Monday, October 16, 2017

Everyday Beauty 1 ~ Loving A Bright Red Plastic Tulip

In the early 1960's there was still such a thing as a local corner shop that seemingly had everything. Mrs Whitaker's faced the end of our road in Halifax. When you entered you stepped into a short narrow room with a high ceiling and worn unvarnished floorboards. To the left, dark shelves rose packed to the ceiling with merchandise, to the right, a large shop window with an old display of stock, much faded by light. At the far end was a small wooden counter with a hinged top, behind this stood Mrs Whitaker, the entrance door bell having already summoned her from her back room.

Once I was considered old enough, Mum would send me there with a hand written note and shopping basket. The note contained a list of things we needed, to be handed to Mrs Whitaker on arrival.  On this particular day, Mum sent me to buy Daz washing powder.  The pack of Daz came with a bright red plastic tulip. In the sixties everything seemed to come with a promotional free gift, or a token to cut out and save. Its questionable whether soap powder and a bright red plastic tulip were natural sales companions, though it seems someone at Proctor & Gamble deemed it to be so. I became really entranced by this unexpectedly beautiful thing being given to me, for free, and returned home delighted.

When Mum saw me coming in holding a red plastic tulip she quizzed me about how I'd got it. I told her it came with the Daz but she thought that so unlikely, she marched me straight back to Mrs Whitaker's to apologise for my having thieved it. There of course she found out the vindicating truth. Mrs Whitaker's shop was soon to vanish; the arrival of the first supermarket in town a few streets away, quickly killed it off, The tulip, however, remained with me as a much prized childhood possession.

I was around six or seven, and still possessed a fascination and delight with everything I encountered. Most young children have this briefly, an irrational unbounded love and appreciation for objects, places, even imaginary people. Everyone else, but me, seemed to know this tulip was a poor crude substitute for the real thing. However feeble its verisimilitude may have been, it was as charmingly innocent and devoid of pretence as I was, I didn't care, I loved it, and saw it as beautiful. My free spirited perceptions were able to appreciate it just for what it was, not for what it wasn't or what it should have been. I took direct unmediated delight in its everyday beauty, however tawdry. It seems sad that we lose this ability to appreciate the beauty of ordinary everyday things, and can spend our subsequent lives grieving, searching and longing for this way of perceiving things to be revived in us.

What is it that changes our way of seeing?  A lot of this comes down to a lack of life experience, and an accompanying naivety. Together these make children able to view things with a constantly new, fresh and vital eye. It is familiarity that slowly dims or extinguishes a child's 'beginners mind'. Life experience itself can cultivate a bored disinterest in what has already been seen and known, as we seek out fresh stimulating experiences, to feel that buzz of the new once again.  Our countries economy survives on our desire for novelty. whilst our formal education informs, alters and refines our sense for what an aesthetic pleasure can be. The higher up the educational ladder we go, the more knowing and sophisticated our aesthetic sensibility may become.

This can come at a cost, we start to self censor our responses to the breadth of things we are able to appreciate possess beauty. What we believe to be beautiful or not beautiful, is created  through learnt biases within our own culture, it is an acquired distinction.  Like osmosis, we absorb other peoples aesthetic views through the conversations we have, the books, papers, websites we read, the advertising, programmes, theatre and films we watch, making them our own.  As we narrow, refine and elevate of our views of aesthetics, we turn an appreciation for beauty, everyday or otherwise, into a search for an other worldly and rather rare endangered species.

Everyday beauty tends to be broader ranging, more comprehensive and available everywhere, at anytime. If a grown adult, however, were to show a simple childlike delight in something as everyday as a bright red plastic tulip, they may end up being patronised, treated as charmingly naive, unsophisticated, uneducated, ill-informed, unrefined, primitive, their sanity might be called into question. Generally what is ordinary and immediate, is often popular, and this on its own can summon forth an air of cultural condescension. These things being detrimentally compared to more rarefied aesthetic experiences, often held up as supremely High Art spiritually inflected, that you have to spend some time learning how to understand, appreciate and have a feeling for.  This tends to stifle or stunt an appreciation for everyday beauty, instinctive, uncensored, and not strongly filtered through a cultural bias. Its present in everything, to consider it beautiful or not, ordinary or extraordinary, low or high brow, machine made or hand made, are distinctions that no longer serve any purpose. Appreciating everyday beauty appears to grow the more aligned we become with each 'presenting moment.' This may cause the arising of delight, by our closeness to it, by the intimacy of our being with its being, through appreciating its suchness, we touch upon our own.

This is the first of four blog posts I'm planning to write concerning aspects of Everyday Beauty. In future posts, I intend to look at three differing views on the relationship between everyday beauty and art, the elevated and the everyday aesthetic. One takes a modern Buddhist's perspective, one an essentially secular viewpoint, and another takes the secular as its spiritual launch point.  The first comes from Sangharakshita the founder of the Triratna Buddhist Order, the second from the artist and non-musician Brian Eno, and the third from Soetsu Yanagi, a 20th century Japanese ceramicist. I'm hoping that through exploring these views,  however divergent or conflicting they may be, some of the elements that encourage or discourage a deeper appreciation for everyday beauty may emerge.

Monday, October 09, 2017

MUSIC REVIEW ~ Sparks ~ Hippopotamus

Its been a while, but a new album by Sparks, for me, is like a reunion with much loved old friends. It's not that they haven't been busy during the eight years since there last studio album. Most recently they've been working on music for a film script called Annette, filmed by Leos Carax of Holy Motors fame, starring Adam Driver, Rooney Mara, and reportedly a cameo by Rihanna. Personally can't wait to see it. After that Sparks returned to the studio for ten months to make this album, which has a guest vocal appearance by Carax on When Your A French Director., singing 'When your a French director, you're an auteur as well, What does that mean? Every scene must be as obscure as hell.'
So, yes, as that lyric indicates, Ron Mael has been sharpening his customary wit once more. It's been well worth the wait.

On Hippopotamus there are fifteen songs, each a miniature gem, each quite different from the other, but still inimitably Sparks. Here are my personal favourites in no particular order, just as they come to mind.

