Monday, 28 October 2013

Lou Reed - Urban Hermit

There are no pictures of Lou Reed in the country, walking through fields or on the beach. In at least half of the publicly available photographs, Reed is wearing shades. And yet, mythically, Reed lived and worked solely lit by artificial light, propelled by heroic quantities of drugs and the kind of energy that only an exclusively urban world can give.

I don't think anybody can describe him primarily as a musician. John Cale is primarily a musician, Reed was not. Reed was a lyrical and vocal conduit, and perhaps that is more important. He stood in symbolic relation to a period of time and specifically, the whole milieu around Andy Warhol.

His contribution, in terms of quantity of output is sporadic and at times very sketchy. The crucial albums were the Warhol/Banana/Velvet Underground one (actually called The Velvet Underground and Nico), Transformer and Berlin. Of these, I consider Berlin to be his best. It is stripped down and lush at the same time. The line-up of top class musicians underpins what is a real album, a simple, often bleak message about loss and decay and abuse. Coney Island Baby is best forgotten, as is Metal Machine Music, Rock and Roll Heart and most of the others.

Sadly, Lou Reed is an example of someone whose reputation got well ahead of his talent. At times he was able to attract really great musicians on the sole currency of his charisma and seminal place in the development of rock music. Not all his material is profound and much of it, despite the edgy, metropolitan grime, just glib and sentimental.

One might wonder if, during the last months of his life, whether Reed mellowed at all or changed his outlook, particularly after a liver transplant. It didn't. He was nasty and egotistical to the end and rarely acknowledged that he owed much of his success to a lot of people of greater talent and humanity. He always maintained that he didn't take drugs to get high, he took drugs to feel normal. It is perhaps then, a pity that he never stepped outside his hermetic lifestyle and abandoned the wild side for the sea side.

Saturday, 26 October 2013

Latvian Climate Change Scientist who killed Badger while cycling to Harlow Sex Clinic, "Unrepentant"

Valdis Sprudz, (32) Ran over and killed the badger, leaving it to die slowly on the road, a court heard today. Sprudz, an enviromental scientist and vegetarian from Riga, showed no remorse, said the Judge, but in the light of Sprudz upcoming gender-realigment operation on the NHS, was given a ten pound fine and a reprimand.

Guardian and Daily Mail readers were seen fighting outside the court.

Wednesday, 23 October 2013

Women! Know Your Limits!

I have to preface this with a video. Some people might not have seen it and it puts what I am about to say in context; a fairly tongue-in-cheek context.
(I can't get it to embed and the YouTube version has been removed by the BBC.)

In the Telegraph, a woman, Belinda Parmar, has been blathering on about being treated badly by car salesmen. Well, the news is that car salesmen are creeps. They are just as bad with men, but they tend to treat women differently. That is all. Differently, not better, not worse.

Here's a bit of what she is saying:

There’s no place on earth that’s more of a man’s world than the car showroom...My first stop was a Nissan show-room: the sales rep was an older gent. He’d obviously read in some salesman’s manual that if you wanted to close that deal you ought to use somebody's first name. Again, again and again. “Belinda”, he said “Why don’t you see the new ‘Note’”, “And Belinda, while you are at it take a look at the beautiful new colour - what do you think of that Belinda? Belinda...”. 
I’m not alone in feeling underserved and ignored by this entire industry

Oh grow up. If you, as a woman, want to be treated like a man, I suggest the following line of attack, based upon my own experience. But don't go on moaning about how terrible it is being a woman.

This is the advice I gave her:

Belinda. Belinda, my pal: You have failed to understand the first thing about buying a car. It's a fight. It's cocks on the table time, and sorry, Belinda, but you don't have a cock.
Last time I bought a car (for my wife, incidentally, who is sensibly just not interested because she wastes her time all day making sick people better) I went to a car supermarket.

