Saturday, December 24, 2005

It was written in 1843, after all...

After pulling out my small copy of A Christmas Carol for yesterday's title quote, I continued reading on a bit for the pure enjoyment of the writing. Came to the part where Marley tells Scrooge to expect his visitors on each subsequent night (it is 2:00 a.m. at this point). Scrooge awakes to hear twelve chimes on the clock and is disoriented by the sense of going backwards or far forwards in time:

“Why, it isn’t possible,” said Scrooge, “That I can have slept through a whole day and far into another night. It isn’t possible that anything has happened to the sun, and this is twelve at noon!”

The idea being an alarming one, he scrambled out of bed, and groped his way to the window. He was obliged to rub the frost off with the sleeve of his dressing gown before he could see anything; and could see very little then. All he could make out was, that it was still very foggy and extremely colkd, and that there was no noise of people running to and fro, and making a great stir, as there unquestionably would have been if night had beaten off bright day, and taken possession of the world. This was a great relief because “three days after sight of this First of Exchange pay to Mr. Ebenezer Scrooge or his order,” and so forth, would have become a mere United States’ security if there were no days to count by.

Wow! Slam! Right out of nowhere with that one! Well, who’s your daddy now, Ebenezer?

Moments of aroused chauvinistic patriotism aside, I’m quite happy that A Christmas Carol is out there as one of the seasonal classics. First of all, and most importantly for a holiday story, it can scare the crap out of you as a kid (which it did) and features no less than three speaking parts for ghosts. (TGOCF doesn’t speak…remember?) It stands relatively alone in the field of holiday fiction in its use of the macabre to make a point. The Nightmare Before Christmas now possibly running a close second.

Then there's a whole gamut of family and extended family vignettes: young Ebenezer left at school for the holiday break; the classic office party at Fezziwig’s where we can imagine Ebenezer’s friend Dick dropping trousers and climbing up on the printing press to leave an amusingly inked holiday impression for the Monday morning crew; the lighthouse keepers celebrating alone with grog, song, and companionship; that insufferably cheery nephew’s party (take me away from this, o Spirit!), and – at the heart of it -- the threadbare Cratchit household which is quite depressing if you pay attention to the details. Almost the whole economic scale there.

I believe I’ve read somewhere that Dickens didn’t ‘do’ aristocracy, and their absence in A Christmas Carol is pretty telling. Instead at the very brink of the most cheerful Hallmark moment scene of syrup and sweet, The Ghost of Christmas Present pulls back his robe to reveal two small children:

They were a boy and girl. Yellow, meager, ragged, scowling, wolfish; but prostrate, too, in their humility. Where graceful youth should have filled their features out, and touched them with its freshest tints, a stale and shriveled hand, like that of age, had pinched, and twisted them, and pulled them into shreds. Where angels might have sat enthroned, devils lurked, and glared out menacing. No change, no degradation, no perversion of humanity, in any grade, through all the mysteries of wonderful creation, has monsters half so horrible and dread.

Scrooge started back, appalled. Having them shown to him in this way, he tried to say that were fine children, but the words choked themselves, rather than be parties to a lie of such enormous magnitude.

“Spirit! Are they yours?” Scrooge could say no more.

“They are Man’s,” said the Spirit, looking down upon them. “And they cling to me, appealing from their fathers. This boy is Ignorance. This girl is Want. Beware them both, and all of their degree, but most of all beware this boy, for on his brow I see that written which is Doom, unless the writing be erased. Deny it!” cried the Spirit, stretching out its hand toward the city. “Slander those who tell it ye! Admit it for your factious purposes, and make it worse! And bide the end!”

Recommended quick read: John Nichols on “The Rebel Jesus”,


The other great thing about A Christmas Carol is that it has loaned itself to endless variations and parody over the years. I've seen the lot, but have a special fondness for the Jim Backus-voiced version with the song about Razzle-Berry Dressing:

"Oh Ebenezer, you've done it again!"

