Archive for the ‘Personal’ Category

I think that I have missed the last few years of holiday posts. They are no doubt getting undoubtely getting increasingly in-appropriate as this blog completes it’s transition to an open lab-book. Still, I am stuck in an airport post-ICBO, so why not?

I have, to my knowledge, only been to Greece for work before, so I was not entirely sure what we were going to get, beyond the climate and food, which I figured was likely to be pretty similar to Turkey where we were two year before (actually, we could see the Turkish coast we had swam from). In this, I was correct. It’s reasonably hot. The ground is dry although there is no shortage of water (although, I didn’t know that Rhodes has almost no natural running water). The first week there was a very pleasant wind blowing, although I believe that this is unusual; it had gone by the second week.

Pefkos it a pretty small town and it is entirely tourist-driven; the accommodation is largely populated by the UK package tour operators, and it is rather “English breakfast”, but not offensively so. Our hotel backed onto the beach and, unlike Turkey, Greek beaches are not private owned; long may this last, although I have no doubt that somewhere right-wing economics are busy coming up with explanations as to why this is really a bad thing.

Rhodes itself is very beautiful, although we saw it largely by tour bus; while this avoids argument as to who is going to get stuck with the driving, the lack of control and the joyless, breathless, pillar-to-post excursion experience brings hassles of its own. Still, unlikely Turkey, the attempts to sell junk (Onyx in Turkey, Olive oil in Rhodes) to tourists was much less relentless. Likewise, the prices were reasonable, stated up-front on the menu and stuck to. Best things to see, if you are interested, were Rhodes town itself, and the butterfly valley, although this is not a major discovery. If you go to Rhodes, people will give you opinions on the 10 options pretty quick.

I believe that as a tourist town Pefkos is unusual on Rhodes in actually having Resturants at all, as most of the other towns have full-board hotels and there is no market. This seemed like a good thing, as hotel catering is rarely reliable. However, the resturant food was rather disappointing from a veggie perspective. While the Greeks seem curiously smug about their cuisine as they have discovered both the grill and the oven, their main dishes I find lack variety or composition, so I was not expecting much there. But, their mezze are great and even if they are largely replicated identically between resturants, so I expected to eat well.

The problem was that the mezze were too big; by the time you’d bought, say, some hummous, with a bit of bread, you already had half the food that you were ever going to eat. If I wanted to sample the variety they had on offer in one meal, I’d have to buy 5 dishes, then throw most of each away. I tried asking about this, but Greece (or tourist Greece) is not like Italy; the menu is a description of what you can choose from, not a starting point for negotiation. I didn’t starve, but it could have been so much better.

The best meal I got was from a buffet at the hotel, where I could pick what I wanted; oh, the irony. This at their themed “Greek night” — a pretty obscure theme for a Greek hotel, on a Greek island, in Greece, but they attacked it with gusto: they seemed genuinely disappointed that I didn’t drink the Ouzo (“it’s a spirit, with aniseed”, they explained); then, the Greek dancers, to the sounds of a bousouki player, and attempts to get us to join the knees up, after which the band switched between the top 10 bousouki standards, interspersed with the top 10 chart hits (Taylor Swift sounds better on bousouki than in the original though, perhaps, that is less surprising than it seems on first thoughts). It was all rather fun, even if haunted by the shade of Monty Python.

The backdrop to the holiday was the economic crisis; the Greeks voted no in the middle. It seemed a brave attempt to resist the bullying and hectoring; reform is needed, indeed, but it is in the international businesses who think that tax is for the little people, and with the self-appointed guardians of the economy who treat social justice and welfare as a luxury to be disposed of, as soon as the opportunity arises. Perhaps it seems unlikely, given that their leaders have already capitulated, but I hope that the Greek people can hold on to as many of these things as they can. Maybe, the Greeks can help lead the world back toward democracy and away from the current hegemony; they have a history in doing this, after all.

If they can keep their free beaches which they were kind enough to share with us on our holiday, and which I hope they will share with us again in future, that would be nice as well.

As on a previous, happier, occasion, I ask for my readers indulgence for this personal post. This was my reading delivered today, 29th January, 2015.

My father once said that he could not understand how people found so much to say at funerals; at his, he said, his life story would be over in just a few lines. Perhaps, here, I will prove him right.

