Monthly Archives: April 2019

Wheel Nuts, Walking Dead & Grey Nomads – Week 17 : 2019

April 24, 2019

It was clear that Sri Lanka had its tensions despite their suppression of the Tamil uprising in the 90s. On our February holiday we learned much of this history. The bloodshed was horrific and deeply divisive. The Tamils are Hindus and the majority, the Singalese, are Buddhists. In the religious mix of the island are also Christians and Muslims. If the Sri Lankan government are to be believed then the latest appalling atrocity is by a Muslim terrorist group. However our trip to the island was delightful. We visited Hindu and Buddhist temples and safely traversed the southern half of the island in a bus. The island didn’t look prosperous and with so many mouths to feed and so few resources this is probably the reality of the whole of South Asia. You can imagine that this ferments deep unhappiness.

The scale of this atrocity is devastating and not least for the Sri Lankan economy. Tourism brings in the most foreign revenue. I cannot imagine that this will do anything other than destroy hotel bookings, guided tours, bus company revenues and the income of thousands upon thousands of Sri Lankan workers for many many months/years to come. 

Near tragedy might have been closer to home but by a thread. Sophie (Favourite Youngest Daughter) took her car into Kwik Fit in Fallowfield, Manchester for two new tyres. They were fitted and she drove away. The next day, coming across to Leeds, she heard a “rattle” but drove on despite a car full of colleagues, including one who was pregnant. She eventually left them in Leeds and drove over to York thinking the rattle was getting worse. Here she went out shopping with her mother who thought it best that they divert via a Kwik Fit in the town.

There the fitter discovered that out of the necessary five nuts holding on the wheel there was only one. The other four hadn’t been tightened up, had come loose and flown off the wheel. Needless to say she and her mother were badly shaken and angry at what could have been a catastrophe. From here we’ve invloved many parties to establish what happened and for her employers and lease company to know of this incompetence.

My in-laws’ care home is a fine place with a lot of expertise and pleasant surroundings. When you first visit you delude yourself that it is probably not a bad place to spend your last days. The problem, of course, is that if you end up here you yourself are not in sparkling condition. Your enjoyment of the service, food, facilities is limited dependent on your faculties – physical and mental.

My mother-in-law, a lady with no diminution of any intellectual faculties, reported that the better weather had lured some of the ‘inmates’ from the first floor downstairs and outside onto the patio. She hadn’t seen some of them for a while and engaged one lady who she’d talked to a few months ago. Rather worryingly she enquired at what time “the ferry came”. Margaret brushed this off with some comment. The same lady in a conversation with another resident confidently advised her companion that “she was dead”. Reassurance that she’d be unable to converse if this actually was the case cut no ice: she was convinced that she was dead. Only later I concluded that this probably wasn’t as daft (as it obviously was). I think we all know people that to all intents and purposes are dead albeit with a heartbeat and movement.

Anna, who likes the odd TV ‘who dunnit’ is having a splendid time on ancestry.com putting together family trees on her and my side of the family. I knew about quite a lot of this lineage, vaguely. I had a maternal great grandfather depart Poland in the 19th Century when Poland was part of the then Russian Empire. He was Jewish. He was proud of his new home and became a naturalised Brit. Meanwhile his wife came from Ireland. She wasn’t fleeing the Russians with her family but no doubt her father was escaping poverty and potato blight in rural County Roscommon. Anyway she is digging deep into a lot of documentation that resides on the site and I await with interrest further discoveries.

I wrote about Leeds United last week . Since then a fatal defeat against a lowly team with only 10 men at home beggared belief. With it came our capitualtion of an automatic promotion spot. From here came another defeat and all of a sudden it was over. There are the play offs ahead but we look like an exhausted and defeated crew. The disappointment in and around the city is like a bereavement.

I also mentioned researching a tour in Australia. I’ve been reading several blogs of many different age groups, men and women and those who do high or low mileages etc etc. An interesting description of elderly male cycle tourers has emerged: ‘grey nomads’. I think I may have a new name!

