Part two of the Triathlon

Saturday 21st December

I was tempted to call this blog – We Just Got Married, but maybe that would be tempting fate.  But if this appears at all then we most certainly have done the deed.  Long talked about, but as often happens once the decision was actually taken it all happened rather quickly.  A very quiet affair, just us and two witnesses, at the local Registry Office.  No family, though I had told them all a week ago.  A mad week before hand, running around buying suitable clothes for such an inauspicious occasion, more moving of furniture, and possibly craziest of all the decision to have an evening soiree on the same day.  For a few neighbours and friends, but again no real planning just a bit of a mad rush at the end.

Well….we can breathe a sigh of relief.  We did get married and very nice it was too.  Only four guests which was just perfect.  It was quite emotional when it came to it, a slight catch in my voice.  It is so long ago since I did it before , forty years ago actually…..

And now for a party for a few neighbours and friends, probably not too many actually.  We will see.

Just grabbing a quiet moment in an otherwise momentous day.   Part two of the Triathlon is today, the day we got married.





S is for Rod Stewart

Friday 20th December

“Here’s one you may well know, and if you don’t know it – I really don’t know where ya bin.”  So declared Rod the Mod as the Faces went into a live rendition of ‘Maybe I’m Amazed’, a song which Paul McCartney had included on his solo debut record.  As would be the case for a while Rod and the Faces knocked the socks off Paul’s insipid version.   Rod first sprung to real fame when he replaced Stevie Marriott in the Faces.  He had also secured a record contract as a solo artist with another label.  And so Rod and the boys released an album every few months sometimes under the name of Rod and sometimes as the Faces.  ‘Maggie May’ was an enormous hit on both sides of the Atlantic and so the legend of Rod was born.  And he was certainly larger than life, a real working class hero made good, with a string of celebrity friends and Britt Eckland on his arm, he was every girls dream lover and the envy of every boy too.

Through the seventies he continued to reign supreme, releasing hit album and single one after the other, and he certainly never let us down.  Then he made ‘Do You think I’m Sexy’, which Rod now insists was parody, but maybe arrogance was nearer the mark.  Slowly he started to go soft and worst crime of all ‘Middle of the Road’.  The Faces were long behind him, Ronnie Wood had joined the Stones, a gig Rod always fancied for himself, Ronnie Lane was poorly and even for Rod the hits started drying up.  He limped on into the eighties, with a few good songs sprinkled among the dross.  I had stopped buying by then, and when he started his ‘American Songbook’ series of albums it seemed there was no hope for him.

He is though the great survivor, wives, many children, throat cancer – none could dent Rod’s character and he is still going strong and almost as popular as ever, though with a slightly different audience than he had back with the Faces.  He still has a great gravelly voice, and the threatened reunion with Ronnie Wood and the other living Faces is still rumoured occasionally.  Now that gig I would certainly pay good money to see.

Feeling the Cold

Thursday 19th December

Why is it that some days we really feel the cold.  It obviously has something to do with the actual temperature, but there is something else going on here too.  Yesterday (Tuesday) I was cold at work all day.  I walk the dogs before seven most mornings and had just grabbed my jacket and hat in the morning as usual, I didn’t even zip it up, and maybe the house had been really warm but it felt quite refreshing to be walking along by the river with a faint breeze and the sky lightening to the South.  I didn’t feel cold at all.  And even walking after my morning coffee through Green Park, squirrels being chased by small dogs and the wet leaves in clumps waiting to be collected, I was quite at peace with the world.

It was when I was seated at the Restaurant I work at on a Tuesday that I began to feel cold.  They had a couple of parties upstairs and the door to the corridor was propped open for easy access to the kitchen.  I guess the back door must have been open as I kept getting a cold draft across my back and shoulders.  I had come out without a cardigan or scarf and struggling to the tube against the evening driving rain I was really cold.  All the way home I couldn’t get warm and especially that last long walk from the DLR to the house was against a cold spitty driving drizzle that seemed to go right through me.

This morning too, I am feeling the cold, wrapped up with extra layers and a scarf too I cannot quite seem to get warm.  But I don’t think the actual temperature outside has noticeably dropped.  Maybe my own resistance has slipped a bit, maybe I am about to start a cold (just in time for Christmas), maybe it is just pre-holiday blues when you really want to be away but the last couple of days still have to be knocked out.   So I am sitting here in Pret, nursing a coffee and trying to preserve any warmth I can. 

Silly Money

Wednesday 18th December

At a time when the two biggest growth industries are food banks and pay-day loans, and benefit cuts are forcing millions into poverty we see even more stupidity at the other end of the spectrum.  We have long been amazed at the ridiculously high salaries commanded by footballers, but one argument has been that with possible injuries and, Ryan Giggs excepted, a fairly low upper age limit there was some justification, especially if they had extraordinary skills and could win matches almost on their own.  But what about the managers; why are they paid so much?  Okay, so they are sacked at the drop of a hat, or a few points lost in succession, but somehow most of them manage to pop back up managing another team after a short while.

