Posts archive for: March, 2006
  • B'dum-tish

    To add to the general cacophony in the Big Blue House a new addition arrived today in the shape of a drum kit for my eldest daughter. She's been having drum lessons at school and needs something to practise on.


    We bought it on ebay yesterday. I was working up in London and I found out the auction was ending at ten past four. I ended up bidding on it by borrowing a laptop and hacking into an unsecured wireless network. Meanwhile I was on the mobile to Sarah who was shouting through to my daughter in the other room asking her if she wanted me to bid higher. She was watching the auction on another PC in the house.

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  • Murder

    Sarah didn't get to work today because there was a man stabbed to death outside the gates of her youngest daughter's school in the early hours of the morning. The whole area was cordoned off for most of the day while Police carried out investigations.

    The school is about 800 yards from where we used to live and this is the second murder within 200 yards of the school in the past year.

    The headteacher is insisting on opening the school tomorrow even though it was already planned as an early closure for the Easter holidays. I think this is a mistake as it could be quite distressing for some of the younger children when the see all the flowers that have been laid outside the school. Better, in my opinion, to have started the holidays early so that it wouldn't be so obvious by the time the school returns after Easter.

    The BBC report is here

  • The Sun is eclipsed by the moon


    Did you see the eclipse yesterday?

    You be forgiven for not noticing it as it was only a partial one and the moon only took a small chunk out of the sun.

    I tried to look for the solar viewers I had bought for the total eclipse in 1999 which had sat unused in my desk drawer since we'd got back but I couldn't find them - bugger. So I had to content myself with quick glances at the sun and then being almost blind for five minutes afterwards!

    There are more pictures here

  • Just what this country needs - a cock in a frock on a rock

    I haven't been around much because we have spent the last few weeks putting together the arrangements for our wedding. Well actually we haven't got as far as the wedding yet but the travel plans are almost in place.

    Sarah and I had an idea about a year ago to go off and get married - just me, her and the kids. We decided we would do it in December this year in Lapland. Then came the announcement that Sarah's sister was also planning to get married this year, also in December and she lives in Australia!

    Since there was no way our finances could do both we decided that as we were all going to Oz we would get married there too. So that's what we are doing - date provisionally set for December 21st - the longest day!!

    Anyway as a travel agent told us a week or two ago we picked the wrong month in the wrong year. The ashes will be on when we are going - and where we are going. The last two tests to be precise Melbourne and Sydney. So everything is at a premium.

    Getting flights we could afford (remember there are 7 of us) was a nightmare and for a long time it looked like we would be paying around £850 each - ouch. even then prices seemed to be going up on a daily basis. Just as we were going to give in and pay it Sarah tracked flights down for just over £600 - phew!

    Then after we paid for them we applied for our visas which you do on line these days - everyone's went through except mine which was referred to the consulate. A very nervous few hours then ensued but luckily it was approved this afternoon.

    So on the 9th December via Penang and Kuala Lumpur we will be flying off to Melbourne. We are there for three weeks until new years day then hopefully we'll go to Sydney before returning. I say hopefully because we have spent the last three days looking for accommodation. If you go to any of the big on line booking agents and enter 1st Jan you just get a sorry nothing available message!!

    Anyway tonight I think I've cracked it and I'm just waiting for confirmation then I can book the flights tomorrow. Then once all the travel plans are sorted Sarah and I can actually think about the wedding. Oh and I can work on being allowed to go to at least one day of test match cricket!!

  • The last great adventure left to mankind

    Le Festival au Desert

    Festival au desert tinariwen

    I’ve suddenly been touched with a burning ambition to travel to Mali and go to the Festival in the Desert. I’ve known about it for a couple of years now, ever since I first discovered Tinariwen but just recently the music of this African country has been eating it’s way into my soul and I keep coming across more great music from the region.

    They say the music that became the blues came from this region of Africa (via the slave trade)and hence you could probably trace the roots of most of American and European popular music in the late 20th century back there. The nomadic Touareg peoples have a long tradition of gatherings where they met, exchanged ideas, raced camels and played music. The Festival au desert has risen from these traditional meetings.

    The death of one of Mali’s finest musicians Ali Farka Toure the other day had me nosing around the internet and came across the website for the festival. After looking at it I suddenly realised that going wasn’t beyond the realms of possibility – even if it would be quite expensive. Unfortunately I’ve missed this year’s festival and wouldn’t be able to go next January because I’ll hopefully have just returned from Australia but that would give me to 2008 to save up!!!!

    Just getting to the festival would be an adventure in itself. It’s held in a place called Essakane, which is a desert village 60 miles northwest of Tombouctou (Timbuktu). You would have to fly to the capital of Mali, Bamako and then travel to the festival site. Most packages head off to Timbuktu and depending upon your budget you could either fly or travel by road.

    The road journey is by necessity in a 4x4 and takes two days, the first of which is on the national highway which is surfaced, the second day you turn off the main road and travel on a rough track built by the army. During the journey you cross the Niger by ferry. Once you reach Timbuktu though the road ends and the last part of the journey to the site is across the desert, which can take between 2 and 6 hours. Of course many of the locals travel to the site in a more traditional manner on camels and can spend several days trekking across the desert to reach the site.

