The Haunting Sound of the Early Morning Choo-Choo

Monday 21st October

Early morning walk with the dogs, the beach was deserted, cold, wet and the wind was whipping sand into my face so I had to retire to the promenade.  I noticed that the pier was open, though it was only eight on a Sunday morning.  At Walton pier you walk through an old-fashioned covered amusement arcade, complete with dodgems, and rides, go-karts and all those seaside trials of strength and grab machines and rifle ranges and the obligatory banks of slot machines.  It was at this hour quite dark, only one or two machines glowing in the distance.  I walked through the silent machines, sadly quiet, and out and on to the pier proper.

Here the wind was still quite strong and we walked about half the length before turning back to walk through the silent amusement arcade and home.  We were halfway through when just to my left I heard the haunting sound of the choo-choo train.  Bright red light and bell ringing the train was rolling along its track pulling a whole series of carriages, all lit up.  This mini roller-coaster only rises about ten feet in a convoluted double spiral.  It was quite weird seeing and hearing this single ride in the dark cavernous unlit barn.  I walked over with the dogs, who were straining at their leads.  I soon discovered the mystery of the ghostly train; an engineer was testing out the equipment.  The train, pulling its lit-up carriages, completed a few circuits and then ground to a halt and the engineer filled in his check-sheet.

Presumably different machines are tested regularly on early Sunday mornings when no-one is usually around. It certainly brought a smile to my face on a rainy Sunday morning.

A Rainy Night in Clacton

Sunday 20th October

Why is it that American town names always sound so glamorous.  A Rainy Night in Georgia conjures up all sorts of images of warm summer storms in the Deep South and romance steamy and sultry.  Yet change the name to Clacton, and just like last night it is dreary cold and miserable; the name Clacton is laughable – who would ever write a song about it.  Imagine ‘Only Twenty-Four Hours from Tulse Hill’ and it makes you smile maybe, but when Gene Pitney sang about Tulsa we were bewitched by the image.  When Chuck Berry sang about Memphis Tennessee, or Norfolk Virginia we were overawed  – just by the magic of those names.  Or even Earlier Oklahoma, New York, New York etc:   Only London comes close and even then it sounds slightly ridiculous.

Can you imagine an ode to an electricity repair man called ‘The Winchester Linesman?’  No, and for the very good reason that there is no romance in Winchester, but Wichita just brims with the stuff.  Even the states themselves have evocative names you can sing about, Texas, Idaho, Kansas, Utah, Ohio, Mississippi, and even Pennsylvania,  Rhode Island, Maine – all of them sound romantic.  What do we have  – Essex, Kent, Cornwall and Cheshire or even worse – Greater Manchester.   If you want to find romance in towns head for Delacroix or Nashville instead; I am afraid when it comes to towns in song, America wins every time.

S is for Michelle Shocked

Saturday 19th October

Never one to shy away from controversy Michelle, now a born-again Christian (the worst type) has added to her career-destroying credentials with an anti-gay rant.  Of course she was misunderstood but no amount of rowing backwards will stop the perception of a crazy woman veering further into obscurity.  Which is a pity, as her songs and singing are beautiful.  One of the best and most original of songwriters, she seems to be able to conjure up the catchiest of melodies time and again.  Singing soul, country, swing and blues she weaves all styles into her songs.

Never conventional she was ‘discovered’ by being taped at a small Texas campfire festival and when that was released her career exploded.  Three brilliant albums in the early nineties, then she split from her record company and is one of the very few artists who releases on her own Mighty Sound label and is completely independent of the industry.   After a few years a truly brilliant album appeared in a limited edition (now unavailable again).   ‘Kind Hearted Woman’ was mostly just Michelle and electric guitar and a keening sad voice telling bitter tales of loss and betrayal, only redeemed by a couple of faster catchy songs at the end of the album.  But on further listening this is her masterpiece.  The songs are haunting and full of emotion and honesty.

Since then her albums have been patchy, with occasional flashes of brilliance, but little quality control.  Her latest ‘Soul of my Soul’ is a return to her earlier brilliance, great catchy melodies and interesting words.  No doubt she will carry on regardless.  Hopefully a few more albums will arrive too, though exactly what they will be no-one but, and even perhaps not even, Michelle knows.  Sing on girl, the world needs more people like you.

Michelle Shocked Photos

Laughter in pub, 18 killed

FrIday 18th October

Sometimes a headline catches your eye, and you either cannot quite believe it, or are so shocked that you just have to ‘read all about it.’

It was the early seventies.  Think back to that time.  No computers, no mobile phones, no 24 hour news, no facebook, no twitter.  Wasn’t it wonderful.  But also we were less immediately informed.  We had to rely on the newspapers and the 6 O’Clock and 9 O’Clock news bulletins.  In fact, with far fewer channels it was far harder to escape the news.  I suspect that back then far more people watched the News every day, and were actually better informed.  Though they probably did not know which celebrity was bonking which other celebrity, and on the whole they didn’t care.

