Drawn back to Wallander

Thursday 31st January

As a young teenager I read Agatha Christie books with relish, then one day I discovered a book by Georges Simenon in a second hand shop.  I had seen Maigret on the TV, and hadn’t been grabbed by it, but I didn’t realise that Maigret was books too.  I started reading them.  Voraciously.  I was drawn to the seedy side of Paris, the street names, the characters flaws and the whole Gallic smell of the books.  I had probably been reading Agatha Christie for that lost world of the thirties and forties, of country houses and rich people travelling on luxury trains.  I don’t think I ever really cared who killed who, or the processes of deduction employed by Poirot or Miss Marple.

Although reading widely over the years I have recently been seduced again by these series of crime novels.  Ian Rankin’s superb Rebus books got me hooked for a time, and again it was the slow deterioration of Rebus as a person that I was fascinated by not the crimes in themselves.  Over one book a clever author can establish great characters, but there is always a slight feeling of loss when you close the book for the last time.  With these crime novels you return time and time again to the familiarity of people you almost love.

I was bought the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo a few years ago and loved it, and in quick succession read the other two.  This was a new take on the crime book, with a very Scandinavian twist.  The landscapes are bleak and cold, the living is hard, the crimes are unspeakable and the detectives are unconventional and yet quite ordinary too.  The best I have found so far is Wallander.  And I am drawn inexorably back to him.  I, struggling writer that I am, still cannot find what is so good about the writing.  He uses a lot of very short sentences, and is constantly drawing us back to how Wallander is feeling, which is usually miserable.

Well, whatever magic he possesses Henning Mankell, the author has found a secret lode of gold.  I love reading his Wallander books, immersing myself in a strange culture; the street and town names, the windswept flat landscape, the small town people, the quite ordinariness of it all, the routine of police work, the sense of frustration, the sadness of Wallander’s life.  And I am inexorably drawn back to him, time and time again.

Soaked to the Skin

Wednesday 30th January

Sometimes I carry an umbrella but more often than not do not bother, it is all too easy to lose them.  So yesterday, Monday night, I was umbrella-less and although having watched the weather the night before and was quite prepared for rain, I had no idea quite how wet it would be.

I have been soaked on a few occasions, mostly when I was younger.  In London you don’t really expect it to rain that badly, and there are tubes and buses everywhere, so surely you don’t need to get that wet.

The office I work in on a Monday is about half-way between Green Park and Bond Street stations, and as Green Park is one stop closer on the Jubilee Line to my eventual destination I never think about using Bond Street.  I started walking towards Piccadilly and the rain, light at first got heavier and heavier and I was quite wet when I reached the Underground.   As all too usual these days the carriage was packed and though I scanned the faces as we approached stations no-one got up.  I had almost forgotten the rain by the time I emerged above ground.  I had to pop into my doctor’s to pick up a referral letter, so beat my way across a wind and rain-swept piazza to the bus stop.  Almost the entire working population of Canary Wharf seemed to be waiting there and I tried in vain to shelter from the downpour.  The first two buses were full and after ten minutes I eventually ended up, again standing, on a D7.  Straight into the doctors and out into the rain again and another wait for a bus home.

I only had to walk a few hundred yards but the rain by this time was coming down horizontally, and an umbrella would have been useless anyway.

I was totally soaked and had nothing to lose by taking the dogs, restless for a pee, for their walk by the river.  I came back and my coat was dripping, my trousers below the knees completely sodden.  Changed and refreshed I sat with a cup of tea and marvelled at the power of the rain, and its ability to reduce the strongest of us to a damp squib.  Thank goodness I had had my trusty waterproof hat to at least offer some protection or I would have been a real drowned rat in all senses of the word.


Tuesday 29th January

Even the best of us, the most generous, the most kind-hearted – are selfish at heart.  Not that that is such a terrible crime, for those who live for others do receive thanks, even if only in the form of a smile, and that is what they live for, that moment when their efforts are recognized.  To feel good they have to feel good about themselves.  And that is true of most of us I think.  Along with our individual selfishness, our using people for our own ends – we still want to feel good about ourselves.

