Thursday, May 31, 2018

An EU jawbreaker

Visiting a friend of a friend in Portugal, I admired his classic 1970s Triumph Stag.

(A bit like this)

He then explained that the Government had tried to charge him € 58,000 for registering it in Portugal. You can buy a house for that - even two - in some rural areas.

Apparently this sort of thing is illegal under EU law (a case where most of us would agree).

So the EU fines Portugal every year for doing it.

But not enough. Portugal is happy to pay the fine every year, because the swindle is so lucrative.

EU happy, Portugal happy.

It's a gobstopper of a problem, though - less EU, or more?

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Roll Up! Roll Up! - by Wiggia

We have an annual two-day fete and fair next door to us, really next door, every year. Today (Monday) is the last day and we get a firework display at ten o’clock to finish. The itinerary can be seen here….

The last couple of years have not been kind to this event, the weather spoiling (or worse) either one or both days, but this year a downpour was at the first day's end and so far today it has been sun all the way despite a “yellow” warning from the Met Office.

For various reasons and despite the proximity I have never been, though the firework display is as near in my back garden as you could wish and that has been enjoyed from the comfort of an upstairs window. But today we went, hardly an effort as we have a side door to the footpath that leads to the recreation ground and it is just 25 yards and we are in.

Today was different to Sunday: no WW1 trench experience for us - how they manage that I have no idea - no dog show and no classic cars; more of a kids' day I would imagine.

After a few minutes I wished I had brought my camera, so many were the photo opportunities, but with the ‘English’ moral Police seeing everyone with a camera as a paedo it was probably better I had no camera, even though we are the only country in Europe where this attitude abounds.

We passed through the side gate and almost straight away the first attraction was spied: the donkey ride. Six of the little fellas were working in shifts taking small children in hard hats round the showground for £2 a go. The queue for this was at least twenty long and obviously popular with the junior clientele, especially young girls - nothing changes in the equine world..

The rest was laid out in four avenues and the fair was at the entrance end; not a full blown fair as we had in our day but most of the essentials were there, though no “Big Bertha” or Helter Skelter, but most of the other rides were there including the Dodgems. Now the Dodgems always evoked a smell of burnt electricity in my day as the power was transmitted from an electric ceiling to the car by way of a pole that touched the ceiling, rather in the style of a trolley bus, and the Dodgems were a macho affair with riding on the back until chased off by the operators was de rigeur; this was a very family friendly sanitised Dodgem but still very popular as were all the rides with queues for tickets.

The obvious difference in the fair compared with the ones in my youth, which was the last time I went to a fair, was the new must-have item: the bouncy castle. Here we had a whole range of bouncy castles that had provision inside for war councils, slides for quick exits, stairs so fun jumps could be repeated, castles shaped like giant cars, one with windows shaped like a giant tea pot and assorted others.

There was also a sort of bungee “experience” like a swing on elastic. A small girl on a limited bounce was asked if she was okay, the small screwed up face nodded yes and wanted a bigger bounce; she could not have been more than eighteen months to two years old.The bouncy castle has found a niche with the very young no other entertainment can provide it seems, all of them were in full use with queues waiting, for the very young there were under sixes only castles. I was tempted !

A small pop concert venue for “budding” stars of tomorrow, and in the centre itself junior "how to pot plants" was proving popular, dirty little hands always goes down well.

Elsewhere there was the now obligatory face painting, hair plaiting, sparkly face decoration and a stall selling party princess tutus for the those youngsters who now seem to wear them as everyday attire.

If there was one thing that has changed over the years it was the supply of refreshments, aside from the beer tent and a fruit drinks and cocktails bar ! There were roughly twenty stalls supplying food from the humble and not so humble burger through fish and chips, hog roast (long queue and wait for that one), ice cream van with a queue into the distance on this hot day, two miniature cafes, homemade cakes, fudge, chocolates and everything in between. It appeared that everyone was eating or drinking, gluttony has no bounds on days like this, and yes, guilty! as I purchased a very nice cake with the excuse it was for my tea, though it was far too big for just tea ! With all this food I failed till later to notice one striking omission: no candy floss. No fair is really complete without it, I shall have a word with the organisers so as to rectify this oversight.

Any other obvious differences since those early days? Well yes, the people at the fair: it was the usual mix of what seemed a pretty good cross section of Britain today, in this area anyway, almost exclusively white, which no doubt those in power will do their best to revise in short time, but a good cross section none the less. So what was different? The most striking thing was that in my day the fair would be for teenagers, mods rockers and everyone else would make up a large segment of the fair goers; not so much now if this one was anything to go by, the place was full of the little darlings - I can only think the lure of the bouncy council has worked its magic not exclusively but to a very large degree.

