Sunday, 30 November 2008

Avast me hearties, 'tis time to deck the halls...

December 1st is coming 24 hours early this year.

That is the date when we put up our decorations, but the kids are so excited that we're not going to be able to hold off until next weekend.

This will be the first when our smallest will be able to 'help', so that will make it more 'fun' than usual - especially if middle-sized one is 'helping' to keep him out of the way.

Speaking of being out of the way, every year on this glad occasion my better half disappears for 40 minutes to avoid the traditional playing of Tiny Tim's Christmas Album which launches the festivities chez nous.

I bought it for our oldest for his first Christmas, and it has become a favourite of mine despite, or possibly because of, everybody else finding it a trifle challenging.

This afternoon, though, I shall be firing up whatever Heath Robinson set up passes for our hi-fi at the moment and singing along with this perennial favourite - and I would strongly urge you all to do the same.

I was about to rip my copy when I found that Dr Forrest's Cheeze Factory had beaten me to it, so I thank them for saving me the trouble, and wish them - and you - a Merry Christmas, and probably not for the last time this year.

Tis the season to be jolly!

Sunday, 23 November 2008

Ooh what a night, late November 1968...

It's been a bit of a week, with our boiler giving up on heating water and consequently having to bathe kids and a grumpy spouse via bucket chains from kettles and saucepans in the kitchen at the other end of the house.

It wouldn't have been so bad if I hadn't burnt out the shower trying to fill the bath from it last weekend.

Could be far worse, though - the heating could have packed up as well. I didn't live anywhere with central heating until I was in my thirties, and now seem to have turned into a great big southern softie.

It really does become very easy to take for granted things which one used to live happily without.

For years I lived without either a fridge or a television. I've resisted the coming of each new white box into the house, but always relent in the end, except for answerphones, which - if not the work of Satan - only seem to exist to further increase slavery to communication.

When these records were released, I think that our family owned a fridge, a cooker, a radiogram (record player and a vast valve radio which didn't pick up anything much despite having a great big ugly aerial in the form of a long trailing pink plastic ribbon hanging out the back and rising up through the room on the next floor, ending up in the roof) and a black-and-white television.

We used to have to switch the TV on about five minutes before the half-hour of kids programmes in the morning, or the half-hour of kids programmes in the late afternoon started, so that it could 'warm up'. Likewise with the radio. I used to switch it on in the evening and turn off the main light, playing records by the green and orange glow of the great machine.

Our smallest took my solar-powered/wind-up radio a couple of weeks ago and put it in the bath to see if it would float.

It didn't, and neither would it work again afterwards. That's his Christmas present sorted out, then.

It almost made me wish for the days when it would have taken several large blokes to move a radio a few inches to the left or right, and you would have needed to dismantle the aerial and unplug speakers (themselves the size of small wardrobes) beforehand.

Our aforementioned two-year-old is quite capable of turning on computers, and is also adept at finding the button which makes parents (and our local librarians) shout when he presses it and switches them off, losing any unsaved information in the process. I was thirteen when pocket calculators first reached the shops, and my first pocket calculator was the size of a small box of chocolates, and certainly wouldn't have gone into any pocket I had ever possessed.

From those simpler times - when electrical items were almost always solidly encased in big heavy wooden boxes - for your listening amusement, is the third and final batch of hits from the UK top 40 of November 1968.

I'm struggling to track down some of the hits of December, but if I can find most of them I'll cobble together another compilation next month.

Part Three, tiddly-dee

Aphrodite's Child - Rain and Tears
Billie Davis - I Want You To Be My Baby
Betty Everett - It's In His Kiss
Johnny Nash - Hold Me Tight
Marmalade - Wait For Me Marianne
Diana Ross & The Supremes - Love Child
Foundations - Build Me Up Buttercup
Cream - Sunshine Of Your Love
Cliff Richard - Marianne
Gun - Race With The Devil
William Bell & Judy Clay - Private Number
The Band - The Weight
Cupids' Inspiration - My World
Four Tops - Yesterday's Dreams
Tom Jones - Help Yourself
Kassenatz Katz - Quick Joey Small

Part the Third - (removed by Rapidshare, others are still active though).

If you missed the others and can't face scrolling down to look for them, here they are.

Part The First

Part The Second

Tuesday, 18 November 2008

Part the Two-th, November 1968

Here's the second batch, thirteen more from November 1968. The first batch are below, just scroll down a bit, the third part will be along in a few days.

