Wednesday, 28 December 2005

A Northern Christmas

Spent my Christmas in a small ex-mining village called Greenside (part of Ryton village) outside of Newcastle, not urban and not rural, it's increasingly becoming a sort of commuter suburb after the local farms have all been remodelled into character residences and the last vestiges of small industry closed years ago. It makes a nice occasional change from London.

I was only there for a few days because of work but went shopping in Newcastle one day, and at the Metro Centre. Fenwicks windows are always a 'must see' but this year were a bit disappointing - the theme was the Snowman so the windows just showed a few scenes of a snowman and a lad in dressing gown. The Snowman wasn't even very fat. Not all that festive in my view!

Christmas was a lazy day with me full of cold so I didn't eat or drink too much at all or even as much as I'd hoped! All those missed opportunities to guzzle grub and hooch, all gone...

Boxing Day was a trip into Northumberland to the freezing North Sea coast and the opportunity to jeer at the swimming club idiots who take pride in going into the freezing sea for a Boxing Day swim. Why do they do that? It makes me even colder just to watch.

Then went to little bro's (Derek and Tracy's) for victuals and an endless flood of alcohol. The number of bottles they received as Christmas presents and proudly displayed under the tree was disgusting ... ok, it's true, I'm jealous! Became addicted to the 'Who wants to be a Millionaire' DVD game at little bro's (that I also got for Christmas). We kept getting to the million pound question (and the opportunity to win a luxury holiday, no less) and kept getting the wrong answer. Drat. Must've been all the guinness, sherry and JD I was forced to drink... I *will* get that million pound question right if only to see what happens next!

Woke up to snow on the ground this morning (Tuesday), packed ready for the trip back to London. Snow on the ground most of the way down and was then greeted by a snow shower when I walked along from Kings Cross to the Thameslink station to find that, 'due to adverse weather conditions' trains were cancelled... How come some trains were cancelled but others could get through? I don't understand that. It's not as if there was any snow on the ground either.

Tuesday, 27 December 2005

A Christmas Miracle

It was Christmas Eve and a time for miracles. A lost Westie walking through exactly the right front door at the right time to bring festive cheer and wonder.

Back in July we said goodbye to Webster, my brother's Westie of 16 years. Whenever I'd call him a daft, scruffy little mongrel he'd lick my hand or nose to say 'you're the daftie and I know you don't mean it'. He was a lovely little thing, great fun and a greater poseur judging by all the photos. We were talking about him the previous night in The Jingling Gate pub outside Newcastle.

So, this afternoon, Derek & Tracy were about to go out, the front door was open and in walked a little Westie with no collar... They called the police but no-one had reported him as lost. Derek rang me while out shopping with Dad to tell us and invite us over to see him. I received a text that simply said, 'A westie has walked into our house'. Dad didn't believe me and thought Derek had picked him up from the dog pound (that they'd visited that morning to drop off some food). I believed, of course.

Half an hour later we were still talking about him while shopping in Asda. Me and Dad were discussing how he'd turned up at Derek's house - maybe he followed one of Webbie's old trails? - when I get another call to say that the dog's owners had contacted the police and been round to pick him up and gave D&T two bottles of wine as a thank you. He's called Jimmy and it seems like his parents are nice. So all's well that ends well.

This is the first Christmas without Webbie and it's a lovely thing to happen, bringing a smile to our faces and a bit of moisture to the eye. Why did the dog choose that particular front door to walk through? Perhaps it was a Christmas message from little Webbie to his parents?

Miracles do happen at Christmas.

Wednesday, 21 December 2005

Christmas and suchlike

As a confirmed and card-carrying, registered Christmasoholic, I've been a bit crap at Christmas cards this year. I've got the most gorgeous of trees that's been gracing my living room for the past week but I still haven't sent all my cards yet... Why's that? I thought I'd finished them off yesterday and then remembered more today. I've just recalled another I really must post tomorrow (which I think is last posting day). Lazy sod or wot?

If I've forgotten to send you a card please accept the humble apologies of a crap Christmaser!

I'm delighted to think that tomorrow is my last day at work before Christmas - at last! Off to see family for Christmas but then back to work immediately after Christmas to continue preparations for our big annual international seminar with ministers from all over the world attending, and it changes on an hourly basis in the final week or so. The first full week of January is such a *perfect* time to hold a big seminar (not).

Of course, as happens every time I'm off work for more than a day or two, there's masses to do and not enough hours in the day. I left work at 7.30pm this evening and worked on a list of things to do tomorrow on the train home. Sad, eh? And I'll spend a couple of hours out of the office tomorrow to check out some video material we've commissioned for the seminar - this is our last chance for a final edit of the material. I don't think we'll need to do much since the earlier edit looked good, but it's still a couple of hours away from the coalface.