Lastly my cycling mentor, Tim, continues to add to my knowledge of his life and relatives. We recently cycled past his sister’s house (and small holding) and more excitingly passed the very grass tennis court where he has made his one and only appearance on the green stuff (Sutton On Derwent – look for the blue plaque). Adding to my entertainment was his near death when turning onto the very busy A1079 to Hull. He managed to aggravate a swerving massive articulated lorry that sat on his horn to express his displeasure. If he keeps up those high jinx up then he may not be available to cycle with me for much longer.

Her Majesty’s Pleasure, Vinyl & International Relations – Week 16 : 2019

April 14, 2019

Some long term tenants have moved out of a flat we rent out. Their departure led to some extensive refurbishment of the property. The tenants were good housekeepers but accumulated  lots of items for a house they proposed to buy. We couldn’t move all the stuff around to enable decoration or laying new carpets. They went and we got down to it. The flat now looks brilliant. The new tenants are Chinese nationals. Both academics in their 30s and studying for PhD’s. Routine checks for financial capability were completed but as they don’t earn a salary our questions, via the letting agent, were searching. This was brushed aside with a bit of a shrug as they showed us accounts showing tens of thousands of pounds. Clearly the East isn’t short of dosh.

The Chinese lady who did the transaction was fine to deal with although worryingly certain of her decision to take the property. She just got off a train from Bath, had a cursory look around and wanted to take it immediately. After you’ve spent £2,500 on its transformation you’d like her to look around and take in the work! Another thing that came to mind was how their tenancy was fine and simply a ‘deal’ between two sets of ordinary and civil folk. However I am terribly suspicious of most things to do with China and it’s government: a one party state that bans Facebook, Google, Instagram, Twitter etc, build islands in the South China Sea (and then claims exclusion zones around them), attempts to brain wash the Uighur muslim minority of (one million) in concentration camps and occupies Tibet with the dilution, control and marginalisation of the indigenous population.

As I’ve written elsewhere then if your grand parents or even parents grew up in poverty, survived literal genocide and had no opportunity to ever improve themselves then this generation has arrived into a much better China. Who cares about democracy, being continually under intensive surveillance and debilitating corruption of the elite when you can now buy Chanel, a Mercedes Benz and watch Premiership football?

On that subject then Leeds United’s progress toward the Premiership is beyond stressful. As I write then the opportunity is in our own hands and we need to win three of our last four games and draw the other. Still a big ‘ask’ and a challenge that will keep me on edge until May.

Record Store Day (RSD) is a clever ruse by the industry to extract money from record collectors, promote record shops and generate some excitement for vinyl. Every April it comes around all over the world. The promotion is all about new releases of vinyl albums, EP’s and singles. These releases coincide with RSD and when the limited quantities have gone they’re gone! The new records are not regular releases of new work. They are often older artists but usually rarities that have not been released before. For example the Ten Years After album in the image below contains some tracks surplus to the recording session for their 1972 “Rock n’ Roll Music To The World’ LP. To add to the excitement then this album is on green see through vinyl! Of course the releases are limited editions and hence the value can probably appreciate. Anyway I bought the Ten Years After and Jethro Tull unreleased music out of over 100 new vinyl releases. I could have been 17 years old as this was the last time I bought two albums together by these artists.

Vinyl Eddie’s in York is the small specialist shop I got them from. First thing on RSD morning there was a queue outside the place waiting for it to open. It was a ‘first come first served’ opportunity to get the records. If you were late then you might not get what you wanted.

A little time is being spent on research on a major cycle trip – the east coast of Australia in 2020. In July I’ll be riding to Vienna from York. I can’t wait but it is a familiar expedition through countries I know well. The Australian jaunt is a major leap into the unknown. I’m thinking of riding from Adelaide to Cairns: over 3,000 miles. It seems very doable but not without considerations of sun, traffic and crocodiles to plan for. Anyway watch this space.

