The Mists of Time

The ship – well, it was far more than that of course, but as we are telling the story today let us use words you can relate too – approached with great apprehension.   Its many sensors had warned it of the peculiar behaviour of this particular unexplored region of far far outer space.  Here, where the Universe was still rapidly expanding, and where according to all the computer models there should be next to nothing – the very occasional small rocks or dust – was what appeared to be a rather large planet.  Though, of course – how could there be a planet without a Star for it to be orbiting.  But there it was just ahead.  A few billion kilometres ahead obviously, but quite observable from the ships’ incredibly powerful telescopes.  Instructed by Starbase Sol71 to reduce speed to almost nothing – a few hundred k. per minute, the ship proceeded with absolute caution; bristling with sensors and armaments and ready to take whatever evasive action might be considered necessary, without endangering the sanctity of this supposedly unexplored part of the known, or we should actually say – unknown, Universe.

This may all seem strange to you Twenty-first readers.  Let me explain.  We are sending this back in time to you from many millennia in the future; we have tried to use a version of English you might still understand.  We realise that there is little you can do but maybe somewhere this document will be saved and re-read occasionally to possibly prepare you.  Or it may simply be lost in the mists of time.  Who can tell?  But for what it is worth we felt you should at the very least be made aware, though what you will make of it we cannot tell.

Let us go back a few millennia.  After the 24th century (your Earth time) the Big Bang Theory had been largely discredited.  Or, we should more correctly say, revised.  There had always been the seemingly impossible problem, the contradiction at the very heart, that all that matter, all those zillion atoms must have existed before the Big Bang.  Or something must have existed – because the most basic law of physics is that nothing can be created or destroyed, the particles at least must remain.  In other words, we could plainly see what had happened since Big Bang, but no-one had any real evidence of anything before it.   This had simply re-enforced the Religionists in their Creation beliefs.  But around the turn of the 23rd Century space explorers begun to discover discrepancies; whole Galaxies which though millions of light years away seemed to be moving in the wrong direction; the occasional spectrum analysis which showed small particles of dust older than Big Bang itself.  ‘Impossible’ the scientists all said, but slowly revisions became necessary.  By the 30th Century it became obvious that there must have been a Universe, possibly many, before the current one.  Could there be a seventh physical force?  An ‘Entrophy’ maybe, where, as the universe began to age and decay, the Galaxies themselves would start their long journey back to a single starting point.

Whatever the truth, which some Astro-Physicists were beginning to believe we would never know completely – this ‘Planet’ was simply impossible.  From Spectrum analysis it appeared to be a Gas Giant about the size of the old Neptune back in your Sol1 System.  But how could it possibly exist out here in this trillion cubic kilometre nothingness – with no Star to orbit.  But this was exactly the conundrum – this Planet, which was already being nicknamed ‘Dumbo’ was not moving at all.  This was too impossible to believe; everything in the Cosmos was moving, often at bewildering speeds.  There was no friction out here so once something was moved by any force at all, it simply kept on going until affected by another force.   So how on Sol71 could this, ‘Planet’, be apparently still.   It just hung there, as if suspended on an invisible string while everything else in the universe was spinning around.  Although, even stranger, as the Ship slowly approached ‘Dumbo’ appeared to be moving again, though now, if the measurements could be relied upon -and of course they had to be right – Dumbo was moving towards them.   The ship automatically, even though it was still a million kilometres away, stopped.  And Dumbo stopped too.

This was simply not credible, planets could not move of their own volition, something or some force must have moved it – but the ship was the only object for billions of kilometres around.  So, the ship slowly advanced a few thousand kilometres.  Dumbo did too.  The ship stopped.  Dumbo stopped.  The ship reversed slowly; Dumbo reversed just as slowly.  The ship veered off sharply to the left; Dumbo to the right.

Orders came straight from Sol71.   Reverse one million kilometres and wait until we have processed all this information.

But this time Dumbo simply stayed still, not retreating or pursuing the ship – just like a dog waiting for it’ master to throw the ball again, there it remained, seemingly at peace but the truth was that all the computers on board and even the few humans back at base were completely flummoxed.  Nothing had ever been observed with this apparently sentient behavour ever before.  It was if the planet, if indeed it was a planet, had a mind of its own.  It had mirrored the motions of the ship; there had to be some intelligence there deep in the gas giant’s swirling mass.