I got an unexpected Christmas present at the weekend - 'A Certain Trigger' by Maximo Park (courtesy of Christopher). It's excellent, new music that sounds new. Too many of the 'new' bands at the moment just sound like versions of The Jam or The Clash - Maximo Park don't sound like either and the singer has a delightful Geordie accent to his singing voice. I've put the CD on my iPod to listen to tomorrow on my way to work but thought I'd listen to it now as well and I'm pleased I did. I know nothing about the band but they sound good to me! I ought to play them louder but not at this time of the morning! You can listen to samples of their songs by clicking on the cover photo (it'll take you to Amazon and you can listen to 30 second clips).

Tuesday, 13 December 2005

Oh Phew!

Well, that's done at last.

Christmas presents for the nephews is always a chore and a delight. Every year off I go to Hamley's and enjoy myself immensely spending hours wandering round, picking up and putting down toys and games and general funstuff and then gather together the best of the batch and lug it home in an (invariably) large bag. Then wrap everything individually, place the gifts in a large box that is then wrapped up, lugged back into town and posted. It takes an age and costs a fortune and I love it.

Unfortunately, they're a bit old for my random shopping these days so, for the first time, I'm sending them vouchers... what a failure I am! They've both got a book (one about pirates and the other is a compendium of useless information - quite amusing!) so there's something to unwrap on the big day, but they can pick their own pressies this year. Sigh. I told both of them when they were born that they would always get a book from me and I've stuck to it so far.

And, of course, the parents (me big bro and sis-in-law) get what every self-respecting over-40 year old should have - the S L A D E DVD! I make no apologies for dispensing cultural history to everyone I know! I've suggested that they look at the live set first, just to get them in the mood. Younger bro and sis-in-law will get the same blessing for Christmas (they'll probably get alcohol as well).

And, just to make sure there's a photo in this posting, here's me with the wonderful Santa popcorn bucket I got from Radio City Music Hall when we went to see the Christmas spectacular a few weeks ago in New York. I brought it home very carefully and he's currently sitting under the tree. His hat comes off to give access to the popcorn (not that there's any in there any more - I might fill him up with Maltesers for Christmas ...).

'Keep on rockin'!' as the Lords of Noize would say!

Monday, 12 December 2005

Give a Tree a Home for Christmas

I have, so you should too.

Went up Streatham High Road to get a tree from the tried and trusted Christmas Tree Shop near Streatham Hill Station. Picked a nice 6' one, lots of branches to hang things on and then got the bus home (a few people smiled to see the tree getting a bus home which was quite sweet).

Then spent hours this afternoon dressing it so it looks its best. And I finally opened all the baubles and toys I got in New York and even from the All-Year Christmas Shop in Toronto from back in February this year. They still had price-tags on. Some of my favourites are my Rockette's bauble from the Radio City Music Hall shop (with a small Rockette in a red glittery Santa outfit sitting on top of a red bauble), my stripey glass globe from Toronto and the little ginger-bread house from Macy*s in New York that reminds me of Barcelona. Nice! For the first time, they're all on the tree.

And here it is in all it's glory!

Saturday, 10 December 2005

Steve Harley & Cockney Rebel

After months of waiting, finally the day arrives, the day I finally get to see Steve Harley after 30 odd years. Unfortunately he's playing Shepherds Bush, but I can get over that. I make sure I've got the tickets before leaving for work, nothing can go wrong today...

And, of course, it does. A shit day at work doesn't set me up right for a night of musical fun but I'm going to enjoy it. The plan for enjoyment slightly fades when we queue behind a group of drunken middle aged men to get in. It fades even more when we get onto the hall floor and everyone seems drunk. The demographic is definietly middle-aged white men. Most of whom seem to have had several pints before arriving and then continue to drink. And how come they're all so tall? Why do people turn up to concerns only to talk amongst themselves - there's a show on, y'know! Half-way through a fight nearly started which the security guys ignored and left to the respective wives/gfs to sort out and escort the menfolk out...

I couldn't actually see Mr Harley so after a few songs we moved to the back of the hall and up a few steps to the bar so we could see over the audience a bit - even there we couldn't see much.

But Steve's stage-craft is what puzzles me. Or lack of it. Why open the set with a relatively quiet acoustic song from the new album that few in the audience seemed to recognise. Then bounce into 'Here comes the sun' - that should've been first, people knew it and it made the drunks shut up for a few minutes. The sound quality was pretty dire - when Steve spoke to the audience I couldn't actually hear him. Didn't he know that? Or did he just not factor in his demographic talking to each other.

I'm terribly disappointed, particularly since Chris didn't want to go but felt obliged. Not a fun night at all. Why play so many slow, quiet songs when the audience is so rowdy?

At least he did 'Coast of Amalfi' (my favourite from the new album), 'Sebastian (from his first album) and 'Make me Smile' (yes, you know it!).

We left at the start of the enchore - enough is enough really. I'd like to see him again, at a proper concert hall and without a drunk audience.