    Festival au desert tents

    The site is nestled among sand dunes and a tented village surrounds an open-air stage. The accommodation is in traditional tents and all food is provided in big communal restaurants. During the day there are Camel races, traditional music and dancing. There is a market place selling traditional crafts, fabric, clothes and jewellery as well as hawkers selling their wares. Touareg dress and camels are the order of the day but more western visitors are making the trek out to the festival.

    Festival au desert night

    At the night the site is transformed by the open fires provide light (and warmth in the cold desert night). The area in front of the stage fills up with between 2000 and 5000 people who gather to listen and groove to the great African sounds under the clear star filled sky. The music continues until the early hours of the morning.

    Festival au desert stage

    I’ve got to go! So I had better start saving - unless there is some nice newspaper or magazine editor out there who would like to send me to next years festival in exchange for a story!!

    Pictures by René Goiffon

    Reference article

  • Thank you for the days, those endless days, those sacred days you gave me

    Today would have been my mum's birthday - sometimes I think I'm the only one who remembers.

  • Four and twenty madmen dancing on your chest

    After a couple of very stressful days during which I had some very early starts and at one point foolishly found myself squaring up to an armed Policeman I got to relax and go to a gig last night. The same people who organised the Keith James gig with the awful cold atmosphere I blogged about a while back organised this one. Luckily though it was in a far more suitable venue and at least my ex-wife didn’t turn up this time!!

    Authentic raw folk from the Medway delta


    The band in question was the Singing Loins who have been playing around the local area for the best part of fifteen years. I first saw them in about 1998 at the Medway Little Theatre supporting John Otway. Essentially a duo, both called Chris but more usually known and Brod and Arfur, they play wildly energetic quirky songs, which fit neatly into a folk pigeonhole a bit like a square peg fits in a round hole!!

    After the first time I saw them on a regular basis in the pubs around the area until at the end of a show in a packed pub at the Rochester Sweeps festival a punch was thrown and the group split up. The two of them followed their own paths until about a year ago when they got together for a one off reunion gig and have been together ever since. A third member, Rob, has now been added playing guitar, mandolin, banjo, “toy accordion” and melodica.

    Since they reformed I have managed to miss every gig, except for two songs on the open air stage at last years Sweeps festival – however that was put right last night at the Medway Folk Cellar, a bar under the local theatre. The band played two sets containing lots of their “Lo-fi trash-folk” classics and songs from their new CD “Songs to hear before you die”

    The songs tell stories sometimes sad, sometimes funny and occasionally downright ridiculous. They often draw on local influences for example Valerie is a song about a girl with Downs syndrome “we used to bully” but are no less accessible for this – I didn't grow up in the area but still find them facinating. For example Big Wheel, a tale of young love at the Strood fair is one that almost anyone can identify with

    Linda I feel so drunk, I love you I do
    It’s imperative that we have sex, NOW!
    And if we can’t go to your place we’re lumbered
    So let’s go on the big wheel again
    And then after that well we’ll do it twice more in the mad house
    With the mirrors

    And you ask that mush on the dodgems
    If he’ll play Telegram Sam
    Cos I bloody hate Soul and you and your Bay City Rollers

    Before the gig they had announced that they were going to dig some old songs out that they either hadn’t played before or hadn’t played for years and sure enough they did – among them were some of my favourites from the CD – the complete and utter Singing Loins. Rochester, My Dear, Fool Jack , The Ghost Of Old Rose, Fish, I'm In Love With The Loveliest Whore and My Madonna. The last was one of three poems set to music by the band – the other two both being by Kipling.

    loins 2

    The evening had started with an apology when Brod pointed out that he had had to retire his stick, which he used to keep rhythm – apparently he is suffering from arthritis and can’t bang it anymore. A tambourine has replaced it but he managed to put his hand through that. There was also the sight of both of them having to put on their glasses to read the lyrics from a sheet of paper when they sang another Kipling poem acapella.

    I was going to request a song called Right Good and Proper during the interval but they played it during the first set so I used the time to leg it down the road to the cashpoint as I’d forgotten to bring enough money to buy a t-shirt. Although after hearing the songs from the new CD I wished I bought that as well. The songs played were Baker’s Arms (August 58), Angel of the Medway and House in the Woods. There are some MP3’s on their website.

    I'd just leant over for a goodnight peck
    and the barmaids legs were round my neck
    Now I'm hiding don't ask why

    The evening finished off, rather appropriately with Cheeriotatatoodaloobyebye before they did a well-deserved encore of their song Chatham Girls, written years before the word Chav was even thought of! A great evening and I’m looking forward to seeing them again soon.

    Footnote 1: The support act was the Hot Rats duo, which features Ian Cutler on fiddle. Ian was the fiddler in the cult film The Wicker Man.

    Footnote 2: The deaths of Ivor Cutler and Ali Farka Toure were both announced yesterday – sad losses indeed.

  • The Red Cockatoo

    I saw this on Poems on the Underground

    Sent as a present from Annam
    A red cockatoo.
    Coloured like the peach-tree blossom,
    Speaking with the speech of men.

    And they did to it what is always done
    To the learned and eloquent.
    They took a cage with stout bars
    And shut it up inside.

    -- Po Chü-i (AD 772-846), translated by Arthur Waley

  • I'm getting published in the morning!!

    The Guardian e-mailed me today to say they were using the piece I wrote for the playlist part of Family Life in the Family section. And I get paid £50 for it!!

    It's here if you want to read it

  • Google

    New LG Chocolate Phone
    Dual Screen UI with 4" HD LCD. Enjoy Perfect Visual Comfort Now!


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