The decision when it came, after a wait of a few minutes – a lifetime for the computer’s on Sol71 –  was to launch a mini-ship, a mere hundred kilometres long, at crawl speed of a thousand kilometres an hour in an elliptical flight path to by-pass, if that were at all possible, the gas giant known as Dumbo.  A hundred-thousand kilometres in, and so far, no reaction from the planet.  Except….was it a trick of the light, some sort of optical (though optics were abandoned centuries ago) illusion – but was the planet changing shape?  Dumbo appeared to be dissolving, thinning out at the edges, getting larger if anything but less solid (if a gas can ever be considered to have any real density).  And slowly like a lump of sugar on a spoon in a cup of tea it seemed to dissolve.  What was once a bright orangey-yellow sphere faded to a creamy white and then just as slowly to a faint mist and then even that was gone.

The ship advanced to exactly where Dumbo had been, covering the million kilometres in a matter of minutes, and tried to collect samples; but samples of what exactly?  There was simply nothing there at all, not a single molecule, not even an an electron or particle.  Simply nothing-ness.  And yet the ship had seen it, the scientists back at Sol71 had seen it; the telescopes could not have lied.  Besides they had it all recorded on hi-res images and replayed it time and again.  It was the strangest event and there was no precedent for it.  They simply could not believe their own reconstructed image ‘eyes’.

For centuries students of Astro-physics, both machine and human puzzled over the ‘Dumbo’ illusion, as it became known.  And just as back in the 20th Century nobody had believed that an elephant could really fly – there was no denying what one saw.  Dumbo had reacted precisely, mimicking the movements of the ship and then had disappeared as mysteriously as it had arrived.

The best answer anyone could come up with was that this was some sort of intelligent Universe memory, a half-consciousness, left over from a previous Universe, that had somehow time-warped into this one. It should have imploded just before the Big Bang like everything else, but had somehow got lost in the mists of time itself and maybe, just a shadow, just a half-forgotten memory had survived out here in the bleakest emptiest part of the Universe.

But of course, the fly in the ointment was that word ‘intelligent’.  Despite millennia of searching and pursuing radio waves no intelligent life had ever been observed anywhere in the entire Universe.  A few fossils of what might have been simple one-cell bacteria might have been found in the occasional meteor – but even that was debateable.   There seemed no explanation for Dumbo at all.  Maybe there had been ‘intelligence’ in a previous Universe.  Maybe Dumbo’s apparent mirroring was not intelligence at all, but a new Physics pertaining to a time long before our own Universe.  Whatever….it is now many Millenia since Dumbo’s appearance and disappearance.  It isn’t even discussed much now at all.  Just like the Earth itself the planet Dumbo now appears to be lost in the mists of time.

This message has been sent in the maybe forlorn hope that you will not reject it as some sort of a joke.  We have sent several messages back to different times and obviously, because we have had no fore-warning about ‘Dumbo’, they have been ignored – or they themselves may have also been lost in the mists of time.



How To Kill A Prime Minister

The Romans had their Ampitheatres and Gladiators and (apparently) feeding Christians to the lions.  All jolly good fun, gory and scary in equal measure.  But we have come a long way since then….haven’t we?  Well, yes.  And no.  We still love the sight of the mighty fallen from grace.  We say that you mustn’t kick a man (or woman) when they are down, but in reality, we enjoy this more than anything.  We stand on the sidelines egging the press on, to stick the knife in again and again.

And none more so than when the victim is a woman.  Sadly, we all of us, men and many women too, reserve our harshest judgement for women.  But personally I hardly think that Theresa May’s faults are anything to do with her gender.  It is simply unfortunate that two of the most disastrous Prime Ministers in my lifetime have both happened to be female.  More importantly of course they were both Conservatives.  Say what you like about Tony Blair – he was a pretty competent Prime Minister.  Gordon? Well, the less said the better.  And even though on reflection John Major doesn’t appear too bad; Cameron was probably even worse than Theresa.

And the terrible thing is, that we have now seen four Tory Prime Ministers almost destroyed by their own parties’ mad obsession with Europe.

What has made this particular death so awful has been the prolonged nature of the kill. Bright sunny day it was, for Theresa at least, when the even more loathsome Andrea Leadsom pulled herself out of the race, leaving Mrs. May – the only woman (or man) standing.  But even then, the seeds of her destruction were sown when she returned from the Palace and declared that she was going to make a success of Brexit.   Us remainers were still shell-shocked of course, but did she not harbour the tiniest suspicion that it might turn out a wee bit harder than she imagined.  A wafer thin majority, and many in her own party not true believers (herself, the most recent of converts) she made the fatal mistake of an unnecessary election, which she almost lost.  It was then only a matter of time – the only shock is that it has taken so long to finally kill her.