Farewell 159

Today was the last day that the Routemaster 159 runs. It travels between Streatham Common Station and Marble Arch (it used to go on to Notting Hill). I've been getting it for 15 years so it's very familiar to me. The route - the 159 - continues, but it won't be the Routemaster bus that does it. Now it's an ordinary bus like any other across London or the country as a whole.

It was quite odd this morning, with bus geeks upstairs who'd obviously travelled down to Streatham Station to be on the last bus - white, middle-aged men with loud voices. I deliberately left home for work late this morning so I could enjoy a last ride up to Westminster but no, they have to join in the occasion. It was also odd to see so many (again, middle-aged and above) men taking photos at every other bus stop all the way up into town - there were a few women, but very few. I took a few crap photos with my phone camera of the bus I rode on - I'm sure there are lots of excellent photos around but this is my bus and my pics.

Farewell my 159.

Friday, 9 December 2005


Well, I survived my trip to Manchester - didn't really see much of Manchester, though, since it was dark, cold and raining when I arrived on Wednesday night and I was rushing to catch a train when I left this afternoon.

I did the speech and took part in the panel discussion - the speech was OK, I think, by my standards - nothing to look forward to but I don't feel as if I humiliated myself, so that's a plus. I always feel happier doing panels than speeches - happy to answer questions and take part in a discussion, but speeches are a different thing altogether, where you need to engage with the audience, take them on an aural journey and leave them somewhere different to the place you started from. That requires thought and preparation and that's what I always fall down on!

Still, I did it! Don't want to do it again in a hurry - lots of scope for improvement, but I'm pleased I did it.

Wednesday, 7 December 2005


I'm off to Manchester tomorrow evening to do a talk on Thursday morning about home access to computers for kids. Does that sound thrilling? The awkward part is that I haven't drafted my speech yet and I'm in a meeting (yawn) most of tomorrow...O woe is me. The organisers keep asking when I can let them have the powerpoint presentation that supports my talk ... I need to know what I'm talking about first really ...

O dear. Will this all go tits up?

I've never been keen on public speaking but accepted this invitation in part as a test for myself - can I do it? It must be 2 or 3 years since I last did any significant speechifying and it's an increasingly important skill that I need to acquire so I thought I'd use this as a test to see if I ought to go for proper training or whether I can blag it. That might not actually be the best reason in the world to accept a speaking engagement...

Saturday, 3 December 2005

A New-Look Blog

Here's my new-look blog with added links and bits down the side where I've played round with the coding and got it to do what I want - ok, hardly that difficult but a real achievement for me!

It's a simpler design than the previous layout but I'm not sure about the colour and I couldn't find anywhere to change the colour of the text. I can change the colour of the text in the 'posting' area, of course, but it's the colour of the text in the title and sidebars I want to change. I think this looks better than the previous one, but let's see if it grows on me.

What do you think?

UPDATE: I've played around with the template and the colour codes and I have, indeed, found out how to change the colour of different bits of text! I am quietly proud of myself. I didn't want to go too overboard in using colours, so I've just changed the main title colours ... at least to start off with!

Wednesday, 30 November 2005

I am blessed

Not only do I get a magnificent S L A D E DVD on Monday, but today I picked up two (count 'em, TWO) Buffy Sainte-Marie DVDs! The light of righteousness is shining brightly!

Of course, when I say 'Buffy DVDs' I mean she's in them. Not for long, but she's in them!

The best one is 'Festival', a compilation of the Newport Folk Festival over 1963-66 and features a range of people including Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Donovan, Johnny Cash, Staple Singers, Pete Seeger, Peter,Paul & Mary and loads of people I've never heard of. And Buffy who's looking mighty fine and young. She sings 'Cod'ine', her song about drug addiction that's been recorded by people ranging from Donovan to The Charlatans and most recently by Courtney Love (not a very good version). I'm very pleased with it.

The other DVD is less satisfactory - 'Tower of Song - an epic story of Canada and its music' - a Canadian TV programme about its musical Hall of Fame. Buffy's in it for a couple of minutes, mainly footage from her induction into the Hall of Fame and some footage of her on a reservation (possibly a pow wow festival). She's not interviewed at all - she probably couldn't see the point of it.

I like her Hall of Fame acceptance speech - she reels off all these funny names of (what I assume are) real small towns in Canada, much to the audience's amusement, and then she points out that people who live in these odd-named places way beyond the flashy lights of the ceremony and the cities appreciate the music of people present and are artists in their own right and that she goes out to see them and play to them... presumably implying that the others don't. The footage then ends so we don't see or hear how the assembled dignitaries react to her subtle comments about them and the implication that the 'real' people don't get a very good deal.

That's wor Buffy!

Monday, 28 November 2005

S L A D E Day!

After months of waiting, at last it's S L A D E Day!

