Posts archive for: February, 2006
  • Life in the fast lane

    Hmm had a good few days carwise!!

    After breaking down on the A2 the car was towed back to the garage who were supposed to have fixed the windscreen wipers in October. I picked it up at about 4pm - no charge woo-hoo.

    Then I went to get a new tyre and discovered it needed two boo-hoo.

    The following day I drove 300+ miles up to Sunderland to rescue Sarah and the girls from my Dads house. Driving back on the Sunday it started to rain, I switched the wipers on and 20 minutes later they locked up again boo-hoo!

    Luckily we weren't on a motorway when it happened - actually we were nearly home and after a few stops to wipe the windscreen we made it.

    So Sunday night I had to urgently make alternative plans to get to my meeting in Coventry the following day. I had to buy the most expensive train ticket £120 boo-hoo.

    I rang the garage and they said they needed to replace the linakge and they would order one in. Finally they told me to bring the car in on Wednesday - I asked for a courtesy car - they said yes woo-hoo.

    I worked from home yesterday and took the car into today. Ironically as I truned into the industrial estate where the garage is the wipers suddenly sprung into life. I picked up the courtesy car and headed into work.

    At about 4pm today the garage rang and told me that the wiper motor was burnt out and also needed replacing - cost £200 boo-hoo.

    I think when I pick the car up on Friday there might be some interesting discussions regarding the bill!

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  • Giant dancing luminous yellow condom

    Apologies to anyone driving west down the A2 towards the M25 this morning at about 9:15 - if you think you saw a giant dancing luminous yellow condom on the side of the road. It was only me waiting for the Green Flag man to come and pick up my car after the windscreen wipers locked up again. A nice man from the highways agency gave me a waterproof to keep me dry and my walkman provided some sounds to keep me dancing till the man arrived.

    luminous yellow condom

  • Up to the Smoke

    Cor Blimey guv'nor went up to Londahn today to drop off the trouble and the dustbin lids...

    Sorry can't keep that up!!

    As I was saying I went up to London to drop Sarah and the kids at Kings Cross so they could get the train up norf to stay with my Dad for a few days. When I go into London I'm usually working and hence everything like travel, parking, congestion charging etc gets paid by the company.

    Today however it was a bit of a shock to find it cost me as much as Sarah's train ticket to park for an hour while I helped her to the train. The minimum charge in the car park was £8 - highway robbery if you ask me.

    Then I had to drive round the houses to avoid going into the congestion charging zone and having to pay another £8.

    We left home at 10am and I got to the office at 2:15 so a total of 4 1/4 hours - I can drive to bloody Sunderland in 6 hours!!

  • Folk and the Floyd

    Over the weekend I managed to wrestle the remote controls from Sarah for a few minutes and watch two programs of my own choosing!!

    The first was one of the Classic Albums series and was about the making of the Pink Floyd classic Dark Side of the Moon. Love it or hate it – it’s an institution. I’ve owned three copies of it over the years, two vinyl copies (the first one wore out) and a CD. I have so far resisted the urge to buy one of the recent remixed versions. Add to this a couple of live versions, an ambient trance re-mix and a reggae cover-version called Dub side of the moon!

    I remember the first time I heard it, in about 1977 when it was only a few years old. I asked my brother to ask a girlfriend’s brother if I could borrow some Floyd LP’s. My brother old me he had heard some of Dark Side but it was just a load of “funny noises”. Thankfully I didn’t listen to him! (And he came to love it too)

    The album was recorded in 1973 and much of the program was taken up with explanations of how the sounds were achieved. Early sequencers, tape loops (often wrapped around broom handles) tapes recorded and played backwards etc. Hours were spent setting the clocks to all go off at the same time!!

    The album was made at a time when experimentation in the studio was possible; bands would spend hours, sometimes even days getting the sound they wanted. The Grateful Dead once asked for the sound of thick air and on another occasion lined up four tape players to mix the sound from different performance of the same song, slowing them down or speeding them up to match the tempos. Pink Floyd and the Beatles spent months in the studio at the end of the 60 and beginning of the 70’s.

    Led Zeppelin once hired a mansion and set up the drumkit on the landing of the stairs in the great hallway - they then recorded it by hanging two microphones above it to get a big drum sound. It’s sad to think that now all of these effects can be done on computer in a fraction of the time and sound processing electronically can give the effects you want. Odd though that albums don’t achieve the classic status of DsotM anymore!

