Wednesday, June 23, 2010

The Boys Are Back In Town*

Here in the frozen North we have a few short weeks between the end of winter (June 1st) and the Longest Day (June 21st) when all is pleasant and charming. We can venture forth in something less than the standard six layers of clothing, sit outside the pubs on chairs that don’t have to be bolted to the pavement, and generally act normal. Some even go hatless over this brief halcyon period.

But then all hell breaks loose. Down from the hills they come, great gangs of the blighters, bent on rampage and destruction, and very quickly we’re sent scuttling back indoors to hide in the darkness until morning comes.
No, I’m not talking about the sheep – though they’re bad enough, hanging around on street corners, smoking tabs, and intimidating the old folk.

It’s the midges.

We’re famous for our midges round here. Marsden is to midges as Blackpool once was to mill workers. This is where they come for their holidays, and boy do they like to party when they get here. And just to extend the analogy a bit further, I’m the top attraction in town. Yup, one big amusement arcade, that’s me, a pleasure dome to rival Kubla Khan's joint in Xanadu, my pheromones sending out beacons of light lest any should doubt where the hot spot is. They all love me.

‘Let’s go to Steve’s!’ they cry. ‘It’s real!’ And go to Steve’s they do – in their millions.

It’s probably because I’m a softy Southerner. I just taste more better.

Anyway, the annual assault starts here, and so it’s time to erect the barricades once again. I have mosquito netting Velcro’d to all my windows, and that’s quite effective. In fact I love to sit at my desk of an evening, windows open, and watch all the midges batting in vain against gauze. Breaks their little hearts it does, not to be allowed in. ‘Sorry, guys’, I say. ‘Wrong dress code. Have you seen yourselves?’

Which bravado is all very well, but of course I have to go out sometimes and the midges know it. Pretty good at the waiting game is yer man the midge. A bit like yer man the triffid, in that respect. They sidle off into the shadows, hissing and muttering, maybe play a few hands of poker until I come out of hiding, and then they pounce.

I do have a second line of defence: Mosiguard. This is a great product in that it forces the little beasts to keep their distance, even the most vengeful being unable to withstand the smell. Unfortunately it forces everyone else to keep their distance as well, the choking fumes being more or less on a par with mustard gas. ‘Christ!’ they say, over in Slaithwaite, as I emerge from my front door, ‘What’s that stink?

So Mosiguard does little for one’s social standing, and that's why I’ve decided to invest in some of this Avon Skin-so-Soft that I've been hearing about. Our troops swear by it, so I gather, but then they only have to contend with weedy foreign insects. I shall be pleasantly surprised if the Marsden midge can be kept at bay with something more likely to be found in the boudoir than the chemical dump.

But we shall see, and I’m keenly awaiting my bulk shipment, ordered on eBay this morning.

(*And yes, I know it should be 'The Girls Are Back In Town', it being the females that bite, but I don't care.)

Sunday, June 20, 2010

To Kill A Mockingbird is 50.

It's half a century, now, since this most treasured of books was published. Here's an excellent article about Harper Lee, where she lives and how she lives, with insights into why Mockingbird remains her only novel.

To Kill A Mockingbird at 50

No film could ever quite live up to the book, but the 1962 Alan J. Pakula production comes very close. This was one of those rare occasions where Hollywood showed some respect for the original story, and left it largely intact. Lovely central performances from Mary Badham as Scout Finch, and Gregory Peck as Atticus....

...also notable for Robert Duvall's first screen appearance, as Boo Radley.

Nelle Harper Lee in the 'colored balcony' of the real courthouse where Tom Robinson's fictional trial is set. Local productions of Mockingbird are now regularly staged here.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Stroh instruments

I'm a real sucker for old instruments, as some might have gathered. I like to restore things, the runtier the better, and bring them back to life. If I had but space and time, I'd be a one-man rescue centre for musical junk.

My dream would be a Stroh bass. There are only a handful left in the world, and I doubt one will ever come my way, let alone at a price I'd want to pay. The Stroh range of stringed instruments was developed for the early recording age, the idea being that the horns gave a directional sound and were thus easier to mike up.

This is the bass, pictured below. I've actually seen such a beast, in an antique shop on Kilburn High Road many years ago, but never played one. God knows what they sounded like, but boy do they look cool.

Sunday, June 06, 2010

Those Good Old Days...

You have to feel sorry for modern children. They’re continually being told how brilliant everything was back in the 50s and 60s – the clothes, the music, the freedom. It’s a wonder they find any point in being born at all, when it’s plain that they’ve missed all the fun.
In my mailbox this morning, I found the following; a hymn to those good old days...

CONGRATULATIONS TO ALL WHO WERE BORN IN THE 1930's 1940's, 50's, 60's and 70's!
*First, we survived being born to mothers who smoked and/or drank while they carried us and lived in houses made of asbestos.
*They took aspirin, ate blue cheese, raw egg products, loads of bacon and processed meat, tuna from a can, and didn't get tested for diabetes or cervical cancer.
*Then after that trauma, our baby cots were covered with bright coloured lead-based paints.
*We had no childproof lids on medicine bottles, doors or cabinets and when we rode our bikes, we had no helmets or shoes, not to mention, the risks we took hitchhiking.
*As children, we would ride in cars with no seat belts or air bags.
*We drank water from the garden hose and NOT from a bottle.

*Take away food was limited to fish and chips, no pizza shops, McDonalds , KFC, Subway or Nandos.
*Even though all the shops closed at 6.00pm and didn't open on the weekends, somehow we didn't starve to death!
*We shared one soft drink with four friends, from one bottle and NO ONE actually died from this
*We could collect old drink bottles and cash them in at the corner store and buy Toffees, Gobstoppers, Bubble Gum and some bangers to blow up frogs with.
*We ate cupcakes, white bread and real butter, and drank soft drinks with sugar in it, but we weren't overweight because......WE WERE ALWAYS OUTSIDE PLAYING!!
*We would leave home in the morning and play all day, as long as we were back when the streetlights came on. No one was able to reach us all day. And we were O.K.
*We would spend hours building our go-carts out of old prams and then ride down the hill, only to find out we forgot the brakes. We built tree houses and dens and played in river beds with matchbox cars. WE HAD FRIENDS and we went outside and found them!

*We fell out of trees, got cut, broke bones and teeth and there were no Lawsuits from these accidents...
*We ate worms and mud pies made from dirt, and the worms did not live in us forever.
*You could only buy Easter Eggs and Hot Cross Buns at Easter time...
*We were given air guns and catapults for our 10th birthdays,
*We rode bikes or walked to a friend's house and knocked on the door or rang the bell, or just yelled for them!
*Mum didn't have to go to work to help dad make ends meet!
*RUGBY and CRICKET had tryouts and not everyone made the team. Those who didn't had to learn to deal with disappointment. Imagine that!! Getting into the team was based on MERIT
*The idea of a parent bailing us out if we broke the law was unheard of. They actually sided with the law!

*Our parents didn't invent stupid names for their kids like 'Kiora' and 'Blade' and 'Ridge' and 'Vanilla'.
*We had freedom, failure, success and responsibility, and we learned HOW TO DEAL WITH IT ALL !
And YOU are one of them! CONGRATULATIONS!

(All very well, and true to some extent, but let's not forget that we also had diphtheria, polio and thalidomide. We had regular beatings with sticks, rulers and belts. We had Teddy Johnson and Pearl Carr. We had school dentists. And of course we had Sundays, bloody Sundays...)