Archive for February, 2009

Dress Down Saturday

28/02/2009

The last day of February and a gorgeous Spring day.  A delight to have the light and warmth of the sun returning after the darkness of the Winter.  The second of the Australian bands from the 80’s, the Triffids, (wiki) from Perth also largely have sunshine running through them.  I first came across them in the Summer of 1986 when I found their second album, ‘Born Sandy Devotional’.  It was in some respects an idyllic Summer having just graduated, not having to get up too early, walking to work in a pub at lunchtime then enjoying the sunshine by the River Thames in the afternoon and then out with friends in the evening.  I fell in love and we shared these and other things, including a strong love of similar music, theatre, books and things happening at the time.  One of my favourite songs off the album was ‘Stolen Property’.  Here is a version of it from the TV programme, the Tube:

The next album Calenture received a big production and push from new label, Island.  Here’s the video for ‘Bury me deep in love’:

There would only be one more album ‘The Black Swan’ before they broke up in 1989.  Unfortuantely the lead singer and main mover, David McComb, died in 1999 from a heart transplant in 1996 that did not fully take and the toll the use of heroin had upon him, according to the coroner.  The track from the first album I heard that had the biggest impact upon me was ‘Wide Open Road’.  At the time it drew pictures in my head of the sunshine, big space, big sky and a long road off into the distance that I would find in Australia.  Well it took nearly ten years before I went and found it and it was on subsequent visits that I spent time driving along roads up or down the coast and experieinced what I had felt listening to this song:

The working life

27/02/2009

Last night I went to see the Wrestler and really enjoyed it.  A slice of trailer park life with people whose past is behind them and are very atomised.  Great performances from both Mickey Rourke and Marisa Tournei and I can see why it was nominated for so many Oscars.  The film really showed what I understand life to be like for ordinary white working-class Americans and I think its like this for some people thanks to things I’ve read in the past on many blogs.  Yeah I know that it is possible to be anything you want on a blog but I think it is the sheer number which has given me the confidence to write this.  It’s not just one.  Also my own only getting to know a working class American.  It started when a young man came to see the MP I worked for asking for help, his mother was in jail in America and could we help free her?  Also he was looking after his brother who had special needs.  So the American Embassy in London, and Social Services in the town, were contacted and information was sought.  Before too long the son returned but this time with his diminutive English mother.  She had been released and returned home.  The story was that she met an American man and married him, then followed him to America with her two sons, one with special needs.  He was a trucker and they had spent time crossing America whilst he worked in his truck.  For some reason he got stopped and they all got taken in.  Despite having visas to enter the US he and she were arrested for smuggling illegal aliens and the two sons were deported back to the UK.  She, remember a diminutive English woman, was put in an American jail.  She said she had told the other inmates she was inside for trafficking women for prostitution so they left her alone.  Then one day she gets contacted by the staff of the Governor of  the jail and told the FBI are on the case and almost immediately she is released and sent back to the UK.  Her husband has talked his way out of custody and, despite not having any papers, over the border to Canada.  She says she is grateful for everything done so far to help release her but can we help get her husband back to the UK.  Well, some letters and some phone calls later and we have the whole family come to visit thank the MP for all the work that has reunited their family.  Before too long I saw the husband working stacking shelves in the local supermarket, it was clear he was going to work at any job necessary to support his family.  they came to see the MP some more to help get proper support for their son with special needs, for help with problems with their landlord etc.  Like you would expect from a typical American he had a lawyer on the case as well.  I respected the way he did not bemoan his lot but got on and worked to support his family and was not afraid to fight to get what they thought they were entitled to.  Like the film there is only one way to end (I know same person different song):

