Monthly Archives: January 2019

Sri Lanka Days 3 & 4 – Elephants, Camping & Temples

So the group met in the hotel lobby and after receiving the ‘joining instructions’ we made our way to a restaurant. Out of the ten in the party then two are older but it is a very middle aged selection apart from two millennials. One of these is Russian and living in China and the other is a Chinese American living in New York. Certainly a lot for a Yorkshire boy to fathom out.

Things were going quite nicely over our first drink until Allan, a Canadian, called our national sport ‘soccer’. Rest assured matters were quickly and authoritatively corrected. Some of the party had only just got to Colombo and were weary; so we all said ‘goodnight’ and retired.

We’ve a spacious bus and it was manoeuvred through the Colombo rush hour heading north. We were aiming for a spot of camping near the Wilpattu National Park. The terrain is completely flat. The urban areas away from the high rise buildings are shambolic with little planning or rules. Houses abut shops and workshops. Different heights, designs and materials. There were also many started but incomplete buildings. The rural areas were a lot more attractive and the traffic thinned out. Now we had fields and woods either side. Often people walked alongside the road. The women in long dresses and throws (saris); the men less encumbered and often not walking but astride a bicycle or motorbike. The tuk-tuks were fewer in number as were cars and trucks.

After lunch on the road, four albums listened to on my iPod and we got to the campsite. Tents and the midday sun are never to be mixed and we swiftly dumped our bags and set off for a 4×4 tour of the park. Now I’m not being stupid to say that it wasn’t a million miles different to the Safari ride at Disney’s Animal Kingdom in Florida. Down dusty orange mud roads we bounced and ‘collected’ a number of animals albeit Disney makes the animals’ attendance easier by heating large rocks in strategic places for them to recline on as people crash by.

The Park is the largest and oldest in Sri Lanka and it generates tourist revenue. Anna loved all this but as we circled for seemingly hours attempting to spot a leopard I did reflect on the fact that there are a lot of leopards in zoos you could see. We did eventually find a leopard. Apparently most tours don’t see one – along with a sloth bear and elephants; so we’re lucky. All my photos were average but Ching (the Chinese American) had brought a camera with sufficient long lenses (to photo his native New York from the truck) and captured a staggering head shot of the leopard along with other astonishing clear close ups of birds and mammals we saw. He photos them on a RAW file format and later adjusts them on Photoshop: he knows what he’s doing as he’s talented and he does this sort of thing for a living. I’m sorry but my iPhone picture of the leopard’s butt is not worth uploading.

Water buffalo

Jackal

Sloth bear

Serpent eagle

Spotted deer (or as the leopard better knows it – lunch)

Elephants

In the evening at an outdoor dining table a park ranger talked about the park and the leopards. There are 200 in this park, 900 in Sri Lanka and only 3,000 in the wild worldwide, he says. Although that might be of the species we saw? He was passionate about his subject and knowledgeable. Again he said and you had to agree that there was under investment in the park and it’s potential. The biggest threat to the leopard are humans. Some animals are poached for their ‘medicinal’ properties and exported in bits.

Many of the group are well travelled and Joe from Brooklyn is a postman with UPS (and sounds like Danny Devito). He uses his accrued holiday to see the world. He says he regularly works 14 hour days in order to collect as much overtime as he can for these exotic jaunts. He introduced me to the ‘Been’ app. This records and maps how many countries and US States you’ve visited. Go and download it. Joe tends to photograph anything and everything that comes into view.

Anna doesn’t camp. However, in a very nice tent with attached bathroom we settled down to discover that in line with the ‘eco’ commitment there was no toilet paper. (I’m thinking my prospect of a tandem cycling holiday with tents may now be accepted if it includes Andrex).

We ate outside under the stars and the tour guide organised a cake for birthday boy Craig. He’s a software guy from North Sydney who’s last holiday was in Cambodia. He grumbled as we sang ‘Happy Birthday’ and chuntered about not celebrating birthdays anymore. Anyway we enjoyed the chocolate cake.