The album's opener, is a short, bitter sweet song, with a simple piano accompaniment. Probably Nothing, is sung in the first person, its a man trying to remember what it is he wants to say to his partner. Devoid of irony, wit or whimsy, its just a very poignant song about someone with dementia.
'Something to tell you, but now I forget. Probably Nothing. Some little story, No nothing, not yet. Probably Nothing. Don't try to think of it, then it'll come, Happens a lot lately, I feel so dumb. It'll come, when it comes, but I still feel so dumb'

The albums title song Hippopotamus, is one of those off kilter Sparks songs where you just have to surrender to the barmy logic of it. On the face of it, it's just a list of odd things this guys found in his swimming pool, including the aforesaid hippopotamus, a painting by Heironymus Bosch, a Volkswagan micro bus, and Titus Andronicus wearing a snorkel. It has all the lyrical inventiveness we expect from Ron Mael, whilst having the insistence of a playground nursery rhyme that children might skip along too, whilst driving you mad at hearing over and over again.
'There's a book by anonymous, a book by anonymous, a book by anonymous in my pool. There's a book by anonymous, a book by anonymous, and a hippopotamus in my pool. No I've not read it, no I've not read it, when it drys out I'll have a go.'  

Giddy Giddy Giddy, on the surface appears light and insubstantial, but nevertheless this addictive little song drives along at an insane gallop as if it startled the horses. But I absolutely love it. Its sending up the rather hyped up state that contemporary life can often get us all into, so self intoxicated and just giddy with glee about something and nothing.
' from another city, where nobody's giddy, comes a scientific group, to analyse our giddiness, Their water ain't too giddy, their diet ain't too giddy, we're prettier than they are, but their infinitely giddier.'

Scandinavian Design, is a classic Sparks song where knowing cultural references are paraded as a lure to attract a woman to stay the night.
'I've got nothing, just a table and two chairs, But I know that everything I need is there, Every line, every shape, sculptural, no escape. Its Scandinavian Design. Sometimes she comes over, I think I know why, she says the sky has bored her, what's wrong with the sky? Who am I to turn her out, all that she thinks about, is Scandinavian Design.'

Unaware, is another of those Ron Mael songs that by concealing plays with our expectations and interpretation. Eventually to reveal the reason why she's unaware is that she's only a baby.
'Taylor Swift has something new, Nike has a brand new shoe, Reads your heart rate, anywhere, she don't know, she don't care, She's unaware, unaware.'

I Wish You Were Fun, is a great song, reminiscent of a music hall tune in its musical and lyrical style. It demonstrates that in another era Ron Mael could have been a successful Broadway songwriter.
'I wish you were fun, I wish you were fun to be around, I wish you were fun, You say that your favourite colours brown. In every other way I find you amazing but one, I wish you were fun, I wish you were fun.'

The closing song on the album, Life With the Macbeths, Russell sings a duet with an opera singer, in a grand satire on celebrity TV, where Lord and Lady Macbeth's life is being filmed as a reality show.
'As the cameras are rolling, we roll our eyes, But our lifestyle demands we hide our sighs, One season, is all you'll see, As the Lady inspires me to depths unseen, Killing all in my way, some will yell 'obscene' The ratings are off the charts. Life with the Macbeths, both tart and smart.'

Hippopotamus, I think will be viewed as one of Sparks late, but great albums. In its range of styles and invention it bears similarity to Indiscreet, an oft overlooked album from their first flush of success. With Russell now 69 and Ron 72, how much longer these two can keep going recording, let alone touring, remains to be seen. There are a number of songs here that refer to aging and mortality, perhaps this is spurring them on to make best use of whatever productive time they have remaining. Long may they continue.

Monday, October 02, 2017

SHERINGHAM DIARY 6 ~ What Will The Next Thing Be?

September is a significant month for Jnanasalin and I. On the 22nd Sept five years we had our civil partnership, and two years ago on the same date we had the 'upgrade' to a marriage. Though a fifth anniversary is, I believe, traditionally marked by a gift of wood. we chose to mark it differently. First, by going to see a broadcast of Yerma at the Sheringham Little Theatre, which was brilliant! and  then a curry at the Taste of India restaurant in Holt, which was notable for being distinctly average.

This year, another thing makes September a time of note, it's our sixth month since we moved to Sheringham.  When we first moved to Upper Sheringham we made a list of things for me to refinish for the house. I'm currently halfway through refurbishing an old chest of draws for our bedroom, which, once done, will mean that list will be completed. We've moved, settled in, found jobs, so, now what happens next ?

Well, I appear to have become a Star Trek addict. I wake up early, so once up, I make coffee for both of us, and then watch an episode or two. So far I've completed watching the Voyager series and am now on Series 4 of The Next Generation. After an extremely dodgy first series, with badly written scripts and everyone acting like the wooden tops, it has improved immensely. I've grown fond of the handsomely bearded Commander Riker, constantly beaming whilst standing stiffly, head bent to one side. Deanne Troi, still wooden after all these years, with her supposed supernatural powers of telepathy and piercing insight. Every time her mouth opens, out spills the dullest of perceptions, she ought to have been called Deanne Trite.

We've officially entered Autumn, and whilst I'm not yet a fully fledged paid up member of the Monty Don Fan Club, I have been getting soil under my fingernails and discovering caches of snails concealed inside bushes. Last week I gave our small gardens, front and back, a bit of a short back and sides tidy up and attention before the colder months land on our doorstep.  Plus, we've found where the best local garden centres are ( Holt and Overstrand ) and  have been buying plants to bed in over the Winter.

Jnanasalin and I both got in contact with our inner bloke, and dug out a couple of Leylandii bushes that seemed to be on a mission, to not just gain territory, but achieve total garden domination. We've also created a herb garden in pots and planted a rhubarb patch. There is a plan, not yet fully fleshed out, to plant a range of decorative grasses in our front garden, and attempt to remove the ugly satellite dish that we have no earthly use for. We're trying to block out the basic structure for the garden improvements now, so we can further develop them in the early Spring.