I was travelling home on the tube after a hard day’s work.  At that time there were two evening London papers, the Standard and the Evening News.  You also had to pay for them; this was long before the Metro and the free Standard.  Not many people actually bought them, money was tight and most preferred a morning daily.

I was half dozing when I glanced up and there was a man reading the broadsheet Evening News held wide open before him.  I saw the headline and couldn’t believe it.  “Laughter in pub, 18 killed.’  What on earth could it mean?  How could laughter kill anyone, let alone 18?  Infuriatingly he folded up his paper and got off at the next stop.  No-one else in the carriage was reading an Evening News.  I would have to buy a copy, there was no other solution.  At that timeyou could buy the evening papers from dedicated sellers outside of most tube stations.  I approached with trepidation and just in time read the headline.  “Slaughter in pub. 18 killed.”  The man must have had his finger over the S.  It suddenly dawned on me.  This was the IRA who at that time were targeting mainland Uk and had bombed a pub in Birmingham causing death and injury.

Oh Well, serves me right for reading someone else’s newspaper.

The Mysterious Case of Plebgate

Thursday 17th October

There are stories that flare up and die, there are stories that find it hard to die, and there are stories that refuse to die.  Who would have thought that a minor altercation in Downing Street, the road – not the PM’s residence, between a cyclist and a bobby would have such a grip on the nation’s media?  It has now been pronounced upon by Theresa May and David Cameron, and still is no nearer a resolution.

Andrew Mitchell was supposed to have been furious when told by one of our boys in blue to dismount, and according to PC Plod, called the police ‘fucking plebs.’  Now the use of fucking is not even blinked at, but the ‘P’ word is suddenly considered beyond the pale.  It typifies the supposed attitude of the rich and powerful towards us lesser human beings.   There was of course an almighty row about it.  Andrew Mitchell denies using the term ‘f…ing plebs’ at all, but to my certain knowledge he has never actually told us exactly what he did say.

They are now arguing about an account of a later interview between three members of the Police Federation and Mr. Mitchell, after which the Police suggested he should resign.  The story was getting really embarrassing and so Mr. Mitchell resigned, while still protesting his innocence.  The IPPC have investigated and said the police at the meeting should be disciplined, but their own Chief Constables have refused to do this.

You may be wondering what on earth it is all about, but as the PC (s) who first reported the alleged remarks are also being investigated we ain’t even started yet.  There is no doubt that someone or maybe more than one person is telling an untruth, or maybe they misheard, or maybe someone cannot remember clearly.  The real story is that for whatever political reasons the Government has decided to pick a fight with the Police.  Interesting times, as even Thatcher never did that.  But it could all be cleared up if only Mr. Mitchell would tell us what he really said.  Or is that just as bad, or even worse?

The Mysterious Case of Madeleine McCann

Wednesday 16th October

More has been written about this particular tragedy than almost anything else in recent years.  And still it continues to fascinate.  Sadly little children, often young girls disappear every now and then, and some are never found either.  But we hear little, or certainly less about these and their bereft parents than we do about the McCanns.  Why is that?  What is it about this case that enthralls us so?

At the time I was surprised at the news coverage given, and still am.  But the reasons are both complex and pretty obvious too.   The McCanns are an attractive middle class couple; they are in fact doctors.  Then there was the holiday scenario; an abduction in a pretty holiday resort; I imagine reporters were fighting for the assignment.  The McCanns are also incredibly media-savvy, using to the full newspapers and the internet and social media to spread the world about their missing child.  And who wouldn’t?  Well lots of others, less knowledgable, possibly more grieving parents I suppose.  Not that I am accusing the McCann’s of being uncaring, it is just that they don’t somehow ring true with me.  They are always just that bit too prepared, too unnatural; too professional almost in their TV appearances.  Then there is the fact, undeniable that they left three young children sleeping and unattended while they were having a meal.  Almost every parent will insist that they would never do such a thing, so inferring at least some element of blame on the parents.

Then there is the apparent incompetence of the Portuguese Police, and all the false leads – the McCann’s rented car, long-term male residents etc:

But lastly there are the photos and videos of little Madeleine herself, which are so cute they tug at your heart-strings.

I sincerely hope that at some point the truth of what happened to little Madeleine is discovered.  If only to stop the media frenzy, the endless articles, the Crimewatch specials, the raising time and again of false hopes, and I am afraid the long hard faces of her parents.

