Monday, 29 November 2010

Troubles With God (Poetry Bus)

Ok so it's been a while since I travelled on the Poetry Bus and I hope I haven't missed my ride as The Bug posted very early and a lot of people have already posted as a result

Anyway - Bug asked us to submit on one of three topics - and I chose the one related to conversations with God.

I offer you the below in good humour - please do not take offense:

Get This Party Started

At the end of the world disco party
The crowd splits to two different rooms
The believers in one quietly praying
Whilst Satan keeps all the best tunes

With the Judgement day finally over
They wait for the main star to appear
From the back of his private stretch limo
And finally make his plan clear

The lights dim, the music starts playing
The smoke machine belches a haze
And in white suit and medallion God enters
Still moving in mysterious ways

Monday, 22 November 2010

Painting In Need Of A Title

This painting was done on Sunday at a 1 day art course. It's an oil painting and the second time I've done the course - the last time was back in April when I was due to do landscapes but got my days wrong.

I did enjoy the day a lot - but although the above painting has turned out really well I don't feel as "good" about it as the painting I did last week from scratch by myself - I guess it's because the mountain painting is based on the Bob Ross method and thousands of students down the years will probably have produced something quite similar. Still - I had a good time and think I learnt a few things

Any suggestions for titles for the mountain painting, serious or otherwise, are much appreciated
PS: Bob Ross had a beard, Van Gough had a beard, Rolf Harris has a beard.  Coincidence?

Friday, 19 November 2010

Buskers Code Of Conduct

I miss the old days of buskers: the dodgy bloke smelling of wee and singing half a verse of “Here Comes The Sun”, the two students who can only remember three out of four chords and the sad-old-bugger playing “The Happy Wonderer” on Harmonica.

That’s what busking should be about – turning up and being so appallingly awful that people pay you to go away . It’s also a good venue for people to try out their sound before they go professional or start getting gigs: but not these days.

These days you have to have a licence – and the process of getting a licence and the accompanying rules are torturous to say the least. No wonder that my home town hasn’t had a music scene for 30 years. Here is the official list of rules, as requested by Argent and sent by NoFun Ltd (and please note, I'm not making this stuff up):

Successful candidates will be added to the Approved List, which will be reviewed annually.

NoFun Ltd will only license competent and vibrant performers who they feel would make a positive impact on the City Centre.

Exactly how do they measure this? Is there a fun-ometer? If one in ten people are not said to have received a “positive impact” do they reject?  Was the punk movement "vibrant" and "positive", were The Beatles?

Street entertainers should only perform within the approved entertainment

So what? If you audition as a knife thrower does this mean you can’t juggle fruit instead? Can you audition with your guitar, but turn up on the day with a tap-dancing baboon?

A pitch can only used from the hour until half past the hour e.g. 12.00 – 12.30, 1.00 – 1.30 There should be NO busking on any site between half past and the hour e.g 12.30 -1.00pm.

So: you can only play between the hour and half-past the hour, then you have to wait around for half an hour before you can start again? Why exactly? What is so sacrosanct about those times?

No sale of merchandise or goods will be allowed without a valid Street Trading Licence from NoFun Ltd.

So you can’t sell your demo tapes or T-Shirts? Hmmm

Only one entertainer or group of entertainers (maximum four people) shall be allowed in any of the entertainment areas at one time.

So children’s choirs, jazz and soul bands – any brass bands: all out.  And if the pitch is already gone: tough

Low powered amplification may only be used at certain sites (see site list), with express permission from NoFun Ltd, and the sound must be kept to a reasonable level so as not to cause disturbance or nuisance to surrounding businesses or the public. All sound levels to be set by NoFun Ltd staff.

Noise (for example music or voice) should not be so loud that it can be plainly heard at a distance of 50m.

So what? If you want to have amplification do you have to wait until a council official turns up with a tape measure and a noise registering machine to ensure that it’s not too loud. If you’re not using an amplifier are you supposed to pace out 50metres to ensure no one can hear you beyond that point?

Where accompanying backing music is used, the entertainers own music must form the greater part of the performance. Drumming should only be included as a minor part of the act.

So that rules out the Salvation Army and those steel bands then (admittedly no great loss)

Entertainers must not make use of street furniture such as public seats, lamp-posts and railings.