We settled down under canvas and soon it was Stupid O’Clock for brekkie and then off to Anuradhapura. I sat next to Louise from Tallahassee, Florida who had worked for the US Federal Government as a botanist. She’s a lovely woman but her appearance on the trip is obviously a set up. Her opening words to me this morning was that she ‘cooks for her dogs’. I’d have been less surprised if she said she cooks her dogs. Again Louise is inclined to photograph absolutely everything and ask searching and demanding questions of the guide. She’s so into it all and every meal is experienced thoughtfully with reflections on the ingredients. Sadly I’m inclined to wolf it down rating it good, bad or indifferent.

Anuradhapura is a fairly large town but beside it is a large historic site of the ruins of the town dating back until BC. We visited various parts of the site meeting terribly young monks (Anna can be seen selecting which one to take home) and seeing artefacts.

Rpthe man explains is Prabash our guide for the trip

We then motored to part of the site that is still used for active worship. We went up and around a tree that is sacred where many folk in white were chanting. It was quite unusual. Buddhism is new to me and I was quite impressed about the absence of a god, not believing in miracles and mainly achieving a lot of things by meditation. Where I lost some interest was the belief in an afterlife.

For me it’s intriguing where religion fits into history and politics but the topic of religion itself doesn’t grip me. I’m respectful of the folk who have a faith and today at the site and the shrines etc I more enjoyed my conversation with Karl toward the back of the group. He’s an Aussie policeman and a rugby league fanatic. We debated Super League, how boring rugby union was and where all these sports were headed. We both hoped that New Zealand wouldn’t win the upcoming World Cup in Japan!

From here we went for lunch. The Sri Lankan Tourist Board stipulate that we go to approved restaurants. I suppose this is maybe healthier and it isn’t expensive compared to Europe (although expensive for Sri Lanka) but apart from looking after my health you suspect that there is something in it for central Government. After this we got most of the afternoon off at the hotel. Some swam but I spent most of the time doing this blog. However, my first task was to clean lots of items that I’ve got chocolate on. Yes, a bit of a school boy error to pack chocolate sweets in a bag in such a climate!

Sri Lanka Day 2 – Duke of Edinburgh (again), Tuk-tuks & Precious Stones

Day Two started late, after all 10am here is 5am in the UK. Like all travelling British males I carry a bar of coal tar soap with me. With its gentle fragrance I did suspectEd that the house maid might have contacted Housekeeping complaining that someone had creosoted a shed in the bathroom overnight.

Our holiday starts in the capital, Colombo, where later in the evening we met up with our small tour party. The plan is to take a mini bus and go inland and then down to the various sights. So with today to paddle about by ourselves the present Mrs Ives suggested a city tour in a tuk-tuk. This is a cabriolet moped driven by a man with nerves of steel in heavy traffic. I was indifferent really. Sri Lanka has a population of nearly 22 million with 750,000 living in the capital, it is a busy and congested place. However Grumpy was instructed to comply and I was led to Reception to organise. Via the hotel we found a tuk-tuk tour for 3,600 Rupees (£16) for two hours. This brings us onto a reality check about the country.

You cannot help but feel a very rich and overly entitled Westerner here. Anything that is tourist based and near the tourist areas/hotels is at Western prices but elsewhere the people seem to earn very little so that lots of things simply cost pence. What’s the problem Tony? Well inevitably such imbalances mean a majority of people live just above poverty and there are many, by corruption, living in great comfort. There has been a recent disposal of the Prime Minister for corruption. Our tuk-tuk driver commented that the ex-PM’s wife had ended up with two tonnes of gold via various means. Clearly she’s sorted her pension out.

Our tour guide driver steered his weapon into the traffic and whilst ensconced in the back it was like being in a Play Station game with sensory overload – lurching, sudden braking, continual horns, fumes, incredible heat and a vista that sped past. He took us around a number of religious buildings. Always informed, cheerful and with great English. Before returning to Sri Lanka he’d had a stint in Qatar working in security at a mall. The city seemed a lot of ‘old’ slowly being overtaken by new buildings and roads. There is a rich cultural heritage with occupation by the Portuguese, then the Dutch and finally the British from the early 1800s until independence in 1948.

