E is for Elton – the Fame years

Friday 30th November

This covers the period from ‘Don’t Shoot me’ and the single ‘Daniel’ to ‘A Single Man’ and the elegiac and beautiful ‘Song for Guy’.  It was a time when Elton could do no wrong, every album was full of wonderful songs, each one seeming to top the last and everything he touched turned to gold.  And he was becoming more and more outrageous on stage, wearing gold cat-suits and Donald Duck costumes, flamboyant glasses and ridiculous footwear – why we never really guessed he might be gay remains a mystery – at the time he just seemed to be taking Glam to new heights.  What we didn’t realise also was that poor Elton was consuming prodigious quantities of cocaine, which may well have helped create a few masterpieces but were slowly destroying him.   Of course, as we now know, nobody can remain at the top forever, and the public’s attention span will always move onto others sooner or later; incidentally the period of Elton’s greatest fame – about 8 years is more or less the same as The Beatles achieved.  And maybe it was a split that ended it too, because he certainly had a rift with Bernie Taupin, his lyricist who had not only written brilliant words but in many ways grounded Elton and certainly inspired his best melodies.   They did get back together again later but never in quite the same way; they no longer actually wrote together as they used to but Bernie would send Elton lyrics which he would write the music to.  And though they had a few renaissance albums such as ‘Too low for Zero’ and ‘Sleeping with the Past’ there was a lot of dross too.

Elton has now settled into the elder statesman of rock role, and is now as famous for being an adoptive father and a celebrity as for his music.  He has become a national treasure, but to his credit he still writes some good stuff, such as ‘The Union’ with Leon Russell, even if his obligatory appearances at Olympics and Jubilees become more and more awful.

I prefer to remember him through his wonderful music, ‘Candle in the Wind’, ‘Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me’ ‘Philadelphia Freedom’ and ‘Sorry Seems to be the Hardest Word’ to name but a few.  And the wonderful anticipation when you brought home his latest release and put it on the Stereo and dropped the needle into the groove, full of expectancy at what he would do this time.  And for a few years we were never disappointed at all.

Elton John

Irony, Sarcasm and Wit

Thursday 29th November

The three are often confused, and that is because the distinctions between them are not clear cut; in fact both sarcasm and irony can also be very witty, and wit can be sarcastic or ironic too.  The labeling, like so much today, is often more about how the comment is received than how it is intended.  So, an ironic comment can be mistaken for sarcasm if the hearer suspects it might be directed towards them.  Irony is generally admired, it is seen as clever, a way of revealing a hidden or true meaning underlying the obvious statement.  The dictionary defines irony as a technique of indicating, as through character or plot development, an intention or attitude opposite to that which is actually or ostensibly stated.’  The example given is the irony of her reply, “How nice!” when I said I had to work all weekend.’  But surely this depends on the way it is said.  It could be very sarcastic too if said with a sneer in the voice.

And that sneer is the key to sarcasm, it is hard to hide, and usually surfaces despite the sweetest of deliveries.  I am usually accused of sarcasm, when wit was intended.  I just found something someone said or did funny, and trying to be slightly ironic, or more often with no effort at all came out with a razor-sharp riposte which I thought amusing but others with a lower sense of the ridiculous did not.   And because I find most things in life rather funny I am sarcastic rather often. (or so people tell me)

Wit is one of those descriptions that can be either positive or not.  ‘How witty!’ can be a compliment or in itself a sarcastic or even ironic comment.  So, it can all get a bit complicated, maybe the following can clarify things a tad.