(From DVD Movie Guide)

and the WKRP one with the brownie-wielding Dr. Johnny Fever as the Ghost of Christmas Future:

Johnny Ghost: Bailey runs a television station in Chicago. Travis is breeding guard dogs in New Mexico. Venus owns a clothing company called "Upwardly Mobile." Jennifer married and bought herself an entire island off the coast of Sardinia. Les Nessman? The Republican whip of the United States Senate!
Mr Carlson: What about you and me? Fever and me?
Johnny Ghost: Well, Fever just sort of ... disappeared. There were rumours, of course, but really not much else.
Mr Carlson: And me? No no, don't tell me, I don't want to know. I'm dead, aren't I?

But this year, after seeing a Lifetime channel ad for some piece of fluff with a soccer mom over-extending her cellphone bill and not having enough 'face' time for the kids (I may be extrapolating on this plotline, but I'll bet I'm close...) called "A Carol's Christmas" I decided to ignore any more Dickensian tributes, homages, parodies, rip-offs and such.

Then I visited Generic Mugwump...

Now whatever little 'thing' the Duke De Mondo has going for Conor Oberst's fringe (yeah, I finally found that essay), it pales in comparison to the torch his otherwise-sensible friend Aaron Fleming keeps lit for Jeff Fahey.

It is a dark world where highways intersect with crash cymbals, and large portraits of varicose-veined eyes line the sky. Fayhey and his guide reintegrate beside a flaming Porcupine having sex with Bodger, this is indeed a mad world. As Fayhey stands looking at the chaos surrounding him, alphabet spaghetti starts to rain down from the sky. “What is the meaning of all this?” he asks the feedback. “Well,” it replies, “this is what will happen if you continue with this propensity to miss classic films at Christmas.”

And from this morning's visit to obtain these last few links, I see that the Uncle Duke De Mondo has had a change of heart and given us a Holiday themed Mondo Podcast #14.

Why, that even beats of bowl of razzle-berry dressing!

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

"I awoke in California, many miles from Spancil Hill"

The last of my Euros is paying for a bit of time online, but I'm coming home tomorrow and will repay all the kind visits from Brownie, Count Screwloose, Guy Wonders and others.

My 72 hours in Dublin can't rival the Duke De Mondo's, but a last minute inspiration and a good (new) friend got me to the Phil Lynott statue. Pictures may not be the best, but they were taken.

All in all, a fantastic trip.

More to follow.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

"For Dublin keeps on changin'

and nothing seems the same"

Well DAMN, but isn't Smithfield the wi-fi hotspot these days? When someone like me -- who has only been visiting for the last few years -- can tell that things are not what they were, you know that we're moving at a rapid pace.

I'd call it the South of Market of Dublin, but it is on the Northside, where I've spent the entire day today.

The lone ice-skating rink that was my landmark to the Cobblestone is now a full-blown Christmas Carnival and community meeting point. Buildings that weren't there last year...or indeed, when I went into the bar for a drink...are crowding the skyline. And any Bay Area realtor will tell you that these babies ain't cheap.

(Photo thieved from

Part of it must be that Luas Red Line running down
Jervis Street. And every passing train I see is filled to the gills with townbound and homebound shoppers.

Also along the Luas line, an internet cafe that has just knocked the Grafton Street internet cafe out of first place in the "most hip and functioning Internet Cafe ever" competition that I run for my own benefit. And the Grafton Street joint held that title for three years running.

The only disappointment is that my Saturday night entertainment would have been much improved if I had found the energy to get over here last night. For, at the Cobblestone, Leo Kelly, one of the members of my new enthusiam Tir na nOg (Good Lord! To have missed it by that much!) packed the back room at the Cobblestone. Tonight Grada does much the same. On New Year's Eve, New York City band The Prodigals will be in the house, and that's pretty fine because I caught them a few years ago too on Third Avenue and they play a hard and fast set. Indeed, one of their songs is partly responsible for me always choosing Baggot Street for my hotel when I'm in town.

So. Yeah. Smithfield! Not too bad at all...

Sinbad the Sailor and Tinbad the Tailor

James Joyce & Ulysses exhibition at the National Library

I didn't allow myself enough time to properly enjoy this unexpected pleasure, but they had to chase me out at Closing.