Accompanied by Chris (in case I got too emotional), we took the long trek to the HMV shop on Oxford Street, having dismissed Virgin as having crap windows insufficiently glam to host the sacriment of a SLADE DVD. Walked into HMV and turned right to look at the 'new' racks and what did I see? O yes! There, on the bottom shelf, was the DVD and a bit further down the row was the CD, again on the bottom shelf. Hopefully they'll both work their way up the shelves hierarchy as people buy them as the week progresses into more prominent places, but I'm pleased they were on the 'new' shelves at all (so many don't make it).

Having been patient all day, I make it home, slip in the DVD and curl up on the couch to worship at the shrine of SLADE and I wasn't disappointed. About two thirds of the DVD is the old 'Wall of Hits' video from the '90s, followed by the 'Set of Six' live set and then another six TV show appearances for different singles not already covered. I love it! Particularly the live set - that shows what a great band SLADE were, working the audience, energetic, the three front-men bounding over the stage and putting on a show without fancy lighting or tricks - they did it for real! And seeing the clothes... o dear! But who cares? It was fun at the time and would be again!

The CD is also excellent, with the big hits on Disc 1 (mainly from the '70s, of course, but 3 biggies from the '80s as well) and lesser hits and rareties (such as an excellent version of 'Born to Be Wild' from Reading 1979) on Disc 2. The joy is overflowing. The CD booklet includes some good photos of SLADE at their peak and the sleeve notes are almost an extended homage to Chas Chandler, their manager who died in the mid '90s. That's a lovely gesture. Chas was a member of the Animals in the '60s and managed Jimi Hendrix, so he knew class when he saw and heard it.

I'm very pleased with the DVD and CD - I've waited long enough for them! But, naturally, I want more. I want the rumoured 'SLADE ALIVE!' DVD to be issued NOW and I want a CD of the 'B' sides please. Pretty please? That's not too much to ask is it? After all, I believe in miracles...

Saturday, 26 November 2005

A Lad Insane

How foolish am I? What have I been missing?

I've picked up 'Aladdin Sane' in record shops and put it down again thinking, 'not yet' times beyond count. There are some CDs that ought to be in every collection (or at least the collection of anyone who lived in the '70s) and this is one of them, but you don't have to have them all now.

I ordered it on Amazon last week and picked it up from the Post Office this morning - wow what an album! Not a duff track on it! I was bouncing round the room to 'Panic in Detroit' earlier (not sensible for someone with a dodgy back) and now I'm playing it again. Haven't heard that song in xx decades! "I wish someone would phone... I screamed and smashed my favourite slot machine...". Other classics on this record have been included in various compilations over the years, but not 'Panic' and I lurve it! Wonderful drumming and soaring vocals with a background sense of menace - great track indeed.

Now, obviously, I have the vinyl (in my Dad's attic) - didn't we all get this record in the '70s? I think I prefer it to 'Ziggy' (which I've had on CD for yonks) so I'm not quite sure why I didn't get this as well until today. It's a more mature and confident record with a fuller sound. I am a happy bunny.

Oh, and while I'm in 70s mode (again) my S L A Y E D badge finally arrived yesterday. I will wear it on Monday when I go to HMV to demand 'The Very Best of SLADE' CD and DVD from the first sales person I see. I am a happy bunny indeed!

The Golden Age of Hustlers Returns

Went to see Justin Bond and the Freudian Slippers this evening at Too2Much and thoroughly enjoyed it, particularly the Bambi Lake songs and the chatting inbetween songs. He should record it - a great selection of songs including Kate Bush's 'King of the Mountain' and three early Bowie songs. Even got part of Marianne Faithfull's 'Why'd Ya Do It' in during the enchore (I suspect some people didn't know the song since there was a bit of giggling at the rude words...).

My favourites were the Bambi Lake songs, all excellent, all slightly dribbling bodily fluids and drugs, beautiful people gone to the dogs and transvestitism and drugs creating a haze around the lyrics. I particularly liked 'The Golden Age of Hustlers', a glamourously sad tale. I blogged about Bambi and her world a few months ago after I saw his previous show at the Soho Theatre - for some reason those songs do it for me!

The Princess was, of course, right up front and I admired her tie...

Too2Much is an interesting venue, full of skinny people (both staff and punters) with little spatial sense or awareness of anyone except themselves. Most odd. Not as odd as the New York punk night at the Great Eastern a couple of years ago, but odd nonetheless. I just can't understand why so many people needed to go to the toilet during Justin's set - it's not that long really. And in some cases the same guys went two or three times... has something happened to the bladders of men under 35? Perplexed by that!

And before that went for nosh with Chris to Melati (lovely Indonesian food) - it passed my vegetarian choice test with flying colours.

Friday, 25 November 2005


Amanda (my close personal friend from the Dresden Dolls - well, she doesn't know she's a close personal friend but that's getting into mere detail) is now in my flat. Amanda wears wonderful stripey stockings. And wears them very well. I have her new DVD (ok, his as well, since they're a duo, but I'm sure it's hers really). I'm saving it to watch on Saturday.

