I’ll Play What I Like – Paul Weller at Bristol Colston Hall

I’d been quite excited about seeing Paul Weller at Colston Hall, Bristol. The last time I’d seen him was with The Jam back in the early 1980s, before he adopted  floppy hair and a stripy blazer with The Style Council. As a former punk who saw Weller adopted by mods, this change of style was not to my taste. Conversely, Lady Barton St Mary loved The Style Council and bought the cassette, which she played constantly, allowing me some familiarity with their tunes despite the constant reminder that, as far as I was concerned, Weller had ‘gone soft’. His later solo albums were a redemption in my mind, especially ‘Stanley Road’.

I was accompanied by Lady BSM, Nancy Cuticles, Pen,  Steeley the Tinkers’ Friend and She-La! (who had a hit in the 1980s called ‘Touch Me – but not there’). They had seen him at Westonbirt, a lovely wooded musical venue in Gloucestershire, a couple of years ago. I am not a fan of Westonbirt, since it is open air in the evening, you are usually miles away from the stage and the audience usually consists of punters called Toby and Jocasta with children in 4 wheel buggies who leave half way through the set when they have enough material to pontificate at length about seeing Paul Weller at their next dinner party. Blimey, I’m such an inverse snob.

The Colston Hall is a wonderful venue for music. Not a pushchair in sight, in fact a couple in Stranglers t-shirts who were happy to engage in conversation about their appearance at the hall a week earlier.

Anyway – Weller. What a back catalogue of music he has, a prolific writer. He started with White Sky, a cacophony of guitars and rocked the place, moving on quickly to Long Time and I’m Where I Should Be before the first Jam song. Guess which one? Ghosts. Yes, I struggled too. Was it from Setting Sons? I couldn’t remember. Then two Style Council hits – Ever Changing Moods and Have You Ever Had It Blue? – which, to be honest, were really good, because they were played with a little bit of edge and Paul didn’t have floppy hair and wasn’t wearing a yellow and red striped blazer. (By the way, the Weller hair has also improved. Still quite ‘youthfu’l but a little less like a trendy granny hairstyle).

Then back to the album tracks. Hardcore Weller fans would have loved this gig, whereas everyday Weller fans would have struggled to recognise the songs. Wonderfully played, great musicianship, but not familiar. Hence the cheers and relief for Peacock Suit, Guilded Splinters and, for the first encore, Wild Wood.Even for the encore, Paul plumped for The Ballad of Jimmy McCabe and a number from the latest album.

Of course, he left on a high with Start! and Changing Man.

Lady BSM commented afterwards that he seemed to play what he wanted to play, rather than what the audience would prefer. I agreed, but then another musical snob would categorise me as another Toby/Jocasta.

And it is Paul Weller. He can play what he likes.

 

 

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Rural Spaceman versus The Robot Till Operators

Word pretzels, no doubt you all at some point have to go to a supermarket to go food shopping. I do quite often, almost every day, in fact. Mainly to get lunch, or, once or twice a week, to get the weekly food shop.

Once upon a time, when Master Johnny and Miss Katherine worked for Waitrose, we had the pleasure of strolling up and down the aisles, considering all the exotic foods and brands this posh shop had to offer, with the added luxury of 15% family discount at the check out.

Sadly those days are over, which is a bit of a blow; although, to be honest, it was Lady Barton St Mary who had the family discount card and she tended to buy only gin and chocolate, mistakenly thinking that staff below stairs were adding to the bi-weekly organic vegetable delivery.

However, there are the rare occasions when we food shop in the supermarket together, a form of retirement practice. These trips tend to follow the same pattern; an hour before we are due to leave, Lady BSM gives me the option of staying at home whilst she shops, but adding it would be nice to have my company. I, of course, love to be in her company, so agree to accompany her.

After half an hour in the supermarket, still in the first aisle where she’s reading every ingredient in a jar of ‘All Your Shakras’ highly organic free range chicken stock’, I’m starting to wish I’d stayed at home, knowing that either an argument or a spate of self harm could break out within the next 2 hours. Of course, we do have a special arrangement when it comes to food shopping; I pick up products and put them in the trolley. She then carefully removes and replaces them with identical items that she has chosen. It’s a jolly game.