It was energetic, bustling and colourful.

Mosque

Hindu Temples

Buddhist Temple

This was a curio of a place with a museum as well as place of worship around an old tree. I understand Christianity and Islam but had no idea what Buddhism was about, how they worshipped or to whom. I think I’ll find out but it seems to involve old British cars and my old friend the ‘Philip’ again.

Sadly we finished the cultural tour and suddenly ended up in a jewel showroom. Here, held as captives, we were engaged by the charming salesmen talking about the wonders of sapphires and rubies. Neither of us wanted to visit or talk about gems and politely heard them out. We later found out that gems are one of Sri Lanka’s exports and the country is renowned for them. Escaping the showroom was difficult and prices were banded about with ludicrous discounts. Frankly I have no idea what such items would cost in the UK or whether it was a bargain. Neither did I know whether these several hundred dollar chips of mineral were simply bits of bottle glass or precious stones. I subsequently wondered whether anyone who was led into these places knew what they were looking at. Spontaneous, on the spot, purchases don’t usually start at $440, do they?

I forgave the taxi driver, as making a living seems tough, but declined the next ‘exhibition centre’ and we headed back to the hotel. Oh yes and we rounded up the 3,600 Rupees to 4,000. (Was that because we were generous or had no change!?)

Later I needed to change some money. The hotel rate was pants compared to the airport. As I wandered away from the hotel I was accosted by the usual men attempting to sell you a taxi ride, a restaurant and currency. On the latter I enquired as to the rate and it beat the airport. I changed £100. As I’m walking away I start to wonder if the cash is real or whether with my new wad I can buy Bow Street, The Old Kent Road and Fenchurch Street Station. Let’s hope not!

We have a lot of iPhone charging cables: all in York. So I found a kiosk in a busy street and asked if they had a cable. “Do you want a good cable or a bad one, sir?” So I gave it a little thought and decided that if Anna missed out on the odd G & T because of my profligacy then so be it.

So chores sorted we met up with two Canadians, one Russian, three Americans and two Australians. Blog gold I thought as we trundled off to the bonding meal.

Sri Lanka Day 1 – Prince Philip, Rucksacks & Sleep Deprivation

So this is the start of a trip to the Indian sub continent. I haven’t visited before and I have some preconceived ideas of what to expect but little else. Before you ask then I’m not taking a bicycle but something a lot more troublesome: I am taking a wife.

On the day of departure I’m not proud to say that I was as truculent and fractious as a hormonal teenager on Saturday afternoon. Leeds United were losing 0-1 at Rotherham United. Like a captive emerging from a dungeon I started to lighten up when we knocked in the equaliser and when Klich slotted home the winner I couldn’t have been a more agreeable companion seeing the bright side of all inconveniences and bordering on intolerably cheery. I can’t explain why this matters so much but it does. As the leader of the Free World would say – ‘Sad’.

However as I started this draft on our flight to Sri Lanka, via Dubai. A man in the opposite aisle fell asleep quickly after take off and was snoring. The sound the Emirates’ A380’s engines makes was as attractive as a gentle breeze catching the palm leaves on a desert island in comparison. I’d hoped for some respite even if it meant he died in his sleep.

We were en route to see elephants, tea plantations, leopards, beaches and the odd Buddhist temple and, not least, an uplift in temperature by about 20°C. The start of the journey wasn’t without excitement (if luggage floats your boat).

We were directed to use rucksacks by the tour operator and whilst excited at this type of luggage (very millennial) we were hobbled on the morning of departure by discovering a rucksack that the Favourite Youngest Daughter used (over a decade ago) was broken – a fastening had come off rendering it useless. In line with all the best practices of a then teenager this was put in a cupboard for the next 10 years rather than being thrown away. Anyway a trip to Decathlon in Stockport found a replacement and Anna, in the Manchester rain, stuffed it with her holiday clothes.