As yet, I've not been able to find alternative work to my present job. First, there isn't much to apply for, and second, when I do, I'm not getting selected for interview. I don't know for sure, but being sixty and male, could be factors in my not reaching interview stage. I have the relevant experience for the jobs I'm applying for, and do my best to tailor my CV to be appropriate. In North Norfolk employers appear to be looking for more of what they've had before, which quite often is a female part-time worker. Anyway, I'll keep trying to find my way out of the 'glass cellar' I appear to have become locked in. Meanwhile, though I'm losing weight, I also feeling constantly tired.

Jnanasalin is really enjoying being able to drive, since he's gained approval from the DVLC he's like a new man. Apart from making his daily commute to work much easier and shorter, we've taken to visiting a wider range of places, to discover and explore North Norfolk a bit. A couple of weeks ago we went to Dalegate Market in Burnham Deepdale, which was disappointing, but we discovered Creake Abbey Farm Shop on the way back, which we will no doubt return to. With his work, he's gradually getting to the end of sorting out the organisational and staffing mess that he inherited. At present he's on the cusp of starting to enjoy it. For weeks he's been redirecting or quelling the mix of ambitions and loyalties going on between female staff and volunteers, and heaving large plastic bags of clothes around a warehouse, the upside of which is he too has been losing weight!

What will Jnanasalin  and I do with ourselves of an evening, during the upcoming darker winter months? Upper Sheringham, as you might well imagine, has no nightlife bar the occasional Fun Quiz at the Village Hall. Sheringham has its pubs and restaurants, and the Sheringham Little Theatre, where you can see great broadcasts of live theatre, and a pleasantly inoffensive choice of films  mostly four or five months passed their release date, that wouldn't frighten a cackle of blue rinsed pensioners. Cromer has the Regal Movieplex Cinema, which sounds like a grand modern multi screen affair, but its all a bit more cosey and homely than that. Some of its screens can't be much bigger than our front room. However, if you want to see less genteel films and current releases, then that's the place to be.

We've been able during the summer months to make the most of living right on the doorstep of Sheringham Park, a National Trust estate, taking walks there in the early evening. After a strenuous day working inside a laundry the size of a cupboard, or sorting donations in a dusty warehouse for Priscilla Bacon Hospice Shops, it's great to be able to breath fresh outdoor air. We promenade on the seafront with an ice cream or a bag of chips in hand, or make a flask of hot chocolate, sit by the boat pond and read a good book, until our fingers get too chilled to turn a page. We've also taken to just reading in the evening, or myself to writing articles for this blog, or occasionally we do a jigsaw together! Which may sound like we're turning into the sort of fuddy duddy gay couple who'd soon be taking up knitting and crochet, if we hadn't already done so! We're just finding more enjoyment in quite ordinary everyday things.

After six months, its turning out to be a full but simpler life than we had in Cambridge, with fewer opportunities for distraction. Whilst we've been preoccupied with setting up our life here, adjusting our way of being to this, and the change in pace, hasn't quite been at the forefront of our minds. Now we move on to whatever the next stage in settling into life in North Norfolk is.  The most pregnant of questions being 'what will the next thing be,' with regards to Cottonwood Workshop and our 'cafe project'. As yet, whilst fervently saving as much money as we can, its still not certain in our minds exactly what direction to take, and hence what the money will be put to realising,  What our first steps need to be, is still dark to us. 

Monday, September 25, 2017

THEATRE REVIEW - Yerma - Encore Broadcast - 21st September

I had read wildly ecstatic reviews of the Young Vic's production of Yerma before I went to its broadcast at the Sheringham Little Theatre. All mention the much garlanded performance of Billie Piper' in particular. This can make one wary that your perceptions are being pre-primed by heightened superlatives being dished out like exotic hors d'oeuvres. However, this time I must say it was all deserved, to every last full stop and exclamation mark.

This production, written and directed by the Australian Director Simon Stone, has extensively adapted and transposed the original Lorca play, moving the setting from rural Spain to contemporary London.  Not being fully familiar with the original text I'm not aware to what extent he has remained loyal to the narrative. Though having seen other Lorca and read his poetry I can tell that, even though the dialogue is at variance, it is faithful to the tone and feeling of barely restrained, if not unfettered, passion that is distinctive of Lorca's dramatic style, as he slowly cranks up the emotionally tense atmosphere.

The stage set is a large glass plated, carpeted room,  It looked like one of those confining boxy interiors you see a distorted grotesque figure splurging out of in a Francis Bacon painting. In some respects Lorca and Bacon are similar; in that their output on the stage and on canvas is visceral. As though a bucket of butchers offal has been tipped over the floor. The glass box gives visual representation here to things both transparent and caged, those pent up feelings lie just under that bland beige carpet. Those unsaid things are now to be exposed via a torturous dramatic process. Yerma, is in the tradition of a Greek tragedy, placed in an ordinary domestic setting, similar in many respects to any play by Arthur Miller. You know from the outset that this idyllic situation you are first presented with will not last, that it will not turn out well for anyone, someone will by the end die, either at their own or another's hand.

The pivotal character is Eva, a woman in her mid thirties who realises her biological clock is ticking.  The time within which to have a child is running out. She ambushes her partner John with her desire to have a child by him. He goes along with it, afraid he'll lose her otherwise. Eva is a successful journalist and blogger, who uses her own life and difficulties as frank source material. So everything that happens in her life gets broadcast to the world outside.  The years pass with still no baby, her desperation, ,jealousy of her sister and mistrust for how little time John is giving to the baby project, all these feelings end up disastrously exposed for public consumption. Relationships fracture.

Yerma means barren, someone here is infertile, is it Eva or is it John? But Eva is surrounded by people who are emotionally barren, a mother who is unable to express love or affection, a sister unable to walk away from an empty abusive relationship, a husband so evasively out of touch with himself he's unable to be openly truthful with her.