Anyway, that’s not the fault of the supermarket, but those self service till operators are. I’m sure you know what I mean. The machines where you scan your items yourself before

Exterminate! Exterminate!
Thank you for shopping with us!

paying. They’re there to save time and money. For the supermarkets, of course. Why employ till operators when your customers can work for you for free? They’ve also introduced a new phrase into the English language: ‘Unexpected item in bagging area’ -everybody’s favourite. This has also spawned the special ‘Unexpected item in bagging area’ dance for customers: a swaying movement with a vague waving of the arm, raising of eyebrows followed by a nod at the robot till operator. If you’re lucky, you’ll find a member of staff happy to wander over and tap a few numbers into the fussy machine in order for you to continue working  shopping. If you’re unlucky, Mavis has gone for a fag break or Jarmelle is too busy chatting up Alicja on fruit and veg to notice the smoke coming out of the ears of happy shopper on till #3.

Of course, when you’ve finished scanning all of your products, you can then have the pleasure of paying for all your goods. Do you have a loyalty card? Robot till operators in certain supermarkets have their own catchphrase.

“All your club card points add up,” it tells you, which is nice to know that my loyalty card is proficient in at least one numerical operation. This is usually at the point it’s spewing out a long roll of meaningless vouchers (“spend £40 on Peruvian weave rugs and get 20p a litre off your fuel bill!”) followed by your receipt.

But that’s not the worst habit of these mischievous machines, not as far as I’m concerned. Their worst offence is when you’ve popped in for some lunch, spending a small amount and paying in cash. One thing is guaranteed. If you feed your robot till operator some paper money, in return it will give your change in the most awkward way possible. For example:

Lunch costs £2.75.  You feed a £5 note into the machine. Machine returns your change of £2.25 in this form: 1 x £1 coin, 1 x 50p, 5 x 10p, 4 x 5p, 1 x 2p and 3 x 1p. Which you then have to scrape up and shovel into your pocket. Given half the chance, these robots will throw more shrapnel at you than a world war 1 shell. It’s sad watching workers visiting the supermarket for their well earned food break, spend 10 minutes working for the shop before leaving with green hands and a limp.

Don’t get me started on the carrier bag conversations…

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Life After Deal Or No Deal

As you all know, 2016 didn’t cover itself in glory when it came to the demise of great things; iconic figures from music, stage and screen, TV and radio; the incredible and divisive political shifts in Europe and America.

But something else happened in 2016 that, in my world overshadowed all of these events: the decision to axe Deal or No Deal from the TV schedule.

When I first heard the news I thought that it had to be scaremongering. The greatest TV show about opening boxes in nearly 50 years could surely never disappear from our screens. It had everything.

21 contestants, who appeared every day until they were called up for their special moment in the limelight, with an opportunity to win £250 000. With the introduction of the ‘Banker’s Button’ and box 23, a chance to win £500 000. All perfectly controlled by the master of the game show, Noel Edmonds. Noel had a witty quip for everybody, using that effusive charm honed as a DJ in the 1960s and 70s, something he’d never lost. Or changed. His beliefs and opinions may be a bit wacky, but then, most 70 year olds have a touch of that, and Noel’s misdemeanours were trivial compared to those of some of his 1970s Radio 1 DJ counterparts.

But it turned out the rumours were true. Deal or No Deal turned out its last few episodes before Christmas before disappearing without so much as a tearful farewell addition. If you go to the Channel 4 website now, all you can find is a few historic games. It’s like visiting your favourite shop after it’s closed down, leaving just a few items behind to remind you of its greatness.

Deal or No Deal was a soap opera. You got to know the characters. The weird ones, the annoying ones, those with a sad back story, the real entertainers, the cocky ones, the shy but brave ones. Their stories built up slowly, Noel engaging them in conversation and occasionally giving them nicknames. Of course, from time to time these nicknames could be politically incorrect, but Noel was allowed to carry on, the way you forgive an elderly relative for their casual racism.

Deal or No Deal was a metaphor for life. You existed to help the group, your chance would come and the decisions you made decided whether you were successful or not. Like life, sometimes things didn’t unfold (or in DOND’s case, open) as you would like and you had to make the best of things.

Deal or No Deal was a metaphor for religion. You did your best to help others until the glorious day when you made it to the front and claimed your reward, with a kindly and supportive god in the form of Noel; bearded, gentle, supporting but ultimately in control. Add in the unseen banker and the religious overtones continue.

By mid -January, I realised that Deal or No Deal was not returning. With a heavy heart, I wondered what could take its place. There was always Pointless, a very entertaining programme, but I felt like I was intruding on a couple of public schoolboys having a jolly jape. Unoffensive but somehow not satisfying my game show craving. For the opposite reasons, Tipping Point, a strange quiz game based around the penny falls machine found in an amusement arcade, seemed slightly low brow. Yes, a game of chance, but not on the high standards set by the sainted Noel.

