Monday, November 20, 2006

Deep Fried Missionary

Feeling a cold coming on this weekend I went on Saturday lunchtime to the local Fish and Chip shop. It’s not that I am claiming that good old traditional Yorkshire fish and chips can cure the common cold, it’s just that you might as well enjoy some decent food whilst your nose is dripping and your throat is digesting sandpaper. Anyway, whilst waiting for the freshly fried fish to be scooped out of the bubbling oil (admit it, you’re already salivating), I glanced at the notice board next to the counter and there is a laminated and typed sheet headed “Mission Statement”. At first I thought it was one of those jokey seaside-postcard things much loved by fish and chip shops of old (“Please don’t ask for credit as a punch on the nose often offends”). But on closer inspection it turned out to be horrifyingly real. I can’t remember the exact wording, but it went something like this : MISSION STATEMENT It is our aim to serve our customers with the very best freshly-fried and nutritious fish and chips, prepared from locally sourced products and served by attentive, courteous and well-qualified staff. This, of course, raises all sorts of questions. What kind of society do we now live in? Why does even the local fish and chip shop believe it is necessary to have a bloody Mission Statement? Is there no end to this? It nearly put me off my fish and chips. Nearly, but not quite.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Old Bastards

I discover the International Brotherhood of Old Bastards via a report in today's Chicago Sun Times. The report is about an organisation called the International Order of Old Bastards - a club based in Monona, Wisconsin with about 600 members aged in their 60s and 70s who meet weekly to drink beer, talk about old times and ..... Well, according to the Sun-Times, and watch strippers! The police raided one of their meetings last week warning them that they needed an adult entertainment licence. The local leader of the Order - Arch Old Bastard Richard Story - commented "This is for elderly people who just want to have a good time with their peers".
So I decided to do a web search for further information about the Order - did they have a branch in Yorkshire for instance - and came up with the similar sounding International Brotherhood of Old Bastards. As far as I know, there is absolutely no connection between the two organisations. Indeed, if the web-page I found is anything to go by, the Brotherhood is far more interested in God (or the lack of God) than in the naked female form. The page was hosted by an organisation called "skepticfiles" - an organisation I have never heard of before but one which seems to be doing a wonderful job in fighting the destructive power of religious cults and, indeed, all forms of organised religion. Now, if they have a local Chapter here in Yorkshire I would be really interested in joining them.
The picture is one I took a few years ago during a visit to some islands off the coast of Panama. The lady is an old bastard only in the very finest meaning of the phrase. Her Mona-Lisa like smile reflects only the fact that she had just filled her pipe from my tobacco pouch. I like her

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Californian Sob

Cousin Dave called in for a cup of tea this morning. Whilst we were drinking tea and avoiding work he received a text message from his son. Like everyone of a certain age, Dave struggled with his attempts to send a message back - and we got to thinking of the perils of predictive text. What if they had predictive text back in the days of semaphore - a useful way of saving on arm-power. Or what if the early Morse-code operators had predictive Morse. Imagine the conversation between the sinking Titanic and the Steamship California :
TITANIC : S.O. ...
CALIFORNIA : Sorry!, Sorry For what?
TITANIC : S.O. ...
CALIFORNIA : Sob? What are you sobbing about?
TITANIC : S.O. ....
CALIFORNIA : Oh For Heavens' Sake, SOD OFF then.
And talking of California .... The second part of the Mel Torme recording (see yesterdays' entry) has one of the earliest recordings of his California Suite. I am getting to like this recording more and more. But it is certainly quirky. The California Suite (recorded in 1949 I think) must be one of the earliest examples of product placement in music. One section has a chorus dedicated to the Californian Chamber of Commerce - wonderful stuff.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Geometric Blues

Yesterday I downloaded a new Mel Torme collection - "Velvet Moods" - for no other reason than it had just been added to Napster and I had never seriously listened to Mel Torme. The material on it was mainly from the late 1940s, many of the pieces being off-air recordings from his 1948 television show. I started by dismissing it, but the music grew on me and by the end of the day I had become quite a fan. Some of the songs are slightly bizarre - none more so than a tune called "Geometric Blues" which seems to have verses made up of mathematical formulae whilst the chorus is a homage to Pythagoras. I had a desperate desire to know who on earth wrote this and to try and unscramble some of the lyrics I couldn't quite catch. So I turned to the web in the fond believe that - by now - all human knowledge is there. But I seem to have beaten the web. I did manage to find out that the tune had been recorded twice (see the wonderful Jazz Discography Site), but other than that I am still in the dark. Does anyone know or have I managed to find a gap in the accumulated knowledge of mankind?