Now, on any ordinary day I am invisible. I am one of those people who used to trot around Harrods, and be ignored - that is until I asked them to put my purchase on my Harrods account, which in those days was like a magic word.
Anyway, I could wander around at a time-share presentation and nobody would bother me. That's how invisible.

So how shocked are they when I say I want "that car"? They are shocked, because I ask for a deal, and they don't do deals. So I'm walking away, or rather I am making walking away signals. I want a deal. "Oh," says Wayne, "I'll have to talk to my boss". So Wayne goes off and gives me some time. Rather like the time you get when they have arrested you and you are left to sweat a bit in the interview room. He comes back. "It's bad news, Wrinkled. You see,,,Wrinkled, we can't really give you that much for your trade in Saab."

Wayne is a Scandiphobic bigot, I think and clearly is not in love with Sara Lund.

"Well, Wayne" I say, "I think, £9,400". Wayne cacks himself. He is sweating. He is trying not to ring up his mum for a good cry. "I'll have to talk to the boss" says Wayne. "Ok, Wayne" I say.

I get a cup of water from the cooler and it gets even cooler in my ice cold grip.

Wayne returns and says, "I have had a word with the boss, and we don't normally do this, but we can go to 9.5 and frankly, there is no money in it for us."
I calmly get out my debit card and pay for it like it was for a jumper in M&S. Even the secretary starts ovulating.

So as I said, its a macho, cage-fighting, posing piece of theatre and you can play the game, or pay up. Women, know your limits.

Saturday, 19 October 2013

Growing Old?

Fact of the matter is, most of us will be old one day. At least most of us hope so. Taking a look back at being me, 30 or 40 years ago, I really didn't see old people as people; they were kind of cipher people, metaphorical people, people with history but no future.
I met some wonderful examples. People, who, in later life I found out were ambassadors, war heroes and many who had served society in a distinguished capacity. This all went over my head when I was young.
My mistake, and perhaps that of others, is to see life as linear - a line of highs and lows. I have reason to think about and occasionally talk to some old musicians. Some are bitter at not making it, and some are bitter at making the big time for a moment, and then fading from sight. Others are happy that they managed to work for 50 years and avoided stacking shelves.
Respect seems to be ephemeral. "Retired" surgeon, general, nurse, teacher, etc is almost a prefix for failure and ultimate irrelevance.
I remember a Neil Young song that contained the lines, "Old Man, look at my life, I'm a lot like you were"

We too, lived and loved. And we are a lot like you.

Tuesday, 15 October 2013

Vaping, Bricking and Unhalfbricking

This is what I did tonight.

There was a salad, consisting of mixed grains, cucumber, red peppers, roasted sesame seeds, herbs,various leaves and some manchego cheese. A simple dressing of oil, vinegar and lemon juice. A gin and tonic was on standby throughout. A pile of ironing, the kind of pile that threatens and accuses had to be addressed. I popped on Two favourite albums to get me through; Unhalfbricking, by Fairport Convention and Nanci Griffiths greatest hits.

No, it isn't that interesting, but I am not on Facebook or Twitter. And the last time I looked, nobody is going through my garbage in order to find out more.

Unhalfbricking is eclectic - a kind word for all over the place. The world at the time (1969) was going through a disturbing Dylan Covers phase. Graham Nash even quit The Hollies over their plans to do "The Hollies sing Dylan". What happened to him? Who Knows Where the Time Goes and A Sailor's Life are the non-Dylan highlight of Unhalfbricking. I was secretly proud of my son when he used the former in a short film. (He often trawls my collection).

Nanci Griffiths, well you either like or do not like country. The late Bob Newhart once said during a show: "I don't like country music, I am sorry. But I don't denigrate those who do. And for those people in the audience tonight who do, "denigrate" means to put down."

If you think that I am a member of the Klan, drive a Chevrolet truck and live in a trailer park, you really must think again. Country music is white soul. And anyway, Nanci is about as far removed from the stereotypical white trash model that you can get. I cry every time I hear "Trouble in the Fields" and you must have a heart of stone if you don't.
I would like a Chevrolet truck though, but you can leave out the membership of the NRA and the oral tobacco.