Billie Piper's performance as Eva sets Lorca's heightened melodrama alight, in a flare of combustible despair, frustration and anger. Though she begins by showing her as playful and self assertive, over the length of the play she gradually sours as her wish to have a child becomes a maddening, overriding obsession. One that eventually removes the support of those around her and the stability of her own self. At times this is a raw raging performance, emotionally uncomfortable yet compelling, it is startling to watch.  Yerma is that unfortunately rare thing, a completely female centred narrative. This inevitably makes other characters less rounded, as they come in and out of Eva's whirlwind. Nonetheless, they are well played, particularly Brendan Cowell as John and John MacMillan as the hapless ex lover Victor.

The updated contemporary language, is often apt and frequently base, coarsely filled with profanities. Stone's version, like Lorca's rarely dresses matters up in polite acceptable language, the language, though often poetically heightened, always rings true. One couple in our audience walked out within the first ten minutes, shortly after the dialogue about why John prefers 'bum sex' with her! But that 'bum sex' dialogue is a major pointer towards how John really feels, in his heart of hearts he doesn't want them to have children. This deception is what corrodes their love for each other.

The original play had a chorus who led you from one scene to another, as it has an episodic structure covering many months and years. In this production its marked by projected chapter numbers, titles and headlines that delineate the downward spiral. The chorus here is a choral one, that sings increasingly dissonant verses, often abruptly truncated like badly edited TV intermissions. This gives the play a similar feeling to one of those 'found footage' films, with awkward jump cuts, out of focus, wobbly camera angles encasing a fractured narrative. As filmed, Yerma is one of the most disturbing and compulsive pieces of theatre I've seen in a very long time. Goodness knows what it was like for those seeing it live in the theatre itself.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

PHOTO ~ Shabby Sheringham ~ Door Knocker

The door knocker on the empty old shop I found last week. I love the way the cobwebs envelope it and that white wisp of a bird feather caught in its threads.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

SHERINGHAM DIARY No 5 ~ Let's Not Do The Time Warp Again!

We are in the middle of mid September wind and rain. Sheringham has exited its high summer season, and entered the time warped silliness that is the 1940's Weekend. Its a regular event here not previously experienced by us, as we've studiously avoided it. The whole concept of everyone dressing themselves, the shops and streets as if it were still wartime, seems weird, as though the whole place has become infected by a rather virulent disease involving camouflage netting. A disease that's spread to other close towns in North Norfolk. Hubby says its like entering the world of Stepford Wives, where you're left wondering what is going on here and where the real people went?

You can, however, understand the financial rationale, because its very lucrative to have upwards of 20,000 people bumbling around your town for two days. All the pubs and B & B's being fully booked. The weekend was started by the North Norfolk Railway over twenty years ago, and every year it gets ever larger numbers attending. Its now one of the most successful such weekends in the country, marking the last hurrah before places lay off their summer staff, and shorten their opening hours.

Why the 1940's? Well, I guess its a symptom of our nation's narcissistic nostalgia, looking into the mirror of a long passed era for a sense of identity. A time when Britain had the appearance of a more cohesive society, and was defending democracy. This yearning to matter, to have an Empire, to be a great economic powerhouse, still affects the way we see ourselves in the world today. In our unrealistic expectations that others will do our bidding, simply because we say so, or throw our supposed weight around, because we are British, after all.  A delusive arrogance now presenting itself in all its vainglorious swagger in the Brexit negotiations.

Why Sheringham? Well, the first bombs that ever fell on English soil, fell during World War 1, and fell upon Sheringham. No one died, but the spot now marked with a blue plaque, proudly declares this footnote in history and the sizable dent made to someone's backyard. There is no other discernible reason, historical or otherwise, for this event. Apart from the fact it goes with the North Norfolk Railway's old fashioned steam trains, and is evocative of the wartime stoical romanticism of Brief Encounter. The huge numbers of people who died as a consequence of the war, is turned away from. The focus is on the period style, the way we survived at home, rather than the substance of the conflict. Because it has been so successful other seaside towns along the coast have decided to compete by manufacturing their own themed dressing up weekend, Cromer has its 1960's weekend, Wells next the Sea has its Pirate Festival, each bearing their own rather tenuous commercial logic.

The build up to 1940's weekend starts weeks before, as window displays are adjusted, charity shops start touting their period vintage gear, and someone in town does a roaring trade in masking tape, as every bit of window glazing gets crossed with the stuff. There are homemade fins of German planes sticking out of walls, unexploded bombs on roofs, and a small tank made out of painted hardboard. Plus the sand bags, the digging for victory posters, the period cars, the American jeeps. The dress code is simple, the women are either land girls in dungarees with bright headscarves tied in a knot above the forehead or wear flower print dresses with furs and a fascinator. The men are mostly dressed in military uniforms, tweedie civvies or dapper spivs in double breasted suits. The detail that its gone into is quite impressive.

Like most things in Sheringham its done with a certain amateurish and enthusiastic gusto, that is endearing. It has to be said, that it brings people together in a shared experience, those who turn up, obviously love it, so this provides its own justification, I suppose. No one bothers to question why a 1940's weekend anymore, if they ever did. Its something the town just does, because ,bizarrely, it does work. Though we can't be the only ones who've avoided town for those two days. However, if we do end up opening a cafe here, I guess we'll just have to create our own way to join in with this.

By Monday morning the forties paraphernalia will start being packed up and consigned to someone's loft or garden shed again, Then Sheringham will return to normal, and move rapidly forward in time to somewhere after the oil crisis of 1973.

Friday, September 15, 2017

PHOTO ~ Shabby Sheringham - Empty Shop

This is the condition of the window in an empty shop in Wyndham St, Sheringham, that once upon a time used to mend watches and cut keys etc.

Monday, September 11, 2017

PHOTO ~ Shabby Sheringham ~ The Burlington Hotel

Though it only recently closed its doors, The Burlington Hotel has been a sad shadow of its former  grand self for years. Its window sills and bricks are seriously eroded and the pointing between them is so fast disappearing, that its a bit of a structural concern.