Manchester Airport was literally deserted for our 8.35pm flight. I have never seen it so empty. Anna’s purchase of ‘Fast Path’ Security passes we’re not needed but it is always nice to stroll through a better class of roped off passageway in an empty hall.

The arrival at Dubai was without incident and without sleep. It always is an unusual experience to feel terrible through sleep deprivation but to be walking in bright daylight. However after a couple of coffees, a yoghurt and the odd croissant things were a little more perky although at an equivalent of £20 I did feel that I had been mugged in broad daylight.

Meanwhile in Economy…

Given the availability of wi-fi nowadays we slouched around the Terminal gawping at our mobiles. One of the first tasks was to ‘untag’ Anna from a Facebook Post. Apparently the photograph of her looking like… err Anna wasn’t glamorous enough and so I duly edited the offending caption. Then I took in the news and saw that the Duke of Edinburgh had written a letter of apology to the woman who’s car he hit in his recent motoring accident. She seem mollified by this communication and commented that he had signed it ‘Philip’ which she took to be a nice gesture by one so lofty. Sadly I have news for her.

About 25 years ago I sat atop of a large department of employees at Moores Furniture Group who’s job was to deal with customers quotations and orders. It was an era before the internet and we lived in a sea of paper. I saw this daily forest after it’s opening and sorting. One morning as I’m perusing the letters and forms I came across a small letter of something like blue Basildon Bond. This was not the way most contractors, in Co Durham, communicated when seeking replacement hinges for a damaged wall cabinet. On closer scrutiny it was a personal letter to our former owner, George Moore, from Buckingham Palace.

Mr Moore following his disposal of the company for about £70 million had devoted himself to various activities including charitable ones. Such beneficiaries included one of the Duke of Edinburgh’s causes. The letter said little other than thank you and was simply signed ‘Philip’. This was how he signed all his letters!

I studied this letter and instructed it to be redirected to Mr Moore who resided elsewhere on the estate and did reflect that it was a little unfortunate that this letter, that he would no doubt be delighted to receive, had a date stamp plonked right across HRH’s moniker. If nothing else then Mr Moore could be confident in telling friends and family the date on which it was received.

Back on the connecting flight to Colombo I now resembled an extra from a Zombie Apocalypse film but sleep didn’t come as a nearby passenger enjoyed a local pastime of taking immense loud guttural sniffs and then gulp of mucus that amounted, in quantity, to the consumption of a four course meal. I think this may be common in the region. Deep joy. long haul, don’t you just love it?

Uncensored photo of the first wife

Arrival at Colombo Airport resembled a game in Jeux Sans Frontiere – lots of running around, snaking around pillars, little coordination but lots of smiling faces. We got to the hotel about two and half hours later and the taxi driver was genuinely pleased at the tip that came to just over £2 (the guide book said I’d been too generous and so ‘memo to self’ on that one).

The hotel seems fine and a shower, a beer and a bit of a stroll next.

Fish & Chips, Sewing Machines & Short Screws – Week 4 : 2019

January 21, 2019

I saw a thread on a cycling forum about cycling in Croatia. The gist, from the contributors, was that you needed to be part of a UN Convoy to reduce the risk of reckless drivers killing you. I’d ridden a few hundred miles there last summer and some of the busy congestion wasn’t much fun, however, I’d be happy to cycle there again.

A lot of cyclists are very nervous in traffic: I’m not but without doubt the UK roads are getting busier. Out during the week I pulled up at some temporary traffic lights outside a small town (Easingwold). The lights changed and I clipped my feet into the pedals and set off to be nearly grazed by a car barrelling through. The car had been a long way short of the lights when they changed; he sped through. So you think we’re talking about a busy sales rep hoping to make a crucial appointment? No, it was an old couple in some Korean hybrid no doubt risking my safety to get home for afternoon TV, a chocolate digestive and to let Rufus out into the back garden for a tiddle. Back in the centre of York, on Lendl, a tourist simply strolled across the central island to walk in front of me. In fairness she had her mind on other things as she was busy chatting on her mobile phone. Before impact I bellowed at her and she stepped back shocked. I was hardly inconspicuous in a hi-viz orange coat. No doubt her relatives in Beijing asked what the noise was? Let me help her – it was a call to keep her out of one of York’s unheralded attractions – York District Hospital.