Talking of tobacco, I can report further on my dalliance with Vaping. I think I have finally figured it out. What you need to know, is that to be a committed vaper, you have to be a physicist, a chemist and a lot of patience.  So much of the equipment associated with vaping is duff. It's almost all made in China and it is perfectly clear that they design the batteries to explode and cause collateral damage. However, because they are made in China, mine have not exploded, they just gave in after a few sessions. Ditto the cheaper cartomisers. For the record, and because one or two readers might be interested, I now have a Pro-tank Mini, connected to an eGO-T 660Mah battery. My favourite juice is Virgin Vapour Organic's Celestial Honeydew. It works and will do fine until I start getting serious. Yes, you can have this rig - when you pull it from my cold, dead hands.

The best place I know to get everything, usually by the next day, is

Excuse the puff (and excuse the pun) but they have been very understanding with me over the rotten Chinese batteries and there are a lot of very bad places to buy vaping requisites, so consider your card marked. If you can't find what you want on their web site, it is worth giving them a ring.

My local Scottish Nationalist MSP continues to stir up public discontent by advocating that all seasonal goods be banned from stores until two weeks before the event, In this week's local paper, she bemoans the fact that Christmas goods are on sale right now. This is the kind of murderous, Stalinist action you are going to get if you vote "YES" to Scottish Independence, along with eating English Children, banning laughter on Sundays and compulsory tartan pants. But seriously, the "NO" campaign shows every sign of putting Josef Goebbels to shame and I really do wish the shops would stop turning Christmas into a three-month nightmare.

My teeth keep giving me gyp. I had a wisdom tooth removed a week ago and another front tooth has been replaced by a temporary cap. Neither will let me forget the fact. The car has cost over £500 in maintenance this month and I am looking at a similar amount to have a wing replaced. I am facing my 60th birthday (at the beginning of next year) with some trepidation. I would really like to do something, but the money is tight. Ah well, it could be worse. And it is not as if I have a lot of people who I must see on the day.

Friday, 11 October 2013

Got a Boner?

I must say a word about John Boehner, but first I must ask if my American readers know who the Speaker of the House of Commons is? I thought not. First off, why is Amy Poehler pronounced Polar and why is Boehner pronounced Baynor? He has a fascinating accent. He pronounces Bob as Bab, and economy as ecanamy. Not all Americans do this, so why does he? He has a great tan and he wears those smart white button down collar shirts. I wish I knew where he got them.  I have tried to understand, but I really don't know why I can no longer visit the NASA website because John Baynor has somehow contrived to shut down the entire United States of America.

I hope nobody loses their jaab.


I'm not on Facebook. You won't find me on Twitter, or if you do, you will see that I have not tweeted, since I only use it to comment on the blogs of certain individuals who insist on signing in with the damn thing. Indeed, My cyber footprint amounts only to the thousands of comments I have left elsewhere, this blog, and its predecessor. This is my message in a bottle. I have always thought that it does not matter who reads it today or tomorrow, but who will read it ten, twenty or a hundred years from now. A smart computer of the future will be able to cherry pick my wisdom, and leave aside the rest.

Frankly, I would be surprised if anyone bothered, but you never know.

We look to the past with hindsight. A tautology, I know, but an ironic one. If, fifty years ago, and only fifty years ago, I had told you that homosexuals would have their societal equality enshrined in law, that they could sue anybody who dared to discriminate, I think you would be astonished. In 1963 homosexuality was still illegal. Before that, women could not vote. Before that, it was perfectly normal for the upper classes to take precedence in matters of national importance. The point is, nobody at the time, apart from a few visionaries, dared to challenge the prevalent orthodoxy. Do you really think we are in anyway released from the shackles of our own time and our own learned ways?