My father used to describe himself as a blessed man — he meant this in a very simple way, which was that he was a happy man, contented with his life and his family. My father did not want for things for physical possessions but he did want to look after the things that he had. He loved to make and build things, to define simple solutions to little problems; his garage has shelves and cupboards that he crafted like a fitted kitchen. He was happiest in his home, in the environment that he had helped to build.

As children, my father would take my brother and I on long cycle rides through the countryside around Worcester on many weekends. In my memory, these rides went on for a long time, though I was young and they cannot have been that far; but they were an enormously exciting adventure. They left me with a love of cycling that I retain to this day. In reality, of course, it was just my dad finding a creative way of getting us out of the house while my mum made dinner.

My father loved to talk with people, to find out how they were. After Sean, my son, was born, my dad spent many hours talking with my Italian father-in-law: first, they waved their hands around; then, after I showed them how, they used my computer to translate, passing it backward and forward between them. The lack of a common language was never going to get in the way of my dad having a good conversation.

When I was young, I did not think of him as a good father, just as my dad; I thought every dad was like that. Seeing him with my son made me appreciate him all the more; the sweet stupidity of an eighty year old man, crawling on all-fours with his grandson saying, “shall I make some silly noises, then”? He loved Sean beyond measure.

He had a deep consideration for others. When I told him how I had not been able to return this year at Christmas for his unexpected operation, he said that, he would have been devastated if I had, and that he hoped that he had not spoiled the holiday with his illness.

My dad’s life story may not be one of great deads or big adventures, but these things miss every thing that was important about him. He was a loving man, a kind man and a generous man. But above all, he was a gentle man. His loss leaves a hole in my, and our, lives that cannot be filled, but if when my, and our, time comes, if family and friends can say the same thing about us, then we, too, will have lead blessed lives.

William Henry Lord

Bill Lord


Thank you


Death Thanks

I was lucky enough to catch (er) the premier of Catch-22 at the Northern Stage on Saturday. I’ve been to quite a few shows there now, and they are generally good; an adaption of what I consider to be best book that I’ve ever read, I was optimistic. We had good seats as well, middle, fifth row (far enough away not to get a stiff neck, close enough to hear clearly).

Looking through the programme, I was confused as to who had made the adaption as it wasn’t not mentioned anywhere; fortunately, BBC News put me right; the play was my Joseph Heller himself.

The stage set was fantastic, a cut-away bomber with the back-end merging into a beach hut. Like the rest of the set, it was used for many purposes — as a plane, an office, an entrance way. The cast was the same; nine actors jumping backward and forward between roles, except for the actor playing Yossarian, who, as in the book, was a solitary figure in the middle of the madness.

On the whole, I think it worked rather well. It’s a mistake, I think, to compare it to the book directly; nothing ever could. Many fantastic parts were missed — including my own favorite great loyality campaign, and the shortening meant that only a few characters really came out of their own: Colonel Cathcart, Major Major, the Chaplain, Natley (and his whore). Not all of it, I think, made entire sense: the naked man in the tree was funny, but it wasn’t clear why Yossarian refused to wear his clothes; nor the ending, with Orr’s escape missing, it’s not clear why Yossarian got all optimistic. But how could there not be parts missing? The main thing is that the feel of the theatre show and the book are the same; it’s confused, dissonate, unsettling, challenging all at the same time as being very, very funny.

The BBC news article raises the question, in the 40 years since the play was written why has it not been performed more. Good question, indeed.

A few weeks back, I went to see Neil Young at the Academy. This represents quite a few firsts for me: although I’ve loved his stuff for years, this is the first time that I have seen Neil Young live, and likewise Crazy Horse. It’s also the first gig that I have been to for quite a while. I have never got over the sense of excitement of live music and this has only been increased by its rarity. I was definately looking forward to it.

Set against this, the Metro Arena is not my favourite sort of venue. Large venues such as this are fairly soulless places. The arena fits squarely into this category; like a football stadium, seats too small and uncomfortable. Moving around involves lots of shuffling around in big queues.

The stage set consisted of a Crazy Horse banner, some enormous packing cases, and video screens set in old style TV casing. All of this rather swamped Los Lobos, who none the less did a good support set.

The packing cases were the first sign of the melodrama of the evening; with the rather strange sight of roadies dressed up as mad scientists running around, these were lifted up to reveal the set of enormous amps familiar from Weld, backed by Day in the Life. This was a complete revelation; played loud over a big sound system with all the resonance of an arena, it’s a totally different song. Dramatic, exiciting; the John Lennon vocals in the second pattern were haunting, and the orchestral finale were stupendous, leaving the audience stunned.