Strolling round IKEA there was a desk that was so high I guess you stood at it. On the desk there was a prop: a sewing machine. Now over 50 years ago my mother had one but in 32 years of marriage my present wife may have had one but it is long gone by decades. They are about as ’current’ as slide rules, dandelion & burdock and Haircut 100. So why was one in IKEA? Well our local and large Yorkshire Asian community make their own clothes and IKEA have analysed their footfall and worked out a use for this piece of furniture. Great marketing.

IKEA is one retail member of the ‘High Street’ that’s surviving and now it appears that HMV has suitors. I’m so pleased about that: we need visible vinyl in the city. One of the dashboard knobs dropped off the Morgan and I lost the short grub screw to fix it. Thanks to specialist shops like Fastpack then you can find any fastener you need in volumes of one or two on a side street near you #boybliss.

The Favourite Eldest Daughter (FED) visited last weekend and dining was a priority for the one night of her stay. I volunteered a local delicacy, fish and chips. The quality of the Yorkshire takeaway is unsurpassed yet FED had some anxieties. Where to get them from and would the chips be good enough? There was a little ‘on line’ debate and (you’ll see my constructive and conciliatory comments in green below) on the dish. You’ll be palpably relieved to learn an emporium was eventually found and the transaction completed. Picky Southerners?

So how about the mast then Tony? Err, well it is still there and despite the network operator ignoring my letters then we have recently been in communication. I wrote to the principal share holder of the holding company and their non-executive chairman. After ignoring my letter for two months the CEO of the PLC holding company came back with a reply pronto!

He ‘parroted’ the balls I have had from the network operator and so I’ve written back offering images of where he could move this offensive stick to. I’ve copied his superiors again and at the very least the MD of the local company is now starting to be seen as a loser as he’s dragged these luminaries into my life. I also started to Tweet on the network operator’s Twitter posts. They blocked me but I changed my address and made comments on their posts again. The local Council were freaked by the ongoing dispute (and their social media involvement by being copied in). They raised the problem with the network operator again. Quickline said no due to technical reasons. So in summary it rumbles on and I am making their lives less comfortable by their original mistake.

Thinking about creating a website for all this next. If other people have the risk of a mast appearing then maybe I should ensure they are aware of what befalls them?

Lastly let’s imagine you are a member of the Police force and you are assigned to looking after the Duke of Edinburgh. An easy gig? He doesn’t go far and probably sleeps a lot: lots of time for cups of tea, chocolate hob nobs and playing games on your mobile? However, imagine your terror when the DoE declares he wants to go for a drive and you’ve go to accompany him.

Record Of The Week # 57

January 20, 2019

Eric Brace, Peter Cooper & Thomm Jutz – Riverland

The gifts of the Mississippi are the historical and geographical attributes that surround it. These include inequality, cotton, deprivation, heat, a lazy pace, roots music and a mighty ribbon of water that broadens as it descends the USA to become little short of a country within a country.

Here we have three gifted musicians who’ve taken their wonderment to produce a remarkable album. They write stories about war, floods, workers, segregation, bootleggers and the simple towering majesty of the river. The range of the themes and people who ‘speak’ these stories are beautifully crafted and diverse in their perspectives. Add some acoustic folk/roots music delivered with harmony, humour and memorable melodies and we may have an album that stands out from the current crop of releases.

Eric Brace, Peter Cooper and Thomm Jutz collaborate on yet another album and pen 13 out of the 14 songs. All three are accomplished musicians with a considerable catalogue of music between them. Brace and Cooper, two former journalists, have worked together for many years and been Grammy nominated. Jutz has had a career that includes playing in the bands of Nanci Griffith and Mary Gauthier.

“River City” tells us about the boats that work the channel and its men who tumble off at various ports for an evening’s entertainment before returning to carry on their journey. The song carries a heavy heart at the life of being continually in transit with all the leaving that this entails. The three voices, whether as a lead or in the chorus, work so well together often harmonising to give a depth and emotion to the lyrics.