And it is more than probable that even Big Beast Boris will be brought down too, if not by his own bumbling mistakes, by the right- wing zealots who are so skilled at killing Prime Ministers.




My Record Collection 76

Lesley Duncan – She was an incredibly talented Singer-Songwriter from the Sixties and early Seventies.  She was however quite shy and didn’t like the spotlight.  I used to have all her albums on vinyl, but they are incredibly expensive now on CD…oh well.  She was a backing singer for Dusty (see D) and many others – even singing on Dark Side Of The Moon.  Her best known song ‘Love Song’ has been recorded by over 150 artists including Elton John.   So, we start with ‘Sing Lesley Sing’ a recent re-release of her first album (1971) plus a few demo tracks.  Lovely songs and great playing from Jimmy Horowitz on organ, Elton on Piano and Chris Spedding on guitar.  Best songs; ‘Love Song’ of course and ‘Mr. Rubin’ and my favourite ‘Chain of Love’.  Her voice is so soft and caressing, you instantly recognize it and fall back in love with her.  Her second album Earth Mother was always my very favourite of hers – after this she tended to go a bit too close to the middle of the road – but I will keep watching out for her albums.  Earth Mother is decades ahead of its time, with its critique of the music business and her ecological words.  I just love it.  Best songs – so hard to choose….but the title track obviously, and ‘Time’, ‘Fortieth Floor’ and ‘God Is Real’ still sound as fresh as the day they were recorded.   If I ever had to choose – and please don’t ever ask me, this could well be in my top – say 100, albums.  I had her three other albums on vinyl and cassette, but somehow that special magic seems to have been lost slightly – not that those records are bad at all – not just so special.  Anyway, she retired from the music business in the early 80s; with her husband to a Scottish farm and seems to have lived happily ever after – until her sad early death at 66.  One of the best girl singers…

Duran Duran – and so we skip from the sublime to the (almost ) ridiculous.  Only one record ‘Greatest Hits’  and that is all you will ever need.  Okay, but really….pretty unnecessary even so.

Ian Dury – the old rascal.  Not the greatest fan, but good for an occasional listen and chortle; a superb wordsmith and quite good tunes too.  Just have the one – a greatest hits – Reasons To Be Cheerful.  And very good it is too, all the old favourites and a few others too.

Dusty Springfield – not many artists can be recognized just by one name but Dusty was and will always remain one of them.  The only album I have is Dusty in Memphis; 1969, which at the time was a bit of a flop, as was Dusty at this point in her career.  She had a few hits in the 60’s but was looking decidedly old-fashioned as the Seventies approached.  But over the years this record has gained a cult status as her best.  Great musicians and a good choice of songs, many by Goffin, King – my favourites; ‘Son Of A Preacherman’, ‘Breakfast In Bed’ and ‘Windmills Of Your Mind’.  She was one of the great white soul voices, instantly recognisable – but apparently she had quite an unhappy personal life.

Love Song: Previously Unreleased 1977-1986

My Record Collection 75

Nick Drake – Another of the music business casualties, Nick was just too sensitive to survive.   He made just 3 albums in his short lifetime – and they are all classics.  At the time each barely sold a few thousand copies – but since he died they have become cult albums and are now in the millions.  He was an influence on many later artists who loved his weary, almost not there ethereal tunes.  In a way he drew the path for others to follow.  He was almost always depressed and his lack of success both re-enforced his depression and became a justification that he was right.  I do know just how he felt.  The brick wall that you hit as an artist becomes in itself a wall to keep out all the critics. He was a great friend of John Martyn (see M) and Richard Thompson (seeT), but even they could not persuade him to continue. First up is his debut Five Leaves Left; (1969) a gentle and relatively happy sounding album.  Best songs – ‘River Man’, ‘Time Has Told me’, and ‘Cello Song’.  Apparently Nick wanted the album to be just his voice and guitar but his producer put a sympathetic backing on it, much to his displeasure.  Two years later and he recorded Bryter Later – This is probably his best effort.  Two versions of ‘Hazy Jane’ which send you off into another world, and ‘Poor Boy’ and ‘Northern Sky’ are lovely and lyrical.   He almost sounds happy at times, but there is that deep melancholy vein through the album.  At times it just fits your mood, but I can understand how he never achieved a wider audience.  I only discovered him through an Island sampler ‘El Pea’ which had a track of his on.  His last album was ‘Pink Moon’.    Another downbeat record, less backing too – almost stark in places. The title track is quite good, and several other tracks just slip by nicely, but you get the feeling when the record stops that you haven’t really heard it.  As if it has sent you momentarily to sleep.  There have been many compilations since his death in 1974 (a suicide), I only have A Treasury – and no new tracks, but simply the better tracks.  One suspects that had he lived he would have struggled to be allowed to make any more albums, and that would have been that.  As it is, like many others, his early death has ensured him a following he never found in his brief life.