It brings me, in a round about kind of way, to The Guardian. For visitor from outwith the UK, The Guardian is a Liberal Left newspaper. It has a low circulation but it is overly revered by the Liberal Elite who run this country and in particular, the British Broadcasting Corporation. In fact, the BBC only ever advertises its jobs in The Guardian and has done for decades.

So it is interesting that today, The Guardian went a little too far. One of its pundits, Polly Toynbee, cited some particularly nasty cases of child abuse and laid the fault at the door of the Tories:

It is the Baby Ps and Hamzah Khans who pay for this Tory vandalism

 Factually, she was wrong, because these cases occurred during Labour's period of office. The upshot was that, having realised they had gone too far this time, the Left's propaganda machine went into overdrive to limit the damage and to some extent backtrack. Amazingly, even the readers of this terrible rag did not agree. They came out heavily against the rantings of Ms Toynbee. I dare say she will retreat to her villa in Tuscany to get over it.

I am not particularly interested in Polly Toynbee, even though she is a favourite at the BBC. What interests me is the way the Left attack those who disagree. It is textbook Nazi handbook stuff.

Here is a summation of the way Nazi Propaganda worked:

Avoid abstract ideas - appeal to the emotions.
Constantly repeat just a few ideas. Use stereotyped phrases.
Give only one side of the argument.
Continuously criticize your opponents.
Pick out one special "enemy" for special vilification.

(What I would include, in recognition of the Guardian's comments policy is: Never allow rational, convincing arguments that are contrary to our view.)

What most people in the UK find incomprehensible, annoying, etc, is that this tiny minority, the liberal left, shout the loudest and shout down the opposition at every opportunity. They have infested our national broadcasting organisation and they continue to agitate for the abolition of thought and freedom to take a different view.

Monday, 7 October 2013

Appeasement of Hitler was a bad idea

No shit, Sherlock. But when I read some of the remarks on some of the comment platforms, I cannot help but become conscious of those who are blessed with the gift of hindsight.

A recent article springs to mind, about Neville Chamberlain. Remember him? The Prime Minister with the bit of paper? The revisionist writer tells us,

"I cannot sweep aside the stubborn realisation that Chamberlain’s misjudgement cost millions of lives"

Debate on contentious issues takes place in a historical context. It might sound obvious: people only know what they know at the time and they are influenced by their education, prevalent social mores and previous experience.

It came up again the other day with a predictably chaotic discussion (in the Guardian) about Christianity. Essentially, one thread of the putative "debate" was about historicity and whether or not Christianity had an influence on slavery, socialism, the NHS and the introduction of the tambourine.

For every one who pointed out that there were committed Christians at the heart of the emergence of Socialism (Keir Hardie for example, or the Tolpuddle Martyrs) or the Abolition of Slavery, there was a biteback post telling us that Christianity is responsible for all the evil in the world and that Slavery in particular was condoned in the Bible.

My point is that unless you have a clear understanding of historical context, your summation of important milestones in our social evolution will be worse than bad, they will simply bugger up our ability to cope with the future.

As for Chamberlain, his world was one with a daily reminder of the Great War. Burnt out and crippled men, trudging the streets looking for a job - great if you have the requisite number of limbs and eyes and an ability to cope with the occasional loud bang. (Don't forget, a hundred years ago we shot soldiers who had nervous breakdowns on the battlefield.) The Western world had no stomach for war. At the time, Chamberlain was paraded as a master of diplomacy.

Churchill was heterodox. Today, ironically enough, he would never have assumed the greatest office of state. Vanilla, he was not. He was, practically, a lone voice in the wilderness, who believed that war was inevitable. The general reaction was, "No, no, no, I'm not listening" In Cabinet, the reaction was that Churchill was dangerous and bitter. There were plenty of personal attacks on him and plenty of the powerful media barons who supported appeasement. All over free Europe, he was a hero.

No alternative to the policy of appeasement was ever consistently articulated in the
press.(Richard Crockett, Twilight of Truth)
So, I think there has to be a mending of the disconnect between received wisdom - hindsight - and the kind of reality that stares us in the face. Without it, we cannot properly address the problems we face today.