It has planning permission to be converted into flats, though the amount of making sound of the exterior structure might be off putting to investors. But then the only other options will be further deterioration until its condemned. I'm all for preserving buildings whenever possible, but I can't see what they are planning ever happening. I'd love to be proved wrong.


Saturday, September 09, 2017

ARTICLE ~ Heaven in the Lyrics of Ron Mael..

Part Two ~ Gabriel plays it, God how he plays it.

In Part One we looked at Ron Mael's quirky views on the sexual dynamic between men and women.
I thought I'd take a closer look at the theme of God and Heaven. with the release of Hippopotamus we have a new song to add to the growing lexicon of Ron Mael songs that poke gentle fun at the divinity or highlight the more prosaic aspects of having to live in heaven. The history of Sparks songs featuring the godly realms has a broken, but quite distinguished, lineage.

On Kimono My House from 1974, is the track Here in Heaven. Its sung from the point of view of a 'romeo' who has deliberately killed himself, whilst his lover Juliet, who hasn't gone through with their joint suicide pact, is still alive and not here in heaven with him. An odd subject for a song you might think but it contains one of Ron Maels's most smart and wittiest lyrics.

Here, there are lots of things to do
And a panoramic view
Of the universe completely surrounding you

And here you cannot buy souvenirs
You're never going back, never, never
Basically, I guess it could be worse
Yes, I do suppose it could be worse

Here, there are many, many sheep
And the people only sleep
And awake to tell how gory and gruesome was their end
And I don't have many friends
And it's really very clean and I'm thinking
Juliet, you broke our little pact
Juliet, I'm never coming back

Up here in Heaven without you
I'm here in Heaven without you
Up here in Heaven without you
It is Hell knowing that your health will keep you out of here
For many many years

Dear, do you often think of me
As you overlook the sea
Do I qualify as dearly departed or am I
That sucker in the sky
The fall guy for the first and the last time
Juliet, I thought we had agreed
Now I know why you let me take the lead


Second thoughts, is that what you had?
Second thoughts, first I broke my back
Second thoughts, as I hit the sea
Second thoughts, for eternity, for eternity, for eternity

Indiscreet, from 1976, is full of a very eclectic mix of songs that shows their growing confidence in the range of styles they could successfully master. However, the wider public didn't quite get it, and it marked the end of the first phase of their popularity, only for them to emerge re-energised and electro three years later. It did none the less contain two hits, Looks Looks Looks, a parody of fashionistas, that paradoxically got readily adopted as catwalk music, and Get In The Swing, whose tune thumps along accompanied by what sounds like an American football brass band. Towards the end there is a brief interlude where the divinity completely breaks the entire flow of the song to raise a complaint. There is no rhyme or reason for it at all, its just an excuse to lampoon, its completely unnecessary but a delightful intervention.

Hello down there
This is your creator with a questionnaire
Hello up there
I don't have the time to fill out questionnaires

No 1 Song In Heaven, produced by Giorgio Moroder in 1979 and here we have probably their best known heavenly themed song. Always looking for that slightly askew angle, Ron Mael imagines that heaven is as prone to an addictive pop tune that everyone hums as we are on earth, except that in heaven all the very best tunes are written by god. The full song has two parts, first, a slow ballad with a wistful elegiac air, which then breaks into a fast paced romp, that proceeds at such a pace its almost too brisk to be danced too.

This is the number one song in heaven
Written, of course, by the mightiest hand
All of the angels are sheep in the fold of their master
They always follow the Master and his plan

This is the number one song in heaven
Why are you hearing it now, you ask
Maybe you're closer to here than you imagine
Maybe you're closer to here than you care to be
It's number one, all over heaven
It's number one, all over heaven
It's number one, all over heaven
The number one song all over heaven

If you should die before you wake
If you should die while crossing the street
The song that you'll hear, I guarantee

It's number one, all over heaven
It's number one, all over heaven
It's number one, all over heaven
The number one song all over heaven

The one that's the rage up here in the clouds
Loud as a crowd or soft as a doubt
Lyrically weak, but the music's the thing

Gabriel plays it, God how he plays it
Gabriel plays it, God how he plays it
Gabriel plays it, God how he plays it
Gabriel plays it, let's hear him play it

The song filters down, down through the clouds
It reaches the earth and winds all around
And then it breaks up in millions of ways
It goes la, la, la......
In cars it becomes a hit
In your homes it becomes advertisements
And in the streets it becomes the children singing.

The album Balls from 2000, is their 18th album, and it fell to earth in what was creatively a somewhat flat and directionless bardo between the wacky coherence, and commercial success, of the concept like album Gratuitous Sax & Senseless Violins and the equally bizarre. yet groundbreaking album Lil Beethoven that was to reinvent them, yet again, in 2002. Nonetheless, its an album I'm still quite fond of, if only for the balls of the title track Balls and speed of Bullet Train. But it also had this sweet little love song called The Angels, where the titular angels are both overwhelmed and green with envy at how stunning this man's girlfriend looks.

I heard the angels call your name
They feel ashamed. They feel ashamed

Because you look so fucking good
I saw the angels glaring down
I saw the angels glaring down
They feel inane,They feel in pain
Because you're oh so fucking cool

Me, I take it in stride
Me, I know I'm on the right side this time
I see the angels disappear, I see the angels disappear

They feel confused, They feel bemused
They are a pale picture of you

Me, I take it in stride
Me, I know I'm on the right side this time

They've felt the heat, And felt defeat
Because you look so fucking good

They've felt the heat, And felt defeat
Because you look so fucking good

So we come to their most recent heaven themed song What The Hell Is It This Time? from the Hippopotamus album. It's like a more extensive rap on that short coda from Get In The Swing. God is getting so pissed off with the number, type and frequency of the requests for helpful intervention he's receiving. 