That should kepe me happy until the ecstacy of S L A D E Monday!

Tuesday, 22 November 2005

Crazee Christmas!

I hate to go on about the Lords of Noize (I lie) but I received my new, never heard before, magnificent S L A D E CD today - "Slade's Crazee Christmas"!

I'm not too sure of the history of this particular recording but it seems to be from 1985 and then reissued as 'The Party Album' in the '90s. I've seen it as 'The Party Album' on eBay a few times but not bothered bidding but when I saw it as 'Crazee Christmas' (and I'm a registered Christmas-oholic) then I had to get it.

And I'm so pleased I did! A great collection of tracks, some recorded for the album (such as 'Santa Claus is coming to town'), some live classics (such as 'Mama Weer All Crazee Now') and a few hits from the mid '80s. It works for me! Played it twice in a row this evening and couldn't help singing along!

It will certainly feature in my Christmas playlist on my iPod! Of course, I can't do that until 1 December - a Christmas playlist in November would just be perverse.

And a 'get well soon' to Princess Dawn who's done her back in - ouch! Sympathy flowing your way...

Vegetarian choice - not vegetarian option

My new personal campaign is for vegetarian choice in restaurants, not simply for a vegetarian option.

I'm tired of going to restaurants with pages of meat, fish and fowl meals on the menu and only one or two things I, as a vegetarian, can eat. In the past I've eaten the same starter twice since it was the only thing on the menu I could eat. Why did I do that? I don't know really, maybe I was still thinking that meat was the norm and I, as a freaky hippy sandal-wearing pogoing wierdo, had to put up with it.

I went on a cruise down the Nile from Luxor to Aswan in the '80s and I lived on boiled potatoes and cabbage for a week - that was all the "chef" on the boat could make that didn't include meat of some description. And I paid a small fortune for the privilege. The bonus is, of course, that I was probably the only person on the boat that didn't have an >ahem< stomach upset that week...

Well, I don't think it's acceptable in the 21st Century to deny me the pleasure of eating in a public restaurant so I'll be carrying out my own small protest by only going to restaurants that offer me choice. I hope that doesn't inconvenience friends and colleagues too much but I've been inconvenienced for the last 30 years and enough is enough.

I refused to go to a management dinner after an awayday at work a couple of weeks back since the restaurant only had one thing on the menu I could eat. The campaign has begun.

Anyone want to join in?

Monday, 21 November 2005

Christmas Arrives

This time next week I'll be revelling in my new S L A D E DVD, possibly watching it for the second time ... Counting down the days!

Christmas has arrived on Streatham High Road and it looks good! It could, of course, be brasher and brighter - I suspect the powers that be are aiming for 'festive and tasteful' - but the main challenge will be how many of the lights are still in working order at Christmas. It's certainly cold enough for Christmas, with frost beginning to show on the pavement in places on my way home from work. Bbbrrrr!

I've discovered the Flickr photo site and opened an account. I vaguely thought it would be an addition to my Wanadoo sites that I use for showing my holiday pics (and I've run out of free sites now) but it's not really. You've got to be a member to see Flickr photos. Still, my photos are there if you want to see them - just click on the 'badge' in the right hand column.

Thursday, 17 November 2005

A week is a long time ...

... and I haven't even been at work for a week yet after the New York trip and my time off work. For some obscure reason I'm still having problems sleeping at the right time - jet lag a week and a half later? What's that about?

Had lunch with an old college friend on Monday - not seen Bridget in about 22 years! She's lived in Canada since about 1990 - I lost touch years ago but got back in touch through Friends Reunited a year or so ago and, since she was over here visiting family and was in London for the day, we met up for lunch. It was really odd seeing each other in a way, but really nice too. Other than immediate family, I don't now know anyone who knew me in the late '70s/early '80s. We had a lovely chat and Bridget reminded me about 'Impact', the students magazine she edited and, for a while, to which I was a regular contributor. The odd thing is that one of the few things I'm proud of in my current job is an innovative research report on the effects of computers in schools on kids test results (yawn) which was called 'ImpaCT2'. I didn't write it or anything (it was written by miscellaneous professors and colleagues at Becta) but, as far as I'm concerned, it exists because I wouldn't let go of it after we'd paid a quarter of a million £ for it! Is that word - impact - destined to haunt me every 20 years?

Also met Janet on Wednesday evening for one of our outings - a chance to whinge, to chat about developments at work, to put the world to rights, to dis young people, to discuss how fat each of us is, our operations and ailments and latest gadgets, etc. Always a pleasure and a late night!

Had Madonna's 'Confessions' on shuffle on iPod today and thoroughly enjoying it and watching Suzanna Vega's 'Retrospective' DVD of promo videos (for the second time in a row) as I type. I never knew some of the videos even existed so it's a bit of a treat!