    The other program was called Folk Routes and was part of BBC Four’s Folk Britannia series. It was the second part of a three part series covering the history of British Folk music and covered the 60’s and early 70’s and the beginnings of folk rock. I had to endure cries of “Oh my God Banjos quick turn it off” and other such comments from Sarah though.

    My introduction to folk music came when a new kid turned up at school. Mike Welbrock was the son a vicar who had moved from Basingstoke to Sunderland bringing with him a guitar and a huge knowledge of folk music. He became a friend and introduced me and my friends, who were mostly listening to rock music, to a whole new spectrum of music.

    Mike introduced me to the music of John Martyn, Nick Drake, Roy Harper and Ralph McTell among many others. It was also because of him that I went to my first folk gig, which was, I think, Dave Swarbrick and friends at the Sunderland Empire.

    The program contained clips and interviews with the very besk of the British folk scene and I was actually quite amazed about how many of them I had seen:

    Fairport Convention, Bert Jansch, John Martyn, Lindisfarne, Danny Thompson, Martin Carthy, Donovan, Robin Williamson, Mike Heron, Clive Palmer and the Incredible String Band, Steeleye Span, Roy Harper and Richard Thompson

    Of course I would have loved to have seen Nick Drake or Sandy Denny but it was not to be.

    Part 3, Between the Wars is on BBC 4 this weekend and includes Billy Bragg, The Levellers, The Pogues, The Waterboys and the Men they couldn’t hang.

  • Tales from the bottom (of the record box)

    Over the Christmas period I was downloading some MP3s of some of the music I have on vinyl (since all my records (and cassettes) are still buried deep in the stuff that hasn’t been sorted out since we moved). It all started because I quoted a Jethro Tull song on here and a few people said they hadn’t heard it for ages – and I realised I hadn’t either because I only had that album on vinyl. So I downloaded it.

    Then I got to thinking about some of the other stuff that hides in the dark recesses of the record collection. I mentally wandered around looking at record sleeves in my mind, one find lead to another or I’d go off in a tangent in a stream of consciousness adventure. Here are some of my finds:

    Steve Harley & Cockney Rebel

    This was the B-side of their 1975 hit Mr Raffles (Man it was mean) that was recorded at the Hammersmith Odeon in April 1975, although the song had been a single two years earlier.

    This dates from the time when I would listen to music with the lights out, candle and incense burning, sitting crossed legged on the floor. My fledgling record collection didn’t always satisfy my listening needs and this was my weird music track.

    I’ve always been a lover of the weird stuff; nothing pleases me more than someone asking, “What the hell are you listening to!” Over the years as my tastes have widened African music, Gaelic Scat, Tuvan throat singing jazz and other improvisational music have all entered my music collection but thinking about it this song is still quite weird!

    Shack up
    A Certain Ratio

    From my University days this one, released on Factory records in May 1980 – it was an obscure cover version of a 70’s funk hit. Apparently it was originally recorded for £50. I was first introduced to it by the flatmate of a friend called Dominic who was on my course. They lived in the dampest house I’ve ever known in George Street, Prestwich and his name was Tony and he played synth in a band at University, which I think were called Apocalypse Jive.

    Anyway it was probably the only track I ever heard by ACR – although Tony did once ask me if I wanted to go and see them and I initially said yes but then declined on the grounds that I wanted to go and see Roy Harper in the main hall at the university – did I make the right choice – who knows?

    Rainbow Chaser

    No not the lumberjack shirted, I hate myself and I want to die, here we are now entertain us bunch from Seattle. This band were part of the 1960’s psychedelic scene in the UK. The song was released in 1968 and was a minor hit reaching something like number 34 in the charts. I first heard it when a school friend called Nick Watt sent it to me on a tape. He went to Coventry Poly and used to send me tapes instead of letters!


    Travels on a cloud (up on the clouds)
    He's one of the good time people now
    I'm a face in the crowd (I'm in the crowd)
    All dressed up and laughing loud

    It’s a great song with lots of phased piano and strings, probably my favourite psychedelic tune of all time. Also on the same tape was Pandora’s box by Procol Harum

    While horsemen ride across the green
    and Snow White still remains unseen.
    Pegasus, the winged horse,
    relays his messages by Morse.
    And like some pirate sailor
    We crossed the Spanish Main
    And brought our magic carpet
    to a marble staircased plain.

    They don’t write lyrics like that anymore!