From Gardens where we feel secure

26/02/2009

An article in today’s Times about the growth in allotments set me thinking.  p1000277Previously when I lived for  a few years in a house with a garden, I had no time to do anything with it, even cutting the grass got to be too much at times and the neighbours were not happy.  In all honesty I’m not much of a one for ‘green fingers’. So when I moved here I did not think at all about any form of gardening, especially as we live in a first floor flat.p1000273 Then last year I bought JTO some window boxes for her birthday as she always had been so much more of a gardener and had grown some veg in our garden when we had one and grown things on our balcony when we had one of those.  Then in the summer last year whilst exploring Strasbourg in the area where I live I found a wonderful place to escape the heatp1000275, the former ramparts of the  city’s defences.  The river running through it and the tree gave a shade and a cool.  I loved also all the allotments, or Jardins Familiauxas they’re called here.(So much better than the allotment with the impression that its something your kindly being allowed to have.)  The sites are also better than I remember the English ones, a bigger size and each one with a shed and water supply and each is fenced off from the other and from people.  I also saw people using them like gardens with chairs and tables, friends joining them for a drink etc.  The entrance to the site I particularly like, Fosse des Remparts, can be seen in the first photograph together with a municipal shed – people do add awnings and other extensions to them if they want.  Well now I have an application in for one and the division of work will be the same as in the article.  The title is from this 1980’s album I enjoyed greatly at the time.

Manchester United ruined my life

On the eve of, probably, our most important European games for some time it was interesting to read this list in the Times of the 50 greatest players for Manchester City.  It shows the highs and lows of the more than fohnmeprghdty years I have been following them with some players part of cup, league and European honour winning teams and others who shone during the dark days of our demise, drop down to and return from what was then the English Third Division.  Progress tonight into the last sixteen of the UEFA Cup will help banish the memories of the taunts from people that City stood for Conference in two years.  The title of this piece comes from this book about the experience of a fellow Manchester City fan.

Every girls dream….

….to be a mermaid, apparently.  There are no few men with fantasies about mermaids, I’m told.  Well, here’s a woman in New Zealand who had both legs amputated who had a nice bunch of people make it possible to be a mermaid.

Downfall of Grammar

I’ve wondered at the imagination of the people who have adapted scenes from the film Downfall to all sorts of uses.  One particular scene seems to have been used a lot with Hitler in his bunker with senior officers, then kicks most out and there is the scene inside and reactions outside.  It even got me to buy the film itself.  Well here’s a version that appealed to the English teacher in me:

Strasbourg swings to the left?

25/02/2009

p10201401Nope, no elections or polls that I know of.  On my way to work through the centre of the city I have passed a shop featuring the picture of Che Guevara pictured on the left (appropriately) of this picture.  So, what?  This red t-shirt with a black head of Che wearing a black beret has been around for years.  Look closer, at the detail, this one has a space under Che’s face containing something.  You can see the detail better in the picture below, Che Guevars’heim.  What?  That’s not right.  Oh yes it is.  The history of Alsace, having been French and German and speaking what is the biggest regional language in France – that has also been described to me as a dialect of Germanp1020144 – it means that Che’s name has been Alsacianised.  There are many place names in Strasbourg and Alsace which end with heim, Entzheim, Holtzheim, Oberschaeffolsheim, Eckbolsheim, Hoenheim to name a few in Strasbourg and Molsheim, Nordheim, Furdenheim, and Marlenheim to name a few local to Strasbourg in Alsace.  This is so much so that a visitor, after passing over the Rhine and entering France, legitimately asked when we would be in France as all the signs we passed read as German.  So, if the international icon of the left did not die at all in Bolivia but, as has been suggested by this t-shirt, has become a resident of Alsace and, to cover his tracks, adopted anp1020147 Alsace version of his name.  Ah I hear you say, this is just a t-shirt, what proof is there that Che did not die and moved to Alsace?  Aha, I reply.  If you were a well known revolutionary hiding out in France’s Easternmost Region and Departement you’d want some of your friends around you so you could go out, have a beer or local wine, some flamekeuche or chourcroute and talk about the old times in Cuba etc, wouldn’t you.  Well, just around the corner from the shop selling the t-shirt is the above, ‘Castro Cordonnerie‘.  I’ll be keeping an eye out in the local bars for Che and Castro talking about past revolutionary times, eating their local food and drinking their local brews.