And I contend that we are all selfish in our own ways.  I plan my day so as to carve out little moments of selfishness; enjoying my almond croissant and latte while writing this blog; copying my daily dose of music from CD onto my laptop and i-player so that like the woman in the nursery rhyme – I shall music wherever I go.  A little selfishness which maybe hurts no-one else, but selfishness all the same.

We all have our own agenda, where our needs are satisfied, and if we live with others we are prepared to subsume our own selfishness for a while to satisfy someone else’s, and in that way we too feel good about ourselves.  Being a martyr is also a form of selfishness.

And all of this petty selfishness is okay.  It is only when we demand that others bow to our selfishness that things get out of hand.  And there are people out there like that.  Avoid them at all costs because no amount of martyrdom is enough for them.  Their selfishness is of a totally different degree and your giving in to them just feeds their megalomania.  I cannot think that they ever feel good about themselves, but maybe they do.  As they look around them at all these idiots scurrying around obeying their orders and doing their bidding.  Maybe mixed with the scorn is a feeling of great satisfaction.  Who knows?  For me, I have found my level of selfishness and do not want any more, because of course then I might not feel so good about myself, and no amount of selfishness is worth losing that.


G is for Genesis – Band of all Talents

Monday 28th January

Rarely do we see a band whose members almost eclipse and at least equal the achievements of the band themselves.  Even the Beatles were far less than the sum of their parts, but with Genesis a different story emerges.  And in retrospect what an apposite name they chose.  My favourite Genesis period was with classic line up of Peter Gabriel, Steve Hackett, Mike Rutherford, Tony Banks and of course Phil Collins.  They recorded a series of brilliant progressive albums in the early seventies where you never knew from one record to the next just what to expect, ‘Selling England by the Pound’,’ A Tick of the Tail’ and my favourite ‘The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway’.

Then Steve Hackett and Peter Gabriel left and both have had incredible solo careers, Steve a bit quieter but still recording great stuff and Peter whose innovations and submersion in World Music and lately into Orchestral works are simply overwhelming.  Tony Banks has created music for films and even had his own band for a while ‘Bank Statement’.   Mike Rutherford, not content to be a member of a still successful Genesis also formed his own band Mike and the Mechanics which were highly successful too.  And of course we must not forget Phil Collins, who not only steered the band on to a really successful career when Pete and Steve left taking over vocals and quite a chunk of the song-writing, but also had an enormously successful solo career too.

There have been constant rumours that the band would re-join and do a World Tour, but so far no real sign of it.  Still we do have the great records, and even after those two giants left albums like ‘Duke’ and ‘Abacab’ were still brilliant.

I saw them once too, on a bill supporting Lindisfarne back in the early seventies; I hadn’t heard of Genesis at the time but loved their set and went out the next day and bought ‘Foxtrot’ I think.  Since then they have always been and will always remain on my favourites list.  And of course, it ‘aint over yet; I wouldn’t be surprised if they still have an album or two in there somewhere.

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A Glimmer of Sunshine

Sunday 27th January After all the snow and rain and forecasters worrying us all it has turned out a really nice day.

That’s all I really have to say.  Just a quick hello to sunshine again, almost the first glimmer we have had this year.  And although almost undoubtedly it will turn nasty again before long, at least for today we can relax and enjoy that pale wintry sun on our cheeks. And what a difference a day makes, yesterday it was two jumpers and two coats and still I was frozen walking the dogs on the beach.

Today it is still cold but there is very little of that biting wind and one padded jacket keeps you warm. How important the sunshine is to our moods. How happy it makes us feel as suddenly all that economic doom and gloom recedes, and it is the weekend too.  So, enjoy this glimmer of sunshine, for it will be raining again soon, of that you can be sure.

A Word or Two About Europe

Saturday 26th January Last night, Thursday, I watched Question Time, and was appalled.  The anti-European attitude from some in the audience made me shudder.  It is almost akin to Racism, and I am sure these same people don’t exactly like Gays either.  What is happening to this country?  And just as in the same way that many Racists love curry and soul music, many of these Europhobes probably enjoy their holidays in Spain too.