Not surprisingly, there's a great virtual tour online linked above. The Exhibit itself was one of the best uses of interactive computers and scanned images that allowed visitors to 'turn the pages' of manuscripts including Joyce's Paris-Pola Commonplace Book, two of the notebooks Joyce kept while constructing Ulysses, working drafts of the novel, and the novel itself.

Highlights for me were the recreation of the shopfront of Shakespeare and Company; an interactive family tree of the various publishers and editions of the novel; another recreation combining elements from different apartments in Zurich, Trieste, and Paris (loved the books piled on the floor and everywhere!); and -- naturally -- the small traditional display of sheet music and theatrical posters of the time which illustrated the source material for allusions and imagery.

And, indeed, there on a playbill for a Pantomine (!) of Sinbad the Sailor, you read down the cast of characters and see

Sinbad the Sailor
Tinbad the Tailor

Which naturally flips up the memory of:

Sinbad the Sailor and Tinbad the Tailor and Jinbad the Jailer and Whinbad the Whaler and Ninbad the Nailer and Finbad the Failer and Binbad the Bailer and Pinbad the Pailer and Minbad the Mailer and Hinbad the Hailer and Rinbad the Railer and Dinbad the Kailer and Vinbad the Quailer and Linbad the Yailer and Xinbad the Phthailer. (U 17.2320-8)

"Dude!" I wanted to grab the guy standing next to me. "It's from a pantomine! I've just seen a pantomine! I got it now! It's totally popular culture, isn't it?"

I did manage to muffle my American enthusiasm at chipping away one more chunk of cultural ignorance, and I may have missed other little treats such as that in my haste to see the entire thing before closing. So I plan to spend time online at the link above.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

With apologies to Kate Bush, Emily Bronte,

Cathay Airlines* and possibly even LHR, which wasn't too bad again today.

Terminal Nights**

Up in the wiley, windy skies
I'd soar and fly in blue
You were the airport for my connection
So big. So crazy.
How could you fail me
When I need to get past you?
I hated you. I loathed you, too

Ice storms in the night
They told me I was going to miss my flight***
Stuck behind in Terminal, Terminal, Terminal Nights

Heathrow, it's me Cathay
Going home. I'm so cold!
Let me land-on-your runway
Heathrow, it's me Cathay
Going home. I'm so cold!
Let me land-on-your runway

Ooh you take Pounds! You take Euros too
At the coffee bar by the loo
I eat some junk. I buy some junk
At Terminal Two
I'm getting bored, love****
Cruel Heathrow, my one stop
My only option....

Too long a line out of sight
I'm checking my passport twice, and hold it tight
I'm spending time in Terminal, Terminal, Terminal Nights

Heathrow, it's me Cathay
Going home. I'm so cold!
Let me land-on-your runway
Heathrow, it's me Cathay
Going home. I'm so cold!
Let me land-on-your runway

Ooh! Let me have it
Let me grab that food voucher***** away
Ooh! Let me have it
Let me grab that food voucher away

Heathrow, it's me Cathay
Going home. I'm so cold!
Let me land-on-your runway
Heathrow, it's me Cathay
Going home. I'm so cold!
Let me land-on-your runway

Heathrow, it's me Cathay
Going home. I'm so cold!
Let me land-on-your runway
Heathrow, it's me Cathay
Going home. I'm so cold!

*which may not fly through LHR, but too good of a name to pass up...
**Briefly considered "Londoning Nights" because of the sound-alike parody value. But it's a pretty silly, meaningless word isn't it?
***This actually happened in Frankfurt, but I wouldn't put it past Heathrow either.
****Actually composed in ten minutes' time at Gate 90. I wanted to post it up right there for the justice of the moment, but the Heathrow Internet access points have blocked for -- and I quote -- "Excessive porn content." They need to check that last newsagent stand before the Aer Lingus gates if they're worried about such things!
*****When your flight is delayed, they'll give you a food voucher for about £8. Can't buy alcohol with it, and you've probably got a pocket of Euros which Heathrow will accept unless -- wait for it -- you are using a food voucher.

Friday, December 09, 2005

A hotel room of one's own

waits for me at the end of the hall to the left.