Historically, Historically we make and appeal
To something greater then we are when we need to heal
But don't concern Him with your little bad day affair
His temper will flare, he'll rise from His chair
What the hell is it this time

My god is great, my god is good, he loves every man
But show consideration when you pray in demands
His plate is filled with famine and clean wholesome air
If Arsenal wins he really don't care
What the hell is it this time

You've asked Him for attention twenty times in the past
But twenty times is granted you and again you have asked
But twenty is the limit and he's now getting peeved
And when he gets peeved It's not to be believed
What the hell is it this time

My god is great, my god is good, he loves every man
He loves every man, he loves every man
My god is great, my god is good
But show some restraint if you're feeling faint
Appeal to a saint
What the hell is it this time

It's you again it's you again, you get on my nerves
What the hell is it this time
I've millions to serve, you get on my nerves
What the hell is it this time

My girl has left, my dog has left, I've cracked up my car
The only one who listens to me stands in the bar
He turns his back and walks away
And I say for you I ain't hardly through
He says "Yeah you're through"

Our god is great,our god is good, he loves every man
But there's a limit to what even He can withstand
So be selective in what you slip under His door
It it isn't war, It may be ignored
What the hell is it this time

My god is great, my god is good, but don't waste his time
He's dealing with crime, so don't waste his time
Historically historically he has carte blanche
He don't take carte blanche
He don't take carte blanche
What the hell is it this time

* all lyrics are by Ron Mael.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

SHERINGHAM DIARY 4 ~ Shabby, But Never Chic

Hurrah! today, Jnanasalin passed his driving test, third time lucky. So I'm finally relieved of my 'Designated Adult' role, of sitting in the car and trying not to make leg movements that look like I'm putting my foot on the brake. whilst he practices reverse parking, roundabout procedures or taking long roundabout trips so he gets the necessary practice in unfamiliar terrain. I'm more than willing to give up my role, as it has gone on a little longer than either of us expected.  Not being able to drive also provided an additional source of anxiety and stress for Jnanasalin, at a time when he could have done without it, as he's been starting and settling into his new job.  As generally in life he's been a 'first succeeder' he's not usually had to 'try, try again', so not passing his test first time he's found challenging. As I said to him, he can now join the club most of us are already in.

We have been out on adventures in the car lately, partly so Jnanasalin got in some regular driving practice til he passed his test.  But also to start checking out craft barn complexes out of town for possible locations for our future cafe. So far, though we've only been to two, they've both been a bit like a flat bread - unleavened by excitement.

The first was Alby Crafts & Gardens.  Its a small complex of craft workshops/galleries/retail outlets, including a characterful tearoom that sells good coffee and a distinctive range of cakes.  The workshop rents for sites here seem reasonable at £300 per month. The craftspeople have obvious skill and imagination, some running their own craft workshops in the evenings. It may be the sort of place you could start off with a workshop and shop, and build from there. However, though we arrived at 10 am the stated opening time on a Sunday, a few craftspeople had yet to show up an hour later, and there still weren't many visitors around. Sunday is unlikely to be that representative, but one does wonder how successful it is as a site, what its average footfall is etc.

From there, to one that has proven success and footfall ~ Wroxham Barns, a bigger, more well established, very popular family orientated set up. It does, however, look worn and tired in places. Many of the craft galleries don't exhibit much skill in their craft, sticking to whatever sells, which is rather unimaginative tat for tourists. Many don't even feature work by crafts people, local or otherwise, but buy in craft styled items from commercial gift ware companies, such as Gisela Graham. This creates a uniform, rather than a unique retail environment, with a bland predictability too it. We didn't even stay to have coffee and a cake, which is an unheard of for us, that's how much we wanted to get away from here. Ghastly place.

Both of our jobs continue to cause us a certain amount of grief. Mine is mostly physical stress and Jnansalin's mostly mental stress.  Mine is a consequence of it being at the height of the tourist season and the housekeeping workload continues at just above mental. So I'm pooped rather a lot. At Jnansalin's work he's inherited a dysfunctional situation that he is gradually sorting out, but what with people leaving and needing to recruit to replace them and fill the new roles he's setting up, its a bit full on. All to be sorted out before he can do anything to expand the current shop chain.  His work day including travel is twelve hours long, this will shorten by roughly half an hour either end now he can drive solo. He's also been having a series of bad nights sleep, due to excessive anxiety, that sort of added insult to injury.

My latest refinished piece of furniture for the house is one of two folding side tables, Though originally bought for the future business, they have now become our bedside tables. One has a light oak finish, the other a dark varnish. Sanding the old finish off the darker one was relatively easy, plus repairing a leg support, re-varnished the top a dark walnut, and painted the underside and legs in a black matt paint. It looks rather snazzy now, and fits in well with our modern furniture.

I've just started on the lighter of the two tables, to re-varnish it to match the one just completed.  The table veneer has frayed a bit on the edges, but I'm hoping a bit of gentle sanding will make these areas less noticeable. I've also started to use photos of the furniture I've recently refinished on the Cottonwood Workshop Blog, with the idea in the longer term to use it as a resource to show off the type and standard of work I can do. I just have to remember to keep taking photographs as I go, in order to document the process properly.

Meanwhile back in sunny Sheringham, one of it's town councilors recently criticised his own local council for being 'shabby'. His beef being that the council offices were unfit for purpose and the people on the council were somewhat shabby too. This public comment is, shall we say, 'on the agenda' for a future meeting. This council recently voiced its collective dismay at the state of the town's war memorial and accompanying roundabout garden, maintained, but contracted out, by the district council. This is one of a series of spats between local and district councils.

The district council appears to be trying to drag the local council kicking and screaming into the 21st Century. It did a survey to assess local support for a partial pedestrianisation of the main street, and largely gained approval. They have asked the local council to review the possible options with the aim of running a trial period, The local council has refused to do this.

The Hotel closed for over ten years
The district council has put pressure on the owners of the old Shannocks Hotel, a well known eyesore on the seafront, to come up with a proposal to redevelop it. Their planning proposal has been rejected by the local council because it would mean the loss of a small car park on the seafront, citing, without statistical evidence, its use by infirm and disabled visitors. Now, a good part of the traffic going down the main street is heading for this dratted car park, which is usually full, so they then drive straight back out again. In the summer season, the pavements are heaving with buggies, families, dogs, the infirm on crutches or zimmer frames, mobility scooters, all have no choice but to treat the lower high street as a pedestrianised area, and to take their chances dodging the traffic heading mostly for this small car park.