Tracks are:

Long John Baldry - Mexico
The Hollies - Listen To Me
The Tremeloes - My Little Lady
Jeannie C Riley - Harper Valley PTA
Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell - You're All I Need To Get By
The Scaffold - Lily The Pink
Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick and Tich - Wreck of the Antoinette
Love Affair - A Day Without Love
Locomotive - Rudi's In Love
Mason Williams - Classical Gas
Lulu - I'm A Tiger
Dave Clark Five - Red Balloon
Gary Puckett and the Union Gap - Lady Willpower

Weeeee'llllllll drink a drink a drink....

Monday, 17 November 2008

Tonight Matthew I'm going to be a Tiger...

I've spent a great deal of time this week trying to get computers to function properly. Anyone running Zone Alarm 8 and wondering why their PC is running like Steptoe and Son's carthorse would be well advised to uninstall it and go back to version 7 - your 'puter will probably start to function as you'd expect it to again.

Friday was Children in Need day in the UK - when the BBC is given over to celebs trying to get folk to part with their money in aid of a very good cause - helping poor kids around the world get a better life.

I don't have a problem with Children in Need, I don't have a problem with the cause, and I certainly don't have a problem with raising money for it.

What I do have a problem with is the guilt trip that goes with it. And all the other "dress up/dress down" fridays given over to being 'wacky' and 'zany' in the name of helping some or other good cause.

The guys in the Call Centre along the corridor from where I work would be ostracised if they failed to pay up £2.00 for the privilege of wearing something other than they'd usually wear to work, plus extra for cakes, plus more for guessing the name of the teddy bear, plus goodness knows what else.

Having had the trip laid on us by the kids, we had already coughed up about seven quid by breakfast time, so as I walked into the building wearing my shirt and work trousers just as on any other day I was more than ready to let anyone trying to lay guilt on me know that the time had come to announce to the world that enough is enough!

As they all know that I'm a stroppy so-and-so when roused, only one did. Perhaps they saw me coming, maybe they had all seen through it this year as well.

A friend at work told me that this year her children's school had banned raising money for charity by having dress-down/wearing your clothes back-to-front/painting your head with black and white stripes and dying your hair yellow so that you look like a belisha beacon days, and there appeared in my mind a glimmer of hope that the world is finally coming to its senses, although listening to the applause afforded John Redwood on Any Questions on Radio 4 tonight I think that it has not filtered through to all levels of society just yet.

Another problem I have is that these events focus attention so firmly on already very wealthy causes to the detriment of the equally deserving but less fashionable ones.

For seven years I devoted practically all of my spare time to a particular charity - a very well-known one, but for whom dressing up in silly clothes and being overtly jolly regardless of how one actually feels about it inside would be considered grossly inappropriate.

With the coming of Children in Need, this huge national charity whom everyone in the UK will have heard of saw its revenue drop dramatically with each Wogan-driven telethon. And if this particular charity was struggling as a direct result, then I have no idea how the small, really unfashionable charities were coping.

Having got that off my chest, I saw a couple of weeks back on another blog a list of singles from the US charts from November 1968, and practically gasped with the thought of what a great time that must have been to have been musically aware. This is not as far from the point I've been making above as you might be thinking here - in the days when I listened regularly to music radio, they were always celebrating 1967 (and rightly so, in my opinion), but - just as for my generation the couple of years after punk broke everything fragmented and turned back into the disco (Blondie) and prog (The Damned) and rockabilly (The Clash) it was supposed to do away with - 1968 might as well not have happened.

Being a Brit, I've used the UK charts, but I pulled out what I considered to be the over-familiar (Hey Jude, Joe Cocker's With A Little Help From My Friends, Magic Bus) and ones which I can't stand (Jose Feliciano's Light My Fire, Val Doonican, a couple of others) and present part one of All The Hits of November 1968 (apart from Eeny Meeny by the Showstoppers, which I haven't been able to track down anywhere - and indeed, don't think I've ever heard. If you have an mp3 of it which I could use to complete the set I'd appreciate a link!)

I'm splitting it into three approximately 45 minute parts, which will go up when I get round to it. I'm considering carrying it on with new entries, but haven't really thought that one through yet. If you like the sound of that then please leave a comment, it might spur me on.

The order is loosely based on popularity in terms of chart positions at the start, middle and end of the month. I've put it in a separate post so that if the music gets deleted my inane ramblings will remain.

Hope you enjoy it!

1968 - The First Dozen

Hugo Montenegro - The Good, The Bad and The Ugly
Barry Ryan - Eloise
The Isley Brothers - This Old Heart of Mine
Jimi Hendrix - All Along The Watchtower
Mary Hopkin - Those Were The Days
The Marbles - Only One Woman
Johnny Johnson and the Bandwagon - Breaking Down The Walls of Heartache
Leapy Lee - Little Arrows
The Turtles - Elenore
The Casuals - Jesamine
Nina Simone - Ain't Got No/I Got Life
Engelbert Humperdinck - Les Bicyclettes de Belsize

here it is pop pickers!