Monday, November 13, 2006

Two From Georgia, One From Norway

Whilst much of the day has been taken up with work, it has been the kind of work which is enhanced by some good music. Thus I embarked on a quest to discover a half-decent contemporary female jazz singer. Three contenders lined up on my Samsung MP3 Player courtesy of Napster : two from Georgia and one from Norway.

From Georgia, USA, comes Madeleine Peyroux with her new CD "Half The Perfect World". Technically good, polished, easy on the ear but a little too much Patsy Cline and not quite enough Billie Holiday. Jazz singers have to walk a precarious line between being too challenging and being too banal - Madeleine takes a safe course. From Georgia (formerly the USSR) via Belfast, Northern Ireland comes Katie Melua and her new CD "Piece By Piece", When I had the Samsung on shuffle I sometimes had trouble working out which was Madeleine and which was Katie and that says something about the course they both steer. Again it is pleasant, comfortable, safe. And from Norway came Solveig Slettahjell - by way of a Guardian review - and her recent CD called Pixiedust. Now she takes a different course - certainly more adventurous but I'm not sure if it is more challenging. Backed by the aptly-named "Slow Motion Quintet" she, at times, reminds you of an old wind-up record player which is just beginning to wind down. But whilst Madeleine Peyroux has hints of lazy drawl, Solveig Slettahjell is all Ice Queen and very much in the mould of 21st century Scandinavian jazz. At the end of the day (quite literally) no winner emerged. They are three CDs which I will keep on the player for a while but which, I suspect, will gradually fade away. The search, therefore, continues.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

A Special Way With Cats

Spent the day thinking about work, working and reading death notices. In Britain these are short, factual and not very informative. In other parts of the world they are much richer. One in Friday's Saskatoon Star Phoenix caught my eye. The name doesn't matter - I don't know anyone in Saskatoon - I'm not even sure where it is. There was the usual paragraph listing relatives who either pre-deceased this man or who were left behind in mourning. And then a few short sentences which presented such a memorable picture of another human being. "Sid was always called on to fix anything from a computer to a kitchen sink. He had a special way with cats. He especially enjoyed a good game of cards" Sid sounded like a nice guy

Friday, November 10, 2006

All That Jazz

A day spent largely in getting together all the photographs I took at last months' Marsden Jazz Festival. Even after tidying them up and getting rid of duplicates there is still almost 200 and therefore the only way to pass them on is via disk. The immediacy of the printed image is lost but it is quicker (and cheaper). Thus armed with a file of thumbnails and a couple of disks I headed for the Old White Beare and what was truly a magnificent lunch. Ah well, Friday afternoons were not designed for work.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Delhi Sealing Drive

"To be a well rounded person you need to read a newspaper each day. To be positively circular, you need to read a different newspaper each day" I invented that particular proverb. There is an old Polish proverb which says "Why drink vodka in the rain when you've a cabbage in your garden" (OK, I invented that one as well). Reading a different newspaper each day used to be a challenging task but in the digital age, it is easy (visit PressDisplay.com and give it a try). Today it was the turn of "The Asia Age" an Indian-based daily. Reading newspapers from different countries always raises more questions than it answers. One of the most intriguing headlines - from the Delhi pages - was "Mild Protests As Sealing Restarts". As far as I can make out the government is sealing buildings which are being used for commercial purposes in residential areas. Rather that move the businesses out or move people in, they seem to just seal the doors. How strange the life of others seems. But there again "A grain of sand is just a tree in the dark" (Yes, that one as well).