Aspects of our lovely town and seafront do exhibit a shabby demeanor, and not quite what you'd expect from North Norfolk's Premier Seaside Town. The town has always had a unsophisticated if not unpretentious air, never that good, or that bothered for that matter, with being fashionable or chic. If anything when it tries to do so, it never quite gets it completely right. It appears always content to be just as it is, pretending its impervious to change.  We do find this a somewhat appealing characteristic of Sheringham, and makes us fond of it. Though this does have its downsides in that it can sometimes look like an unkempt old man, in a moth eaten jumper that would fall apart if it was washed.

There is in an area I refer to as 'The Grubby Triangle' in the lower part of the town up to the seafront. Here there are one too many long in the tooth establishments, who haven't subjected their property to a wash, to a lick of paint, or to changing or repairing the appearance of their shop fronts, for decades, and I do mean decades. Some of them you are left wondering how they survive? There are notable exceptions who have attempted to improve the appearance of the area, but this, in a sense, only accentuates the remaining shabbiness.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

FEATURE 135 - Susanne Sundfor - Mountaineers

Having seen her glorious voice steal the Scott Walker Prom a few weeks ago, I started to investigate her back catalogue. This is what I came across first.

This song Mountaineers is from her forthcoming album Music For People In Trouble, and features John Grant's extremely distinguished basso profundo. Beginning with his voice an eerie echoing chant emerging from some deep ravine, the atmosphere of distant melancholy builds until it becomes this airborne and magnificent defiant declaration of hope.  I've been quite gob smacked by this track since I first heard it a few days ago. Sundfor's voice has a tonal range and crystal clarity as if its been shaped by huge geological forces. It has a similar sound quality to Barbara Dickson's with a folky timber, as if a bell were being struck. Her musical style ranges from out and out electro-pop masterpieces, to these more experimental, almost operatic, mood pieces. She's very big in her native Norway, surely can it be long before she breaks through here?

Here's another track from her previous album Ten Love Songs, called Accelerate, an example of her more driving electronic pop style.

Monday, August 07, 2017

FILM REVIEW ~ Tale of Tales

This film is based on three tales from the Pentamerone, a 17th Century collection of folk tales, from which we also get our earliest versions of Rapunzel, Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty. The Director Matteo Garone, successfully blends these three stories into one flowing narrative, and what a delightful entrancing result it is.

Retaining a lot of the original qualities of this source material, the stories are unhinged, bizarre, surreal creations that startle, entrance, are both beautiful and repulsive, whilst all the while retaining that curious logic that folk tales possess, that is all their own.  The buildings, sets, locations, costumes and effects possess  a baroque twist of exoticism, and provide the movie with both a familiarity and an other-worldliness.  There is an excellent cast of Selma Hayek, John C Reilly, Toby Jones and Vincent Cassell who bring these odd tales close to the edge of being believable.

Most of the tales involve a decision or action that has an unintended consequences for a character, usually requiring a sacrifice. They are often told half truths, where aspects of what will happen are being withheld.  A king wants to cheer up his morose queen, so he obtains the beating heart of a sea monster so a virgin can throw it into a pot of boiling liquid, all so his wife can eat it and then conceive a son in an instant, and be happy. Unfortunately the king dies in obtaining the heart, and both the queen and the virgin conceive a son, who turn out to be identical albino twins, who become inseparable and can both breath under water.

Like many folk tales they are not for the squeamish, and often have a very dark shadowy side to them. One woman who wants to appear young has her flesh cut, stretched and stuck down, whilst another has her skin flayed off.  Whilst this is to my mind not shown in a gratuitous manner it nevertheless gives the film an unnerving, yet intriguing edge, you never know quite where these stories will take you.  They remind you how life, and not just folk tales, will often punish you for your ignorance, vanity and folly.

Thursday, August 03, 2017

BOOK REVIEW ~ John M Hull ~ Touching The Rock

After many years of diminishing eyesight, John Hull, despite all the medical help he was receiving gradually lost any vision in the one remaining eye that had been functioning. The book Touching The Rock is an edited transcript of tapes he started recording shortly after he became blind and continued to do on a regular basis for a number of years subsequent to that.  In them he records his observations on how being blind feels, the changes to his sense of self, how his relationship to himself and others changes, the way sighted people misguidedly try to help a blind person, having to deal with well meaning spiritual healers who are sure they can restore his sight.

The book, and the dramatised documentary Notes on Blindness which is based on it, are truly beautiful things to read and to see. Personal and intimate, whilst also observing his predicament with some detachment and insight, his words often tinged with an underlying spiritual impulse. His religious views are a bit too Christian to move or inspire me. However, as a Buddhist, it was his observations about how his blindness changed the relationship and understanding of his own self that I found the most exciting and revelatory. For these revelations alone, this book is worth reading, and it is very readable.  Here's a taster just to wet your appetite.

" I find I'm trying to recall old photographs of myself, just to remember what I look like. I discover with a shock that I cannot remember.......To what extent is the loss of the image of the face connected with the loss of the image of the Self|? Is this one of the reasons why I often feel I am a mere spirit, a ghost, a memory. Other people have become disembodied voices, speaking out of nowhere, going into nowhere. Am I not like this too, now that I have lost my body?" 

"On one of my walks, I pass beside a five-foot-high fence made of vertical metal bars. this gives way, at a certain point, to a solid brick wall. I find that if I pay attention I can tell when I have left the fence and am going along the wall. There is, somehow, a sense of a more massive presence. I gather from conversations that this experience is essentially acoustic and is based upon awareness of echoes....but at the same time it is important to emphasise that one is not aware of listening. One is simply aware of becoming aware." 

Sunday, July 30, 2017

SHERINGHAM DIARY 4 ~ Storms and Vicissitudes

So, July has come and gone with a seamless flow of heatwaves interspersed with torrential storms. Its as though we are being given a fore taste of what may come in the winter months. My own mood has to an extent mirrored this change in the weather, between a moderately sunny contentment and the nagging clouds of unease.

