Tuesday, 28 May 2013

'Brothir, seyede sir Launcelot, wyte you well I am full loth to departe out of thys reyllme, but that the Quene hath defended me so hyghly that mesemmeth she wyll nevir be my gode ladye as she hath beene.' - Malory, Morte d'Arthur

'Have you had her round your gaff yet? No? Well, don't.'

Selwyn's bedsit was a notorious eyesore and health hazard, even by the undemanding standards of the after-hours crew from the Swan. But located equidistant as it was between the New Inns and the High Street  it made a convenient stop-off point for a pick-me-up between venues, and we'd all been there at some time. It did seem a trifle churlish for Gok Wan to be publicly denigrating Selwyn's shortcomings as a house keeper, but Gok was in Tough Love Mode and Selwyn had a new bird.

'Cast your mind forward eighteen months.' Gok continued as Selwyn shuffled his feet under the table and looked imploringly at his empty pint pot. 'You and her have signed the lease on a new house; Pickford's have just unloaded all her furniture, ornaments and belongings and you've upended your two binbags full of crap and plugged your Xbox in, and now she's off for another two months to Afghan.'

Selwyn's new bird was a nurse, and not just a nurse: a senior staff nurse. And not just a senior staff nurse, she was also a  volunteer for an international medical charity that despatched nurses to hotspots around the globe. Iran, Rwanda, Liberia and Afghanistan had all benefitted from the ministrations of this angel, and we could only assume that in Selwyn she saw a humanitarian disaster of similar proportions.

'So tell me, Sel, how do you intend to greet her on her return from Afghanistan's searing plains? A kebab and a two month pile of dirty laundry? "You just enjoy your dinner, love. You can start on all that later."' Gok jerked his thumb over his shoulder at an imaginary, tottering pile of unwashed crocks and soiled underwear. He paused. 'Answer to a maiden's prayer, isn't it?'

Since Sel's old mum had died, Sel had lived a dismal existance of shared houses, takeaways and trips to the last surviving launderette. This new bird offered, perhaps, a reprieve from infinite squalor in a little room and a lonely dusty death.

'You gotta learn to clean, boy. Learn to cook.' Gok's own domestic habits were fastidious, his housekeeping precise and prompt. Orderly batchelorhood was his thing and his kitchen gleamed but nobody had ever seen him eat so much as a pub bap, much less whip up a three-course on the Aga a la Jamie Oliver. Emboldened by a night's recreational sleeplessness, I interjected.

'I'm talking about him, mate, not me.' Gok's eyes whipped round to mine. 'He's the one wants to shack up with a bird. He's the one living up to his arse in his own shite. He's the one needs someone took look after him in his twilight years. Not me, mate.'

We hadn't met her yet, although John Paul claimed to have once seen the happy couple crossing the road by the Yenton, and Sel had only told us the previous evening that they were thinking of moving in. It had been a long night, but the subject had resurfaced more than once during the journey to morning opening and here we were back at our starting point. 

I thought about getting another round in. Selwyn was humbly listening to Gok, whose jaws were starting to clench when not actively being used for speech; which latter state which was pertaining less and less as the morning wore on. Dave the Paperboy was still with us, but happily withdrawn and giggling to himself. I got up and headed for the karzi: the new day beckoned with promise.

Sunday, 3 February 2013

Biased Public Library Catalogue Entry Shock Horror!!!!

From Warwickshire's on-line library catalogue, the bit of blurb regarding the book 'Spanish Holocaust' :-

"Paul Preston sheds crucial light on Spain's darkest period, when Franco and his supporters reconstructed an entire society through violence."

Not a bad entry; pithy, grammatically correct, a couple of reference points so you know it's about Spain and Franco. All fine and dandy. Except not.

During the Spanish Civil war atrocities were commited by both sides, Fascist and Socialist. I haven't read the book yet but I'd be willing to bet that at least so long as the Socialists were still in the running, they were as equally enthusiastic pracitioners as Franco's mob. Franco won in the end, so he had a longer window of opportunity to up his total; but that would only be half the story.

I know this, cos I spent 5 mins in Smith's having a look at the book and it says quite clearly on the back that Preston examines at the atrocities carried the Republican side as well as of the Fascists. You don't have to read the whole book to find that out. It's on the back. In quite big writing.

So, the catalogue entry is wrong. It does not accurately represent the content of the book. It is wrong, yet not incorrect. If the catalogue entry read along the lines of  ".....Spain's darkest period, when Louis XIV bestrode the land, pelting random people with marrows", that would be incorrect. This entry is not incorrect, but it only tells part of the truth. It is biased.