School’s out

p1020135This week and next week are holidays for school children in France.  The break is for families to go skiing and has to be for two weeks so that people from the South of France have time to get to the ski slopes and get in some decent skiing before they have to return to the South of France.  As far as I can work out most other Europeanp1020138 countries which have a February break do so for a week rather than for two weeks.  Above you see some of the children who have not gone skiing celebrating Madi Gras on Place Broglie here in Strasbourg yesterday in front of the Opera National du Rhin, which has a roundabout in front of it.  The second picture shows the same group with an escort from the Police Municipal, who travel around by bike and always seem to be in groups of four.  There’s only one way to end this post, look out for the epee:

Too referential for one day

24/02/2009

To try and up the intellectual content of this site I will copy a short book review I posted on my Facebook site for “The Second Plane, September 11: Terror and Boredoom” by Martin Amis.  For me a very good read and “An interesting development of his thoughts from the aftermath of 11 September to understanding the nihilist death wish that is islamism and why like the other similar remnants of the 20th century, fascism and soviet communism, it has to consigned to the dustbin of history.”  It is more balanced than it is credited with in a lot of reviews I have seen but to be congratulated for not following the leftist herd of seeking balance between a nihilist death cult like Al-quaeda and the Worlds largest democracy, the USA and as another review on Facebook said, “acts as welcome panacea to self-conscious Guardian editorials and the rabid spittle of the British tabloid press”.  Quoting my own Facebook book review, getting self-referential enough to disappear up my own orifice.

Taking the heat

p1010768In a previous post where I was referential about an already self-referential post I talked about developments in something I noticed when the weather thawed. (If I hesitate a guess at referentially referring to a self-referentially referring post could I be right?  Enough referring Ed.)  Well, wait no longer as there have been further developments, cue fanfare.  On my way past site of the p1020131original hole a couple of days ago I noticed that a plate had been welded over the hole, preventing more steam from coming up from it.  Surely, it cannot be long now before the hole is filled in and cleared up and, apart from the freshly laid tarmac, no-one would ever know that there had been a problem here. (Apart from this electronic record on the cyberweb thingy.)  As you can also see from the sign, that was only recently attached to the fence, p10201321my hunch about the source of the steam, a waste pipe from the laundry of the nearby building, was way off the mark .  It seemingly instead being from a community energy scheme run by Strasbourg energie.  Readers will be pleased to learn that I checked on the progress of the holes on the other side of the road and, as can be seen from this picture, another one has also been welded shut and has p1020133stopped issuing steam whilst the other, which was last pictured featuring men working in it (I’m afraid you will have to forgoe the immediate excitement and click here to see that picture)  is still isuing steam as can be seen above, and in close-up with the hole in the pipe, right.  I’m sure it won’t be too long before this too has a piece welded to it and the excitement of the steam in Strasbourg comes to an end.

Pancake day

To cope with all the excitement of the above it’s off out tonight to celebrate an English tradition, Shrove Tuesday with a couple of friends at a Creperie. (also here for the non-French speaking.)  Although I will be eating pancakes it will not be like the one’s mother used to make but traditional Breton ones stuffed for a main course and then one with ice-cream and chocolate for desert washed down with some traditional Cidre Bretagne, which even has its own museum.