The working river saw changes as sail gave way to steam. Inevitably some trades fell into disuse. “King of the Keelboat Men” has that Springsteen bitter undercurrent of proud and strong men being made obsolete; their talents discarded. “Drowned & Washed Away” revisits the vicissitudes and upheaval of the devastating 1927 flood. “Down Along The River” is a song about the role the river played in the 1860s’ Civil War. 

Recent history is about segregation. “Mississippi Magic” touches on a landmark that was key in the nascent civil rights movement. With a heartfelt conversational narrated start we see the unfolding conflagration of 1962 with conflict between white and black over an African American’s entrance to the the University of Mississippi. Never preachy and told from the perspective of a surprised onlooker this captures the era.

Acoustic albums are often beautifully played (as the absence of electricity seems to provide nowhere to hide). Whether it’s Jutz’s flatpicking or the plucking of a banjo we have accompaniment that compliments but never intrudes and creates space for those voices to enthral. Welcome to 2019, we’re setting the bar high.

POST SCRIPT

This is a tremendous album but the concept appealed to me after my 2015 bike ride down the USA:

(http://toronto-neworleans-orlando.blogspot.com).

I trundled through the Deep South leaving Memphis on Highway 61 and picking up the signs on the Blues Trail and absorbed the culture and geography. Landmarks were numerous from Bessie Smith’s place of death to B B King’s museum in Indianola and a night of being bitten by bed bugs. I only came across cotton once as I cycled into Clarksdale. Apparently it’s too thirsty compared to soya and probably not as lucrative. Other myths are that black folk still play the blues. Sadly not really, it seems a white person’s pursuit nowadays. All the black folk were helpful and kind (Including the inmates from the local penitentiary who wanted a light for their cigarette as they painted the car park at the field where I camped). Time on the Natchez Parkway will always live with me as will Natchez as I camped beside the river on a site with a huge RV looming over my one man tent. The next day I crossed the Mississippi three times before getting into Louisiana. The worst road surfaces in the USA welcomed me along with torrential rain as I approach New Orleans. The rain on a crossing across the Mississippi by ferry was so horrific that the operator invited me to sit inside for another trip until the weather passed! So I ‘did’ this part of the world and feel a little smug that i lived and pedalled miles absorbing all it had to offer and not just writing beautiful songs from a misty yet romantic notion.

The British Honours System: A Critique

January 18, 2019

I cringe every time the latest Honours are announced. This occurs twice a year. In total 1,350 of these accolades are handled out to ‘recognise merit in terms of achievement or service’. At best described as a peculiarly British arrangement where there are several levels of award from a suffix that you cam affix to the front of your name through to a large number of prefixes that you can tag onto your surname. These awards are handed out to Brits and other members of the Commonwealth or we can give ‘honorary’ awards to citizens of other nations. 

Their compilation is by a couple of committees and then the Queen advises the lucky winners of their prize officially on certain dates. If you get the highest accolade then Her Majesty or delegates invite you to Buckingham Palace where you kneel; the sword is tapped on your shoulder and you get to discuss briefly the weather and her nag’s prospects at Epsom in the afternoon racing.

The problem is about who gets these awards. It seems a right for politicians, sportsmen, senior soldiers, ancient rock stars, national treasures in terms of acting, radio or TV personalities, currently overpaid ‘captains of industry’ and probably a whole selection of people who’ve spent about a decade canvassing for one (or putting money into good causes to gain ‘credits’).

This nonsense started in 1348 and may explain some of the archaic titles such as The Order Of The Garter. In fact the most common Honours are Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (CBE), Officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (OBE) and Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire. (MBE). The very reference to the British Empire is not only obsolete but frankly places it in a Netflix period drama.

If it is for service or achievement then why by heading a Government Department as a civil servant do you get a gong? You’re bewilderingly well paid, live a cloistered and privileged life and have another career of being a non-exec on all sorts of Boards (after you take your eye wateringly generous pension). Okay, you can do your job and climbed to the top of the ‘slippery pole’ but why should you get a bauble?