Thursday, 13 November 2008


I just found that blogger deleted one of my posts - it was the one I did about time. Shame, because I was really proud of that one. I guess that someone objected to one or more of the tracks I put on the compilation. I'm not going to get stressy about it, but I wished they had just asked me to take the music off, which I would have done straightaway. I suppose that it's easier for these people to wield a big stick than to email me or leave a comment asking to remove it.

In case anyone enjoys my ramblings, I'm putting the text back up here. You can build your own soundtrack to go with it.

It went thus...

Ever since I was quite young I have been aware of the light at this time of year, as though the rays of the Sun are absorbing the changing colour of the leaves and the World is turning a subtle shade of bronze.

I always used to feel quite sad when noticing it, but like many things which used to make me sad when young, time has brought a now quite cheerful acceptance - beside which, with three children to keep me on my toes I have less time for contemplation, and, indeed, seem to identify fewer legitimate reasons to be miserable.

This is not to say that I am not still angry about a lot of things - but things which I now tend to accept are farther from my control, now that I know I will never change the world by getting up on a stage and playing guitar fairly badly.

I've been getting quite internally agitated this week about the heaps of useless halloween tat cluttering up aisles and aisles every shop I've been into in preparation for next week's dustbin collection as it's all carted off to landfill, with the prospect of another two months trying to avoid feeling completely cynical about Christmas.

At work we receive, often several times a day, emails alerting us to 'news' about the organisation.

I was struck by the juxtaposition of the announcement of a Christmas Ball, at which guests would be greeted on their arrival by machines belching snow out into the streets, with a call for ideas as to how "we" can reduce energy consumption at work by 30%.

Not hiring machines to fill the street with snow would seem an obvious place to start, as would not printing full colour posters - redesigned each month so that the old ones can be thrown away - reminding us to switch lights (which are on automatic timers over which we have no control) off when not in use.

I would have been a great ARP warden during the war, wandering around making people turn lights off, and tellies off of standby, and closing doors... and... and...

Anyway, automatic timers brings me neatly back to the 'extra' hour we've had in bed - which, of course, is not a real 'extra' hour at all, but one merely borrowed from the spring - long enough ago for the Time Lords to think we will have forgotten about it.

When I was at school, I used to open up a newsagent's shop at the weekend.

I can clearly recall the moment of realisation on a crisp but not unpleasant Sunday morning roughly three decades ago that I had moved my clock an hour forward instead of back, and was opening the shop at half-past-three in the morning instead of the usual five-thirty.

I resolved at that moment not to make the same mistake again.

Putting together this compilation of songs on the theme of time brought home how strongly its passing is linked with regret and unhappiness, so I've gone for the upbeat as far as possible - and also put in some recordings of old clocks which I downloaded from somewhere some time ago for a reason I have now quite forgotten. I think it works quite well, but then I would say that wouldn't I!

It was intended to be 24 songs, running for precisely 60 minutes to the second. My other half told me there was a word for that beginning with "O" and ending with "bsessive", so I let it go at 25 tracks, over-running by about two-and-a-half minutes.

Hope you enjoyed it if you did download it - if I knew which track(s) had been objected to I could edit it and put it back, but that doesn't appear to be the way it works.

Sunday, 9 November 2008

All Together Now... There's a big black cloud comin' down...

I'm not feeling very talkative today, so will let the music do the chatting for me.

Here's another gem which is not so much forgotten as never made it to the bus stop on time in the first place - which is no reason not to fall in love with it in the time it takes to download and listen to it.

It seems to be completely unavailable at the moment, so if you've been waiting to hear this all your life, grab it while it's hot!

Tracks are:

Big Black Cloud
Threw It Away
Me and My Beretta
Nature Girl
Dim The Lights
John Cassavetes
Been There Done That
Way Out West

brrrng brrrng

Tuesday, 4 November 2008

A Hunka Hunka Burnin' Loaf...

In common with a lot of Brits my age, I don't really 'get' Hallowe'en. When I was young it came and went with not a lot of fuss, and by the time we got around to having kids ourselves it seemed to have become an extension of Christmas, with orange, green and red tat filling the shops from the moment the kids go back to school in September until the end of October, when it is immediately replaced by white, green and red tat for the next two months.

This year, though, I bought some sweets and resolved to dispense them to the local youth whether they liked it or not, but only managed to get rid of a single packet of Chewits, which was harder than I expected.

Two little girls and their Mum were passing, the former dressed as witches, when I got back from putting the car away.

I think that they grew suspicious when I asked them if they had been very naughty all year, as they ran away and hid around the corner by our front door and their Mum had to go and fetch them. We had no further young visitors, so we're working through the Chewits ourselves.