Except for Arsene Wenger and Alex Ferguson almost all of the current managers of Premiership teams have not been there for long.  And yet, even though owners must know that they are unlikely to be long-term in situ, they manage to agree ridiculous salaries with huge pay-outs when (because if don’t come into it) they are eventually sacked.  Andre Villas Boas has earned thirty million pounds in less than two and a half years from London clubs.  And he had a break of a few months kicking his well-heeled heels.  And this was for failure !!!

Managers just aren’t given long enough to mould a side, especially when there are wholesale changes in the transfer market.  And who can really tell when a side has a successful run under a new manager how much of that success is down to the new guy in charge, or to long laid plans, clever buying and training by the man the owners have just sacked.  I sincerely hope that Spurs go back to winning ways, I always liked them, but heaven help us if they get Fabio the flat-footed lunatic who almost destroyed English football, and if by some chance they start playing well where will the credit fall.  And if they continue to fall apart how long will the successor last and what more silly money will be thrown down the drain again. 

S is for John Stewart

Tuesday 17th December

In the continuing and seemingly never-ending series of Great Artists you have never heard of; let me introduce you to Mr. John Stewart.  Just step into the spotlight sir, you deserve it…oh, I forgot you died a couple of years ago.

Coming out of the new folk-tradition of the early sixties John joined the Kingston Trio and had a string of minor hits.  What we didn’t know then was that John wrote all their best songs.  He is a consummate and apparently unstoppable song-writer, far more prolific even than Bob Dylan, who actually played on a couple of his records, even if the record company had to disguise the fact.   In the late sixties the Trio broke up and John went solo, and through the early seventies (the true golden age of music) he had a string of brilliant albums.  Probably the most famous was ‘California Bloodlines’, with songs like ‘The Pirates of Stone County Road’,’Omaha Rainbow’ and ‘Mother Country’ he sings of a lost America and small town mid-west heroes just doing what was right.  You could call it Country, you could call it New Americana, you could call it folk, but with his simple guitar picking and yearning voice I call it just brilliant.

In the eighties he had a Hollywood phase when he was often backed by members of Fleetwood Mac – not my favourite sound.  As the nineties wore on he drifted from crap record company to even smaller independents; anyone who would put a record out because he was still pouring out songs.  Most are long deleted and hard to come by, but I keep finding one or two more, and unlike Dylan he never put out a bad record, even when his voice was a whisper he still sounded great.  And there are rumours of lots more recorded and never released.  Behind the scenes, never a big star, he quietly built up a body of work, a catalogue of an America that doesn’t scream to be heard but just gets on with it.

By the way he also wrote the best Monkees song too – ‘Daydream Believer’.

Day 1 of the Triathlon is over

Monday 16th December

As usual we don’t do things by half.  As well as deciding to go to France for Christmas and New Year we had a Christmas party today (yesterday) for the family.  A full meal for seventeen, and my Mum and Dad didn’t even come.  Amazingly we managed to seat 17 people around one table, even if we did have to buy 17 chairs from Ikea in three different visits.  Each one had to be made up and I became quite the expert chair maker at the end.  I also had to arrange for the three older grandchildren, plus Rebecca’s boyfriend to come down from Sheffield.

We have had days of planning, moving furniture, polishing the silver, setting the table, choosing the dishes, planning the menu, buying the food and today cooking it.  And it all went like clockwork.  I had had a bad night, sleeping poorly, probably nerves, but as the day progressed it got better and by the time our first guests arrived I was more relaxed.  The forerib of beef was cooked and resting, we had par-roasted the potatoes, the veg was all peeled and half-cooked.  We had a lovely meal, no accidents, and everything ready on time.

Especially the wee ones, four under five and one baby all behaved themselves and played together.  Then after dinner a walk with the dogs and most of the guests along the river.  The present exchange which was the real reason for the party, and then suddenly they were gone.   Within ten minutes everyone had gone, and only the clearing up to do.

And this is just part one of the triathlon…..

North Korea – What Exactly is Happening?

Sunday 15th December

We may well be in the dying days of the Stalinist North Korean Regime.  Or we may not – it is very difficult to say.  We only seem to have pictures from the tightly controlled state television to go on and they appear to show a regime in full panic mode.  North Korea is the only really Communist state left, and their Stalinist interpretation is a long way from the dream that Marx had.  And the more isolated they become the more extreme the measures they resort to.  The beloved leader, (third generation) has just had his uncle executed by machine gunning.  This was the man the West thought was closest to Kim Jong Un, his long time mentor and one of the most trusted of his inner circle.  He is accused of plotting to overthrow Kim and the entire North Korean state, along with womanising and a whole catalogue of midemeanours  (why did it take them so long to find out).

This smacks of an insecure leader flailing about and sending out a warning that no-one is safe.   And it is this very insecurity, and erratic behaviour that is the most worrying.  We recently had a ridiculous standoff between North and South which threatened a regional conflict.  It had all seemed to have blown over a few weeks ago, but now is flaring up again.  And even though North Korea does possess nuclear weapons it is extremely unlikely to use them, as by doing so they would seal their own death warrant.  The danger is that in a state of not-quite war, any small incident could prove fatal.  And the Chinese, so friendly in public will not tolerate us, the West, interfering in ‘local affairs’.  So it is a game of wait and see, but meanwhile a whole nation is living in dire poverty, all too scared to rebel against an all-powerful clique of desperate men supposedly running the country.  A tad worrying I would say.     