In other news Julian Assange has been sprung from the Ecuadorian Embassy. Putting to one side all his alleged criminal activities and the future peril this places him in with the UK, USA and Sweden I had other thoughts. After spending seven years imprisoned in the London embassy he must surely have been pleased to get out, even though the novelty may soon wear off as he becomes a guest at Her Majesty’s pleasure.

Lastly, I reflected on a few old colleagues who are either changing jobs in their mid fifties or people I know still flourishing at ages nearer to sixty than fifty. Back in 2008 at the age of 53 after a sudden redundancy I felt very old in a job market that was shrinking dramatically due to the recession. I drove up and down the country for meetings, submitted endless cv’s, got into interview situations on about eleven occasions and yet after a really successful previous career I couldn’t get a job offer. After about 5 months something came along in consultancy. The job never thrilled me as regards a career move, it was a salary only. In truth, I was never very good at it or enjoyed it. Hence I retired at 58.

It seems to me that nowadays there are more older senior people in jobs. Attitudes have changed to the older worker. It also helps to have a more buoyant economy and a shortage of experienced talent.

Cycle Mentoring (not) – Week 15 : 2019

April 11, 2019

So Tim sent a Messenger message. He’s bought a new bike and would I fancy going out for a bike ride? Well why not?

Tim’s an old colleague that I worked with over a decade ago. We’d stayed in touch and he’d found himself between jobs. That’s not as bleak as it reads. He’d taken up an offer to join a competitor and his old firm had put him on gardening leave. So in between all the decorating, gardening and other (wife enthused) tasks he’d been keeping fit. 

He’d known about my bike riding (who doesn’t?) and despite him doing about 100 miles a week (!) since February he was concerned that he might not be good enough to keep pace with me. This anxiety wasn’t shared by me. Frankly anyone can ride a bike and as I’m giving him nine years in age (and he’s quite a decent sportsman) I wasn’t expecting to teach him much despite his touching humility.

So when we met up with a planned 47 mile round trip he presents himself looking fit with his new bike and some top quality branded kit. I smelt a rat. Off we went. Tim kept nicely in front of me; chatting away merrily. I’m pedalling as fast as I can (or want to without exhausting myself) trying to catch his conversation in a headwind. He must have enjoyed talking to himself as he talked for quite sometime with no audible response from me.

Tim obviously realised that he was the stronger and feeling no sympathy didn’t slow down and ploughed on! Eventually we got to the cafe for the teacake and cuppa. I think I’d caught my breath by the end of the break. At the end of our race/ride I surprisingly agreed to go out again but farther and more hilly.

I tend to fit in a hard ride every week and such a route up to Helmsley with the promise of fish and chips is a great trip. This time the pecking order was established but still the pressure switched  back to me as I knew the route. So grinding up hills Tim might sit in behind me and when he got bored with my lacklustre pace he’d come alongside and start a conversation. At this point I think, with my burning lungs, I might have only been able to say “stop” or “oxygen”. Tim did however tire of slipstreaming (and going slowly) and started to disappear up the gradients ahead of me. I wasn’t sorry to see him go, not least to admire his expensive wardrobe from behind.

Around twenty years ago or even longer I used to ride out with other work colleagues and a splendid time we had as younger men climbing the steepest that Yorkshire had to offer. I enjoyed  the banter, the sprinting up hills and general competition. It was a long time ago: now I cycle alone and after a knee problem had got comfortable with trundling along with little ambition of time trialling. Riding with Tim became  

an opportunity to train and get a lot faster again. Checking my times when riding with him I was 5 – 10% faster and back to speeds I might have done over 5 years ago. Terrific. Also I started taking the rides a lot more seriously with pasta the night before, a decent breakfast, a couple of glucose gels for a boost in my pocket, not wearing headphones (listening to podcasts) and thinking about the ride before I set off to ensure I knew what was coming.