So during the half-hour where apparently you have to ensure you utter not a single sound you also presumably have to do a bit of yogic flying or just sprawl on the floor?

Animals are prohibited from being brought into the city centre by street entertainers while they are performing.

So performing animals presumably cause some kind of offence? What about Working Dogs?

Entertainers should stand unless their performance requires them to be seated. If the performance requires the entertainer to be seated then they should NOT sit directly on the floor – a suitable folding chair should be used.

So – not allowed to sit down during the act either

Non musical entertainers (eg. Jugglers / Stilt Walkers etc) must have proof of their current public liability insurance with them whilst entertaining. NoFun Ltd will require a copy of the certificate. Performers must take necessary precautions to prevent themselves or member of the public being put at risk.

So if you fall off your stilts you could be sued by us as well as by the public. Nice

Entertainers who appear to be under the influence of either drugs or alcohol will not be permitted to continue performing and will be reported to Local Police. NoFun Ltd will also remove them from the list of Approved Street Entertainers.

So that’s pretty much all musicians out straight away

Maybe it's just me - but shouldn't music (and entertainment) be spontaneous?  Surely the spirit and "vibrancy" of a place is not improved by laying down needless rules and regulations to ensure that no one is ever offended?  Maybe we should just learn to chill out?

Monday, 15 November 2010

Today Was A Good Day

Mondays.  I don't like them.  Tell me why...

Well - to be honest: i'm not that bothered about Mondays really: it's Tuesdays and Thursdays that tend to get to me.  Those extraneous days that merely mean there's one more day before you get properly close to the weekend.

But today was day five of an extended seven-day weekend and I'm finally getting to that point that happens just before you go back to work where you can wake up without screaming, aware that you can wake up when nature tells you to rather than when the alarm does and take things at a pace that you want to.

Our Kid recently text me and asked for the new Bon Jovi best-of for Christmas: so I ordered it from the interweb and decide to spend the day upstairs doing something I've done precious little of this year.

To whit: a painting.

My attempts at art this year have been a bit on and off: I did a one day course early in the year and haven't done a lot since - until recently when I signed up for a Naked Person course (aka "Life Drawing") with Mad Penguin Lady (my favourite eccentric art teacher).

To be honest I didn't really enjoy the course that much: it had been a while since I'd really tried to draw at all and I found myself trying hard just to remember anything I had ever learned: producing a series of pictures that would have added nicely to my modern art exhibition Demented Jelly Babies, but would have added little to the study of the human body - I got quite depressed about the whole thing.

But with a day to spare and a project in mind I picked out one of my canvases-in-waiting and began a painting (sadly I can't tell you about it at the moment, as it will be a christmas present for someone)

So, with a background of Bon Jovi on the stereo I sat and  spent the day painting, taking breaks from time to time to allow the acrylics to dry (acrylics tend to be my weapon of choice - watercolours are too wishy-washy and troublesome and much as I like the finished effect of oils I just don't have the patience to wait three weeks whilst each bit dries.

I spent about 4 hours painting in total inbetween washing up and making meals: then set off into town to meet a friend.

My friend, USM, is someone I've known on and off for about 6-7 years now and we've kept in touch even though we no longer work together.  We both have a love of sci-fi and we both pretend to be writers: him rather more efficiently than me.  The thing is that I struggle with writers block - somewhere along the way I kinda lost my belief in my ability.  I think this came because of two things: firstly I get stuck in endless re-writes and secondly I know that the finished result will only ever be read by a handful of people.  But also because sometimes the ideas just refuse to solidify.

I was telling him a few weeks back that I, like many writers, am likely to be distracted within a few seconds of starting to write: to turn on the TV, spend time staring at the cat and thinking "how cute" or finding any number of excuses to do anything other than write and he said, "well, why don't you come and meet me? I usually sit in a bar in town and write in the evenings: we can just sit opposite one another: break the tension when we get stuck etc etc etc'

And we meet.  And we chat.  And we write.  I get more done in one evening over a couple of cups of coffee than I've done in the last couple of months.  The lack of distractions and the change of scene does me good, as does the company.

So today was a good day for me: I did a lot of things that make me happy and for a change they went pretty well.  It would be nice to earn a living doing things one enjoys: but realistically very few people do. 