I've been lazy enough to get the bus to work so far this week and it drives round Parliament Square past Westminster Abbey with it's garden of remembrance to coincide with Remembrance Sunday. That makes me think of my Granda who lost an arm (and two brothers) in the First World War. I went into the garden last year to look for his old regiment (the Green Howards) and found a small section with little crosses in the grass - I must look this week to see if the regiment is still represented.

Granda didn't talk about the war to anyone throughout his life until near the end when he told me stories about it and his family, usually over a pint (or several - plus whisky chasers, of course) with my Uncle Ted in the social club at Blaydon on my infrequent trips north. He told me more than he ever told his own kids - my mother and uncles. I suppose enough time had passed for him to get over it, or to know the end wasn't far off and wanting the memories to go forward? I don't know. I must track down the newspaper articles about how Hitler (personally) tried to kill my wounded Granda in a French barn in 1917 but was fought off by the farm girl who became a freedom fighter in the second war and was on Hitler's 'kill' list. She died, a Heroine of the Republic, in the '80s, which is when Granda's story came to light when he was living in an ex-services home in Crief in Scotland. He was a minor celebrity for a while! Oh, and he went to a Royal Garden Party at Buckingham Palace once but turned down the other invitations - once was enough.

He was a daft old bugger with a magic way with fruit machines and animals, a charming winning way with everyone and kept cans of beer under the bed in case he got thirsty during the night - a real hero! He knew everyone and everyone knew him - except his own family really. Hot toddies for colds always worked. I only got to know him in the decade or so before he died at the ripe old age of 92 - what a world he'd seen changing before his eyes, from horse-and-carts in the quiet, country lanes of Northumberland through the hell of the trenches in the war to jet planes and moon landings. Will any generation see such a massive change as his? I must find a photo of him to post here - I'm sure he'd be thrilled to be on the hinternet!

Thursday, 10 November 2005

NYC5: The Art

There is much Art to be seen in New York, both indoors and outdoors. You can look at it, sit and walk on it and, of course, wear it. Great monuments and the less than great, wonderful paintings and sculptures. The city itself might be seen as one great big work of Art. Here's a selection of the Art I appreciated.

I'd never been to the Museum of Modern Art before so, now that it's back in Manhattan from its sojourn in Queens, I had to see it. I was mightily impressed by the new building which is in itself an architectural marvel, all clean lines and carefully planned spaces. Very enjoyable wandering round it and in places you get great views of the other floors of the building which makes for an impressive sight. The Art is, of course, superb as well.

The first couple of floors house the more 'modern' works and installations which, I have to say, leave me rather cold. One of the installations was a bank of about 50-odd portable TVs with videos running of domestic scenes which was interesting enough, but one of them was switched off - is this part of the Art? or was it broken? who knows. I'm a bit old fashioned, really, and prefer my modern art to be older than me...

A highlight for me was Picasso's 'Girl Before A Mirror' which is a wonderful piece of swirling colour. I also much appreciated his 'Les Demoiselles d'Avignon', groundbreaking work. Works by all the greats were on view and it was a privilege to see them in front of me after seeing them in books for so many years - the size often surprises as well.

MoMA has a fab shop as well, not just full of cards and books and prints, but also a range of kitchen implements, toys, Christmas decorations and general arty stuff. I quite fancied some Mondrian inspired tumblers but there's a limit to how much breakable stuff I can carry on the plane home!. I did, however, get a wondrous Japanese rainbow scarf, a 'Random Stripe Shima Scarf' by Tomoji Matsui, made of genuine soft 70% acrylic (with 30% wool) yarn in, as the blurb says, "a smooth pattern of random stripes with fringed edges. Dry clean only." It is so me. I ore it to the theatre one night and I was that spot of colour on Broadway! Everyone else was in oh so trendy black and I outshone everyone by miles! It will need a suitable event for it's official unveiling in London.

Also went to the Guggenheim for the first time, an interesting building for those with skateboards and wheelchairs... Built as a spiral with the paintings lining the walls and in small-ish galleries to one side of the building, it's an interesting experience, but I prefer the new MoMA building. The main exhibition consisted of works from Russia over the last few centuries and was titled, strangely enough, 'Russia'. It was interesting to see the progression of art over the centuries, most of it being obviously influenced by European work. The thrill for me was seeing the Kandinsky's and Chagall's, particulary 'Blue Mountain' with it's gorgeous, glowing colours (that don't really come across in this picture) and soft organic shapes. A wonderful painting that I'd have on my walls any time. I like it.

There's outdoor Art in New York as well, of course. Times Square is a modernist installation if ever there was one and the Empire State Building is a classic seen from the top of the Rockefeller Building. Hotels done out in art deco, Grand Central, the Chrysler Building (as seen from the hotel room window, of course) and a host of other sights. At least I now have my own piece of New York art in my scarf! And, of course, my little see through plain plastic Statue of Liberty that lights up and glows reds and blues when it's switched on. So tasteful.