To my right, an airport hotel bar filled with twenty-somethings putting the moves on each other to the pumping beat of Madonna's Get Into the Groove.

Outside, a sky holding a half moon and the trails of airline flights departing for all corners of the globe. Mine will depart for Dublin tomorrow for the long weekend of vacation after a week of work.

And I think Roger will agree with me when I say:

Virgin Megastore at Piccadilly Circus in the City
It's alright It's alright...

Thursday, December 08, 2005

"I fell in love with you before the second show"

There's a 1994 album called If I Were a Carpenter which features the leading young bands of the time taking on Richard and Karen's catalogue. A list of the various artists reads like a roster of yesterday's hitmakers: Cracker, 4 Non Blondes, The Cranberries, Shonen Knife...and on track 3 Sonic Youth with Superstar. With an embalmed vocal scraping away at the claustrophobic space of the lyrics and a guitar that slowly breaks down into careening noise by the third verse, it goes:

Don’t you remember you told me you loved me baby
You said you’d be coming back this way again baby
Baby, baby, baby, baby, oh, baby, I love you I really do

Loneliness is a such a sad affair
And I can hardly wait to be with you again

What to say to make you come again
Come back to me again

It ends with a sound effect that sounds like a shot. I've never checked on whether there was an intended subtext, but I can't hear this version of the song without thinking 'Dakota' or 'gun' or 'I'm your biggest fan.'

Twenty five years on, I did not expect I would find myself here in England for this particular anniversary. I didn't think I would have Liverpool in-laws or that I would have lost a close member of my own family to violent crime. Has any of this given me any insight? Not much, but I do think when the train sweeps by a long, depressed area of industrial decay or when I share a pint at the local pub with a life ruined by a lifetime of diminishing opportunities and expectations, I may just have a glimpse at what was going on when John Lennon added -- let's go ahead and say screamed -- the lyrics "I want to be Free" to Barrett Strong's Motown hit Money.

But twenty five years ago, I was watching Sunset Boulevard on a local television station when the news broke. That is, I watched up to the scene where Norma Desmond throws a grand New Years Eve party for her screenwriter turned sulky lover Joe Gillis. After that, I was listening to the radio, along with everyone else awake in America.

Much later I realized that the myth from Hollywood and the news from New York City that night were telling me two sides of the same dark, hungry story. Norma, crazed into murder by the fading glow of stardom leaving her, becomes a metaphor for the thing that is at the heart of the matter at hand. For behind the blinding hot spotlight of Los Angeles or the dark stage doors of the Dakota, there is that thing that wants fame. And when fame does not come, it will accept notoriety.

Celebrity and fame are bigger than ever these days. It would be too easy for me to blame that, but I can't. Or to castigate the ordinary person who devotes themselves to a jukebox hero. But it is a false argument. Many people survive the intense thrall of fandom and look back in rueful affection on their earlier phases. Others learned early to recognize the borders, where fandom becomes something a little less wholesome. One Take That fan recalled her days of loyalty in yesterday's Guardian:

Hailing from their hometown we enjoyed elevated status, but fans the world over made the pilgrimage to Manchester. They sneaked hallowed pebbles from the dirty pavements into their handbags, they graffitied the walls, they consumed the world's supply of Kodak film, they left lipsticked, scented love letters. The hierarchy was split in two; between "cravens" (ie screamers, the worst of the bunch) and those diehard followers who were actually known to the band and need not, therefore, scream. The latter category included Lisa-from-Burnage, Blonde Streaks, Emma'n'Karen (unbearably cool by virtue of being 17), and Alex-from-Germany who had relocated to Manchester, swapping her life for her love of Mark Owen.

To meet Robbie, though, you had to venture beyond the M62 to Stoke-on-Trent, and brave the risk (much rumoured) of Rob throwing buckets of water on fans, swearing at them and other such unimaginable horrors.

"Do me a favour, babe," grimaced Robbie one fine day as I melted into the pavement. "Get yourself home safely now."

Oh my God, "Rob" called me a babe! Could it have been my sparkley silver eyeshadow from Superdrug, now smudged across my face, or perhaps my favourite £6.99 green leggings, or the two highlights in my hair that were intentionally of a sophisticated deep maroon colour but somehow washed to a frizzed out ginga?