Part of the trouble is that they do not know their History.  For over two thousand years there have been wars in Europe, culminating in the two worst bloodbaths known to man, and not even one hundred years ago either.  The creation of the European Union was the result of a determination to never repeat those atrocities again.  By tying each other together economically and socially we would become far more like America, where the differences of Maine and Montana are joined in a common wealth. The world should be pulling together, rather than worrying about Nation states and Sovereignty. Just look at a map of the world and half the countries were the result of Colonial expansion; lines were drawn in the Desert, lines of latitude, rivers and mountain ranges became boundaries.  Yet DNA testing tells us that we are all linked and even the strangest and most different looking of us are all closely related to each other.

Europe is a great idea; yes, one that needs constant reform and change and adaptation.  But threatening to take our ball away if we are not successful is just plain daft.

So, just a few questions for David;

How successful will your negotiations have to be for you to recommend staying in?

What exactly do you want from the negotiations (just so we can measure how successful you might have been)?

If your argument is that the British people need a say on Europe, how often should they have a say, because it is nearly 40 years since the last time? So, let’s say every 40 years until we eventually vote to come out?

What exactly happens if the public doesn’t like what you have negotiated and says NO?

G is for the elusive duo – Gallagher and Lyle

Friday 25th January

And why do I say elusive?  Because they are so bloody hard to find, on CD anyway.  They are also a rarity in that they sing in English, or Scottish rather.  And by that I mean they have never been seduced into singing in some transatlantic or American style, but prefer to just let their natural voices sing.

They started off as staff songwriters for Apple, the Beatles company, in the late sixties, writing songs for Mary Hopkins among others.  They formed a band with two others and called themselves McGuinness Flint and had minor success with two albums and singles.  Inevitably the band split and Gallagher and Lyle struck out on their own.  Their first two albums were almost exclusively acoustic, full of gentle lyrical whimsical songs, telling of English boarding houses and growing up in Scotland.  They were a part of a movement never really recognized as a sub-genre but which included The Sutherland Brothers, Jonathan Kelly, Nick Drake, John Martyn and even Colin Blunstone – who created a particularly ‘English sound’.  Not exactly folk but not rock either, something in between, but elegant and melodic and beautifully sung in unapologetically ‘English’ voices.

More albums followed, and slowly they became a bit rockier, a bit more dancey and mainstream until their breakthrough album ‘Breakaway’ which brought them fame and hits.  A couple of albums followed but then they just stopped.

I am not sure if they fell out with each other, or if one or the other or both got fed up with the constant demand for hit albums and singles and the whole music business, which treadmill that it is, demands constant running – or you fall off.  I believe they just chose to step off.

And since then – practically nothing.  They have apparently re-united for a few gigs in their native Scotland, but have no plans to record any new songs.  Maybe they just ran out of things to say.

Their albums were all released on CD in 2004, which, assiduous reader of the music press that I am, I missed.  And now they are rarities and second hand copies go for over £50 a copy.  Yesterday I went on e-bay, and one of their albums was available on CD for under £10.  I bid and so far am still the highest bidder, so fingers crossed, as I wait for the elusive Gallagher and Lyle. Product Details

Let’s Think Nice Thoughts

Thursday 24th January

Just for a change, let us try it.  Let us banish all those nasty things from our minds.  Despite the economy with those daily and dire warnings about the near and even the long term future; despite the graphs we see in our newspapers showing the debt rising inexorably higher and higher, and those that show our productivity and wealth slipping just as inexorably the other way; despite the distraction caused by Mr. Cameron and his half promise of a referendum on Europe, designed as it is to help the Tories win the next election and to quell the discontent within his own party, but which will simply muddy the water in our complex and ongoing relations with Europe; despite the news from Mali and Algeria and the talking up of a new front in the never-ending war on Muslim extremism; despite the cuts and hospitals threatened with closure; despite the weather with its threat of more snow, and cold driving rain; despite the fact that it is already almost one month of 2013 gone, when we have only just got used to writing 2013, and some of us are still thinking we are in the twentieth century; despite the continuing sex scandals, with Stuart Hall (another larger than life Northerner) being arrested for rape and sex offences against young girls; despite the dross we see nightly on the television; despite the success of 59 shades of grey, with its soft porn and degradation of women; despite all of the above – just try to think nice thoughts.

