Monday, June 20, 2011


The last couple of years has seen an incredible rise in the popularity of the ukulele and in Hawaiian music generally. Here's a site devoted to Hawaiian sheet music. Beautiful images, and I wish the entire collection were mine.

The original sound of ukuleles and lap-steel guitars was appropriated by Western musicians and songwriters as early as the 1800s, so that what we think of as 'Hawaiian music' is actually about as Hawaiian as I am - ie not very. In fact there's a term for it: Hapa Haole (pronounced Howly), which means 'half white'. But  the dreamy swooping sounds of  a lap-steel and the chirrupping of ukuleles have become so embedded over the decades that we don't really care if the majority of songs were written by people who had never been anywhere near Hawaii, it's still Hawaiian music. The more complex influences of Jazz and Western Swing might have crept in, but the song themes remain constant - paeans to an imaginary paradise here on earth, where palm trees are always swaying and ukes are always playing.

The Hawaiian look is now fixed on one particular period, the 1940s, when US sailors were stationed in the South Pacific during the Second World War, and if you go to one of the burgeoning Swing/Jive weekends staged in this country over the summer (Hep Cats Holiday for instance) you'll certainly want to pack your sailor suit or hula skirt  for the Hawaiian Evening. You'll also need a genuine Hawaiian shirt - always 100% rayon, never cotton.

Homer's Odyssey long ago covered the theme of sailors far from home, discovering a magical isle where their every need would be catered for by dark eyed girls who seemed to have mislaid most of their wardobe. I don't recall that there were any ukuleles on Circe's island, or that the Sirens were singing 'Wicky Wacky Woo', but it's essentially the same deal. And I suspect that in real life it could lead to trouble. We're probably wise not to draw too close to those little grass huts for two, and see exactly who was taking advantage of whom.

So back to the music, which has travelled to shores far beyond its origins. I personally know a Hawaiian band who are all Italian (the Honolulu Hula Boys) and here's a wonderful Japanese group: The Sweet Hollywaiians. We might be tempted to smile at their pronunciation of the lyrics, but if you're going to learn every word of 'My Queen of the South Sea Isles' phonetically, then you really have to want to do it. And that's love.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Les Triplettes de Belleville

One of my daughters has just bought the DVD. Good to be reminded of this wonderful animated feature, so here's a little clip.

It's never easy to find the musical credits for any film, or indeed any suggestion that there were musicians involved. Usually they'll be tucked away far to the south of  more important figures such as Assistant 3rd Grip and Nail Stylist - so it took me a while to discover that Canadian born guitarist Benoit Charest is responsible for Les Triplettes.

You can see him here in action, with a live version of the title music. Great vocals by Betty Bonifassi.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

A balanced diet 2.

It's important when you live alone to maintain healthy eating standards. All too easy to fall into the bad habit of ready meals and takeaways, the oven hob becoming nothing more than an additional work surface.

My biker friend Zak shows the way with this tasty recipe for motorcycle crankcase - and nothing could be simpler. He's gone for the Honda CR 250, lighter on calories than the CB 500, but just as nutritious. Bake at 250, Gas MK 6 for around 45 mins, and you're done. He has the main bearings stored in the freezer, where they should keep almost indefinitely. Perfect for a crumble in the cold winter months.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Norwegian Wood

I got lost in the woods, yesterday – the terrible Norwegian woods of Ikea. Or are they Swedish? Either way a scary place. I thought I’d actually prepared myself fairly well for the quest, knew the name of what I was looking for, and what size it was and everything. Wrote it down.


I’ve only ventured into Ikea once before, and on that occasion I was with my family. My position then was simply that of Card Bearer, so I suppose I must have trailed after the others in a kind of haze, blanking out the experience as I went until we got to the checkouts and somebody snapped their fingers to get my attention.

But this time I’m all alone, and it’s not two minutes before I’ve become sidetracked, looking at the strange signs. I’m almost sure I’ve met Farum and Dagny in schools that I’ve visited, and I’m thinking that maybe people are starting to name their children after bits of Ikea furniture. Then I look up and realise I’m miles from anywhere, adrift in some dark continent called Rugs, and wishing I’d brought a ball of string with me. Or some breadcrumbs. In the end I have to do what no man ever likes to do: ask directions. I stop a passing woman, presuming her to be another Babe in the Wood, and say ‘Do you think there’s any way out of here?’ She turns out to be quite a seasoned traveller, because she points to the ground and says ‘Follow the arrows’. Probably adding ‘dummy’, under her breath.

Arrows, though! Right there on the ground! As good as breadcrumbs, or better even. Certainly the most useful thing I’ve seen yet.

So I’m following the arrows, and after three or four miles it becomes automatic. I’m able to look around at the passing landscape, and I remember now the first time that we came here. We bought a big lump of something for the kitchen. When we got it home and unravelled it we found an instructional leaflet that read ‘In order to assemble this piece of furniture it is best to be two people’ – which existential thought has occupied me for many an hour since.

Eventually, travel stained and worn out, I stagger into a great echoing cavern called Self-Service Shopping, which is plainly where I should have started from because there’s my thing, the actual treasure that I’ve come here to find. The Malm. I’ve promised it to my daughter, currently Malmless of London. And there’s a trolley too, and suddenly it’s all going right because I can just make out the toll plaza, a fuzzy speck in the distance. Another couple of hours should see me returned to civilisation.

At the checkouts I find myself nodding to other whey-faced survivors, some of whom may well have been stuck in here for years. There’s an atmosphere almost of camaraderie, as I imagine you might find amongst people who’ve been involved in a terrible rollercoaster accident and somehow remained of a piece.

A bit of an argument with the lifts (I generally do argue with lifts, to be fair) and at last I gain the car park. I open the boot of the car, and allow myself to believe – perhaps for the first time since entering this hell-hole - that I shall see a teapot and a packet of biscuits once again. Just a matter now of transferring my spoils from trolley to car. The Malm is extremely heavy, and as my back goes pop I think, ‘They could be right, these Ikeans. Perhaps it really is best to be two people.’

UPDATE: Here's strange beyond belief. Just a few seconds after posting this, my phone goes beep. It's a message from Ikea!
'Good News...!'
For a giddy moment I imagine the Ikeans want to give me some kind of award, a medal maybe, the shopping equivalent of the DofE (Gold). But no. The message in full reads:
'Good News! Your product has now arrived'.

Whaat? Please don't tell me I've been dreaming. Please don't tell me I have to go back to Ikea and do it all again.

Later I shall summon the courage to go downstairs and see if there really is a Malm in my sitting room.

Sunday, June 05, 2011

Seeing, believing.

I got this via artist and musician  friend, Joseph Ekers, and it's not your average optical illusion. The claim is that square 'A' is exactly the same colour as square 'B'. I glance at the picture and think, 'no it's not, and there's an end to it.'

So I duplicate the image in Photoshop, and prepare to test the claim. (You might want to zoom in on these pics to get a better view.)

Using the cropping tool, I select a section of square 'A'...

...and begin to drag it downwards. At this point my section of 'A' still looks very different in colour to 'B'.

But as I drag it into the 'shadow' of the cylinder the tonal value appears to alter.

And as I reposition the section on the page, so that 'A' now covers 'B', I see that the two squares are indeed identical in both hue and tonal value. I see it, but I still can't quite believe it.

For an even simpler demonstration, here's the same pic with the surroundings of 'A' and 'B' removed.