Richard Oastler

One of those beautiful clear winter days when the light penetrates the very stone walls of West Yorkshire and the grass becomes almost unnaturally green. Thus Amy, the dog, got an extra-long walk. Our walk took us past Fixby Hall which is now the Club House of Huddersfield Golf Club, but 190 years ago was the residence of Richard Oastler. Oastler is famed for his fight for the introduction of the first factory laws in Britain and his campaigns to limit the working hours of children to just 10 hours a day. But Oastler was a complicated character : a lifelong Tory who also opposed trade unions and universal suffrage. Whilst he lived at Fixby Hall, Oastler was steward and estate manager for Thomas Thornhill, the absentee landlord of Fixby. Later he was to quarrel with Thornhill and he lost his job at Fixby and was sent to the Fleet Prison in London for unpaid debts. And now people no longer work 14 hour days. They play golf on what used to be his front lawn. Now there's progress for you.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Incongruity

I have never been absolutely sure what "incongruity" meant - until tonight that is. UKTV History have just started re-showing the classic 1970s documentary of World War II "The World At War". Whilst I have seen many of the 26 hour-long episodes before, the chance to catch the series in the age of the DVD recorder is too good to miss. However, the incongruity is not being able to re-run the second world war at a time which fits my social diary, it is the fact that the series is being sponsored by a computer game called "Company of Heroes". Research reveals that this is a highly popular strategy re-enactment of the Western Front in World war II with "cutting-edge graphics" and "remarkable audio". Thus we have World War II sponsored by a computer re-enactment of World War II. Now that's incongruity. My dictionary defines the word "incongruity" as "want of accordance with what is reasonable or fitting; unsuitableness; inappropriateness; absurdity". One's immediate reaction is to rage about the reality of war and sacrifice being cheapened by association with what is nothing more than a form of digital tiddly-winks. But maybe the youth of the 21st century has got it right. Let the game become what is real for people today. Maybe good fun is being cheapened by its association with brutal mass-murder. Maybe I will buy the game.

Pain and Suffering in Downtown Halifax

This morning started with a visit to the dentist. I parked the car in a small car park a few hundred yards away from the surgery, a short walk from the centre of Halifax. The car park is one of those which has been moulded out of a demolition site. Forty years ago there were row after row of terraced houses. I took some photographs here back in the 1960s and when I got home I looked some of them out. Then it was tall chimneys, soot-encrusted stone and pavements uneven enough to give a Health and Safety Officer a heart attack. Now it is neat rectangles painted white on even, grey tarmac : regulating cars into efficient rows. At least thinking about such things takes your mind off the appointment with pain and discomfort which is still - even in the 21st century - the dentist.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Bulent Ecevit

I met Bulent Ecevit - who died over the weekend - about five years ago. At the time he was serving the last of five terms as Prime Minister of Turkey. It was at an EU summit (in Helsinki I think) and he was walking through the corridors of the conference centre with a group of journalists trailing in his wake. He was an impressive man : charismatic in every sense of the word. I had nothing to ask him, no story to write. But there was something which attracted you to him, made you want to walk at his side. An impressive man.
The Guardian 07 Nov 2006

Burton Salmon

Today I went to the small North Yorkshire village of Burton Salmon in search of what is typically Yorkshire. The idea is one I first hit on many years ago and - as with so many - I have never followed through on. So now I have some time....What is a typical Yorkshire scene? Who knows. But there is one way in which we can find out. If we interpret "typical" as "random" we can identify a random location somewhere in Yorkshire. That will be as typical as anything is. The rest is just number-crunching. Grid reference numbers, random number generators and maps. The first of my ten typically Yorkshire locations emerged from the number crunching this morning .... and off I went to Burton Salmon.

Welcome

Welcome to the News From Nowhere Blog. Why a Blog? Why News From Nowhere? Perhaps the answers to these and other questions will become clear over the coming weeks and months. Perhaps not. Primarily, this is a therapeutic exercise. A chance for me to think some things out and decide where I am going. Perhaps it will become an established part of my life. Perhaps not. Let's just see what happens.