The world of a groupie is indeed a sad one. It takes place in liminal spaces: airport lounges, hotel lobbies, football sidelines, deserted city centre streets at four in the morning long after the concert is over, your head still hurting from all the screaming. It is the life of an outsider standing in the dark, looking into brightly lit chandeliered rooms.

The hardcore fans even ventured as far afield as London for the Brit Awards, the Smash Hits Poll Winners' Party, for (what was supposed to be) their final concert at Earls Court. They were the kids who would wait the longest, wait even though they knew TT wouldn't turn up, they were yearning to be part of a "group", emptying their pockets to fill their hearts.

Anoushka's mum was "a right old bitch who battered her" and her dad "couldn't give a fuck about her" but "Markie" apparently did. Whenever the word came out to "go home now, girls," she would desperately not want to.

At this point, it might be occurring to you that this entry has been written by someone running an unofficial fansite and a blog shamelessly devoted to all sorts of fan musings on a variety of things. I thought I'd be writing mostly about the irony of that. I thought I'd have to write and say "I have no neat conclusion for these observations." I also thought I'd write about my antipathy to ask for autographs, which looks like it dates from about that year. Even that time-honoured exchange between star and fan, which Lennon was willing to perform again after five years of staying far away from fame's glow, feels intrusive for me. Actually I don't know what I thought I'd write about. But twenty five years ago the night I spent grieving next to the radio was a night also spent writing page after page of bewildered rage in my sketchbook journal, and so it seemed only fitting that I write something tonight.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

"It's Behind You!"

After a dull newsday yesterday, I spent the evening at the Four Chestnuts leafing through the day's tabloids and garnishing tidbits of interest that I am dying to share! Here's just a preview: Bono and the Pope. Bono and Justin Timberlake. David Cameron and Morrisey (Its just shocking too. Scandelous).

And I'm also working on a longer, more thoughtful piece for this week.

But not tonight! I apologize for the sparsity of news and there won't be any until tomorrow.

Tonight I'll be in (Jack) Worthing, watching Puss in Boots which, though described as a pantomime, I have been assured it will have lines and speaking and not too much white pancake makeup. From what I've heard, I should enjoy myself.

"Oh no you won't!"

Sunday, December 04, 2005

"She's got it. Yeah baby, she's got it..."

A couple of years back at a friend's house for a BBQ, the women of the party decided to camp out in the rec room while the men grunted and postured around the Weber in a contest to see which one of them would invent fire. After driving the kids away from their gameplayers, we ladies decided to pop in a video of The Wedding Singer, which I hadn't seen.

It kicked off with a full-on shot of Adam Sandler in a narrow lapelled blue jacket, Johnny Cash coal-black hair standing up under a can and a half of mousse, and the world's skinniest black tie.

Then he started singing You Spin Me Round by Dead or Alive.

A dizzying thrill which was equal parts repulsion and the-years-drop-away attraction went right through me. I suppose you learn you've entered the long period of middle age, the first time you look back on a fashion once worn to strut and stalk the world's pleasures (day-glo fishnets, rosary beads as necklaces, acid-wash jeans, Members Only leather jackets, or, say, crushed velvet elephant loon pants) and you think "Did we wear that?"

And sometimes you think "Did we listen to that?" And with You Spin Me Round, we did. We don't need to annotate those lyrics or develop a fansite for it; we don't even think we own a copy. But we are not going whitewash our musical past by denying that the song -- during its brief moment of glory -- got the job done, just as it does in the Adam Sandler movie. You listened, you danced, you made eyes at the rest of the neon-lit crowd and you had a good time. And if the next song was Bananarama's Venus...well, you kept dancing.

Until yesterday, I had no idea that this wave of disposable pop that flooded the charts of the eighties had a backstory. But it does, and it makes for a wild read!