“Shakespeare was a man of wit  – On his shirt he had some buttons”.   Discuss

A new man at the top

Wednesday 28th November

The news is usually disappointing and invariably unsurprising; most news is simply a confirmation of previously trailed hints and nudges.  We live in such a micro-managed world that there are rarely complete surprises, so it was real news when George Osborne announced that the replacement as Governor of the Bank of England was a Canadian, Mark Carney.  Yes, nobody guessed, and the reaction has so far been positive, but what difference will it really make?  The head of the Bank of England is slightly more than a figurehead, but not much more.  He will have to work closely with whoever is Chancellor of the Excheqeur, and will mainly be chairing meetings and making the occasional speech.  His most important task will be not rocking the boat, as he tries to steer the UK economy away from the reefs and into open clear water.  I wish him well, but suspect that without a change of policies from this Government the economy will bump along the bottom for a while longer.  There will be occasional good quarters like the one just gone when it will look as if things might be getting a bit better and really bad ones when we will slip right back, but real progress is hard to see for a few years.

The world has shifted; while Europe and America were happily building up huge piles of debt – commercial, sovereign and personal – and enjoying unparalleled growth since the late eighties, the East and China in particular was working hard and building up real industries that actually made things rather than more and more complex financial models that have now unwound with such spectacular results.  Almost every mobile phone and computer is now made in the Far East, almost all clothing is outsourced there too, most steel is made there, an awful lot of cars too.  And that fundamental will not change.  It doesn’t mean the end for the West, they will still need us to be earning enough to buy all the crap they make, but the appointment of a new man at the top will not change things very much at all I am afraid.

Going to work for a rest

Tuesday 27th November

As usual I am writing this one day ahead – Monday morning to be precise – and after a busy weekend I think I am actually going to work for a rest.  Three years ago I went down to four days a week, thinking that with a spare day at my disposal I would easily be able to get some writing done.  And some Fridays I do manage a couple of hours.  The trouble is that as a lot of my job is responding to internet queries and the rest of the world works on Friday I find I am replying as if I too were at work.  There always seems some stuff left over that I couldn’t quite get done Monday to Thursday too, so most Friday mornings are spent mopping up work related stuff.

This weekend I went to Walton on Thursday evening but returned to London on Friday evening, where I wrapped a few presents I had already bought.  Saturday and Sunday were spent painting the last two bedrooms in the London house.  It isn’t the painting itself that exhausts one but the preparation; the clearing of the room, the taking down of the blinds, the filling holes and cracks before one can even get the paint out.  Ceilings I particularly hate; on a ladder and looking up I always get disoriented and cannot remember which bit I have just painted and have to have one finger constantly touching the ceiling as a guide for my painting hand to work up to.  Emulsioning the walls I quite like, but the constant moving the ladder and the groundsheet and painting carefully around skirting boards and plugs and light switches is tedious to say the least.  And apart from doors the final Satinwood gloss is time-consuming but quite easy.

Then we have the moving back of the furniture and possessions and finally about six each day it is done, and so am I.  A room I could knock off before lunch twenty years ago now takes me all day and I am quite exhausted at the end of it.  So today I am going to work for a rest; no more ladders to move, no more dragging furniture about, no more re-hanging mirrors, no more bending down for the paint tin. Mind you I will probably moan about work before the week is out.

E is for Elton – the early years

Monday 26th November

I mean from Empty Sky to Honky Chateau, when he was winning critical acclaim but not achieving huge hits or massive album sales.  In fact I bumped into Elton in 1970 or maybe ’71.  It was in a long-closed-now record shop that was little more than the size of a front room in Oxford Street, near Bauchamp Place.  There were a lot of pretty groovy record shops in Central London in those days, and you got to know the ones that stocked the best albums; the ones nobody else had heard of, by bands that would go on to be massive like Genesis, and those that would disappear and never emerge again like The Pink Fairies.  So, one Saturday afternoon I was in this tiny record shop when in walks Elton.  I had seen him on telly, but I don’t think it was Top of the Pops, maybe it was Old Grey Whistle Test, and I had already bought his first two records, ‘Empty Sky’ and  ‘Elton John’ and counted myself as a fan.  He looked exactly the way he did on telly, quite long hair, little green shaded glasses, an Afghan coat (I soon acquired one too) and white platform shoes.  He was polite and simply asked if many people had been in asking for his latest single, which could well have been ‘Your Song’.  Can you imagine any artist doing that today. He was out again in minutes and I never got the chance to tell him how much I liked his music.  The chance will never come again either.