I'm not detecting the Hand of Moscow behind this, or a cabal of shadowy Marxist assistant librarians, but I do object to the assumption that Socialists are always the good guys in history.They're not. Che Guevara for example, a big icon for the Left. Long hair, beard, beret. Looks like somebody you might have shared a spliff with on campus when you were doing your Sociology degree back the '70's. Nice guy, laid-back.

 In real life, Che Guevara was a rabid homophobe. Shot a few himself, did Che. Point blank range, up close and personal, blammo: "Buenas noches, el Signor Battyboy!" That sort of behaviour wouldn't win him many friends at the Young Labour LGTB Annual Conference and Gala Ball. I also wonder what Cuba's record on gay rights is? That might be worth 5 mins on Google.

Lenin, there's another one. Plenty of Lefties describe themselves as 'Leninist' or 'Marxist-Leninist'. They do love giving themselves these kind of labels. Makes them feel cool and groovy, I suppose. As if anyone but them gave a toss. One New Labour apparachik's twitter name is "EllieTheBevanite". Nothing wrong with old Anuerin of course, the miner's friend and pillar of the NHS. But Lenin? Directly reponsible for millions of deaths through political pogroms, deliberately induced famines, etc etc etc. A monster, by any calculation. To tout his brand of political thought like a footballer with the name of a photocopying firm on his jersey front is surely to condone the human cost. And to sanction the airbrushing out of history of the human cost of the advance of Socialism is to start buggering around with the truth. The Left is not all that keen on the plain unvarnished, when it doesn't take their fancy. They are prone to bias. Juuuust a little bit. A smidgeon. Un peu.

Another example that irked me at the time was a verse by 'punk poet' and Red Wedge stalwart Attila the Stockbroker: "There's a hero of the Revolution, and his name is Enver Hoxa, he's a bit of a dictator but he's not a bad old codger." Fair play for knowing that 'Hoxa' is pronounced 'Hodja', and also for ryhming it with 'codger'. We all had a bit of a giggle over that. I don't know,but I'll bet Hoxa's Albania was not a very nice place to live. And I doubt that Attila the Stockbroker ever made any serious move to go and live there. Hypocrite.

So, it doesn't surprise me one whit that the catalogue entry for Preston's book in Worrick Library's catalogue does not read "......Spain's darkest period, when Anarchists, Marxists and Socialists ran amok raping nuns, chopping priests' heads off and shooting anyone they thought was uncool." But stap me vitals if I'm not going write a nicely measured and understated email to the County Librarian requesting that the entry more accurately reflect the contents of the book. Can't hurt, can it?

Friday, 28 December 2012

Why is the piece of cardboard you put in the end of a joint called a roach?

In 1836 Texas was an independant country, and was at war with Mexico. Mexico then owned much of what today is part of the USA, California for example. This is the reason why so many places in that part of America have Spanish names: Los Angeles, San Fransisco, etc.

The 1836 war is famous for the Battle of the Alamo where a handful of Texan patriots, including the likes of Dave Crockett and Daniel Boone, were besieged in a small mission station by a vastly superior Mexican force, and eventually slaughtered to the last man. This led to the USA joining the war against Mexico, Texas becoming part of the US, and Mexico losing a good deal of its territory to the States.

The Battle of the Alamo is much more famous in the States than over here; and arouses the sort of emotion that historical events like the Black Hole of Calcutta* used to arouse in this country before, for rather obvious reasons, we had to stop talking about that all sort of thing.

The Mexican General at the Alamo was called Santana, and it's a very commonly said that "at the Alamo Santana's men were all high on marijuana". It's a way of explaining the reckless courage and ferocity displayed at the final assault by the otherwise notably unenthusiastic Mexican soldiers.

To be fair, marijuana use in the Mexican army at the Alamo was probably no greater than in the Mexican army at any other point in the nineteenth century. That is to say pretty near universal, in the lower ranks at least. Life in any army of that period was likely to be nasty, brutish and short. But the one concession allowed the enlisted (or conscripted) soldier was a liberal supply of whatever cheap and socially acceptable intoxicant was around. In Europe, it was alcohol; in Mexico, cannabis.

A favourite Mexican army marching song from the time of the Alamo contains the following verse:-

                                 La Cucaracha, la Cucaracha
                                 Se no puede caminar;
                                 Perque no tiene, perque no tiene
                                 Maria-Juana por fumar.

(Lit: The cockroach, the cockroach he can't walk around; because he hasn't got, because he hasn't got marijuana to smoke).

The Texans picked up on this song (it's quite catchy, it's to the 'Speedy Gonzales'-type tune that everyone thinks of when they think of Mexican music) and by association cannabis cigarettes became known as 'roaches'.