This had it’s benefits and when Tim ‘went up the road’ he didn’t get a million miles away (ie. I could still see him in the distance). Needless to say by this stage I was probably trying more than him and he might have been cycling at a decent pace just to keep warm! I noted that he was now carrying gels himself (a backhanded compliment if there ever was one). A more dubious benefit was his chirping away. As a man who’d cycled these routes tens of times alone with little interest in the surroundings I was suddenly informed about his parent’s houses, houses nearly bought, football pitches used for training, birds of prey on the wing and former building sites managed  leading to reprimands from Managing Directors. 

In return I taught Tim how to buy a sandwich and eat it in the open air. When this was proposed there was much disinterest and the option of a cake was treated with absolute dismissive contempt (“Does Mark Cavendish stop for flapjack?”). However 2½ hours later after climbing 600 metres a sandwich became the highlight of the outing (despite my eating his choice by accident!).

I’m using this ‘mentoring’ to revisit some of my better recent times on routes. And who knows when Tim returns to work I may be found tagging along at the back of the Tour de Yorkshire peloton.

Colin Blunstone – Pocklington Arts Centre, North Yorkshire, April 5th 2019

April 8, 2019

Colin Blunstone’s (and The Zombies) popularity came home to me when I was walking through downtown Las Vegas in 2017. On the street tannoy I heard ‘She’s Not There’. (I always absorb background music around me and process the oddity of the selection in surprising locations). This hit climbed to No. 2 in the US charts in 1964. I missed out on The Zombies, even I was young in 1964, but I had adored and seen the two separate acts that came out of their disbandment. 

The keyboard player formed Prog rockers Argent. Rod Argent wrote ‘She’s Not There’ and had several hits after. I saw them a couple of times and bought the albums. Colin Blunstone, The Zombies unmistakable lead vocalist, didn’t follow Rod Argent into his band: he pursued a solo career and released some fabulous albums. These would have been filed under Singer Songwriter back in the day. Blunstone’s voice had a sweeping range from mellow to falsetto but also had a seductive depth as soft as cashmere and smooth as honey.

Blunstone never seemed to get a lot of commercial success and whilst he’s been releasing albums over the years then our collective desire for nostalgia and the power of the ‘grey pound/dollar’ seems to have reignited the septuagenarian’s bank account. I’m so delighted about his success. Maybe about a decade ago I saw him in York in a small band with Rod Argent playing some of his catalogue but mainly Argent’s. His show at Pocklington Art Centre, North Yorkshire  saw him fronting a five piece band and giving full rein to his catalogue and blissful voice.

In a 90 minute set over 23 songs he brought the sold out show to their feet with album tracks, singles and those Zombies’ hits. I’ve referenced the mellifluous voice but behind him was an accomplished band. Manolo Polidario was nothing short of staggering on acoustic and electric guitars. His dexterity and speed were eye catching. Pete Billington, band leader, on keyboards got several opportunities to step up whether on piano or organ and often these solos were a highlight.

Not all the seats were occupied by devotees (my wife!) but his canon included a couple of covers that helped those less familiar get comfortable with his work. Tracks from 1971’s One Year and 1972’s Ennismore came back to back – “Misty Roses”, “Caroline Goodbye”, “Though You Are Far Away”, “Let Me Come Closer To You”, “Say You Don’t Mind”, “I Don’t Believe In Miracles’ and “Andorra”. The singles “Wonderful”, “Time Of The Season” and “She’s Not There” eventually appeared as the audience sat enrapt.

The banter between songs emphasised what a charming man he is. He acknowledged an old school friend in the audience which set him on a long deprecating speech about his own academic mediocrity! He covered his recent appearance in Cleveland, OH playing to 30,000 at The Zombies induction into ‘The Rock n’ Roll Hall Of Fame’, buying a new outfit for the appearance that needed a second mortgage to pay for it and what the flight there and back inflicted on his throat through the dryness of the air.

Much to everyone’s disappointment the band ripped into the last song of the night – The  Zombies “Just Out Of Reach” and he was gone leaving the crowd wanting more.