The Laundry where I work ~ spacious eh!

The source of this 'unsettling' arises from my work, which I could describe as a repeated exercise in running extremely fast in order to staying exactly where you are. Now, if I were on a running machine in a gym, this might hold potential health benefits, but this job feels like it should come with a health warning?

Well, we are now in high holiday season and most of the guests stay only one or two nights. This means we clean and replenish the rooms as well as change wash, dry and iron bedding and towels for between 3 - 6 rooms daily. My work is supposed to be part-time, four hours, five days a week, three days housekeeping and two washing up in the kitchen. At the moment the housekeeping stretches to five, five and a half, and frequently six, and I struggle to keep on top of the workload and ensure I don't leave the next days housekeeper too huge an overflow - usually of towels. Towels! oh but lets not allow my gripe engine to go into over rev.

Housekeeping itself is straightforward work, however, the thoroughness with which I can execute it is restricted by the size and processing of this laundry workload. The only way to make this combination of Mrs Mop and Widow Twankey work is to throw time at it. So I'm having to draw boundaries around how much extra I do, otherwise this job will eat me up for breakfast, dinner and tea. I have also to take my physical limits into account, anything over five hours and my physical stamina declines, as my aches and pains start a rapid ascent into heightened awareness.

So, yes, the job is not good, I earn enough, but at some cost to energy and interest in doing anything else. Finding another job before the summer finishes is not looking a hopeful prospect, which can knock my confidence and positive approach if I let it.  The job market in North Norfolk appears largely comprised of minimum wage work, predominantly cleaning and care work. Poor jobs on poor money, is the reality of employment not just for me, but a growing percentage of pre-Brexit Britain. God knows what will happen after.

On a more optimistic note, just when we thought our selling via Etsy had completely dried up, this week we've had three sales, two from folk in Hampshire (we don't know if they are connected) and one from France. This surprised me as we've put almost no effort into it for over six months.  So The Cottonwood Workshop flag keeps flying even when there's not a following wind from us.  My struggles with work have arisen in what could be characterised as a bardo period in our future plans, and a consequent lack of creative direction. When work isn't creatively satisfying, I tend to cope better with that if I'm doing or working towards something else that is.

The ideal site for our cafe, as I said last month has now opened as a coffee shop, and it is a very odd set up. Painted outside in a Farrow & Ball Dark Grey, rather roughly I might add, as if the painter ran out of paint and the owners said, oh to hell with this lets open anyway. Inside its not quite plain and simple, more sparse and spartan with plain plywood faced counter, tables and similar cheap looking chairs. It has the air of a place not quite sure of its style, and certainly not there yet. We are beginning to suspect they might be on a short 6 month lease. Either that or they intend to finish off the paintwork in the autumn. They are the Grey Seal Coffee company who have been selling their own roasted coffee online, and appear to be opening new cafes on the North Norfolk coast at a rapid rate. They have one in Blackeney, Wells next the Sea, now Sheringham, and another is planned for Burnham Market. I hope we can do better.

Jnansalin has started his new job, and two weeks in is getting to grips with how things really are with Priscilla Bacon Hospice's three shops. As ever, the job and the reality are slightly different to how they seemed at interview. Some of the interview questions have started to reveal part of their backstory. There's a lot for him to do, and I mean a lot of things to do, so once he's settled in, much to be sorted out. But, he's more than capable of what needs doing, some very small changes he's made have already shown signs of turning things for the better.  He didn't pass his first driving test, but has his second next week . So currently he travels to work just outside Norwich by bus, which makes a long day that bit longer.

My projects for the house, are moving forward, slowly. I finished the repaint/waxing of a display cabinet we originally bought for a tenner. Quite a lot of sanding was required to remove the black gloss top coat, and several coats of paint then waxing. I'm quite pleased with the way its come out. Lately, I've been working on three frames for some Delft tiles we bought from an Amsterdam Flea Market a few years ago. These are now finished, I just have to decide where and how to hang them on our lounge wall, and that's all the jobs for the lounge done

I've already moved on to things for the bedroom, with making a frame to stretch a Belgian Tree of Life tapestry we bought in Bruge on our honeymoon. This is now in pride of place over our beds. Next up are two second hand side tables that need sanding and varnishing to match. I've hit my first obstacle in that it appears you can't remove any of the fixings, so my idea of taking them apart sanding down and reassembling them will have to be rethought.

I'm getting quite good at this sort of thing, now I've done so much of it. I've been wondering lately whether I should turn it into a business, to work to my strengths more, which isn't what I'm currently doing. Apparently, according to the internet, its what people of my age do, when faced with a poor or disinterested job market ~ pause for further reflection.

For a while now I've been testing out Carrot Cakes, trying to get an idea for what a really good carrot cake is. I consider it as research for our future cafe. In order to be a bit clearer in my analysis, to pin the necessary qualities down better, I've started writing a new blog called Perfect Carrot Cake where I review and score the carrot cakes I eat in North Norfolk. Give it a look.

This weeks major weekend event in Sheringham was the Harley Davidson Ride Through, where hundreds of Harley Davidsons and their owners rumble into town, park for a few hours then rumble out of town. I've never seen so many badges, chains and leather in one place, plus an assortment of shaven heads, pigtails and bear beards, both male and female. 

Friday, July 21, 2017

FEATURE 134 - Arcade Fire - Creature Comfort

Of late, Arcade Fire's albums have shown signs of them wanting to move away from the grand and triumphal signatures of their first two albums. The Suburbs, was more carefully themed and though had its moments, somehow failed to touch me, there was something about it that was emotionally removed. I rarely listen to it, and even then not all the way through. So when it came to Reflektor I gave it a miss, the videos released not convincing me to give them another go. The new album, Everything Now, looks like they have to some extent recovered their sense of direction, at least rebooted their mojo. This track Creature Comfort, being a great pumping moment of joy, even though the subject matter is about personal pain.