Wednesday, 9 November 2005

NYC4: The Christmas

'Christmas?' I hear you say. 'Christmas,' I reply. O yes, Christmas has landed in New York.

I was delighted to find 'Christmas Lane' on the 9th floor of Macy*s - or, to me, Christmas Heaven. A goodly portion of the floor was given over to Christmas trees and boxes of baubles and tree toys and everything sparkly and bright. I spent an age shopping for special ornaments for my tree - they had to be *just* right, and, of course, the fuschia-coloured shopping basket helped. I even got a little gingerbread house to remind me of Parc Guell. Then spent ages waiting for the ornaments to be wrapped safely and put in little Macy*s boxes. I got New York themed ornaments from the shop on the top of the Empire State Building, the Rockefeller shop and the Radio City Music Hall (but more of that later).

The Christmas lights were up on 5th Avenue but not, I think, switched on yet. They were, of course, fully on downtown on Mott Street (one of the boundary streets between Chinatown and Little Italy) as witnessed in this photo. The evidence is clear - Christmas is definitely alive and kicking on that street.

More Christmas sights at the ice rinks we passed, in Bryant Park, the Rockefeller Centre and, of course, Central Park. No doubt all will be livened up the closer we get to Christmas, with trees and lights and the odd choir doing a set every now and then. I'm not one to go skating but I'm very happy to watch the fun, especially when the show-off kids crash into each other and end up splayed all over the ice! Cruel? Moi?

Radio City Music Hall is a Christmas all in and of itself! The Christmas Spectacular opened on 1 November with a musician's strike so the music came from the CD but I don't care - Radio City *is* Christmas! Decked out in lights, toy soldiers, Rockettes in miniskirt Christmas costumes, dancing, ice skating on stage, Rockettes dressed as reindeers and high kicking right, left and centre, dozens of Santas all over the enormous stage... WOW! And snow - yes, snow - falling from the ceiling at two different points in the show! It must've been ice scrapings or something and it melted on the skin... And I was ever so slightly delighted to be served popcorn in a Santa Claus shaped plastic container, about 10" by 5" in the shape of a red and white ho-ho-hoing Santa. Cor! Needless to say, I packed it most carefully in my luggage for the plane!

The foyer was decked out in full Christmas gear, with stalls selling everything you could want for Christmas (well, everything you could want if you suspend taste for a moment). I hummed and ha-ed about what to get - I *had* to get something as a reminder of a fantabulistic Christmas evening. Ended up in the Radio City Christmas Shop over the road and got a red Christmas bauble with a little miniskirted Rockette sitting on top! If you're lucky I'll take a photo of it on my tree and post it here!

Christmas in New York must be in a world of its own...

Tuesday, 8 November 2005

NYC3: The Outdoors

New York's a funny place in a sense, and a city of contrasts. It's all things to all people - Broadway shows, shopping, sightseeing, art, music, food... you name it. It has great outdoors things as well as indoors.

Went up the Empire State Building (which I do on every trip it seems - there's always something else to look at). We were there late afternoon/early evening so could see the lights coming on all over the city - a great sight! A new high place to worship the mammon of New York is the Rockefeller Centre which has opened it's observation deck on three stories for the first time in 20 years - and we were there the day it opened. So were lots of TV journos and, believe it or not, Tim Vincent doing a TV slot (for a travel programme I assume).

The Rockefeller has more wandering round space than the ESB and is better than the ESB too, if only because you get great views over Central Park (which you don't from ESB since Rockefeller blocks it) but also because you can see the ESB from Rockefeller and it's a great sight in all it's towering glory! The lift to the observation deck has a see-through ceiling and the lift shaft is lit up so it's strangely exciting to watch as the lift swiftly rises up through the brick tunnel. Scenes from a film were also projected onto the ceiling to make it more exciting. I would definitely go up the Rockefeller again.

Another great landmark is, of course, the Statue of Liberty. We've all seen it loads of times and it's almost a cliche of itself, but it's still a powerful and admirable symbol. Particularly since it's next to Ellis Island and all the stories attached to that place. Echoing halls and ghosts, a place bursting with joy and sorrow.

Lovely blue skies aside, New York is mistress of the night and the glorious (and incredibly wasteful) lights of Times Square. Our hotel was just 50 yards from Times Square so we saw it a lot but it never loses its appeal to me. Not sure I would've liked it in the '70s but now it's a perfect expression of the city that never sleeps. I, of course, do sleep, but I can quite see people wandering round there at all hours - we went shopping in the big Virgin store on Times Square at midnight and it showed no signs of closing. That really contrasts with London - everything closes early here and London virtually shuts after 5pm on a Sunday.