When I was small we used to make a big thing of Bonfire Night, celebrating Guy Fawkes almost managing to blow up the Houses of Parliament. It was only recently that I began to understand that what was actually being celebrated was the foiling of the Gunpowder Plot, and with it the persecution of Catholics at that time.

Even the fact that we were watching an effigy of a Catholic being burned didn't really register - any more than small children dressing up as witches consider, (depending on your world-view), the human story behind the persecution of Pagans in history, or the dreadful things that Wiccans have been accused of - quite regardless of how much, if any, veracity is contained within these claims.

We kids had always just assumed that Guy Fawkes was the hero.

Until a small boy grows old enough to realise quite what might have happened if the plot had actually succeeded, the blowing up of a huge building a la James Bond or The Towering Inferno seems very, very cool indeed.

Every year Mum would help my sisters and I make a Guy by stuffing a set of my father's worn-out work clothes with scrumpled newspapers, drawing a face on an old pillow-case with felt pen and then sewing all the bits together.

The three of us children would then put the Guy in a wheelbarrow and push him around the town, demanding a "penny for the Guy" with menaces. One year I found quite a large handbell which I rang enthusiastically as we went on our way, and all but Mrs King at number 27 came out and gave us money to get us to go away.

On the evening of the 5th of November we would all troop out into the garden and watch my Dad letting off a pretty good selection of fireworks. We always looked forward to a Catherine Wheel setting fire to the fence, followed or preceded according to whichever fancy had taken him that year, by the milk-bottle containing one of the rockets falling over and everyone wondering where it would go.

And we always had a fantastic bonfire.

Dad was a carpenter and every year it was my job to go with him up to the yard where he worked and gather up old doors and window frames from a big pile in an outdoors corner, taking them home to make an extremely large tent-shaped bonfire in the back garden which would scorch the grass to the extent that it would take a whole year for it to grow back - to my Mother's perpetual annoyance.

The Guy would sit on top, Dad or I would light it, and we'd all watch in wonder as the whole lot went up.

About the time I became a teenager, my friends and I discovered that the local sports shop sold rook-scarers so that farmers could add sound effects to their scarecrows - really, really loud bangers on a rope - which were much better than the little efforts you could buy from the newsagent or toy shop. A string of them hidden in the middle of the bonfire took everybody by surprise - for a couple of years at least.

That may have been in the days before bonfires were regularly frisked for hedgehogs just before they were lit, but no hedgehog would have burned in ours after the second time we'd pulled that one, as it would have been found while the pyre was being frisked for stray explosives.

I miss our old family firework parties, although we generally take the children to a large display nearby - and also miss the days when November 5th was the only time when anyone in England let off fireworks. These days it seems to be done at the drop of a hat - which is all very jolly, but a bit like Christmas happening at Easter, the Town Show, the Queen's birthday, and a dozen other times besides all through the year.

Anyway, I thought I'd recall those more innocent times by putting together a compilation on a fire theme. It kept me quiet for a while, and I hope that you enjoy it.

Tracks are:

1 The Rolling Stones - Play With Fire
2 Jimi Hendrix - Burning of the Midnight Lamp
3 The Fall - Fiery Jack
4 The Sweet - Hell Raiser
5 The Doors - Light My Fire
6 Johnny Cash - Ring of Fire
7 Jerry Lee Lewis - Great Balls of Fire
8 Elvis Presley - Burning Love
9 The Tramps - Disco Inferno (Burn Baby Burn)
10 Hudson Ford - Burn Baby Burn
11 Eno - Baby's on Fire
12 Roxy Music - Both Ends Burning
13 Hayseed Dixie - Smoke on the Water
14 Fire Engine Sirens in Traffic
15 The Move - Fire Brigade
16 Thirteenth Floor Elevators - Fire Engine
17 Theme from Fireman Sam
18 Lloyd Cole and the Commotions - Forest Fire

I'm Just a Burnin' Guy...

Dubya, Dubya Wherefore Art Thou?

Wow! Over 2,500 visitors, and most of them not me hitting the refresh button! Thank you!

As a Brit, and thereby a citizen of the rest of the World which isn't America, I'm not really qualified to hold an opinion, but I really hope that Obama wins tonight - not least because I would love to see the Home of the Free do something which I do not believe that Britain is anywhere near ready to do in electing a non-white leader.

Even though the polls suggest a victory, I've seen enough elections here in which the polls have been some way out - and a couple of times completely wrong - to think that McCain might swing it.

Either way, at least neither of them are Dubya.

I just wanted to get that off my chest, I've got a very jolly compilation to post later, which I'll do after putting the kids to bed.