Those first few records were all different, and yet each was recognizably Elton.  They were far less pop than what followed, and I treasure each one, especially ‘Tumbleweed Connection’ and ‘Madman across the Water’.   They had a special intangible something, almost an innocence, a sense that Elton and Bernie were making this music because they loved it, not because they loved the success and fame that would soon follow.  Of course Elton is quite unpopular now, and has turned almost into a parody of the super-rich old rock star, but when he still had his own hair, and wasn’t quite famous he was brilliant.


Easier to Walk Away

Sunday 25th November

I have always found it easier to walk away than fight to the bitter end.  It isn’t as if I have actually lost, because believe me, in an argument nobody wins.  Don’t get me wrong. It isn’t because I don’t care, and I usually put up a good argument to begin with, and drop in a few sarcastic points later.  It is just that there comes a point when I see no point in carrying on; you can see that you will never change their minds – and, of course, why should you – and so it seems easier to walk away.

Besides when you know you are right you don’t need the rest of the world to admit it.  And there is a strange comfort in stopping arguing, in no longer fighting, in resigning, even in admitting that the other person is probably right, or has a point.  So why do we fight in the first place – because it is almost universal human behaviour to disagree, and to defend oneself when attacked.  And without arguments the world would be a pretty dull place; in fact it can be argued that almost all human achievement has come after strong and often violent disagreements.

But I do not like arguments for argument’s sake.  There has to be a good reason to get into a row, and I prefer to avoid them.  Walking away is okay, as long as you are confident enough to know that you were right but it just wasn’t worth fighting about.

So next time you are in the middle of an argument, just think – is this really achieving anything; and try walking away.  Only watch out for missiles thrown by the winner, who just might suspect that by your unexpected behaviour they may have actually lost.

The Football Managers Merry-go-Round

Saturday 24th November

Every season, around about this time – but it can be earlier, we have the inevitable sacking of the football managers and the news conference with the new replacement manager smiling and holding up a blue or red or striped shirt for the cameras.  And what a week it has been.  On Tuesday night Chelsea lost badly to Juventus, and barring a miracle will not qualify for the last 16 knockout stage.  And suddenly the hero of six months ago Roberto di Matteo, who himself had been parachuted in to rescue yet another awful Chelsea season was sent packing.  Even by Chelsea standards this was a bit much.  They are after all still third in the league, and it is only November.  But Roman Abramovitch is not one to be messed with, and like the players, managers can be bought and sold to gratify his merest whims.  Though why in a million years he thinks that Rafa Benitez will be any better is a mystery that only time (well a few months by normal standards) will tell.

And now we have QPR, who have new owners with lots of money and big ideas about a club that has never exactly set the football world alight and Mark Hughes, who just kept the team up last season and now finds them languishing at the foot of the table, was given his marching orders.  To be replaced by….who else than Harry Redknapp, old laughing boy himself, who got kicked out by Spurs at the end of last season because by a quirk of the rules, though he finished a very respectable fourth did not qualify for European Champions league football.  Ah so sad.  His replacement was one, Andre Villas-Boas, who incidentally was the one that Roberto Di Matteo replaced at Chelsea last year.

Are you keeping up, or have you fallen asleep yet?

A cure for Snoring

Friday 23rd November

I am sure that everyone snores, and undoubtedly some snore louder and longer than others.  The trouble is that you hardly ever catch yourself snoring so have no way of reliably assessing your snore score.  You have to rely on the, (heaven forfend) slightly exaggerated remarks of one’s partner who waking from their own snore-filled slumbers accuse you of keeping them awake by your incessant and noisy snoring.  Unfortunately in my case the sheer volume of complaints and complainants seem to indicate that they may have a point, and that indeed I may on occasion snore.