The Yanks roll joints a bit different to us (or at least they used to): they roll neat grass in single skins, adding neither baccy nor a rolled up bit of cardboard at the gob end. Instead they used to use miniature tong type things called 'roach clips' so that you could smoke the very last bit of your Acapulco Gold or whatever without burning your fingers.

I'm speculating here, but it seems logical that at some point, prob in the 1960's, a Brit and a Yank sat down to smoke a bit of dope and the elegant metal clip holding the American's tiny neat weed single-skinner was seen to be performing the same function as the rolled up bit of Rizla packet jammed in to one end of the Brit's tarry Rothman-and-three-skins contraption. As the bit of Rizla obviously isn't a clip, and the 'roach clip' obviously is; by a process of elision the bit of cardboard became known as 'the roach', in this country at least.

Incidentally the Mexican term 'Gringo' as a perjorative epithet for Americans comes from the same period. A favourite American marching song was "Green Grow The Rushes-oh!", from which the Mexicans took the word immortalised in a thousand crap westerns: "Hey, Greengo! We come to keeeell you!"

* Never heard of it, have you? Shame on you!

Monday, 17 December 2012

Puss In Boots

You probably know the plot: Dick Whittington, poor boy from the country, goes to London to seek his fortune. Finds the street aren't paved with gold. Discouraged, he sets off to return to the farm but is called back by the city's bells which chime "Turn again Whittington, thrice Lord Mayor of London". With the help of the eponymously-shod feline, he makes his pile and is duly elected LM of L three times.

Richard Whittington was a historical character, a merchant in the late middle ages who made his fortune in the cloth trade with Flanders. He was indeed Lord mayor of London a number of times, although he probably had four cracks at Boris Johnson's current job rather than three. So not a bad transmission of an accurate, if obscure, historical fact via a popular dramatic medium. But why the introduction of the improbable anthropomorphised character of the pantomime title?

At the time, the Dutch used a type of sailing vessel which was of a shallow enough draft to navigate Holland's canals, but was also seaworthy enough to make the choppy channel crossing. These boats were called 'poezen'. The Dutch word for boat is 'boot'. So, how did Dick Whittington make his fortune? With Poezen Boots!

Ta-daa! Next up: Ghengis Khan's trousers.

Sunday, 11 November 2012

Hawkwind are advertising cars on the telly. Again. This time the Ford B-Max is being dangled in front of your eyes to the strains of 'Master Of The Universe' from Hawkwind's second album, the seminal 'X In Search of Space' (1971). 

I suppose I shouldn't be surprised. 'Silver Machine' (actually about Bob Calvert's racing bike) was used a couple of years ago for a Volkswagen commercial. But the choice the Ford advertising execs made this time struck me as a little, well, poignant.

'Masters of the Universe' is a Hawkwind standard: a choppy three chord riff that starts, stops, starts again and then builds up to a crescendo before.......well, stopping and starting up again. It's actually pretty easy to play: I could teach you the bass line in 5 minutes. But, like practically any Hawkwind song, its the version that makes all the difference.

You could have taken the Live '79 version, which is basically a heavy metal song with Dave Brock doing his "awright cockney geezah" vocal interpretation. You could have had the Space Ritual Live version from 1972:- operatic in scale, with Lemmy pounding away on bass, but a bit acoustically foggy as its a live album. And any one of a dozen other versions; bootleg, official, and everything in between.

But they chose the "...In Search of Space" version. That's my favourite Hawkwind album, that is. All the songs on it, like all Hawkwind songs, are about space travel, or travel to other dimensions, or taking LSD. Sometimes its hard to work out exactly which one of the three themes is being referenced in any given song. But don't worry, the Hawks themselves probably weren't too clear on the distinctions at the time either.

It's a lovely album. It came in a fold-out sleeve, gorgeously decorated inside and out with photos of the band and psychedelic artwork. Just right for pinning to your bedsit wall to cover the patch were the previous occupant, Mad Alkie Jimmy, had tried to headbutt his way through to next door. He also used to save his wee in milk bottles. Moving day was an eye-opener, I can tell you. There was a booklet included with the album, the Ship's Log of Spaceship Hawkwind; words by Calvert and Moorcock, and more artwork by Barney Bubbles. Musically the album is probably as close to Hawkwind's sound during their early free festival period as you're ever going to get. Turner's honking away on his sax through a wah-wah pedal, Dikmik and Detmar are proving the swooshes and bleeps on the audio generators, Brock weighs in with some lovely 12-string work and Hawkwind's best ever drummer, Terry Ollis, is pounding away like a loon. It's quirky, and as English as Punch and Judy.