But still:  I think we all need days like these once in a while

Monday, 8 November 2010

I Know This Much Is True

So I was sitting in this bar – this was back in the day when I was still young enough to sit in a vaguely trendy bar without people gathering in corners and wondering who the old fart in the corner was - and it was quite late in the evening. I’m not much of a drinker and I was driving anyway, so I was stone-cold sober.

And of course there was a karaoke on.

It was that time when karaoke (literally meaning “empty orchestra”) was everywhere and sad, beer-bellied blokes were getting up and singing “Hstranghers hin the night-a” or “hthe hwonder hof hew” in that style of singing that only drunk pub singers can manage, drawling out every line, whilst ill-advised young couples were taking on “Bat Out Of Hell” having failed to realise that it’s a nine minute song

Fortunately these things are rare today – though you still see them from time to time. Kareoke, that is – not drunk pub singers: you see them all the time – but they were all the rage at the time. My normal, sober, reaction upon seeing a Kareoke machine would have been to turn-tail and find another pub, but I was with friends you understand.

And it so happened that not that long ago Tony Hadley (of Spandau Ballet) had been doing solo gigs in that area – not the night before, but you know – not long back. And about half way through the night, after a particularly drunk and manic young lady had murdered Willie Nelson’s “Crazy” this bloke in a white suit got up to sing (it was also the time when white suits were yet to become laughable for the second time (the first time being around the time of Miami Vice))

And the thing was: he was the spitting image of Tony Hadley

And the song he chose to sing was “True”, by Spandau Ballet

And when he sang it he sounded exactly like Tony Hadley – to the note.

Only – I’m not sure. Is this what faded pop stars do in their spare time? Trawl the karaoke bars of the world bemusing the regulars by performing their own songs to generic backing tracks?

Plus: my memory of this Tony Hadley lookie-likey is that he must have been about 10 years too young to be the actual Tony Hadley – unless of course the man himself had aged well. So was it the man himself, or just someone who had practiced very hard? I guess I’ll never really know.

But I do feel a bit sad for these fading stars. Like I went to see Midge Ure (Ultravox and one half of Band Aid along with Bob Geldof) not long after the Tony Hadley incident (and we’re still talking at least 10 years ago here) and he introduced one song by saying “The last time we did this song we had Eric Clapton on guitar on the left, Mark Knopfler on guitar on the right, Mark King of Level 42 on bass and Phil Collins on drums: tonight you’re getting the cheap version”

All very amusing at the time: but sometimes I wonder if it hurts to be reduced from having entertained 70,000 people in one go and from having Phil Collins and the Pope on your speed-dial, to playing bingo halls and karaoke bars where the audience are disinterested at best – or if the music itself remains enough
I hope the latter is true: I hope that it’s still enough just to create the music, to be a part of that moment – but still: there must be a part of them, as they stand on that stage, that looks out on that small room and wonders where it all went.

Maybe that’s why there are so many Era-Revival tours with all the nearly-made-it acts on one line-up, not just because the acts want to recapture something they once had, but because we do as well

Who knows – maybe one day I’ll be in a pub somewhere watching a karaoke and Lady Ga-Ga will get up and do one of her own songs then disappear, unrecognised apart from by me? Don’t be too sure it couldn’t happen.

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

The Greasy Spoon Rules

Visitors to London for the first time often find it hard to find something to eat.

They end up either wandering from street to street in increasing degrees of hunger or spending a fortune in Planet Famousville or the like. London for the uninitiated can be like having liposuction on your wallet.

However, even in the capital, it is perfectly possible to eat quite a good sized meal for £5-10 if one knows where to go.

This is where the Greasy Spoon Café comes in. This kind of eatery is, in no way, to be confused with anything referred to as a Café (pronounced ka-fey) – it is a Kaff and there are simple rules to recognise one and how one should behave once inside the doors of this most prized and sort-after eatery

Trust me: no trip to London is truly complete without a big plate of ehem, bekon, hegs n cheeps (see below)

So – here are the rules of the Greasy Spoon Kaff

1) How to find one

Locate a tube station in central London – look for some buildings that are clearly office spaces. Walk along the main street between point a (tube station) and b (office space) looking down the small streets to the side – within four or five streets you will find a Kaff

2) How to recognise it when you see it

It will be called INSERT NAME HERE’s Café

It will have a window next to the door for take-away meals (in the really good ones these will be welded shut so you have to go in regardless)