Captains of industry have tenures, sometimes long and sometimes short, where talent, good luck and timing enables them to earn £millions and have privilege in any activity they may want to participate in. After all this recognition they eventually get a Knighthood so that they can join their other lucky and lofty mates. A risk, of course, is that after your bank contributes to a global financial collapse: they might ask for it back as happened to luminaries at two UK banks. 

The celebrity strain is beyond a joke. This New Year saw Michael Palin and Twiggy get Knighted or made a Dame. Now to say anything derogatory about these two is akin to feeding a playful labrador puppy into a wood saw… but come on! Twiggy got the Honour for her services to fashion, the arts and charity? Google tells me that she has involvement with 13 charities. Well done and thank you but how many folk do you know who are devoting over 10 hours volunteering or caring where they get no money, no support and certainly a lot less than appreciation? I know a few.

If these celebrities make a mockery of the pecking order of worthiness then don’t start me on footballers, actors or musicians. It seems that the first hiring question for their future PR agency is what will you do to accelerate my acquisition of an Honour? “My qualifications are that I’m over 50 years old, have convictions for drugs and have mainly led a dysfunctional life that has enabled tabloid newspapers to have a splendid time telling people about me. I am also hopelessly rich, entitled and hob nob with junior Royals. However, I’ve lent my name to a few charities, I fit in a couple of functions a year and my PA has me sign lots of T shirt. In addition I can fit in a gig for free once in a blue moon. Surely that’s worth a Knighthood for my export sales and high profile?”

A mediocre political career on the back benches can get you a Knighthood if you vote regularly with the Government, say nice things about the leadership when required and retire when the tap comes on the shoulder to release your safe seat to an acolyte of the ruling junta.

Somewhere down the list with the junior accolades are ladies who’ve devoted many days a month to teaching disabled children to ride a horse or given 50 years of service to being a lollipop lady on a dangerous road in rain and snow. I love these folk and we walk in their shadows. Neither do I have a problem with awards of distinction such as bravery. I’m humbled to think what soldiers do on battlefields, who isn’t? 

I know a few men who’ve had an Honour. Were they worth it? Debatable but I do know one who spent a lot of time and effort trying to get the highest award (unsuccessfully). There are many who’ve turned down the offer when they’ve been asked if they want one. I’m happy with that but a few have gone out of their way to demonstrate their virtue signalling by declining the Honour – frankly, that’s worse than accepting it.

Due to political patronage and the desire to create ‘feel good’ on the front page of The Daily Mail twice a year this antique Byzantine practise will continue with some occasionally ‘sold’ for a donation to a political party. And with all this we sneer at corrupt practices in Asia and Africa.

Lastly, there are some monumental cock ups. Lovelies who’ve been awarded an Honour include Mussolini, Ceausescu, Mugabe, paedophile Jimmy Savile and traitor Anthony Blunt. I suspect there are a few current holders who glance nervously over their shoulder at the Serious Fraud Office and or some under-age sex investigation policemen.

Don’t get me started on the award of honorary degrees…

Record Of The Week # 56

January 17, 2019

Boo Ray – Tennessee Alabama Fireworks

I’m sometimes suspicious of the ‘copy’ that comes with a new album but I have no problem with calling Ray a ‘Self Styled Southern Troubador’. Firmly seated in Country Rock he writes killer tunes and delivers a lyric with memorable soundbites. Tennessee Alabama Fireworks refers to a sign just off Interstate 24, which is either a burden or gift. Ray was commuting between the two States about 80 times a year and on one side emotional problems abounded but on the other a soothing calm would return. Maybe this is a good time to mention that Ray turns his life into a song and more often than not he’s reflecting on disruption and hair raising scrapes. The title track off his last album Sea Of Lights was inspired by getting mugged and his car falling apart!