Then I discovered The Chase, a quiz show presented by Bradley Walsh, the comic and actor. The Chase involves 4 people trying to ‘outrun’ a nominated quiz champion to get ‘home’ and help their team to win money. The contestants change every day, but there is a rotated team of ‘chasers’ who have their own characteristics.

noel-edmonds-presents-deal-or-no-deal

The Sainted Noel

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Bradley Walsh, cheeky chappy

After a few weeks, I found myself regularly watching it. It’s enjoyable and exciting, especially when the contestants have a chance of beating the chaser; infuriating when the contestants are particularly dumb and shout out loud annoying when a particularly useless one takes minus prize money with the intention of relying on somebody else to win some for them.

 

Occasionally, I pause and think wistfully about Deal or No Deal. It’s like losing the love of your life through no fault of your own and having to move on, finding happiness with somebody else. You can’t help but compare the two and feel slightly guilty for being happy with your new partner.

 

Bradley is engaging and amusing, younger than Noel; both have had chart success, Bradley with an album of easy listening songs, Noel with a pretend children’s character called Mr Blobby. Bradley likes music and football, Noel doesn’t.The Chase involves knowledge and skill, rather than dumb luck like Deal or No Deal.

My mum would have liked The Chase. She loved Deal or No Deal. We’d talk about it during our weekly phone calls and got to watch it together on several occasions. I suppose it was one of those things that was a happy memory of her. But as she used to say:

‘One door closes, another one opens.”

Which always made more sense than ‘Honky Donkey”…

 

 

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Eye Eye – We Have Contact

As a football referee, I finally had to give in to the helpful advice given to me by friendly spectators on a weekly basis and take a trip to SpecSavers, the opticians. My long vision has been deteriorating as I age, along with everything else, except my ability to grow nose and ear hair  at an alarming rate.

yes I can do it I can do it...

yes I can do it I can do it…

Just to let you know, I’ve had to wear spectacles for reading since I was 11. My mum’s reaction to hearing I had myopia was greeted in  similar fashion to the discovery of my colour blindness, namely complete denial and accusations of me ‘showing off’. I assure you that in 1971, wearing specs was not fashionable. Hardly any children wore them, since MTV, Nintendo and the internet were far off futuristic dreams.

“Don’t worry,” said the 1970’s optician, “when you’re old, your eyes will change shape and correct themselves.”

I had to wait nigh on four decades to find out 1970’s optician was lying. I kept my short sightedness and combined it with long sightedness. Now I can’t see anything near or far. I might as well buy a bloody dog.

However, I am out there refereeing, it was time for new glasses. My last test was five years ago, which, compared to the gap of ten years without a test, seemed reasonable. But this time, I thought I’d get myself some contact lenses for my refereeing duties. You see, the problem with refereeing is that you’re supposed to be able to see distance and close up; for example, that no so clever raking of the achilles tendon with a heavy boot by the incumbent ‘enforcer’ on a team must be spotted and recorded in my little black book with ease. Unfortunately, the foul play can be dealt with – the writing down of a name is more challenging. I have to be careful not to appear to be playing an imaginary trombone as I write some scrawl I can’t see on the page.

Wearing glasses on the field of play is of course a no no. I hardly need another weakness for the assorted cheats and liars to take advantage of.

It wasn’t as hard as I imagined. The opticians were happy to oblige me with ‘mono’ lenses – one eye sees distances and the other close up when fitted.

I’ve just returned from Contact Lens School, where a young lady called Sophie (they all look so young. She could have been on half term break) taught me how to fit my contact lenses. Now, I’m quite a squeamish person, the idea of rubbing my bare eyeballs with a finger didn’t appeal. But Sophie, my schoolgirl helper, was excellent, telling me exactly how to go about it, with the odd admonishment:

“We want to get those eyelashes out of the way, don’t we?”

“Look straight ahead, no, don’t close your eyes, we won’t be able to get your lenses in, will we?”

As it turned out, I was pretty good at it. Sophie said I was excellent.

“Well done, you were excellent.”

“We were excellent.”

“Pardon?”

Then she patted my arm and gave me a sympathetic smile. I almost expected a lollipop and sticker. She went through the health and safety aspects: no torn lenses and make sure they’re not inside out.

“How do I know?” I asked.

“Well, the lens has a little cuff around the top of it,” she explained, showing a diagram.

“Oh! So it look a bit like a…” I hesitated. She waited.