The Flu Jab

Saturday 14th December

I know I have written about this before, but some things are worth repeating; I am sure you have read similar posts on the economy and politics in general from me.   Anyway – Winter is almost upon us and that perennial chestnut is here again “whether to have the flu-jab or not?”   And here is a little secret, I have never had the flu-jab.  It is almost a sign of weakness, an acknowledgement that one is part of a vulnerable group, and admittance than one’s own defences just aren’t up to the job.  And they aren’t, every year I get colds – some worse than others.  But actually nobody’s defences are any good.  The flu virus mutates with remarkable speed, and the cold you had last year will almost certainly be a different viral infection than this year’s.

My partner is at the moment laid low with a pretty bad cold, that could be flu or maybe not (no signs yet of me getting it).  She, of course had the flu jab, as she does every year.  And every year she swears by it and yet every year she gets bad colds, sometimes they coincide with mine and sometimes they are far worse than mine.  I don’t see how the flu-jab benefits her at all.   Or anyone.   And yet when I pick up my prescription or visit the Doctor’s I am reminded by the Public Health Warnings to get my flu-jab.  It is just theoretically possible that if everyone had the flu-jab then the virus wouldn’t spread.  But that argument falls flat on its face as my partner often accuses me of giving her the cold.  But I thought the flu-jab was meant to stop you catching flu, even if someone in the same house had it (although this argument gets me nowhere as you can imagine).

I think that the truth is somewhere in between; it probably works for some people but there are so many strains of the flu virus that it cannot be a guarantee.  So, I will soldier on regardless, even if when I get the inevitable Winter cold and am suffering I will ask myself again if I should have had it.    

We are all spending more – or less

Friday 13th December

It depends which way you look at it, of course.  Because of ridiculously low interest rates there is little point in saving, not in the long term anyway.  People with money are buying houses to rent, which even after tax gives a far better return than a bank account does.  And besides during the last few years wages have struggled to keep pace with inflation, so people have less money.  But strangely, according to some statistics (and being an Accountant I know how statistics can be used to back up any theory) even though in general people have less money they are spending more.  This could be for two reasons, the first is that with house prices rising there is a certain feel-good factor at work.  Even though you have no more cash in the bank the fact that your house may be worth more means you worry a little less about debt, this combined with the feeling that you have survived five years of recession and still have a job gives you a bit more confidence to spend.

And then there is the ‘fuck it – it’s Christmas’ argument, where logical thinking goes out of the window completely.  Personal debt is rising as people relax and start running up those credit card bills again.  And it is so much easier now on-line, you don’t even have to get your card out – the computer remembers your details, just one click and the goods are on their way.  And the money gone from your account too.

With mortgage rates so low too, the proportion of our money left after that has gone is greater than it was for former housebuyers, even if the other bills, transport and heating and food are increasing at higher than inflation.  It is indeed a complex mix, and we have the Government trying to take more money out of the economy by increasing VAT and cutting benefits at the same time as banks flush with cheap money are happy to lend it.

So, if we are spending more or less money really depends where you stand.  House owner, steady job, you are probably able to spend a bit more – renter on minimum wage or unemployed or on benefits and you are definitely worse off and spending less.   

Fog – a sure sign of Winter

Thursday 12th December

It has been a fairly mild Autumn, lots of sunny days, not much rain and the leaves still clinging stubbornly to the trees.  But now we are in mid December and here comes the fog.  I always expect it this time of year as it was terribly foggy when my son was born.   It was half smog back then in 1969 too, there was lots of smoke in the air.  Factories belching out the stuff and most homes still burning coal.  Also far more people smoked.  The tube was filthy with smoke, peoples clothes reeked of the stuff, offices had a cloud of fuggy smoke hovering a foot above the ceiling.  London was grimy with smoke, and when the fog came down it became dark smoky-yellow smog really.

Then on many of his birthdays we would wake to this silent still clinging fog, waiting for a bus you could hear it long before see it, and would step out into the road to read the number.  Always a couple of weeks before Christmas we would get the fog.  And today (yesterday for you) was no exception.  Taking the dogs out before seven it was a misty dark fog.  I couldn’t see the river and only just to the railings.  It didn’t seem to bother the dogs; all they were interested in was the smell of other dogs pee on the walls and lamp-posts.  Maybe the fog doesn’t dampen smells.  It certainly dampens one’s spirits.  I cannot think of another weather condition I dislike more.  Even a snowstorm has an inner beauty, driving rain can be invigorating but this fog seeps right into your soul, making you shudder as it slides down the back of your neck and seems to worm its way through the layers.  It also has a threatening feeling, as you cannot see people clearly as they loom out of the fog.   For our prehistoric predecessors it must have been the most dangerous of times, a time for gathering round the fire and keeping the demons and wild animals at bay.

And worst of all we know that these foggy days are just the precursor to Winter proper.