“A Tune You Can Whistle” starts the 10 track album and hits an immediate driving groove with pedal steel behind his slightly frayed but attractive voice. From the start you get the feel that this is a crafted affair. Ray is an accomplished guitarist and it shows throughout. Recorded at Nashville’s Welcome to 1979 studio in 5 days then he must have arrived well rehearsed. The ballad “She Wrote The Song” has a Southern Rock feel with lashings of Soul. Ray talks of a life of challenges and bad luck. His chorus tells us “It’s the pain pills that took away my sweetheart, It give me cold chills I think that’s gonna leave a scar”. This sounds like a sad chapter in his life but he’s now moved on.

“Don’t Look Back” is another fabulous arrangement. Hitting that groove again his preoccupation is guiding a Cadillac to Texas and leaving behind his troubles. Some energetic ‘out of your seat’ 60s Soul with brass introduces “20 Questions” with its examination of a lover’s motives and movements. Ray leads the vocal above wailing guitars and a girly chorus.

The album closes with a little romance on “Skin & Ink”. This demonstrates his talent as a Country wordsmith – “Drinking at the lost love lounge down on Dauphine street, She was looking at this naked girl peeking out beneath my sleeve, She said ‘Damn, that girl there on your arm it should be me’, Ice melting in my whiskey glass, girl if you only knew, The love took to get her there, and the hell she put me through, Yeah, yeah might be a little room on the other arm for you”. A honky tonk rhythm with fluid electric guitar from Ray takes this home.

I’ve loved his last three albums and if your Country music comes with some memorable hook drenched melodies, some Steve Earle mayhem and one foot in Southern Rock then this is for you. 

Record Of The Week # 55

January 5, 2019

JP Harris – Sometimes Dogs Bark at Nothing

Emerging as one of the best releases from the last quarter of 2018 is Sometimes Dogs Bark At Nothing. Harris has an interesting backstory of leaving home in Alabama in his mid teens and traversing the USA; now coming to rest in Nashville. Along the way he’s made a living with a variety of practical jobs including carpentry. I’d like to think that he’s made more money as a musician than spoiling wood because if this release is anything to go by then it is worth parting with your hard earned cash for.

Along the way he’s picked up some worldly wisdom and shook off some bad habits. Such a phase is captured in “When I Quit Drinking”, where against an acoustic backdrop he recounts the sober world he now inhabits; not with particular fondness. Maybe some reining in was necessary if you listen to “JP’s Florida Blues #1”, a rocking paean to a drug fuelled tour in the Sunshine State. This has a fun and well devised video if you make your way onto YouTube.

Harris seems to have some talented friends to call on for the album. The bassist, Morgan Jahnig (Old Crow Medicine Show) plucks throughout and produced the album. Guitar duties fall to luminaries such as Leroy Powell and Chance McCoy (another OCMS player). To this end you tell me if the guitar solo on “Longs Way Back” isn’t a pure Willie Nelson copy with its fluid and delicate runs.

I’d place Harris nicely in the Country Americana bracket with an acoustic platform occasionally rocking out with a hoe-down. However you’ll find him being claimed exclusively by Country when you hear “”I Only Drink Alone” which could place you in the 1960s with a Haggard or George Jones style of song. A honky tonk piano drives this gentle tune with a thumping base to a gentle waltz. 

His articulate and observational lyrics can be fun or profound and maybe benefit from reflection and composition over the last four years since his previous release. “Lady In The Spotlight” is a rueful and tender song with a Glen Campbell acoustic guitar rhythm where an aspiring female musician ‘wannabe’ finds that she’s not taken seriously as she tries to break into a new scene. Her looks count for a lot yet only as temporary entertainment for her potential mentor. 

This is an album of ten fabulous tracks and my favourite pick would be “Miss Jeanne-Marie” which brought to mind Travis Meadows with its melody and arrangement of a chiming piano and a heartfelt vocal up front with occasional electric guitar fills.

Harris has an attractive voice and an ability to write a tune. If I’d got to this sooner then it would have made my 2018 end of year list. I’d guess some of these excellent songs may end up on a bigger star’s album shortly. Cut to the chase and get the real thing now.

PS      Don’t be put off by the album sleeve!