Duffy – broke through in 2008 with the number one album Rockferry.  She sounded so like the fatal Amy Whitehouse (see W) that her voice seems almost affected, a yearning voice similar to Adele too (see A).  this obviously hit the spot with a younger audience and she had incredible success for a couple of years.  The album is okay, and yet somehow it fails to satisfy me.  I am always on the lookout for new girl singers – but Duffy was not to be one.  No bad songs on the records; just nothing that sticks in my mind.  Ah…maybe I am just getting old.   Duffy has practically retired after her two albums brought her fame (which she apparently hated) and fortune (which I suspect she liked),

Nick Drake, August 1970 London


My Record Collection 74

Donovan – well, what can we say?  A peculiarly English ‘pop-star’; the English Bob Dylan….hahaha.  But actually in the 60’s we all loved him.  He wrote some great songs, and on the strength of that I picked up a compilation called Greatest Hits, a misnomer if ever there was one; only ‘Sunshine Superman’ and ‘Season of the Witch’ are in any way ‘Hits’.  But I always liked him, and had a vinyl copy of ‘Cosmic Wheels’ which is brilliant – but is now a rarity on CD – still I might just buy it anyway.  (I just have….hahaha)

Doobie Brothers – well, less said the better. Destined for the charity shop I am afraid.

Thomas Dolby – Now, here is a very interesting one.  Part mad professor, part brilliant musician, part serious producer.  A genius at the then (late 80’s) new technology of Synths and Sampling he released a few innovative ‘Hits’   -‘She Blinded Me With Science’ and ‘Hyperactive’.  In many ways he kick-started a new wave of techno and dance music.  But he has always been a reclusive artist; in fact after a handful of successful albums he concentrated on developing technology and became a University bound consultant.  He returned late in the 2000’s to music.  He also wrote a couple of film scores – so, quite a polymath.  Incidentally he helped produce Dog Eat Dog by Joni (the tracks he was involved with I really like).  Anyway I only had 2 CDs (just ordered a boxset of his) – The Flat Earth, which was I think his third album.  It is simply brilliant, of course -almost every track worth re-listening to.  Lots going on in the background but the melodies are lovely.  He sings very well too.  Hard to pick a favourite song but ‘Dissidents’ and ‘I Scare myself’ do stand out.  The only other of his I have is the incredible Astronauts and Heretics album.  Such a lovely record; full of life and great enthusiasm – best songs ‘Silk Pyjamas’ and ‘Close But No Cigar’ both of which I first got as CD singles.  For a while this album was never off my turntable…but I had almost forgotten Thomas; he went off and worked on sound technology for a while and became a hit producer for other artists.   And made no records for many years.  Have no fear though, I just ordered a box-set of first five albums for £10….

Image result for images of Thomas Dolby





My Record Collection 73

The Doors – I actually came to this band quite late.  I first really became aware of them in 1972. The Weeley ‘pop festival – and ‘Riders On The Storm’ was played a lot during changeovers of acts.  I think I had heard it before but loved it and bought the album L.A. Woman of the previous year when I got back to London.  Mind you I got into so many bands after Weeley – Edgar Broughton Band, Barclay James Harvest, Lindisfarne and Genesis to name just a few.  But for whatever reason I didn’t go further back into their 60’s music (or forward for that matter either) until the early Eighties.  I had a girlfriend then who loved the Doors and we would listen to their earlier stuff together.  Eventually I bought most of it too, And though never on my real favourites list, I still do quite like them.  Starting with their debut The Doors (1967).  And immediately you are into that distinctive Doors sound, a lot of bass and driving keyboards.  Of course the band became famous because of lead singer Jim Morrison and his stage antics including being constantly arrested for exposing himself – but it is really the sound of the band that is the key, especially Ray Manzarak on keyboards that created the pioneering sound; in fact they are constantly being sampled by rap artists of today.  So – the album – it is really good, and so different from everything else in that momentous year.  Best songs ‘Soul Kitchen’, ‘The Crystal Ship’ and ‘Light My Fire’.  It is almost spoiled by the excesses of the final track ‘The End’ – but it was 1967, the year of psychedelia.  And there is even a Kurt Weill song in there too…