Friday, 4 October 2013

Bad Day at Black Rock

The loner comes into town and already he is asking too many questions. Questions like, "Where's the lavatory?" and "Can you recommend a decent place to eat?" In the case of Spencer Tracy as a one-armed stranger in that movie, he might be asking, "Where's the fork buffet?" "Do you sell single gloves?"

How we treat strangers is a reasonably good indicator of the temper of a town. My guide rule for traveling abroad is, how do the locals react when things go wrong?

Italians are frustrating in the extreme, but it is true that once they get to know you there is an emotional bond. There is a reason why Vladimir Putin and Silvio Berlusconi are such bosom pals. They are both emotional types. They may also be bastard types, but they appear to engage in the man-to-man bonding that nearly reaches, but just stops short of homosexuality. (As far as I know). Germans do a lot of sneering, but they must always make sure the rules are stuck to. Have a minor tussle with officialdom, and they will do it by the book. I find that re-assuring. If you ask for information, you will get it, and it will be truthful and accurate. Make a mistake, and they will gently let you know, but also they will tell you how to do it right.

This kind of thing is important if you find yourself in a jail cell through no fault of your own. In some places, they will do their best to effect justice, and in others they will simply shrug and leave you to rot. It is a kind of sobering thought that within Europe, you can experience both ends of the spectrum. Spain is an example of the bad end and Switzerland is an example of the good one.

Britain is interesting in this respect. Officials and the Police respond generally well to politeness. If you are thinking of coming here, remain polite and pleasant at the Border. If you call a member of the Border agency an asshole, expect him to spend a great deal of uncomfortable time examining yours.

I have been stopped by the police three or four times in my life. Twice for traffic violations and on both occasions I simply said, "It's a fair cop" (which it was). They like that kind of response and hey, you have to fess up and move on. I think a lot of this is my own personality. I avoid physical confrontation and I don't believe in treating people disrespectfully. It seems to work.

But what do you do when it is clear as day that the other one is at fault? My problem is that I only think of what I should have said, half an hour after the event. My mind does not run on real time.

My trick is to be prepared in advance. I do a lot of phoning organisations, public agencies and call centres. Not for a living, you understand, but because my life seems to be full of a hundred niggling things that need to be put right. Call centres of course, are by far the least pleasant experience. This is because people who work at them are stupid, or they could not care less, or they do not have a grasp of basic English or English culture. And quite often, they routinely lie. Examples are legion, but recent ones include our bank, who, having been informed of Mrs Weasel's trip to Moldova (I suspect they did not have a clue where Moldova was) made sure that her debit card would not pay her hotel bill.) Fortunately, we had pre-empted this possibility by carrying cash, but as you see, their lips move, they say all the right things, and then nothing happens. In another instance, I had a personal apology from the said bank because "unfortunately, one of our operatives fell short of our high standards of customer care." He actually told me a lot of lies.

Recently, there was a reported case of a woman at a supermarket check-out who was refused service by the check-out operator because she was on her phone at the time. People who work at these places aren't robots - though they may feel like it. Ignoring them while they do their job, scanning your stuff, shows contempt. It shows that you are too busy, too important to give them the time of day.

There is a balance to be had in our human transactions. "Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it." It's a reasonable aphorism to go by.

In other news, it has been a bad week for me. Dr Weasel has been away on one of her foreign jaunts, I have partially lost a front tooth and have had to have an extraction of my wisdom tooth. This is going to cost me £500 to have repaired properly, even at NHS rates. I ruined Ten quid's worth of steak by accidentally leaving it out of the freezer and the car is a collection of must-do jobs. I also seem to have had more than the usual number of opportunities to screw up online transactions, and then finding that the remedies were non-existent. There really are a lot of very badly written websites out there.

Well, never mind. I shall spend the weekend in the company of Jack, Jim and Johnny, take in an F1 Grand Prix and get into some good books. Funnily enough, I am feeling quite chipper!