In other areas the strange and the weird show up as they always do, some very odd-shaped people in misfitting clothes, more in clothes of poor taste, we had a lot of very bad tattoos on display in the sun (golden opportunity to show those off in the hot weather), several mobility scooters holding a union meeting in the shade of trees, alongside the picnickers.

Was it a success? Certainly! The raucous calls from the showmen, "Do you want faster and noisier?" were answered with a very loud yes and the delight of it all on the young children's faces was there to see.

Despite all that is going wrong in our country, it was all forgotten on the showground; not a uniquely British event by any means but still going strong and still giving a lot of pleasure to a lot of people.

Oh, the rain never appeared and the firework display that I wanted to photograph went ahead but as the wife prodded me at ten - the time the display started after I had fallen asleep on the sofa - my rushed attempts to capture the display were disappointing, I blame the wife: she deliberately let me snooze on, spoilsport.

Friday, May 25, 2018

FRIDAY MUSIC: Captain Beefheart, by JD

Pic source

Don van Vliet (1941 - 2010) was an American painter and sculptor and his paintings are becoming collector's pieces. I am not a fan of abstract expressionism but others like it so judge for yourselves-

"As a child, Vliet was considered to be a child-prodigy sculptor and at age four caught the attention of Augustinio Rodriguez, a Portuguese sculptor and host of a weekly television show. For eight years Rodriguez featured clay animals on his shows which had been sculpted by Vliet. At age thirteen, Vliet received a scholarship to study art in Europe, an offer his parents declined."

Many people were doubtful of that story and thought it might have been invented by Vliet himself. I was aware that he was a sculptor as well as a painter but I had never seen any sculptures by him. However there is further information on that story here:

Vliet, if he is known at all, is better known as Captain Beefheart; singer, songwriter and multi instrumentalist with his ever changing line up of musicians known as the Magic Band (which included Ry Cooder in an early incarnation.)

His music blended elements of blues, free jazz, and rock with avant-garde composition, idiosyncratic rhythms, and his surrealist wordplay and wide vocal range.

He achieved little commercial success but has become a cult figure and has been a major influence on subsequent generations of musicians. The wonderful facility known as YouTube allows us to marvel at and enjoy the music of this mad genius in all its glorious eccentricity. What has happened to the music business that we are now served up bland lifeless pap from identikit pop 'stars'?

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Air travail, by JD

I wrote this in 2011 when I was thinking of doing a blog post about travelling:

"Writing in the Guardian in 2007, the designer Sir Terence Conran told a story that illustrates perfectly the difference between the ethos of a publicly owned infrastructure company and a privately owned one.

Conran revealed that when he was working on the design of the state-owned Heathrow Terminal 1 and the North Terminal of Gatwick airport in the 1960s, he was pressed to make sure that he provided "lots of seating" for the public. Conran contrasted the concern the state-owned airports authority in the 1960s showed for the comfort of the travelling public, to the much more commercial attitude of BAA today, where "every square inch must be turned over to retail space."

Unlike its state-owned predecessor, the privately owned BAA is seemingly guided by just one concern: maximising profits for its Spanish-owned parent company, Ferrovial. That means out with public seating areas, and in with forcing people to pay to sit down in rip-off cafes and restaurants."

It was brought to mind after reading John Ward's latest observations on passing through Stansted Airport -

Ward's tale also reminded me of an unplanned meander through Barcelona airport (which is called appropriately enough El Prat.)

I checked in at the BA desk then looked at my gate number and access stair. The BA desk was at the foot of Stair C. My boarding pass said Stair A so I walked to the other end of the terminal and climbed Stair A. Through security check which was nowhere near as bad as these things are now. I then looked for the gate number and followed the signs past endless 'shopping experience' and, after a long walk, reached the gate. Entrance to the gate was on my left but to my right was the security check for passengers coming up Stair C!

(I think the Barcelona check-in episode was in 2000 or 2001, can't remember exactly. It was definitely before the 9/11 attacks because security after that was turned into an assault course, the poor passengers being the ones assaulted!)

I no longer travel anywhere because I have done enough travelling and have a lot of good memories but, as Ward says, our puritanical leaders do not want 'proles' like me to enjoy holidays and certainly not to broaden our horizons and our minds.

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Beth Chatto, by Wiggia

A short tribute to a lady I knew quite well in her early days and who had more influence on how I approached gardens and design than anyone else; a remarkable person and sadly missed.