A Tiring Weekend

Tuesday 15th October

I must be getting old, or older.  I have just had a really tiring weekend.  And yet when I really think about it I have done very little.  It might have been the travelling.  We drove to Walton on Thursday night, returning on Saturday, via a detour to Mersea and then on Sunday, a long tedious train journey to Alfreton, via Nottingham.  I was going to see one of my granddaughters whose third birthday it was.  She was having a party, but this was a long way away from the home-made sandwiches and jelly I used to give my kids, with party games like pass the parcel and pin the tail on the donkey.  This was at a childrens ‘party’ venue called unbelievably “Chucklebutties”.  Dominated by a huge indoor play area full of screaming kids; we parents and friends just had to sort-of stand around drinking coffee and trying to hear yourself think over the mayhem.

Mind you the kids loved it.   But maybe they all have their parties here, so are used to it.  Anyway, eventually it was over and some degree of sanity returned.  Home to my sons and little Elizabeth opened her presents.  We were all tired so it was fairly early to bed.

Monday I travelled back, and on a packed train was fairly cramped.  I felt shattered last night, and yet I had actually been sitting down for most of two days.  Strange how travelling, even sitting on a train tires you out so much.  Well, that’s another long weekend over, and today I am going to work.  For a rest.

Excuse me, but is anyone in charge?

Monday 14th October

Tempted as I am to ask that very question; in restaurants when the food arrives cold and unappetizing, at the railway station when the signs deliberately send you the wrong way, when you wake up in the morning to cold persistent rain.  I mean, who exactly is in charge?  The world is run so badly, it is literally disorganized chaos.  Thousands die of starvation with nary a comment, yet the papers just cannot get enough of the disappearance of little Madeleine McCann.  Celebrity shit replaces education, karaoke in the place of singer-songwriters, mediocrity everywhere.

And even the Government, where in one’s naievety one expects at least Cameron to be in charge, it is actually chaos; far more reacting to events than deciding them.  Decisions and announcements are made purely for political reasons, people forget and no-one seems to check if they are ever implemented.  The lottery of life continues unabated, and no-one is in charge.  Maybe that was why Religion had such a hold on earlier generations.  No-one had any idea who was in charge, so the idea of some omniscient God seemed attractive.  At least He might know what was happening.  And even if it seemed chaotic, God was simply testing us; it was all part of God’s mysterious plan.  Hahaha.

Whether or not he created the universe, or even simply made matter and the Laws of Phsyics and set the whole thing in motion, he has long since left us to it.  The news, in case you might have missed it is that GOD has left the building, the town, the country, the planet and the whold bleedin’ Universe.

So, would you mind telling me please, just who the fuck is in charge?

Bonkers for Conkers

Sunday 13th October

After the recent stormy weather the ground was covered in conkers.  Mostly small ones, not the huge smooth rounded monsters of my youth.  But maybe that is because I was so much smaller then, I’m larger than that now (Sorry, Bob).  I remember Wagon Wheels as seeming to be enormous, you had to nibble round the edges, now you can eat them in two bites.  But as a kid I was bonkers for conkers.  Each year, each Autumn I couldn’t wait for the fall of the conkers.  I would collect bags full, then examine them and select what I thought were the best for conker fighting.

This was a free toy and long enough before Christmas to fill the gap after your Birthday.  We only had toys at Christmas and Birthdays back then, not every week like now.  So, conkers were fabulous.  You would soak them in vinegar, even boiling them sometimes, baking them in the oven, all to achieve that essential conker attribute – hardness.  All over the playground would be circles of boys waiting to challenge the winner, taking it in turns to try and smash the current champion.  Strings would tangle and fouls be called, but we never tired of conkers for weeks.   Eventually bonfire night would take over and the conkers, now cracking and peeling would be discarded.

But now, most years I do look forward to conkers, and still like to find a fresh one, all cloudy and polish it up all shiny and new. Pop it in my pocket and save it for those quiet moments.  One of natures miracles.

Wet Wet Wet

Saturday 12th October

The most aptly named band in the world, awful beyond awfulness.  Soppy, soggy, drenched in sentimentality, and indeed wet, wet, wet.  And despite, or maybe because of that wretched No 1 hit ‘Love is All Around’ that just hung around, they must be awarded the harbingers of all that is wrong with music today. I mean just who bought that record?Judging from the time it spent at number 1, almost everyone.  Except me, I am proud to report.

X-factor, the voice and all of the rubbish that flows from them started started with this mid-eighties middle of the road dross.  But enough of the good news.  The weather outside is awful.  Yesterday it was so windy and cold, it really felt like Autumn had arrived.  All of a sudden all that nice sunny late September and early October warmth has been banished. Gone without a trace, and today we had the rain.  That dreek dismal dark and daunting rain that you know has settled in at least for the day if not the weekend.  All you can do is dash from shop to shop and get back inside quick as you can.  Wet, wet, wet again I am afraid.

At least we had a good summer, though so often it seems a lovely summer is paid for by a bleak winter.

We’ll see

That’s all folks, from the cheerful gang here at Happy Valley.