has just started. This year, unfortunately, I am not seated in my trusty Mini Cooper at Reims waiting for the off. There are too many other things on my "to do" list. Even so, I feel left out and I don't make a good spectator. Next year Bill and I will be back with a vengeance. 2011 is the 100th anniversary of the event and it will be a serious party. And needless to say we expect to be on the winners' podium at the end!

Tuesday, January 26, 2010


I received this message in my email today:

"Haloscan is being shut down on: Feb 10, 2010. The Haloscan software and hardware is physically failing and we have no choice but to discontinue the service".

Another headache! I can revert back to Blogger's system which is clunky and not very elegant but I'll lose all the accumulated comments. Alternatively I can upgrade to Halo's replacement, Echo, which is a paid service and has, apparently, all sorts of stuff I don't want, like integration with social networking sites (!). My other choice is to ditch Blogger altogether and move the entire site to WordPress. This is a move I've been considering for a long time but involves a lot of fiddling and frustration (as I've said on several occasions, I should have paid more attention to the HTML class I took back in 1998). However WordPress offers visually stunning templates so the effort may be worth it. I'll keep you posted...

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Kate McGarrigle, RIP

I was saddened to learn of the passing of Kate McGarrigle yesterday at the all too youthful age of 63. While she performed throughout her life, the Canadian folk singer was particularly popular in the 70s and 80s and frequently played with her sister, Anna. So in honour of her memory, here's a clip of Kate singing with her sister, son Rufus Wainright, EmmyLou Harris and others, the lovely "Hard times come again no more".

Random Factoid: One one occasion, back in London in the 1990s, I practiced aikido with Kate's former spouse, the singer, Loudon Wainwright III.  He was passing through the city and visited the dojo. He was pretty good as I recall.

Friday, January 15, 2010

So U Think That 2?

Despite a few reservations about both their music and antics in recent years, I posted a YouTube clip of U2 a week ago as I thought it was appropriate for a New Year greeting and besides I quite liked them in the early 80s. However Ohara, Andrew and Chuck have expressed reservations about my choice and I've noted rancor and discontent expressed by other writers. A more systematic search of the interweb has revealed a very large number of individuals for whom this band represents the musical equivalent of chewing aluminium foil. I have thus compiled a list of reasons why Bono and the Boys are not everyone's favourite combo. Here are 10* that I find the most amusing:

  1. They still haven't found what they're looking for? Would it kill them to ask someone for directions?
  2. "The Edge" sounds like a disposable BIC product.
  3. In the name of love? How about in the name of God?
  4. Bono is an anagram of Nobo, Noob, and Pompous Dickhead.
  5. Bono would take a meeting with Pol Pot if it would get him on the BBC.
  6. James Joyce counseled his fellow Irishmen to adopt "silence, exile and cunning." In Bono's case, we'd have settled for the silence.
  7. The Edge actually calls himself The Edge (hahahahahahahaha).
  8. Bono’s sunglasses look like those hideous disposable things the optometrist gives you after a pupil dilation procedure.
  9. When they write lyrics like "Freedom has a scent like the top of a newborn baby's head", I’d rather take oppression.
  10. Their shameless hawking of high-end electronic products from Blackberry and Apple is inconsistent with their image of anti-enstablishment rockers.
*This compilation is from various diverse sources, my apologies for not acknowledging each one individually. Also note these views are not necessarily my own so please don't send me hate mail.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Climate Change


I don't want to sound smug but while the UK and large portions of the US have become tracts of permafrost interspersed with snowdrifts, here in Seattle the weather is unusually mild. This Camellia bush in my garden has been in flower since New Year's day -about a month earlier than usual. I like the idea that Spring is just around the corner...

Friday, January 08, 2010

Friday Music Blogging: U2

U2 are not my favourite band but this song is is a classic from their early period and it seems appropriate for the first official post of the 2010.