Pearl of the Balkans II

22/02/2009

When I finished my last piece about the visit to Belgrade we were heading for lunch.p1020032 We had this at Prolece (pictured below) which is described by ‘Belgrade in Your Pocket‘ as “A restaurant known for its variety of ‘home-cooked’ meals and the grilled meats.  In spite of the unseemly interior (which the regulars have become quite fond of), discoloured cutlery, and the occasional patched tablecloth, Belgraders feel very much at home here.  This spot attracts a wide variety of customers – young couples in love, old folks reading the paper, businessmen in suits, pennyless students sharing a portion – all united by their mutual craving for a warm ‘home-cooked’ meal.  No music.”  There were a variety of people present – watching them was interesting – and the foodp1020036 was very good but we didn’t think the interior was unseemly (decide for your- self from the picture right), our cutlery wasn’t discoloured and our tablecloth wasn’t patched.  Plus the service was excelent and the food was not too expensive.  Definately a place to head for if you go to Belgrade.   After thawing out in the restaurant it was back out and on to the fortressp1020040 on the hill towering over the confluence of the Sava and the Danube. (picture left shows a statue in front of the castle to thank the French for their support in the First World War.)  The fortres was started by the Romans and centuries of sieges, battles and conquests have seen it razed to the ground, rebuilt and restructured.  I had known there was a military museum at the fortress but was surprised on walking a bit further to find tanks and guns on display in the lead up to the fortress. (example below) We went in and p1020049saw the ramparts and gates as well as the symbol of Belgrade, a statue Pobednik (The Victor) and a memorial but missed the Roman well, whose waters claimed many lives.  We did see the “stunning views over the rivers…”, well as much as we could in the snow.  After the fortress we walked back down the Knez Mihailova Street, the main promenade ans shopping centre, named after one of the more enlightened rulers of Serbia who was assinated in the park between the street and fortress in 1868.  A stop in a wifi enabled cafe and we returned to our hostel, on the way passing the Zeleni venac market.  In the evening we decided to go out to eat p1020078for Valentines night as we would be travelling the next night and not able to do so.  We went to ‘Na cosku’, described by ‘Belgrade in Your Pocket‘ as ” An exquisite restaurant, known not only for its excellent food, but also for its first-rate serice and enjoyable ambiance…..the menu…. features carefully selected Mediteranean specialities.”  It was very good, the food was wonderful, the service excellent and it all came to €35 with a very good bottle of Serbian wine.  Somewhere else to head for if you are in Belgrade.  The next morning it was still snowing but, by the time we had breakfast in the next door restaurant it had stoppedp1020103 so we went to the information centre at the Station to find the time of the bus to the airport and then, having time left, went back to the wifi cafe we went to the previous day and had coffee and cakes before leaving to get on the bus to the airport.  An enjoyable visit to a European capital we will be going back to with great restaurants, friendly, welcoming people and sights we haven’t seen all of.

Black Sheep Boy

21/02/2009

On inspiration from JTO I keep a notebook and jot down thoughts, inspirations, quotes I like or think might be of use in the future.  I also write down books, dvds and films I might like to add to my Yahoo wish list.  It’s a kind of pre-sift for the wish list.  In my notebook was Tim Hardin.  I do not now remember why I wanted something by him, I’ve forgotten the inspiration for the note.  However, I checked him out on Amazon and found that a couple of tracks of his, an old favourite Scott Walker, had covered, ‘Black Sheep Boy’ and ‘Lady came from Baltimore’.  So a CD of Tim Hardin was added to my monthly book, CD and dvd purchase, Mr Amazon came round on his bike this morning, and it’s what I’m listening to now, and the inspiration for the heading of this post.  ‘Lady came from Baltimore’ has also been something of an earworm this week, as well as, or because of, listening to it so much I’ve had it going round my head too.  One for the melancholia section of the CD collection……

A fairly quite week since the return from Belgrade, working, following the third test and England almost beating the West Indies but not, Manchester City getting a result in Copenhagen that would have been OK when considering it before the game but, because the lead was lost twice – and the last time was in the last few minutes, is left as could have been better.  Then the cap was well and truly put on it last night in the damp cold at la Meinau – despite being 5 C the damp made it worse than times we’ve been there when it was only just above 0 C – when after 1 min 25 seconds le Racing were behind to what their website calls their bête noire, Sedan.  Despite equalising they went in 2-1 down at half-time and lost 3-1.  They had the chances but seemed not to have the luck.  It’s not good when morale in the team seems so poor to have things go so badly wrong for you at home against the team who put you out of the cup.

Dress down Saturday

After missing for a couple of weeks it’s back.  After three times featuring bands from Manchester it’s to the other side of the World I turn now.  There were times in the 1980’s when I was planning to go to Australia but I never made it then.  I did take a close interest in Australian films which were starting to be noticed more, and there were a number of good ones, with seasons of them on TV with films going back to the sixties.  I particularly noticed the work of David Williamson, especially Don’s Party and The Club.  At the time there were also a number of bands coming out of Australia. One of my biggest favourites were the Go-Betweens who I was lucky enough to see supporting Aztec Camera at the Royal Court in Liverpool.(14th October 1984 according to the website and was then more run-down music venue than the theatre it seems to be now.)  After hearing them on the radio the first album of their I got was ‘Before Hollywood’ on which were a number of favourites including, ‘Cattle and Cane’:

The quality is not brilliant but the song, autobiographical for Grant McLennan about his growing up in Queensland, was named one of the top ten Australian songs.  The next album, ‘Spring Hill Fair included, ‘Part Company’:


The lines, ‘What will I miss? Her cruelty, her unfaithfulness, her fun, her love, her kiss,’ had a profound impact upon me highlighting that when things end in a relationship it is OK to admit that, as well as the things which went wrong and caused the end, there were things in the relationship which were good and to be celebrated.  A single from the next album, ‘Liberty Belle and The Black Diamond Express’ and such a jaunty uplifting track is Spring Rain:

The next album had more of a production but here is another uplifting song, ‘Bye, Bye Pride’:

Their last album before breaking up was ’16 Lovers Lane’ and featured the wonderful, ‘Was there anything I Could Do?’:

The band got back together in the late 90’s and recorded a couple more albums before tragically one half of the song writing duo and powers in the band, Grant McLennan died in his sleep in 2006 at 48.  Here is the obituary from Rolling Stone.




Pearl of the Balkans?

13/02/2009

I woke up this morning to the sound of shunting trains in a hostel for railway workers in Belgrade that now also acts as a hotel.  Things have started slowly here but are getting going.  We left very early yesterday to get the train to Stuttgart from Kehl.  The journey through southern Germany was almost fairytale like with the scenery covered in snow.  It wasn’t so great when we got to the airport as the snow held everything up for two hours.  Then we got to Belgrade and got the bus in to the city from the airport.  We then had a very miserable two hours in the cold, wet and snow trying to find our hotel.  We discovered that the address given both by the agency we booked through and by expedia on google searches was actually the address of the p10109773Railway Ministry (JTO pictured with a train outside the Ministry) and that by using common sense and the description of the place we found it.(Picture of the hotel behind the red and white carriage in the picture, taken from the end of a platform of the station, more than half a kilometre in a direction at a right angle to the Ministry.)  Not before we had spent longer than we wanted walking around the area of the Railway Ministry.  After we had found the hotel we did some shopping for some toiletries and then went out to the restaurant next door where we had chicken fillet and chips.p1020086 It was well cooked simple fare but using lots of fresh ingredients.  Afterwards we had a drink in the hotel bar with some of the railway workers staying there too.  This morning the shunting of the trains in the yard woke us a few times and, after a search for a cash-point machine,  we had a great breakfast in a soviet style restaurant before seeing the parliament building, Albania building and we are now in Republic Square before heading off to find lunch and see the fortress.  The people are friendly and good looking but p1010993Belgrade needs a lot of work doing to it, including some of the buildings where there is evidence of the effectiveness of the taxes I paid on munitions that were used to stop that genocidal nutter, Milosovic.(Picture right showing two buildings with serious bomb damage.)

A place called home

11/02/2009

On my previous site I had written a piece about a new place becoming home.  I don’t mean a new flat or house as they become home when you move in, disperse you possessions around it and for the fact it is the place you have chosen to be and the people you share it with are the people you want to be with.   No, I’m talking about the place that is home, the village, hamlet, town or city.

Obviously, as the saying goes, home is where the heart is, where the person or people you most care about are, where you want to be, where you are happiest, where you have chosen to be.    This was an assumption I left out of the last post.  The core  of what defines home.  After this I believe there are then layers which build upon this centre and cement the feeling of a place being you home.  I am currently reading the memior of Guenter Grass, ‘Peeling the Onion’ where he peels back layer after layer of the past, like you can peel back layer after layer of an onion.  I know an onion doesn’t really have a centre but a place becoming home is like layer after layer being added upon the centre above.  In the previous post I then talked about milestones which can add layer upon layer cementing a place to be home.  Getting to know people, having a party and people coming, being invited to and going to someone else’s party, leaving to go elsewhere and coming back, having family or friends join you and showing them around the place you now live; just bumping into a friend whilst walking around, then bumping into one  and going for a drink, spending Christmas or other special time in the place, following teams from the new place.  This is my experience as a first-time ex-pat. Do others agree/disagree?

The reason for this philosophical treatise is that today I had another layer added.  Seeking to get a jacket and a couple of shirts dry-cleaned I went to our normal dry-cleaners to find that it was closed and the proprietor had died.  It wasn’t that we were great friends or anything, but we’d chat about football, he had suggested I might like to help his son with some English, he was always cheery and friendly, even when my French meant there were difficulties communicating.  So he was a friendly acquaintance, someone who made the neighbourhood a better place and now he’s gone.  Another layer, Strasbourg more of a home, the death of an acquaintance.

Normblog has a feature on a Friday where he interviews a blogger.  The last one had included amongst his favourite music a track from the ‘Soul Mining’ album by The The.  It reminded me that I hadn’t listened to it for a long time and I got it out again and have been listening to it again.  It was something I played a lot on journeys between my home in Liverpool when I was a student there and my parent’s home, when visiting them for holidays.  It has strong links with sitting in a train and watching the English countryside pass by.  Here’s ‘This is the day’:

Dead Air

07/02/2009

The broadcast term used when something goes wrong and there is silence.  It is always because something has gone wrong – broadcasting is about filling up the airtime.  Here the silence was not because of something going wrong.  Last weekend was filled with preparations for a visit in the week and the annual meeting of the Strasbourg Strollers, the local cricket team.  I saw the film, Revolution Road and would say don’t bother.  On Sunday a cold started and then very busy working Monday and Tuesday before collecting our guests, JTO‘s son and partner, from the airport at Baden on Tuesday evening.  Wednesday was spent visiting villages and the ‘Route du vin‘ in Alsace and seeing something of the Vosges.    Thursday French Class then lunch and a walk around Strasbourg before going back to work.  Friday was work again before lunch and then a tour of Strasbourg by boat before our guests packed, some traditional Alsacian food before they left on the bus back to Baden.  After a long week and still fighting a cold I did not fancy standing in the cold to see le Racing but I was pleased to see they won, especially after going two down in the first half.  Today is for taking it easy, beating the cold, having a look at things in the sales and then a party at a friends house.  The picture is of me in traditional Alsacian dress from the walk around Strasbourg on Thursday.

p1010960

Dress down Saturday

After an absence for a couple of weeks dds returns with a third Manchester band from the eighties, James.  I had head about the band and knew about the strong support they had from the Smiths, particularly Morrissey and I was given a record featuring their first two ep’s by a friend which got me hooked.  There is nothing available on YouTube from ‘Hymn From a Village’ unfortunately.  One of their biggest songs and a big favourite is Laid.  Unfortunately the video for it here is not the best:

A much better video featuring the wonderful Keeley Hawes is for “She’s a Star”:

Their largest hit, in various guises was ‘Sit Down’ and here is the original video from Rough Trade:

Like many bands from the period, after breaking up, they are now back together and touring again.  Last year saw the release of a new album, ‘Hey Ma’


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