Right round. Like a record, baby
Right round round round

Return of the Hitmen

Initially, the trio specialised in a pop take on "hi-NRG", the electronic dance music that soundtracked early 80s gay clubs. Indeed, they were so closely associated with the gay scene that on their first meeting, Dead Or Alive frontman Pete Burns automatically assumed that Waterman was homosexual. Says Waterman: "I wore a red leather suit with a white stripe down the side, my hair was green and blue, and I had a great big golden ear stud. When Pete Burns came in, he thought Mike and Matt were my boys and I was the madam."

Despite the confusion, Dead Or Alive's spectacular You Spin Me Round (Like A Record) was Stock Aitken Waterman's first number one. The trio claim its success sparked their war with the press and the music industry. The press were horrified by their autocratic style of making records ("If you get too friendly with an artist," counsels Stock, "the next thing you know, they'll be asking to do their vocals again or change the lyrics or something") and their refusal to countenance anything other than low-budget pop aimed at an audience they proudly described in 1990 as "ordinary people with Woolworth ears". According to Waterman, the industry was "intimidated because we were independent, we had our own studios in south London, we started our own label [PWL] when no one would sign Kylie Minogue".

It's hard to tell how bothered the trio were by the constant criticism. They can quote 20-year-old reviews, deliver word-for-word accounts of conversations with record company bosses who dismissed Bananarama's 1986 hit Venus. Aitken points out that their 1989 version of Do They Know It's Christmas? has been quietly erased from Band Aid's history by Bob Geldof, Midge Ure et al: "The bastards." Waterman starts telling a story about Sonia's record label publicly disowning her first number one, You'll Never Stop Me Loving You (1989), and works himself into such a froth that he ends up comparing the chirpy scouse songbird to Jesus: "Please don't get me wrong, but it was like trying to deny you knew Christ when the cock crows."

And yet they positively ooze belligerent self-confidence. "We did a record with this band called Brilliant," remembers Waterman, "the reviews were phenomenal and it got to 58 in the charts. I remember saying to the guys, fuck that for critically-acclaimed music, you can't pay the fucking rent with that."

More at the link. And worth the read.

"The Long and Winding Road"

In every pub discussion, in every chat at a Brighton flea-market stall, in the radio, in the newspapers, on the television and under the awning waiting for the rain to stop; this was the story yesterday.

Tears and rain mingle as Belfast's beloved son makes his final journey

Sean O'Hagan joins a nation in mourning at a sombre, respectful and heartfelt tribute
Sunday December 4, 2005
The Observer

It rained. And then, it rained some more. Belfast rain, drizzly and relentless, falling down over the city and its countless steeples, and the hills beyond. And yet they came in their tens of thousands, lining the streets of Cregagh in east Belfast, the Knockbreda dual carriageway, the rainswept roads around Stormont Castle, and the long sweep that is Prince of Wales' Avenue from the ornate gates to the steps of the parliament building.

They came from Belfast, and Northern Ireland, and from over the border, and across the sea. And though they applauded as the cortege passed, and threw flowers, and turned several sites in the city into impromptu shrines, the event that many had thought would teeter into showbiz artifice, and a collective outpouring of grief, somehow not quite real, was, in fact, the opposite: sombre, respectful, heartfelt. Even in death, then, George Best surprised us.

I think the only parallel in American sport would be the funeral of baseball legend Babe Ruth:

At 8:01 P.M., on August 16, 1948, the Babe passed away. He was fifty-three years old. He lay in state in "the House That Ruth Built" for 2 days as more than 200,000 paid last respects. Grieving fathers held up their sons and daughters for one final look.

Three days later the funeral was held at St. Patrick's Cathedral. There were tens of thousands in the streets outside and tens of thousands more lined the funeral cortege route. At the funeral, Ruth's old teammates were pallbearer. Claire Ruth, Babe's widow, lived on at their apartment at 100 Riverside Drive for another 28 years until her death.

In contrast, Joe DiMaggio's funeral had been quiet, but he is well loved at Lefty O'Doul's on Geary and -- in my opinion -- we should rename the local corporate poker chip that is our ballpark after him.

A bit more on George Best:

Eriksson sheds a tear for Best

England manager Sven-Goran Eriksson wept for George Best in Belfast.
As thousands stood in the pouring rain outside Parliament buildings during the football legend's funeral service, the England coach admitted afterwards the heavy emotion of it all had become a little too much.