I was going to say condom, but at the last moment decided that wasn’t a simile I wished to share with a 14 year old. No doubt me alluding to prophylactics would be enough to make her nauseous.

“A bowl with a cuff. A cuffed bowl.”

She frowned.

“Ye-ess,” she managed.

So, off I went, with a trial pack of daily contact lenses, with instructions to return in another week to be checked by the senior contact lenses operative, who seemed a little older, at least old enough for lower sixth, anyway.

But the moral of this stream of consciousness? How brilliant is it to have contact lenses? WOW. I can see. I realise that my readers, both of you, probably know the benefits of contact lenses already, but please, humour me.

PS – When I had my eyes tested, the optician asked when I wore glasses. For reading and driving, I told her. “Oh – but you come within the legal limits for driving without glasses,” she told me. If only somebody had told me that 40 years ago…

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Then 100 Hell’s Angels Stood Up …

ruralspaceman

August, 1979 was a pivotal year in my life. It was the year I’d taken my ‘A’ levels and managed to get an offer from Sussex University. I can’t remember whether I knew that I’d been offered a place at the time of going to Reading Festival, but to be honest, it didn’t matter. The only thing that mattered was I was going to Reading Festival, especially since the headlining band on the Saturday night was Thin Lizzy. I’d cut the application form out of the back of Sounds magazine (which was more like a newspaper), filled in my details and sent it off with a postal order. This was in the days before home computers, kids.reading festival 79

Of course, I wasn’t on my own. Three of my school friends (who obviously by now were my former school friends) were sharing the adventure with me: Eggy Howe, Beany Green and Alan…

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Rural Spaceman in La La Land

Last weekend, Lady Barton St Mary suggested that we should go to the pictures.

“I’d like to see La La Land, but you wouldn’t go and see that, would you?” she said.

Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone watch Mamma Mia. Not really. He'd be crying out in pain and anguish.

Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone watch Mamma Mia but refuse to sit with Susan Boyle.

I’m not a fan of musicals. Actually, that’s not true, I’m not even a fan, I can’t stand musicals. I’m at a loss as to why anybody would want to watch actors trying to be singers, or vice versa, suddenly bursting into song for no reason whatsoever in the middle of a scene. I always think it would be much better if you just said what you wanted to say. Even worse are the stage productions involving the songs of well known turns such as Queen, Michael Jackson or (good grief) Take That. Precocious actors destroying songs in nonsensically contrived story plots.

I was once forced to sit through the film ‘Mamma Mia’, where James Bond inexplicably wailed out an Abba song like an injured camel in labour. An awful, terrible film that somehow captured the hearts of otherwise sane people, mainly female. By the end I was ready to self-harm. A short time after my ordeal, a male colleague related a terrible story about having to go to the pictures with his wife to experience this drivel; to compound his anguish, he could hear the rumblings from the screen next door showing The Dark Knight.

So. There we have it. I hate musicals.

I looked at Lady Barton St Mary, her beautiful face unable to hide the expression of disappointment.

“We could go and see this gangster film starring Ben Affleck,” she suggested.

I considered for a moment, then decided that sometimes, love does overcome everything.

“No,” I stated firmly, “let’s go and see La La Land.”

Her big blue eyes widened.

“Are you sure?” she asked.

I wasn’t, but perhaps it was time to embrace change, try something again and see if I’d been wrong.

“Let’s go and see La La Land,” I said.

Settling into our seats, the opening credits widened into bright technicolor (sic), just like the old musical films of the 1940s and 1950s, followed by the opening scene of a huge traffic jam on the highways of Los Angeles. A girl starts singing, then gets out of her vehicle to dance. Encouraged by this behaviour, other motorists join in. Soon, there are actors singing and dancing  all over the road, with high kicks and head flicks worthy of Louis Spence.

‘Oh no,’ I thought, ‘I’ve made a terrible mistake, this is another case of Mamma Mia Syndrome, please get me out of here.’

Lady Barton St Mary was watching me warily through the gloom. I kept a neutral expression and continued to stare at the screen, wondering if I could have a nap for a couple of hours until the ordeal had finished.

However, after the pretentious, teeth and tits, look at me, cheesy dance routine, we were treated to a proper story. With an entertaining plot, that moved at a reasonable pace and was well constructed. I was interested.

Then another musical scene, a song and dance, but not shoe horned into the film for no reason. I was transported back to my childhood, when these sort of films were shown on a Saturday afternoon or during bank holidays, with Fred Astaire, Gene Kelly or Donald O’Connor hoofing it across the screen. I realised I hadn’t thought ill of these musical films as a child, they were the fabric of Hollywood and weekend television viewing.