Central Park is another favourite place I like to visit, to get away from the traffic and the streams of people. I've never been there in autumn so it was a must-see visit, to wander round and see the leaves change colour. The last time I was there the place was covered in a blanket of snow so it was nice to see the range of colours on display on this trip.

Monday, 7 November 2005

NYC2: The Shows

Went to see a few shows in New York:

Wicked - this was in a big theatre, big enough for teenage girls to make lots of noise singing along to the big numbers.

Lots of big sets, loads of singing and 'oh poor me, I'll fight against the world to be myself' type songs. It must've been so hard to grow up in Oz in the old days...

But I enjoyed it - not to be taken too seriously (except by teenage girls) - and the special effects were excellent.

Fiddler on The Roof - starring Harvey Fierstein and Rosie O'Donnell. Not exactly a fun show given the subject matter, but a very entertaining one nonetheless.

Everyone probably knows at least one song from this show - 'If I Was A Rich Man', 'Tradition', Sun Rise, Sun Set', there's lots of them. Harvey has an interesting singing voice (and admits it, ahem).

Doubt - a play, one of the few plays on Broadway at the moment (everything else is a musical) and a very fine one. I was a little dubious at first - a play about a potential paedophile priest from the Bronx in the '60s doesn't sound like much fun, but it was very nicely handled. Light-hearted moments and laughs to relieve the tension and we never find out whether he did it or not (but I think he did).

Excellent performances by the cast of 4 and it's another award winner.

Avenue Q - didn't know much about this musical but was very pleasantly surprised by it - lots of laughs, some very clever lyrics to the songs and some nice comments on modern living ('the Internet is for porn').

A great all-round show! I'd definitely see it again, especially if it transfers over to London. I bought an 'It sucks to be me' badge after the show and proudly wore it for the rest of the evening.

The Radio City Christmas Spectacular - what can I say? This had everything an old-fashioned stage entertainment could possibly want, including the kitchen sink (carefully disguised of course). Great fun, the Rockettes high kicking right, left and centre, dozens of Santas doing synchronised dancing, snow falling from the ceiling of the huge barn that is the glossy Radio City Music Hall, eating popcorn out of a big plastic Santa-shaped bucket.

Both inside and outside of Radio City looked like Christmas had landed early - big trees covered in lights, Christmas lights and decorations all over and models of the Rockettes in Christmas costumes. I loved it!

Also went to see 'New York Doll', a documentary about Arthur 'Killer' Kane, bassist with the New York Dolls. We saw it in the Angelika cinema in SoHo, a small independent cinema, an appropriate place to see a film about a New York Doll. I felt quite sad watching it (and knowing how it ends) but it was well constructed and tried to show the real man behind the Doll. Arthur came across as a likeable man with his glory days behind him until the Dolls got back together in 2004 - and he got his wish.

NYC1: The Halloween Parade

Back from a week in New York and lots to report but I'll take it in a suitably stately fashion and do it bit by bit as it occurs to me.

Starting off with the Halloween Parade! Got the subway downtown to West 14th Street thinking that that might be a good place to watch it pass by. And, so it seemed, did everyone else! The streets were packed and entrances to the subway were blocked off by the police so you could leave the subway but not get back into it. We eventually settled somewhere where the crowd was only 5 or 6 deep as the parade started.

The parade was mainly people walking up 6th Avenue in no particular order. Some people carried skeletons on poles, that sort of thing, but mainly it was people just walking, some in costume, some with just a mask or a wig. Marilyn seemed very popular, with platinum blonde beauties in white frocks popping up every so often.

Quite a few groups of people wandered past carrying orange flags - no idea what that was meant to be about. Most people seemed to be either (a) drinking and eating, (b) taking photos or (c) looking to pick up someone. The locals seemed to fit into (a) and (c) with tourists from all over the world and all over America (from the range of accents) fell into (b). I was in (b) but as the evening wore on I'd have liked to be in (a) - it's very tiring standing mostly still trying to watch the parade, moving from foot to foot while being jostled on all sides.

Gave up after a couple of hours (wimp, I know) and started squeezing our way up 6th Ave through the hoardes of people. Had a brainwave and walked over to 7th Avenue in the hopes of escaping the crowds but everyone else seemed to have the same idea. Great minds and all that. Still, it was nice walking uptown on a mild night surrounded by party people. The crowds became even worse by the time we reached Madison Square Garden/Penn Station - there'd been some big football match that evening (like I'd show any interest) and people were pouring into the streets. Not long after we arrived back in the bright lights of Times Square and the hotel - sanctuary!

The parade was good fun but very tiring after a hard day's sightseeing. It would have been even better if I could've seen more of it - why the lack of floats, I wonder? There were a few, but not very many. I also need to grow a few inches taller - just as in London, I always seem to manage to stand behind the tallest people in the immediate vicinity... just one of my skills, I suppose!

More New York tales to follow...