So, what to do?  There have been numerous TV programmes on the issue, and people have even resorted to sewing tennis balls into pyjama jackets to stop the snorer from relaxing at all, and even surgery may not help in some cases.  So, I along with millions of other sufferers, although with this particular ailment it is undoubtedly others who suffer, assumed that there was no cure.

But while browsing in Boots at the weekend we came across a selection of snore-cures.  Well, to be fair none of them promised a cure, but simply offered relief from the problem.  Ear-plugs might have been cheaper, but we bought a couple in the vain hopes of a silent night.

And unbelievably the mouthwash does seem to work.  It tastes foul, reminiscent of the TCP my mother swore by when I was a child, and you have to gargle with it for about twenty seconds before rinsing the disgusting stuff from your mouth.  And whether it completely paralyses your throat or relaxes it I am not sure, but you simply do not snore.

Reports from the Western Front report All Quiet !!!  Even the ceasefire in Gaza is not in danger.

Of course we will have to see if this has just been a flash in the pan, a momentary lapse in my snoring career, or if it works long term.  And unless someone sits up all night watching and waiting you can never be certain that a renegade snore does not escape when no-one is listening.

Sometimes people can be so helpful

Thursday 22nd November

I had to buy train tickets for my three eldest grandchildren who are coming down for a day just before Christmas.  I looked the journey up on the internet, and could have bought them there and waited for them to be delivered, but decided it might be best to go to St. Pancras and buy them over the counter.  I hate waiting for tickets to arrive by post, sometimes one is lucky and they arrive in a day or two, but I have had to wait until perilously close to the departure date sometimes.

And once or twice I have printed the prices out from the internet but when I arrived at the train station a couple of hours later those tickets were no longer available.  So, I was at least prepared for a degree of disappointment but was more than pleasantly surprised.  The woman behind the counter was so helpful, and actually seemed to enjoy her job – a rarity in itself these days.  She looked at my print-out and said, “Let’s see if we can do better than this.”  And she did, she calculated that if I buy a Family Railcard, naming the eldest grandchild who is just 17, as one of the named adults I could save myself more than twenty pounds.  She even filled in the form for me.  Now that is what I call service.  But actually it was more than that, her manner was so pleasant and helpful that it made the whole, slightly stressful, business of buying the tickets a real pleasure.  So thank-you, unnamed lady; you made my day.

Lazy Programme-making

Wednesday 21st November

Of course we shouldn’t expect every TV programme to be of excellent quality, if so we would never be able to discern the good from the bad and the ugly, but minimum standards should be expected, at least by the terrestrial broadcasters.  On Monday night we watched ‘Little England’ on ITV and what a load of drivel it was.  Our interest was that it was supposed to be a documentary about Brits who have decided to up-sticks and move out to France.  In particular, and in the intro it is described as such, the series focuses on ‘The Dordogne’, which is not a region, but a department of France where we have indeed bought our house.  My first gripe was that the two couples the programme focused on were settled around Cognac, which is about 100 miles from the Dordogne.  Be that as it may I began to realise after a few minutes that it could actually have been filmed in Essex, or anywhere at all.  There were no shots of vineyards, of rolling hills, of fields full of sunflowers, nothing to indicate we might be in France at all..  And the actual ‘drama’, the meat of the ‘documentary was so prosaic, so tame, as to pathetic.  A bass player arriving late for a party !!!  A fund-raising dinner for a horse sanctuary!!!  Hardly riveting stuff, in fact pathetic, and again this could have been filmed in Essex.  A tractor blocking the road had to be towed away; the beer was coming out too frothy !!!  Was this the stuff of documentaries?  How about the attampts to blend into French life?  How about brushes with the French legal system, the local Mairie, the markets, the wine even, for Christ sake.

Unbelievably lazy programme making; they must have simply advertised for people willing to appear in a docu-drama, filmed them and then thrown away any footage to do with France, and concentrated on the most piddling little details of their existence.  Like much on our TV screens it was probably commissioned a while ago, and the contract is being played out as cheaply as possible.

Little England