What’s more, John Legend pops up with a musical contribution of his own, which was rather good. Yes, John was a musician acting, but the part he was playing was that of a musician, with the only difficult part for him being called ‘Keith’ instead of John.

I was interested in the characters; there were some great musical scenes, the ones where you wished you could play the piano. Yes, there were the odd moment when I felt they could have said something rather than sing it, but realised that the significant twists in the tale were punctuated by song, like iambic pentameter in Shakespeare (ooo get me).

I won’t spoil the ending for you. I thought the film was well written, visually beautiful and encapsulating. A real feel good film for the post truth era. Better than the plethora of comic book, two hour, no plot, fight fests that are spat out month after month.

The lights came up and Lady Barton St Mary gazed at me with watery eyes (it’s an emotional film, too).

“I absolutely loved it,” I said, “thanks for choosing it.”

I explained to my colleagues at (almost) voluntary work how much I’d enjoyed it, even though I dislike musicals.

“Well, I love musicals,” said one, “but I couldn’t stand La La Land.”

Perhaps La La Land is a musical for those people who hate musicals. Go and see it.

 

 

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Rural Spaceman’s Rogue One

Last week, Master Johnny and I found ourselves alone when Miss Katherine returned to University and Lady Barton St Mary was called away on business of international importance. This meant that we could treat ourselves to a night out, starting with a meal at Nando’s (I bloody love Nando’s) followed by a trip to the pictures to see a new Star Wars film called Rogue One.

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Now, I am not a massive Star Wars boffin. My friends queued outside the Leicester Square cinema for the premiere of the first one in the seventies (they were even caught on camera, the grainy footage of my nerdy schoolmates in their tank tops and flares turning up on the occasional Star Wars documentary on TV) and I loved the first three, but had lost interest when the fourth one was made years later.

However, I did enjoy the last Star Wars film – The Force Awakens; the one with Hans Solo and Princess Leia, but when they’re much older. In fact, Hans Solo looks like he’s been left next to the radiator and has melted a bit. Also, The Force Awakens has the same story as the first Star Wars film in the seventies. Anyway, full of spicy chicken and coleslaw, we settled into our seats for the performance.

The story is about a girl called Gin (I’m amazed that Lady Barton St Mary never called Miss Katherine this). Gin looks like my sister in law Ellie, which was a little distracting; Ellie is not part of the Rebel Alliance, exactly, although she is Welsh and lives in Swansea, so as close as you can get, I suppose.

 

The action moved at a very brisk pace – Ellie Gin as a little girl hides in a hole and turns into a grown up. There’s Forrest Whittaker as a goodie, dressed up in one of Wallace and Gromit’s inventions, with a chest plate made out of an old kitchen sink, including the plug hole.

Eee it's the wrong trousers, Gromit!

Eee it’s the wrong trousers, Gromit

There’s a suave, exotic character who might be a goodie or a baddie. We’re not sure. However, all the super baddies wear lego bricks on the front of their shirts to make things easier, except for Daft Ada, of course, who has his own style.

Also a new robot, too;  a taller, black C3PO, showing that Star Wars can do characters without turning them into racial stereotypes (I’m thinking of the Womble with a Jamaican accent in the crap Star Wars films). Also a fair bit of kung fu action, which appeals to all the 50 something men who used to bunk into the cinema underage to watch such shinnanigans.

Everything moves along at a pleasing pace, without too many interruptions to explain who everybody is to the watching audience, but it wasn’t long before I was confused once again. This time it took several seconds to sink in. One of Daft Ada’s famous henchmen from the first Star Wars film suddenly appeared on the screen. What was the character called? Moss Bros? Muff Top? Big Moff? As I searched my memory, I realised that Peter Cushing had been cast in the role once again. Hang on. Peter Cushing? Still acting? Looking the same as he did in 1977? Let’s just say he looks fantastic for a man who’s been dead for 20 years. Grand Toff! Grand Pop Larkin! Moff Tarkin! That’s it!

The film built to a climax, Ellie Gin helped by an air force consisting of a group of World War 2 RAF pilots and rejects from the 1970s auditions for the part of The Six Million Dollar Man.

I won’t give away the ending, just to say it is very dramatic. Like all the other Star Wars films, the plot is driven at such a pace that you hardly have time to care for the characters. It’s an enjoyable, entertaining yarn that everyone can enjoy.

 

 

 

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