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Friday, 1 July 2016

Long Black Limousine



I was reading the obituary of Chips Moman, someone I’d never heard of before, and discovered he was the producer of Elvis Presley’s 15th and possibly greatest album ‘From Elvis in Memphis.’ (1969) Moman had a reputation of revitalising careers, and keen to capitalise on the King’s ‘68 Comeback Special.’ Presley’s management approached Moman. They wanted Momon to record and produce an Elvis album in American Sound Studio at Memphis.

Elvis agreed to jettison his default band, the Jordanaires, in favour of the tighter, more adventurous ‘The Memphis Boys’ — Momon’s house band. Elvis also agreed to reduce the size of the huge entourage that accompanied him, and presumably sucked on cough sweets, because he began recording suffering from a heavy cold.  ‘When I told him he was off pitch, his whole entourage would nearly faint,’ Momon later wrote.

What I got from the obiturary was the sheer hard work that went into the album. In the first song, The Long BlackLimousine, “Elvis’s tone is rasping, coarsened by his cold, but the result after nine takes is raw and powerful.” 

Moman knew what he was doing. At the end of the session, Elvis said to Moman: “We have some hits, don’t we Chips?” Without hesitation Moman replied: “Maybe some of your biggest.”
And he was right.

In the words of the rock critic Bruce Eder, other than Presley’s 1956 album, ‘From Elvis from Memphis’ was Elvis’s “greatest album” and “one of the greatest white soul albums (and one of the greatest soul albums) ever cut.”


And so last Saturday when I had the house to myself I played the entire album very loud, and by the Seven Lords of Hell, he was right.

Thursday, 16 June 2016

Celeriac it is then

Life is short, and every week I like to try something new—especially when it comes to food and drink; thus I discovered the joy of Roquefort, Pataks Aubergine pickle in cheese sandwiches, the competing merits of Marks and Spencers pork sage and onion stuffing Vs the lighter sage and onion stuffing from Waitrose. One day I will sample celeriac.

Not too sure whether I will sample the latest offering from the Monmouthshire Beacon.

Amidst its pages advertising Welsh Government Grants for Hedges, Shakespeare's magical comedy in Penault, a decade of tea dancing at Bridges and the celebratory bell ringers of St Teilo’s, I came across this:

 ‘Sell-out swingers festival to arrive later this month.’ It’s euphemistically billed as ‘the biggest lifestyle event of the year,’ which I’d find more convincing if it didn’t involve caravans and tents on a mystery Monmouthshire farm. Interestingly on an adjacent page I read, ‘Help your Dad improve his mood this father’s day’ (or at least confuse him.)

But back to the Swingers, all of whom will be wearing wristbands showing their sexual preferences and exhorted to ‘Be clean, smell nice, look good, feel good,’ (which clearly discriminates against Keyton)

As one of its organiser’s said, it’s for ‘…people that are sexually open minded in general.’ To me it sounds like Bear Gryls on steroids and presumably excludes one of our local councillors who approved the decision"
“What people do in their private lives between consenting adults is no one else’s business really, but I won’t be buying a ticket!” Nor, I suppose, will I. Celeriac it is then.


Thursday, 9 June 2016

Bond at the Auction Rooms

A few weeks ago I attended a parish auction with only one aim. It worked two years ago, when I bought a wonderfully old blanket chest at a knockdown price. This year I was after a blue, leather-bound set of Walter Scott, not first editions, but published in 1900. In these events it’s as well not to make your interest to overt, so I hovered over all the books and was even tempted by a first edition of Biggles, meaningful to every Briton of a certain age. Then, when no one was looking, I inspected my quarry. What was so startling was not only their general condition, pristine, but the quality of the paper, still a startling white, with gilt edging.

I sat down in quiet anticipation with my bidding number 44. 

I’d been given strict instructions not to come home with stuff we didn’t need. How a set of twenty-two leather bound book escaped this injunction, I don’t know. Only that my wife is very tolerant. But dear me, I was tempted.