Postscript:

Blunstone had a support act. This wasn’t a good thing as far as I was concerned. Onto the stage crept a fit looking tall older bloke with an acoustic guitar, baseball hat (we were inside and this is England) and a white beard complaining of a voice strain through a heavy cold. Not propitious and I wondered how many people I’d disturb by shuffling out in the dark to the bar! However his songs were fine and he did light up the auditorium. This was when he declared he’d been married to Donna Summer for 32 years until her untimely death. This illumination came as everyone looked at Wikipedia on their smart phones thinking is this guy for real? He was and his name is Bruce Sudano.

Record Of The Week # 62

April 6, 2019

Chad Richard – Worthy Cause

Prologue: 

If you’re engaged with Americana or Country music you’ll know about the bitter civil war that is taking place. Those who think they know better are apoplectic that Country Pop (as mass produced by the Big Three record companies) is taking up all the US radio airplay and being heavily promoted. This is whilst the ‘real’ product is marginalised and left to wither.

Well, that may be true commercially. However, if people are buying and enjoying Country Pop (and it isn’t as fatal as crack cocaine) then maybe something’s changed and we should just accept this as an era in the life of the genre? I’m proud to say I once walked out of a Florida Georgia Line concert whilst several thousand others had the best hour or so of their lives. I get the traditionalists’ pain but if Alan Jackson is complaining about US Country radio then I’m suspicious that his real complaint is that it’s inhibiting his down payment on another Lear jet.

Anyway, Chad Richard has a fabulous album that may be a refugee in the Americana genre due to Kane Brown and Kelsea Ballerini but it is released and you should give it a listen : you just need to look a bit more thoroughly for it. We’re here to help.

Album Review:

Chad Richard says he once got some advice about not turning something you love into a job. So for many years he had a job in a Louisiana chemical plant only playing small gigs. Walt Wilkins heard him and asked him to sit in with his band. From here things progressed and a debut album  released in 2015. This is his second release: produced by Wilkins. For the record Wilkins’ compiled a great band with players who ordinarily work with Ryan Bingham, Band Of Heathens and Kelly Willis. The result is a contemporary yet classic sounding Country album.

“Slow Rollin Stateline” hits a soulful easy groove to kick off 12 self penned songs. Marian Brackney’s fiddle leads the tune and Wilkins guitar adds some tasteful licks. The chorus places you way down South – “Zydeco to the East and gumbo too, Texas swing to the West, the world’s best barbecue, Sweet memories of these two states of mine, Flow like that Muddy, slow rolling Stateline”. “Love Anyway” has clever wordplay around the theme grace and mercy and generally getting along. His voice sits way up front over a gentle shuffling rhythm and strings add saccharine to the melody. His voice can carry a tune with a deep reflective care worn timbre welded to a delicious Southern drawl. It also drips personality that helps adds great emphasis to the message.

“Waters Rise” is topical. With sonorous backing vocals (Tina Mitchell Wilkins) he sings to the accompaniment of an electric piano of how people rally round to deal with such catastrophes and rise up higher than the water. “Worthy Cause” could be Chris Stapleton with a bluesy vocal over a minimum of backing. He puts his heart into this love ballad and we bathe in that expressive voice whilst eventually a piano (Chip Dolan) and lap steel (Corby Schaub) take this home.

Topics chosen are engaging, and include ghosts, the kindness of strangers, single parenting and, to prove that this is a bone fide Country album, he even ‘pops a top’ and sings about a dog. However for all of that he can construct an arresting line or two and in the wistful “The Game” (about a solo troubadour playing the circuit) he sings – ‘Waitress cleans off a table while she talks to me, Says she’s been workin in here since ’93, The sad smile she wears makes it easy to see, She ain’t exactly where she hoped to be”.

He’s a man with a number of miles on the clock and a great observer. Coupled with this is his ability to find a thoughtful lyric to articulate it and not least an ear for a tune. This record is a great listen with no filler and it is quite baffling how a thing of such great beauty had to be self released. I’m really hoping he gets some traction and finds a larger audience.