It was busy days back then for bands…Strange Days came out later that same year.  If anything it is even better and spawned two big hits ‘People Are Strange’ and ‘Love Me Two Times’ – but the whole album is pretty good; the usual excesses on ‘Horse Latitudes’ which I doubt anyone understood (or even the title), but ‘You’re Lost Little Girl’ and ‘Moonlight Drive’ are excellent.  A year later and after month’s of touring the band attempted that difficult third album.  Lead singer Jim Morrison had used up most of his lyrics and the band struggled to write songs in the studio, the resulting record ‘Waiting For The Sun’ was a bit disappointing; however it did get to number 1 in the US album charts.  In my mind the only really decent song is ‘Hello, I Love You’ – The rest leave me flat and a bit bored.  A year later and The Soft Parade came out.  And, in my mind – no real improvement.  To tell the truth I recently bought the box set of 5 Doors albums; I had the Greatest Hits and once owned a couple of vinyl albums. But I was quite disappointed bu these two middle albums.  The title track is the usual excessive nonsense from Morrisson and only one other track really stands out  – ‘Tell All The People’.  The Doors were a strange mix; they had ‘Hit’ singles which were quite poppy, they had excessive ‘Weird scenes in the gold-mine’ long songs and a lot of bluesy stuff.   Anyway – the next record ‘Morrisson Hotel’ seemed much better to my ears.  Quite bluesy really – but the songs sound more focused as does Morrissson himself.  Best songs ‘Waiting for the Sun’, ‘Indian Summer’ and ‘Ship Of Fools’.  But they really made a classic in 1971 with the majestic ‘L. A. Woman”.  And it was quite tragic really – just as they had found a remarkable streak of form, Jim Morrison died of an overdose in Paris.  I have visited his grave in Pere Lachaisse.  The band were never the same; they did release 2 more albums but without the strange chemistry of Jim Morrisson it never seemed to work,  anyway the album is simply sublme.  I love nearly every track – ‘Hyacinth House’, ‘L.A. Woman’ and of course ‘Riders On The Storm’ are standouts.  Riders still sends shivers down my neck,  And just to prove there is life after death a couple of years later they released what is almost my favourite Doors album American Prayer.  This is Jim reciting his poetry, some of which is familiar from earlier songs and the Doors in the background.  Simply sublime – there is something about Jim’s voice that is gentle, evocative and raging but that is compelling too – a great loss.  Well the album is exactly what the Doors should have become – intelligent and moody and brilliant.  Anyway, as a coda it is exactly appropriate.

An American Prayer

People Who Boast

Don’t you just hate boastful people.  I am not sure if it is a particularly modern disease, but I seem to come across them more and more often the older I get – and the more intolerant I become of them too.  You know the sort; they cook a meal and immediately declare that no-one else make a paella like them; isn’t that the best paella you ever tasted? They declare.  Being well brought up and not rude enough to declare “Well, actually no, it is okay, but I have tasted many better” you simply say “Yes, it is very good”.  Which of course simply re-enforces their self-worth.  And then there are those who tell you in great detail how they have rebuilt a motorbike form scratch, or done their own plumbing or re-wired their own house – all brilliantly of course.  I do sometimes wonder if they have omitted the inevitable floods and burnt junction boxes that must have ensued.

And these serial boasters never seem to have any conscience or consciousness that we, ordinary incompetents, are both unbelieving and bored, while simply amazed that anyone can have such a high opinion of themselves.  Then we have the name-droppers; not only did they go to school with famous people but worked with them too – and probably taught them all they know too.  There are also the boasters by proxy – who relate the achievements of their children, the gods of the new age, dripping in University degrees with huge salaries and mansions – as if their achievements somehow reflect on their equally brilliant parents.

No…Please no more.  Let us raise a very small flag for diffidence.  Let us praise the discreet ones, who may occasionally quietly reflect on their own very small achievements, rue their personal failings, but would never dream of broadcasting to the world how wonderful they are.  Because, we are the real achievers; we who simply carry on against the odds, who make very small waves, are not full of ourselves but try by small acts of kindness to leave the world a slightly better place.