    Liberty Records Compilation


    Another one from 1968, although obviously I’m far to young to have bought it when it first came out. I actually bought this in about 1985 in a record shop in Newcastle and it caught my eye because of the rather wonderful cover. The man in the shop told me that it would have been worth more if it had been in better condition.

    It has track by some of the best bands to come out of that era, some of whom are well known now but wouldn’t have been so well known at the time, artists like Captain Beefheart, the Bonzo Dog Doodah Band and Canned Heat. However the band that caught my ear was called Hapshash and the Coloured Coat another UK psychedelic band. Actually they were a bunch of poster artists who designed posters for artists like Jimi Hendrix but who got together with some musician friends and make three albums. I’m still to find this on mp3 but hopefully one day or I’ll have to get the vinyl out again!

    That's it for now - another rumage soon!

  • Vote Ben!

    Sarah has entered Ben in the new face of Calpol competition and he needs your votes!!

    Go to

    and vote for him - he's wearing a hat in his picture!

  • Remember the days of the old school yard

    I suspect that there is a picture of me on the dartboard in the staffroom at my daughters school!! This week I finally verbalised my fustration at the slipping standards at the school.

    When the eldest first went there the thing that impressed me most at the open day was the head teachers speech - what she didn't tell us was she was leaving and in the 3 1/2 years my daughter has been going there I feel the standards have started to slip.

    One of the fustrating things is the change from parents evenings where you go round and speak to all of your daughters teachers to a parent consultation day where you have a 5-10 minute appointemnt with their form tutor - where you learn bugger all - you may remember I mentioned this in an earlier blog.

    Anyway Thursday night was youngest daughters options evening where they tell you about their choices for GCSE's and it was a shambles. In a change similar to the one mentioned above none of her subject tutors were available to meet with - except English, Maths and Science - which are compulsory subjects anyway.

    We didn't actually get the options booklet till we arrived so we had to quickly skim through it and decide who we wanted to see. What was worse though was it said that the completed form had to be back in by Monday giving us only 3 days to make probably one of the most important decisions of our daughter's life.

    When we listened to the Assistant Head's talk he suggested we talk to our daughters subject tutors before we make the decision but when we went round only the heads of department were there and despite asking, many of them had no idea about the suitability of particular courses for our daughter. All they could tell us was what the course consisted of.

    So I tackled the Assistant Head about it and really gave him a hard time. I told him exactly what I thought about how the options had been arranged. He reminded me more of an insipid middle manager than a teacher but my children tell me he is a decent teacher. Anyway to my suprise my outburst must have had some effect because the following day the school decided to extend the deadline till next Friday.

    Meanwhile things came to a head with my other daughter who has been having problems on two of her GCSE courses namely PE and Geography. She was put into quite a disruptive class and this has caused problems in both subjects but especially in one of them where her teacher is deaf and unable to control the class. We have had ongoing conversations since the beginning of term with her head of year but it has been affecting her work.

    To make things worse during the week all of her Science course notes went missing from one of the classrooms after she left them with a teacher meaning she has nothing to revise from.

    On the way back from the options evening she was in tears and when we talked about it she said that she felt that her friends who were doing the same course but in different classes stood a much better chance of getting a good mark because they have a better teacher and a less disruptive class. So I rang the Head of Year and left a message for her to call me urgently.

    Anyway the folowing day things took a turn for the worse when some of the disruptive boys locked her in a cupboard and she refused to participate in the lesson. The result of which is that they have fianlly agreed to move her into the other GCSE PE class but as the other Geography class is over subscribed she has to switch to History. I'm not sure if that is such a good idea but the Head of Department has promised to help her catch up!

    I haven't been able to discuss the situation with the head of year as every time she tried to ring me I couldn't answer the phone so I have that to look forward to on Monday but I already feel like it has been a small victory for Parent power!!

  • A very nice man

    What a very nice man that Kofi Annan is!!

    He was speaking at an event I was working on for the 60th anniversary of the UN at Westminster Central Hall this week. I had the job of fitting him with a radio microphone. I was shown into his room and attached the microphone to his tie. When I'd finished he extended his hand to me and said thankyou.

    I mentioned that I had worked on an event with him before and he said it's a small world isn't it.


    His address was very interesting and afterwards I waited to take his microphone off him. When I did he again offered his hand and thanked me by name (I had a security pass round my neck).

    It's nice to be acknowledged as a human being by these VIP's - something that doesn't always happen - for example the foreign secretary Jack Straw who I also mic'ed up virtually ignored me.

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