He said: "I have never been to a funeral like that before. It was beautiful and George and his family got the respect he deserved. It was fantastic... Yes, I shed a few tears myself."

International Football Hall of Fame

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Rumble in Brighton Tonight

Just thought I'd write up an open post to the Duke De Mondo (and perhaps Simon of No Rock&Roll Fun who won't like it one bit) that I have just purchased

Motion Sickness, Bright Eyes
Down in Albion, Babyshambles
Capture/Release, The Rakes

All found at Rounder Records, The Lanes, Brighton. Rounder listed Capture/Release as its personal pick for #2 album of the year. I wasn't too sold on Bright Eyes until I saw the song When the President Talks to God. Down in Albion has received good reviews from other quarters, so there you are: the Mondo Irelando podcasts have made a significant impact on my music purchases to date.

Speaking of Brighton, have met up with a fellow business traveler who was home for a visit from his new digs in Spain. His name is Harry, which is easily remembered because I keep stifling the desire to sing Ray Davies' Harry Rag in his honor.

We started talking about -- what else -- music and he proudly recounted how he had a police record for a long-ago weekend in Brighton back in the days of the Mods and Rockers.

Me: Oh hey! Like Quadrophenia.
Harry: It was brilliant!
Me: Okay. I have to guess if you were a Mod or a Rocker.
(Quick furtive look at hairline, clues there.)
Me: A Rocker?
Harry: No! I was a Mod!
Me: Look, you just told me that one of your life goals was to drive a Ford Mustang through the streets of San Francisco. That's something a rocker would want to do. And you knew your classic American cars. That's all I had to go on.
Harry: Nah...not me. Madras jackets, winkle-pickers, the lot.

And so on. Last night, Harry told me about a great three piece blues band down at the Fountain. So we had to go check it out. When they launched into John Mayall's All Your Lovin, Harry and I exchanged looks that said "Not bad, huh?" At the break the musicians stopped by our table, which had grown to a party of six, and we somehow got into a comparative discussion of Gary Moore and Rory Gallagher. "Rory," said the lead guitarist of the trio, "Rory was the pure thing."

And who could disagree?

I left Harry and the others to enjoy the music til closing time. Tonight I'll be solo at the Festival Theatre, but that's the music news so far from Brighton.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

The Lonesome Boatman

All at Sea

The basic facts are these: Irish Ferries, which runs ships between Britain and Ireland, wants rid of 543 of its workers. It wants to replace them with cheaper workers, mainly from eastern Europe, and for pretty obvious reasons, the existing workers, and those concerned with the import of cheap labour from overseas, do not think it is such a great idea. The security guards were smuggled on board the ships to make sure that the handover to the new, cheaper crew went smoothly.

This conflict is rather more than a little local difficulty. Questions have been asked in the Irish parliament and a national day of protest is planned. There are dire warnings from trade unions that the dispute could ruin almost 20 years of good industrial relations. There are growing fears that the dispute could have implications for the shipping industry across Europe, perhaps even for land-based industry too. And there is more at stake than 543 jobs: this may spell the end for that most traditional, and romantic, of British workers - the ordinary merchant seaman.

One of the officers holed up in the engine control room of the 34,000-tonne Isle of Inishmore is 46-year-old marine engineering officer John Curry. He went into the engine room to protect the ship from supposed attack; he has stayed in protest at what was actually going on. "This is not just about us and our jobs," says the father of four, speaking to the Guardian from the engine room on a mobile phone. "It's much wider than that. If this company is allowed to get rid of its workers in one fell swoop, then what's going to stop other countries across Europe doing the same?"

Typed up at the Cyber Cafe - Southsea near Portsmouth. Not to be confused with Southsea which is not near Portsmouth. Because the one is pronounced Sow'see with both syllables carrying the same weight and the other is SOWZzy with the first syllable in the lead. See? No confusion whatsoever between the two should exist. (But thank god the taxi driver checked.)

Visitors from these shores to California have my permission to pronounce tortilla as if it rhymed with Godzilla, and I shall smile politely and not make comment. Offer expires on January 1, 2006.