I saw today that Beth Chatto had died, I knew she had not been well for some time though she still managed to get around her wonderful garden on her mobility scooter.

I met Beth in the very early days of her fledgling nursery and garden, a woman full of energy and positive actions, no dithering for her on where to put her plants, they went in where she wanted them with due consideration to site and soil and if they didn’t perform out they came, it was a ruthlessness that served her well.

Her husband was part of the Chatto & Windus publishing house family and his father bought him a 100 acre  fruit farm, it was here that Beth learnt the hard way the rudiments of soil and site and muck and how to use all to best effect.

She was a gifted flower arranger and this was she said part of what gave her an eye for placement of plants in the garden.

They purchased a plot at the present site of about 3-4 acres on what was to most a very difficult site on yellow clay but it had a stream through it that was dammed to form large ponds and provide sites for water and edge plants. The nursery then in ‘69 consisted of little more than table sales , today it and the garden cover 14 acres and employs 40 people.

Those early days were where she put the knowledge of her husband Andrew and her own to good use. The nursery then as now would have huge compost heaps that would in time transform the land around her.

The first time I visited the place was just about getting going, and the reason I visited was because I was looking for some unusual perennials that were on her small nursery list and were unobtainable elsewhere. It was this listing that would give the nursery its name Beth Chatto Unusual Plants.

My subsequent visits were for more than just plants. Beth would freely give advice and I had just moved to a house in Essex that had the dreaded yellow clay for a garden, plastic goo in the winter and impervious in the summer. She showed me how they simply dug trenches, used grit and anything else they could get for mixing in the bottom for drainage and then barrow loads of compost. It was an exhausting exercise on the scale she was gardening, her husband's input was mainly his knowledge of the land as he was suffering from  emphysema, she was running the show on her own as well as looking after Andrew.

She was not a garden show devotee but the impact of Chelsea is not to be dismissed and she entered and won ten gold medals in ‘77 - ‘87 and then the RHS gave her its highest award, the Victoria Medal of Honour. She was made an OBE in 2002. She never exhibited again after ‘87, she had no need to: her point had been made and anyway Chelsea took a huge effort at a difficult and busy time of the year for any nursery.

Her books, and I have them all still are gardening bibles on how to tackle different situations. The early ones The Damp Garden (1982) and the Dry Garden (1978) not only brought her to the attention of a wider audience but promoted her garden, her life's work.

She was never a designer in the traditional sense. Her garden evolved, was changed and evolved further, always looking to improve and place plants in better situations. Much of this went back to her husband's  research into habitat and fauna, "the right plant in the right place" has been used many times as her mantra and justifiably so.

She travelled the world in earlier years sharing her beliefs and became one of the foremost plantswomen of all time. In my opinion there has never been a better one. What she and her husband did with that unforgiving windswept  piece of land in the driest area of the UK was mind-blowing; there have been many great gardens built in this country but none have been built from what most would consider almost impossible barriers in human effort and a “testing” site.

Her words of advice stayed with me through my own career and are never forgotten. I sadly have not been back to the gardens for some time having moved from the area. It has become a go-to on the garden circuit and coaches arrive throughout the season, but that can never take away the accomplishment of Beth in what she created the hard way.

Greatest plants person we have seen?  I know no better. She will be missed by all that had a chance to meet her. I thank her.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

More Catalonian lunacy, by JD

Carles Puigdemont (r) welcomes Quim Torra in Berlin. (EPA-EFE/Omer Messinger)
Found on Quartz

I see the Catalans have finally elected a new regional president but this one is another lunatic. Quim Torra he is called. That is a wonderful name :) He sounds like a Catalan Supremacist. He described Spanish speakers as "The Castilian speaker, according to Torra: "Beast, hyena, viper, scavenger ..."

His sole mission in life is the creation of an independent Cataluña by fair mean or foul; that second method being the preferred method. That should win him lots of new friends! The smallest party, CUP who are anarchists and have four seats in parliament, didn't vote for him because he is not radical enough. So it looks like the petulance will continue. And we think our politicians are stupid!!!

I don't like to say that I told you so but.......

The archives of Barcelona’s Autonomous University hold a booklet signed by Nosaltres Sols! that was published around 1980, according to historian Enric Ucelay-Da Cal. It contains eight pages of typewritten text written in the Catalan language, and titled “The scientific basis of racism”. The authors reach the following conclusion: “For the above reasons, we consider that the Catalan racial makeup is more purely white than the Spanish one, and hence that Catalans are racially superior to Spaniards.”