This was followed by a slightly cheesy rendition of the national anthem, and then straight into Love and Only Love; this really summed the rest of the night up. It was loud, long and overblown. And, yet, somehow they get away with it. The songs are simple and direct. Despite the theatrics, at heart its just a bunch of guys on stage, hunched over their instruments playing in a way which cuts through all the messing, takes you into the music and carries you away. It’s live music and more over it is music that is at its best live. You need it there in front on your to appreciate it to its full extent.

There are times when, perhaps, it feels like one too many thudding chord changes too many, one too many feedback-laced false ending, but I didn’t care. I’ve been listening to some of these songs for 20 years now; the band is now all in their late 60s or 70s, and some of the songs over 40 years old. But, to me, it felt fresh; I dont know if I will ever get to see them live again, but I am glad that I have seen them once. A great gig for me.

It has been a long, long time since my last gig review. As this blog is mostly professional now, this is perhaps not such a bad thing. I did half write a review of Roy Harper and Joanna Newsome in Sept last year, but it never got posted. Don’t think I have been to gig since then. Still onwards.

I’ve been a fan of June Tabor for a long time, particularly her album with Martin Simpson even if it does have terrible cover art. Despite this, and the fact that she lives pretty close to my home town, I’ve never seen her live. Her music is dark and eclectic, her voice rich. Combined with the Oysterband’s tendency to do strange adaptations folk-style it was destined to be an interesting gig. The music is something like gothic folk if that is not a contradiction in terms. While singing, June Tabor comes as a foreboding presence on stage. Between songs though, she’s entertaining, witty and light, which was a bit of a relief.

The gig was fantastic. Her voice is as excellent live as on record, with adding prescence. She adds to the music by, erm, explaining what it is all about (this can be something of a problem otherwise). The evening was well managed, moving from gentle and quieter music to end-of-evening barnstormers. It was good to be listening to live music again.

But one thing I didn’t understand. Why does Ray Cooper stand on a box while playing bass? He’s already the tallest.

My first visit to Oslo was in 2006. That time, it was for work and we were some distance away from town. I remember the flight in gave a dramatic impression, and I remember sitting in the conference centre, looking over the hill side, breathing in the thick scent of pine watching the sun slowing crawl toward the horizon at about 11pm. I only got into town the once, on the last night, and saw little of it which I was disappointed about. My second visit to Norway was to Trondheim and I enjoyed that as well.

So I was looking forward to visiting Oslo again, for a few days, doing the tourist thing. But I am afraid that I have been disappointed again; this city has not really grabbed me. The architecture is impressive at points, but there is a random, thrown-together quality about the city overall; nothing to rival the magnificence that is Grainger Town in Newcastle. And some of the signature buildings are, again, just okay; the Opera House has a roof you can walk up, but that seems to be it. The night time is subdued to say the least, and the food is okay at best. The only stand out feature seems to be an extra-ordinary number of sculptures — mostly bronzes, and often not famous people. Lots of nudes in heroic poses; the number involving seals is also distinctly above the average.

Of the two best things I have seen are, first the Sculpture Park. Very classically laid out garden, but with some really very good sculpture, full of character and life. And seals. And second, the folk museum, which shows Norweigian life and buildings at different stages of history. I have to admit, though, that I was at a loss to see the difference, because over the last 4-500 years, this seems to basically have involved making robust, timber buildings on stilts. While the museum is good, I think, having less buildings, but better explained would improve it. When you get down to it, one wooden farmhouse looks very like another, especially when you can see it only from the outside.

Perhaps the biggest surprise though has been the accessibility for pushchairs. In Oslo, this is never an afterthought; they just have not thought about it at all. The tram doors slam on you if you take too long, which may happen if, say, you are struggling to get a heavy, unwieldy, pram-shaped object through a narrow door. My visit to the Opera House was limited to walking around the lobby, as walking up a sloping roof, with nothing but “slippery when wet” signs to break a clear run to the fjord is not my idea of fun. My visit to the National Gallery involved 20 steps to get in, to discover that the pushchairs are banned in the exhibition area; still, hey, you can visit the shop. Looking through the door of the National Museum (only 10 stairs up) and I could see a line of buggies next to the security guard. I didn’t even bother.