Little known Hawkfact: "X in Search of Space" was the reason I didn't revise very hard for my O-Levels. Me, Paul and Andy were going to squat a house in Wootton, get a band together* and, basically, never have to get up before midday ever again. Good thing we didn't go down that road, isn't it, Hawkwind? Turns out all everybody wants in their twilight years is a nice gaff, a decent income stream, and plenty of leisure time; and I can't see that Ford would have now been playing any of OUR songs and thinking "Hey, we could really use this track to promote the new Ford X-Lax".

Edgar Broughton will be next, you mark my words. On his blog he's mithering about not being able to get a packet of decent dried shitake mushrooms. How the mighty are fallen, plaster saints, feet of clay, etc etc. Yes, I'm a big boy now, and I understand how the world works. All my own fault I'm not a heart surgeon/CEO of Microsoft/presenter on Strictly Ballroom, I know. But I really listened to people like the Hawks and the Broughtons. The whole anti-materialist thing, you know. All you need is a greatcoat, a bottle of patchouli, and an eighth of leb. A seductive message when you're a spotty 15 year old 'erbert from the brussels sprout fields of rural mid-Bedfordshire. But, as we've seen, a deeply flawed one as well. So, before he turns up on the telly advertising Cillit Bang or Vagisil, here's Edgar and his bro's while he still had balls.


* We didn't get the squat, but we did get a band together. We were actually pretty good: a blatant Hawkwind/Sex Pistols cross-over. We had two front men, a guy with a blue beard and blue hair who played the sax, and a bloke who used to sing from inside a child's inflatable space capsule, plus the usual bass/guitar/drums. At one point we even picked up a female dancer. Every gig ended with the front row of the audience being deluged in a variety of semi-liquid substances: pig's blood and rehydrated dried dog food, e.g.

Of course, that got a mixed reception in mid-1970's Bedfordshire. Some people loved us, some people (the straights, maaan!) would give us a good kicking. We even provoked the wrath of a Beds on Sunday columnist, Jim Raybould, who entitled one article "Bedfordshire's Most Hated Band!" The exclamation mark is Jim's, not mine. And not least, leaving each venue a quagmire of congealing unpleasantness meant that we ran out of pubs and clubs willing to host us, there not being very many to start with.

As these things do, the band broke up. But for a while there, and given a break, I reckon we might have made it to some degree, perhaps on the festival circuit or in Germany. But we didn't and we went our separate ways. The guy with the blue beard shaved it off and surprised everybody by joining the RAF and retiring as a sergeant. One of the guys who used to do a bit of guitar died of a methadone overdose. And the rest of us somewhere in between, I guess.

But I can still remember some of the lyrics and some of the chords from the songs we did. C-E minor-D-dah-dee-dah-dee-dah-dee-dah:- that's 'The Alien Song', that is. "I was king of this planet for all of you to see, till that bloody fat willy started picking on me, now my dreams are shattered and it makes me want to pee. I could rule this world if it wasn't for that thing called Dibdohhhhh................"  A lot of detail from that period in my life has faded: faces,places and names become monochrome and jumbled. I suppose a lot of the pubs have gone now, people moved on. But, by George, put a geetar in my hand this very second and I could still whack out 'Dibdo Lands on the Porridge Planet' ("....the Porridgeman thinks he is a prannet. His ray can kill Dibdo, or can it? Cos Dibdo's body is made of granite"). Probably best if I don't though, as Mrs W is having a nice nap on the sofa, so forgive me.

We were a genuine musical phenomenon though, albeit in a small way and for a brief while. The cops were called to shut down the Leighton Buzzard leisure centre gig.  I think that this is probably the first time that we've ever been mentioned on the net though, so ephemeral and fleeting is fame. Please allow me, with pride, to give our name here for the first time:- Dibdo Gibbs and the Prophets of Delirium.

Friday, 25 May 2012


"The government has decided to dissolve the people,
and elect another."
-Bertolt Brecht, 'The Solution',1953

Here Brecht is satirising the events of the uprising in Soviet-controlled Hungary, when the mask of spurious democracy slipped for a brief second, and the whole political machinary of the 'Democratic Soviet Socialist Republics' (bogus elections, listed canditates, 98% per cent 'yes' votes and so on) was exposed as the Socialist imposition of tyranny against the genuine wishes of the people.

In this poem Brecht imagines how a regime could cease to rely on all those annoying and fiddly trappings of a faux-democracy, simply by somehow reconstituting the actual subject population into one which is far less able to be an impediment to eternal Socialist dictatorship.

Wow. Awesome!