And I found this from 1931-
It does not state explicitly the racial superiority of catalans but there is no doubting their mindset.

This will not end well. The Catalans are determined to restart the Civil War. Their stupidity is breathtaking. And it has spread to the Balearic islands. Mallorca is seeing an exodus of doctors and nurses because of new regulations requiring proficiency in the Catalan 'language' Earlier this year Ibiza lost its last remaining paediatrician. And, as if to demonstrate how insane this has now become, the members of the Orchestra of the Baleares must speak Catalan. The music director is Japanese and speaks English in rehearsals. The assistant director is Spanish and speaks Spanish when he is in charge.

John Lennon was right 50 years ago - our government, every government, is run by insane people for insane purposes!

They must have a President before 22nd May and Torra is their third choice. The tidal surge behind it? I wish I knew but their belief in 'racial supremacy' has to be a factor plus the usual vanity and egomania of politicians. Sackerson asked - "How much social disruption is caused by posh people's boredom?"
Maybe not so much these days, more like political vanity and egomania as I say above.

And then there is the 'cause' which is invariably imaginary. In the 1931 document they were comparing themselves to Ghandi and De Valera struggling for their countries. There was a definite logic to those two but Cataluña has never been a country. In fact a lot of things I have read will pretend that Aragon is really just another name for Western Cataluña as if Aragon were subject to Catalan rule when it has always been the other way round.

By the way, Craig Murray and Julian Assange are strong supporters of Catalan independence. They obviously haven't done any research on the history and even less by way of thinking about it. Which, to me anyway, calls into question their accuracy and/or motives for their other 'causes' (I also think Murray and Assange fit into Sackerson's "posh people's boredom" category but with added sanctimonious righteousness.)

I conclude with a reference to Tabarnia. Here is the BBC's version of the story -

The provinces of Tarragona and Barcelona (Tabarnia) voted to remain part of Spain and the other two provinces, Lerida and Gerona voted for independence. Albert Boadella, who is a comic actor, has appointed himself as President of Tabarnia and the campaign for Tabarnia to remain part of Spain is based word for word on the Catalan campaign to leave Spain, only the words Spain and Catalonia have been switched.

Here is Boadella outside Puigdemont's house in Belgium-

And here is Belgian television's report on Tabarnia's desire for independence-

I see from YouTube that Torra is already the subject of a lot of humour plus one studio interviewee, Joaquin Leguina, describing him as an imbecile

It will be a long road back to normality :)

Friday, May 11, 2018

FRIDAY MUSIC: Jeff Beck, by JD

Looking back at the musical posts from both Wiggia and myself, there is a sort of haphazard intermittent pattern featuring musicians who explore other musical styles and/or cultures. I think 'crossover' is the popular name given to these artists. Not a word I like but I suppose it is as good as any other.

Previously we have had Wynton Marsalis -
... the interchange of jazz and classical -
... and, more recently, the musical explorations of Ry Cooder -

This is another such post and features Jeff Beck. He was one of the many 'guitar heroes' who came out of the 60s 'beat boom' and quickly established himself as possibly the best of a very good bunch.

What sets Beck apart is his musical journey since then. He acknowledges the influence of artists as diverse as Ravi Shankar, The Shadows, Les Paul, Miles Davis and Ornette Coleman to name but a few. He also has a very distinctive and unique style such that he could never be mistaken for any other guitarist. One of the reasons for his distinctive sound is the way he has modified his Fender Stratocaster guitar and Fender make a guitar to his specifications which carries his name (if you want one, they are not cheap by the way!)

The other 'magic' ingredient is that fellow guitarists (Eric Clapton and Dave Gilmour among others) will all say they haven't the faintest idea how he gets such a range of sounds from his guitar.

And when the music business crowds in on him he escapes by building Hot Rod cars:

Friday, May 04, 2018

FRIDAY MUSIC: Swedish Nightingales, by JD

The Real Group are Swedish and sing acapella. That is all I know about them but I like their style!

Tuesday, May 01, 2018

May Days and Holi-days

Image source

"May Day festivals, which began with great public gaiety, usually ended in orgiastic displays of sexual licentiousness. Marriage vows were temporarily forgotten during this honey month. People coupled freely in the woods and fields, fertilizing the soil and each other, sharing a fervent participation in the regenerative magic of the earth."

A German-born lady told me how women of all ages would stand at their doorways, dolled up, waiting... Any resulting babies were deemed legitimate.

As for Holi in India (celebrated in their - earlier - Spring), here is the past, imagined by someone with a deep knowledge of the country and its people: