Archive for May, 2009

The return of Dress Down Saturday

30/05/2009

It’s been two months since the last DDS, as a reminder it is somewhere for me to post about bands I thought were wonderful from the 1980’s to argue that there was great music being made in the decade, despite the fashions, despite the hair and despite the politics.  Dress Down Saturday?  But people don’t work Saturdays so how could people be allowed to dress more casually then?  Oh yes they do, up to a third of the working population work shifts which include nights and weekends.  As society shifts and things are always open and always available then people have to work at nights and at weekends.  So I celebrate the contribution of our fellow chaps working to provide us leisure.  Doing it with music via a feature called DDS is something I was inspired by the fantastic Harry’s Place, where they often had a Dress Down Friday, which usually featured a YouTube clip of a great song from the 1970’s.  It’s back.

I last posted about two of The Crucial Three, Julian Cope and Ian McCulloch who went onto other things as Teardrop Explodes and Echo and the Bunnymen respectively before solo careers, reforming in the case of the Bunnymen etc.  So, that’s two but to have a The Crucial Three another person is needed, Pete Wylie.  I first heard of him via Wah! Heat with the excellent single ‘Seven Minutes to Midnight’ on the Peel show and the album ‘Nah = Poo! – The Art of Bluff’ which a very good friend bought me as a present.  Wah! hit big with “The Story of the Blues” which got to No. 3 in the charts:

By now I’d moved to Liverpool and the music of Wah! was so much of the place and his next hit in 1984, Come Back, was made single of the year by John Peel:

The third of his great hits of the 80’s was in 1986 and came as Pete Wylie and was Sinful, I just love filming it in the former swimming baths:

and the cartwheeling nuns are good value.  Pete had a serious accident in Liverpool in 1991 and took a while recuperating.  He has continued recording and releasing music and featured in the show to launch Liverpool’s Year as City of Culture, including Heart as big as Liverpool:

Talking of football I’m off to watch the Cup Final.

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Maidenhead so much to answer for

29/05/2009

For some reason this morning I woke thinking of Maidenhead.  I can think of no coherent reason why.  Perhaps it is something to do with the drugs?  My only connections with the place are:

  • that it was where my dentist was located during the nineteen years before I left home,
  • where both my guitar teachers taught me the instrument to not much lasting gain,
  • where I had extra maths lessons to similar results – I failed Maths A Level twice, the first time getting a result after two years teaching worse that I had in my O level exam the two years before, and
  • where I used to accompany my mother on weekly shopping expeditions as a teenager after my music lessons.

I was born in a place called Twyford which is a village between Maidenhead and Reading.  Apart from the items mentioned above it was mainly to Reading that we looked for most things not available in a village, apart from Henley for one or two, Maidenhead came third.  Whilst lying in bed I was reminded of the contribution of Maidenhead to modern literature, namely the fact that two of its offspring are those 1990’s products of the Nick Hornby and John O’Farrell.

In his breakthrough book, ‘Fever Pitch‘ about being an Arsenal fan Nick Hornby talks about the time Arsenal played Reading, at that time a team normally in the Fourth or, if they were good Third, Division and for whom too often the football season usually finished in September.  Reading were his local team, as they were mine, and were the team he should really support.  At that time it was usual at my school to follow Reading but to have a First Division team you supported, usually one of the London ones, for me it was Manchester City.  Nick Hornby got talking to a family supporting Reading and desperate to be seen as the convincing Arsenal fan talked in a fake cockney accent about his Arsenal experiences, exaggerated the couple of school toughs into stories about life in the inner city schools and generally had the family convinced of him being a Londoner until asked they where he came from and admitted it was Maidenhead.  The story was told by Nick Hornby to support his view that the white south of England middle-class Englishman and Englishwoman would rather belong to any other community in the World.  For him it was North London.  I spent ages playing up the Lancastrian roots of my family, something which, those of whom could, most had escaped at the first opportunity, to the South, to Canada or Australia which led me later to talk of my family as the ‘Tattersall diaspora’.  Two others I think of, off the top of my head, one pretended to be Scottish rather than from a small village in Essex or another highlighted being a celt rather than from London.  Nick Hornby went to the local Boys Grammar School.

It was the same school that John O’Farrell started at, at the same time that I started my secondary school life.  It could be another reason to pour scorn upon Margaret Thatcher that, but for her I could have been a contemporary at school of John O’Farrell.  When we started secondary school Berkshire was in the second year of conversion to comprehensive education and we both went to our local schools.  If grammar schools had remained and we both passed the 11+ we would both have started at Desborough School.  Now, we might have hated each other, might have been best of mates but we never got the chance to find out because Margaret Thatcher, as Secretary of State for Education in the government of Edward Heath, approved proposals by Education Authorities to convert more schools to comprehensive from grammar than any Labour Education Secretary.  Anyway, we never went to the same school  He went to Desborough comprehensive school and I went to Piggott comprehensive school in Wargrave.  One of the reasons why I found ‘Things can only get better‘ difficult to read was that whilst most people could laugh at the ludicrous things which happened on the left in the 1980’s like people considering it capitalist to laugh so we all had to be miserabilist, I lived through it too and know it was only too true amongst the true believers.  It was too painful to read how ridiculous people around me had behaved, and sometimes how ridiculously I had behaved.  I believe thankfully to have grown since then.  Unfortunately too many people I left in the Labour Party in UK have not grown from the position and thinking of the 1980’s, although thankfully not too many of them remain in positions of influence any longer.

*NB. The title comes from the lyrics of the Smiths song, ‘Suffer little Children‘ from their eponymously titled first album, ‘Oh Manchester so much to answer for.’  One of the better things to come out of the 1980’s as I’ve already highlighted here.

The drugs do work

28/05/2009

A very bad night on Monday, slept very fitfully because of pains down my left arm.  I had no recall of doing anything to cause the pain.  This was followed by the pain growing whilst working during the day until it got so bad that when I got home I put an ankle support over my elbow providing support to where the worst pain had been during the afternoon, just below the elbow in the muscles.  It didn’t stop it being difficult to bend down to get something from the fridge even if I used my other arm, the bending put strain on the muscle.  A worse night followed, it was not possible to get comfortable at all and I slept fitfully again but, whatever rest my arm had been able to get was beneficial.  In the shower I found the main site of the pain was in the upper arm muscle and I couldn’t use it to do anything below my waist or above my shoulders.  It reminded me of the Tommy Cooper joke;

“Doctor I’m in pain when I try to lift my arm higher than my shoulder.”

“Don’t do it then.”

After work on Wednesday I was able to get a bit of rest before going to see the doctor, we are lucky enough to have them on the ground floor of the building I live in – although at the end of the week they are moving a couple of streets away.  She couldn’t find what could have caused the pain either but gave me some pain killers and something to tackle the inflammation of my upper arm muscle which seems to be the seat of the pain.  Well the pain killers stopped the pain and I slept well last night for the first time this week and the pain in my muscle has diminished to the extent I don’t feel it any more.  I’m sorry the Verve, the drugs do work.

Historical note.  The album featuring the above song together with Bitter Sweet Symphony came out at the beginning of the same week as the Labour Party conference of 1997.  The first one I went to when the party was the Government, the first one I went to working for a Member of Parliament.  What a time to be alive, the hope and joy after eighteen years of opposition.  The party conference that was a celebration of what had been achieved.  Together with a number of people from the Reading party we hired a house for the week and the bedroom I was in had a stereo next to the bed.  I went out and bought the CD first thing on the Monday of conference.  The album, but particularly Bitter Sweet Symphony, always brings back memories of waking to another beautiful blue sun-filled sky, as they all were in 1997, and pressing play and the intro of Bitter Sweet Symphony starting, looking up at the sunlit blue sky feeling happy at the day that to be, at the Labour Party conference in Brighton.  Party conference was never the same after that, especially as the next one was in Blackpool.

Make the bridge

26/05/2009

Back in March I posted about the start of the work on the new tramline p1020195which will provide ground level access to the station.  It necessitated closing a main route out of the main island in the centre of the city and diverting traffic.  I showed the picture to the left with the diggers starting to destroy the existing bridge.  Well they worked hard for some time, the river was blocked and the level of it was increased so that the floats onto which the parts of the bridge were dropped P1030106would not sink under the weight of the bits of bridge.  The bits of the old bridge were taken away in trucks and for about the last month work has been going on to build up the island in the centre of the river and to create strong banks on either side, as can be seen in the photo on the right.  This work has now been completed and starting this week the road on either side of the river has been closed at night as the preformed pieces of P1030346the bridge are brought in and installed.  It’s bridge building the IKEA way with the 70 pieces being manufactured in Mulhouse and brought on the back of trucks and installed overnight to minimise the nuisance caused to anyone.  I imagine people living nearby and opposite don’t agree that nuisance has been minimised but as the whole thing will only take two weeks I guess it’s something they can put up with.  Walking past on the way to work this morning progress had clearly been made from the picture above but I did not have my camera so I’ll take one tomorrow to show the progress and add it as an update to this piece.

*The headline comes from the fact that in France public holidays are taken on the day they occur rather than the nearest Monday as in other places like in the UK.  If a holiday happens to be on a Thursday you ‘faire le pont’ (make the bridge) by having Friday off to get a nice long weekend for the use of one days holiday.(Or if you’re lucky your workplace closes anyway and you get an additional holiday.)

Planes, trains and autobuses

22/05/2009

The bus ride from Skopje to Pristina saw us ride over some mountains to leave one conurbation on a plain surrounded by hills/mountains for another – so that’s why the border was in the mountains. As JTO said the countryside was memorable from the TV stories of 1999 and people leaving Kosova for Macedonia. We arrived at the Pristina bus station to get a cab to our hotel, Begolli, found through the wonderful ‘in your pocket‘ guides, passing a big picture of Bill Clinton on the boulevard sharing his name. Bags unpacked and for only the second consecutive day, and time in my life, I heard the 13:00 call to prayer from a nearby mosque. We walked from the busy narrow streets teeming with people selling things to wider car thronged streets into the centre of Pristina before finding Qamil Hoxha street where there is “Arguably the best restaurant in Pristina”, Pishat and the food and service were excellent. On the way back to the hotel we looked around a big statue of the Albanian hero Skanderberg, the Parliament and a number of mosques. In the evening we spent time on the bustling Fehmi Agani where you would not know you were in one of Europe’s Muslim countries. We ate at Basilico and then had a drink at Home, in both cases the sound of ex pat voices was probably explained by the closeness of both to the headquarters of the OSCE. The next day we wandered through town past the ugly Grand Hotel and the UN compound to Bill Clinton Boulevard. Vice-President Joe Biden was visiting at the same time so there were posters up welcoming him and Kosovan and American flags on lampposts. The staff at the hotel organised lunch and then a taxi to the bus station where we got the bus back to Skopje. The bus seemed to do the journey much faster but was fuller and we spent longer getting through the border.

On getting off the bus at Skopje a man followed us through to the train station where we left our bags in left luggage, he was trying to get us to ride in his taxi either in the city or down to Thesalonika, would get us a room anything. In the end we said OK and followed him out to his car which was parked in a car park rather than at the rank and he had to ask two friends to help him identify the place we wanted to go to. We set off and he didn’t put the meter on as all previous drivers had and took us a longer route before stopping at the foot of the fortress in a not very busy area.  By now I had a good idea of what was happening so was not surprised when he asked for 1,000 Denari for a journey which is not even 100. We tried to say he was wrong but his English was not good enough which helped JTO get out of the car when I said just get out. He tried to stop it but couldn’t and then I was out too but had left my coat and jacket. Somehow I managed to get them out, I think offering him two 50 Denari notes diverted him a bit and despite him coming towards me like he was going to hit me I managed to get him to take the money and we got away. Throughout the meal I was concerned he knew where our bags were and when we would be back at the station but thankfully he was not and some time after the advertised time we found our bunk and left for Belgrade on the sleeper train. Close to midnight we got to the border and the Macedonian guards came onto the train and took our passports and then brought them back stamped. A short journey and the Serbain guards cam for our passports. The guards looked at the then handed them to a third more senior officer pointing out our Kosova stamps. They asked why we had been to Kosova, we asked why not and they took the passports away. When the brought them back we had the Serbian stamp in the passport but they had stamped all over the Kosova one to try and cover it up. It was just like children scribbling over something they didn’t like.

The rest of the journey was fine , we arrived into a bright sunny Belgrade, had breakfast at a hotel near the station, we had eaten at before in February when the weather was a lot worse, and then caught the bus to the airport where we got a flight to Stuttgart then a train back to Strasbourg. We arrived back early enough to go out for chicken and chips Alsacian style.

Safe European Home

18/05/2009

I’m sat in front of my laptop in our apartment. and it really is an apartment – almost bigger than our flat at home, watching VH1 recovering from a good lunch at Beerhouse (more than a beer house, more a fine Macedonian restaurant) which we shared with the top brass of the Macedonian armed forces and their body guards. We’re at Hotel Royal which is somewhere in the suburbs of Skopje in our massive room – I want to ring up friends and say come round for a party at ours it feels like that. We had booked the Hotel Imperial but were bumped here – from Imperial to Royal is that a demotion?

After the last post I slept a bit before getting up early to get the train to Stuttgart to get a plane to Belgrade. It was a bit different at sunny and 29C compared to the cold snowy place we arrived at in February. We bought our tickets for the night train to Skopje and then walked into the centre of the city. After spending time relaxing at a couple of cafes we set off for a restaurant to eat for the evening. Unfortunately it was closed, as were a lot of other restaurants so we had to resort to the Hotel Moskva for our evening meal which was very good. We walked down to the station and got onto the train to Skopje. I do not understand why in the former Soviet Union the trains are slower and seen as a lower form of transport to the bus. I know from experience that there is the same view in Latvia about the train service and it operates in the same way. Living in the country of the TGV this doesn’t make sense to me. Anyway we left Belgrade on the sleeper, watched Belgrade pass us by then settled down for the night. I settled down so well that I slept through the Serbian and Macedonian border guards coming round to check our passports and was in danger of being taken off into the sidings along with the sleeping car. Fortunately that did not happen and We turned out into the station at Skopje. The write-ups which said the station was ugly and not a great welcome to Skopje were not wrong. After breakfast we walked into the centre and. after the minarets of mosques and a clock tower that made sure people went to prayer on time, we walked through the market and then bazaar. This included two Turkish baths which have been turned into the main art gallery of Macedonia. I would have gone to the baths but not to the gallery. How long will it be before they are restored? Not too long if I am to go back and visit them.  We walked around the old-town before ending at the Beerhouse, which is, as its advertising says, more of a restaurant than than a beer house. We had fabulous Macedonian food, at the same time as the top brass of the Macedonian armed forces, what more of a recommendation for a place could there be? Then we got a taxi to the station to collect our baggage before heading to the hotel. It seemed to be so far out of town that we were wondering how we would get into the city for the evening.  We no longer know where we are so it will be interesting to find out when we try and go out later. Tomorrow it’s off to Pristina. Eight more capitals to visit to have seen all of them in Europe. One less left after tomorrow. Mind you I am still not sure about Pristina being a capital of a country at this point in time, but we’re here, it’s been an adventure coming here on the train and this will continue the adventure. What’s the problem if it doesn’t really count? We’ll find out from the people who matter – the people who live in the country. That’s what this whole adventure has been about, rather than just sitting in our safe European home:

Aching in the places I used to play

16/05/2009

Up early to catch the local bus out to the local countryside. Thereafter a twelve kilometre walk through the foothills of the Vosges, having a great time learning about the animals, birds and insects there locally. I had hoped to load up a couple of pictures of the walk but technical problems mean that I’ve not been able to do so. A great day spent in the company of a umber of different people talking about Europe and it’s genesis and place in the World. As well as the English and English with Celt roots we had a Greek, Ugandan, French and Alsacian person amongst our party. It meant that we could have discussions about the local name, it’s English name and the Greek origin of the name. We also talked about the movement of people about Europe and about how the different languages of Europe are a result of the different tribes of Europe. If it was so great why do I ache so much?

We are packing for the trip tomorrow to Belgade then on to Skopje and then on to Pristina. In the meantime I’m having the wonderful experience of Eurovision 2009. I need to take a better quality of drug. Congratulations to the winner.

Inshalla

15/05/2009

P1000251P1030107Not long after arriving I traveled every day past a building site where building had stopped. According to my map the site was for a new mosque, or mosquee in French. In December I stopped passing the site regularly so did not follow the lack of action closely but every time I went past there was the same lack of action. The picture above is of the site taken in August last year.  I have started passing the site regularly again on my way to work and noticed that nothing had changed.   Until about a week ago when there seemed to be some activity at the site.  Undergrowth was cleared, then the bits for a crane arrived and, as you see from the picture taken yesterday, the crane has been constructed and work is underway on the new mosque for Strasbourg.

A fair days pay for a fair days work

14/05/2009

Living in France where there is a strong interest and organised support of people’s quality of life it is a surprise that anyone should think it sensible to get rid of the minimum wage in the UK. I remember tales of woe from the Tories, before there was one, that would befall the country if one was introduced. It didn’t happen, employment increased. There were the same tales of woe from London and South East-centric leftists that the level had been set too low to do any good. In such areas where there was virtually full employment the level has become what people working in care homes and bars get paid, but, from family in Cornwall and the north, I know there are people whose wage doubled on the introduction of the minimum wage. Of course there are all sorts of other things that happened with people having hours cut etc but generally people found they needed the number of hours worked in order to get the work done and in care homes the bill went into higher charges to local government. I’m sure there are a number of researches going on now to the impact of the introduction of the minimum wage. Actually I’m not sure there are that many. As an achievement of the Labour Government it has been pocketed for there to be too much interest amongst the city intellectuals about it, so not too much research into it then.

The purpose for this discourse about the minimum wage? Tomorrow Tory, Christopher Chope is seeking a Second Reading for a Bill to effectively get rid of the Minimum Wage. There is a campaign against it here. Get onto your MP, go to the meeting, do what you can to campaign against it. I had always thought that when the Tories got in next time they would follow the Republican strategy and just not increase the minimum wage with the increase in wages to let it whither away and become worthless. This shows that they could consider trying to remove it, they have to get the message they cannot.

Seen some thing great that you will not.
When I was a councillor I enjoyed my time on the Licensing committee amongst the most. Someone I learnt a lot from was a fellow Labour Councillor, Wilf Wild. He had beenon the Council in the 60’s when there was a ‘watch committee’ who got to see the films and decide which could be displayed. Wilf said the members of it would come back from the meetings and say “We’ve seen some films that you won’t.” Watching the semi-final of Eurovision whilst posting this there has been some wonderfully bizarre things I’ve seen which, if you weren’t watching, you won’t see. It’s a shame that most of them will not make the final on Saturday as the quality this year has been amongst the highest I’ve known for a long time, Roll on Saturday. I’m just sorry that whereas last year I spent the evening with people from all the countries involved in a true international evening I won’t be this year.

Back bollocking

13/05/2009

Well that’s some absence, more than a month since the last post. Not good for building a readership I’m told. You have to post frequently so people know to come back. I know it true. But my response is a bit of cussed obstinacy , It’s my blog and I’ll write it when I want to. There’s also the ambivalence about claiming not to want an audience, but then my pleasure on getting comments shows that I do. Anyway I didn’t write for a month and now I am again.

In the last month work has gone crazy at the same time as there were visits to Andorra, Toulouse and Lyon and then another week in Madeira. We’ve had the Easter, Workers Day and Anniversary of the end of the Second Wold War holidays, which allowed a lot of the traveling to happen. I’ve seen Bob Dylan, Zaho and Gregoire in very good concerts, Manchester City are out of European competition and have two games to try and get back for next season. Le Racing are second and still on course for promotion back to League 1. The cricket season has started and has gone comparitvely well for Lancashire. We’ve had some wonderful weather. The last weekend saw a visit to Germany for the holiday to celebrate the end of WWII, Saturday afternoon spent with my cricket team teaching cricket to the Fench and then the film ‘the Rocking Boat’ on Sunday. Last night was the first semi-final of the Eurovision, tomorrow is the second before we have the joy of the final on Saturday. Before that there is a long walk in the Vosges on Saturday and afterwards is an early departure for the train to Stuttgart then a flight back to Belgrade. Not to repeat the visit from February in better weather but in order to catch the sleeper train to Skopje to get another capital and then to visit Pristina, although it isn’t really yet a European capital just tocover allour bases, in case anyone might want to say anything about our not having visited it in the future. That’ll do for my return.


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