Monmouth is quite wealthy and parishioners generous. There were treasures here, I tell you, gorgeous cut glass, decanters, whole tea sets, fine porcelain, all at ridiculous prices. The acquisitive gene was writhing, bursting for release. I held firm.

Then, at last the books came under the hammer, and I grew a little alarmed when the first edition Biggles was sold for £26. How the hell was I going to afford twenty two volumes of Walter Scott?

My beloved was brought into view, the price starting at a modest £10 for the lot. By this time, I knew the score. I held fire and observed. Who were my competitors? Were there any?

Yes. Two. They began in a fairly bored way, bidding against each other in desultory fashion, each time raising their bids by £2. At £20 one of them dropped out and the auctioneer’s hammer went down once, then twice—>I held up my card! And sensed the gnashing of teeth somewhere behind me. (At this point, I confess to an elementary mistake. I was sitting near the front and couldn’t easily see my competitor who stood near the back)

Time to play mind games. The price kept going up —> £22. £24. £26. Each time I hesitated, sweetening my rival with hope. The auction room had vanished. I was in Monte Carlo, wearing a white jacket, with a martini, shaken not stirred. Bloefield sat on the other side of the card table, face steady, his cards unseen. Who would blink first?

I had my limit—made up there and then—£40. I had my guardian angel, too. My opponent folded at £38 and I left the room triumphant, with twenty-two volumes I’d probably never entirely read. Stroke perhaps.






Friday, 3 June 2016

Mary had a trippy lamb

The Welsh sheep is an adventurous creature, learning how to escape fields by rolling over cattlegrids, indulging in experimental sex, if the canard about Welsh country folk is to be believed, and now they’ve learned to take drugs.

The remains of a cannabis factory were dumped outside the village of Rhydypandy. The authorities discovered it too late. The sheep had got their first—much to the alarm of local residents who talked of ‘psychotic sheep,’ and of sheep roaming the village, breaking into bungalows—in search of munchies?— and defecating on carpets.

Personally I think this could well develop into a bijou business. The North Ronaldsay sheep is famous amongst gourmets, their diet of seaweed giving their meat a distinctive tastes. Roll over hash-cakes, the hash-burger could be on its way.

There is, though, a negative side.

Cannabis is often seen as the gateway drug leading on to crack and cocaine, panhandling and crime and I’m not all together convinced by the absurdity of this, having been mugged by two sheep on the Yorkshire moors. They were after my cheese sandwich, but had I had money….


Hollywood once made a film about giant killer Rabbits – Night of the Lepus. They had a real job on their hands turning rabbits into creatures of horror. Welsh Sheep, now that’s a different story—as is the book by Katrina Monroe

Friday, 27 May 2016

How not to waste time


I visit a number of old people on a regular basis, one in a carehome surrounded by others even older than her. It’s a salutary reminder of a common destiny, unless death strikes us first, and each visit reminds me to enjoy everything I can before the walls eventually close in.

How can you sit watching soaps (and I confess this is a temptation I find hard to resist) when one day, that is all you will be able to do—whether you want to or not. In many carehomes the TV dominates the room and is perpetually on.

For me the message is simple, enjoy life; push yourself because you can and avoid the ‘easy’ which is akin to the pap you may eventually eat. This is what motivates me, not so much a fear of the future—you can’t do anything about that—but a fear of wasting the now.


I have a few pictures to illustrate the point and what I think of when talking to the very old. They are the same people you see in the photos and, though it may look like it, they are not wasting time.

A Coronation Party

Umm, my favourite pastime. Once. I reckon I could still do it. If no one was watching.

I had a fine collection of gas masks and helmets. They mysteriously disappeared.


The May Procession - a rural tradition that remained powerful in Liverpool streets. The girls dressed as slum debutantes, the boys as cowboys and pirates with blackened cork moustaches and beards. 




Before there were gyms





The wonderful Guy Fawkes bonfire. Wood collection would begin in October each pile jealously guarded from rival gangs and rival streets. (Liverpool Cathedral in background)


 Safe streets

The noble art of conkers


Cultural appropriation