It will be filled with large IT staff eating sausage/bacon sarnies (sandwiches) and drinking coffee/huge cups of milky tea

The menu will be clearly visible from the street – usually written on a blackboard or a piece of laminated paper

The only options on the menu will be sandwiches and fried things (some places stretch to Jacket Potatoes, but most correctly assume that said IT staff eschew anything healthy) – in the really good ones even the salad is deep fried

It will have an awning over the entrance so that diners can sit outside in the pouring rain and enjoy the fume-filled air when the inside (inevitably) becomes over-crowded

3) Décor

It is law that all Greasy Spoon Kaff’s have fixed benches and chipped formica tables the size of which Bilbo Baggins would consider petite – the trick is to approach these sideways and slowly squeeze oneself in – then never, never breathe out again until you leave.

There must be either: a football banner on the wall showing the colours and names of a local London club or pictures of famous people who may, at some point, have been desperate enough to eat there (and those of you wondering where Joanna Lumley eats when in London should visit the Kaff just around the corner from Liverpool St Station to see her picture on the wall) or both

4) Queuing system

This varies from place to place. The best approach is to stand outside for 5-10 minutes and observe how the regulars do it – or to face the wrath of the staff
It varies between:
a) Being ushered to a chair to wait your turn
b) Forming one of two queues (depending whether one is eating in or out) in the tiny space that is laughingly described as the entrance in the fire evacuation forms

5) Taking the order

DO NOT order anything healthy. The correct order in a Kaff is either a Bacon Sarnie (sandwich) or similar meat-filled sandwich, a plate full of dead animal – or ham, egg, bacon, chips and beans.

Vegetarianism might as well be a foreign country as far as these places are considered and they are still labouring under the mis-apprehension that Vegans are those pointy-eared people from Star Trek.

Your order will then be shouted out across the café to the small room where the tiny workers toil – your order of ham, egg, bacon and chips will be translated into Kaff speak as “ehem, bekon, hegs n cheeps”

Regardless of what you order you will be asked if you want bread and butter with it – even (and I can’t stress this enough) your order in the first place was bread and butter.
(Americans: be warned – chips are what you call French Fries. Crisps are what you call Chips)

Whether eating in or out one must order a cup of tea or coffee – this is how you can tell a really good Greasy Spoon from a mere pretender:

a) Is the tea/coffee as weak as humanly possible?
b) Did half of the milk/tea/coffee end up on the floor/saucer?
c) Was the sugar thrown towards the cup with a similar level of gusto to an Olympic athlete throwing a javelin?

If the answer to all the above is “yes” then you are in a top quality Kaff and should mark it on your GPS for future visits

6) Staff

There are two types of Kaff workers

a) Elderly slim men with a mixture of greek and cockney accents, who despite their size and lack of meat on their bones could easily break you in two if required. They are unfailingly either extremely pleasant or entirely ignorant of your existence

b) Diminutive women in pinafores carrying more weight in their arms than Sherpa Tensing did when he went up Everest

It is the ultimate honour on Earth for one of the staff to recognise you and remember your order – if this happens then it is probably time to give up your outside life, move in upstairs above the building and put on an apron

The size of both types of workers goes some way towards explaining the small table size, alongside the policy to push as many people in as possible

7) Etiquette on leaving

Greasy Spoon Kaff’s are not, by the very nature of their existence, the kind of place one is encouraged to linger. They rely on a fast turn-over of customer and so the polite thing to do is to eat your meal as soon as it arrives, linger for a few seconds reflectively over your cup of tea/coffee and, having paid, leave quietly.

The best way to deal with getting through the inevitable queue in the doorway is just to throw oneself bodily towards it and hope for the best.


OK - so some of you novices out there who have never been to a Greasy Spoon may be reading this and thinking that actually it doesn't sound like such a great experience.

And ok: so these places are never going to win a Michelin star, and the only reason that Egon Ronay would be seen dead inside the doors would be to commit arson, but here's the thing...

It's great.  From the moment you go through the door and the bloke behind the door calls you "mate" instead of "sir", to the moment where you sit down at the formica table and regard the world over a large cup of tea, all the way through to the no-nonsense food, the wink of the waiter/waitress, the informal atmosphere and the simple, straight-forward food.

Given the choice between tea at the Ritz and ham, egg and chips in a simple London cafe I'd chose the bacon buttie every time