Trouble is I cannot really think of any….hahaha

It’s the Economy, Stupid

Wednesday 23rd January

That was I believe one of Bill Clinton’s catch phrases, during his first election battle with George Bush Senior, though it was doubtless thought up by some aide.  But when it comes down to elections everywhere that is the reality.  And doubtless in 2015 when the next election here happens that will be the message too.

And the economy is floundering.  I had to buy some euro’s yesterday to finally pay the builder for the last bit of his bill.  I could only get a rate of 1.17 euro to the pound.  When I bought the house in August of last year I got 1.26 euro to the pound.  That difference means the house would have cost me nearly 7000 pounds more if I had bought it now rather than last year.  And that I think illustrates far better the state we are in than anything else.

For so long now everyone has been talking about one euro crisis after another, although the din from the press chorus has diminished of late.  But quietly behind the scenes the Eurozone has been getting its act together.  And the markets are now looking at Britain again as the sick man of Europe.  Inflation still stubbornly high, almost negligible growth, high street stalwarts dropping like flies, and a chancellor who thinks that giving money back to the richest in society will somehow sort out the country’s economic woes.

This Government goes on and on about how it is helping business, but there is precious little evidence for this claim.  Bank lending has stalled again, and the Bank of England’s policy of pumping money into the economy by Quantative Easing has simply gone to help the banks balance sheets.

George Osborne thinks that maintaining UK’s triple A rating and keeping the price of our bonds low is his best achievement.  Well, both could be about to come under attack shortly.  For all the Austerity and changes to Benefits which will hurt the weakest in society they have done precious little about reducing the deficit, and the actual debt mountain just gets higher and higher.

After all, it is always about the economy, stupid.  Simples…compare the bullshit.com


Ch Ch Changes

Tuesday 22nd January

David Bowie sung that in 1972, and I am sure that even he could not foresee the changes in store.  The demise of Vinyl, the brief flurry that was Cassettes, the rise of CDs and they in their turn being usurped by digital.  And the rise of video’s then MTV to sell music, and now whole channels of dross on the TV, and X factor and all that stuff in order to make the latest ‘pop-stars’.

In fact David Bowie, and even The Beatles themselves would stand no chance in today’s music business.

But changes have always happened; I am slowly reading my way through the novels of Anthony Trollope, written about 150 years ago, though only 100 since I was a child or teenager and the changes are immense.  In fact in every era the changes have been immense.  Our technological revolutions may lead us to believe that they are changing ever faster, but that is maybe an illusion too.  The two World Wars of the last century brought far more changes than any time before them, not only technological but societal too.  Before the first, Officers and men would never mix, and it was partly this mixing and realizing that actually ‘Gentlemen’ were the same as mere ‘men’ that led to the political creation of the Soiclaist parties all over Western Europe.  The second did a similar thing for women, who were drafted into jobs vacated by men and since then women haven’t looked back either.

So what changes will come in the near future, say the next fifty years?  Impossible to predict with any degree of accuracy, but the rise of the BRICs, (Brazil, Russia, India and China) might give us some clues.  I suspect that our culture will move away from largely American influences and we will see far more from these previously third world cultures.

And how society will behave is just as hard to predict.  How we are going to manage in a world where increasingly computers or robots will be able to perform tasks and ‘work’ better than humans will be a challenge.  How we manage to feed an ever growing population?  How we will harbor our shrinking resources?  How we will learn to stop Global Warming?  All challenges which our generation has largely flunked.

Anyway, the only thing we can be certain of is ch ch changes.