Thursday, April 18, 2019

Household Gods

Myself: Alexa, how many households are there in the UK?
Alexa: The United Kingdom has 27 million households.
Isn't it mind-boggling that a smart speaker can answer a question like that? It is correct as well according to the Office for National Statistics.

The reason that I asked, was that in its first-quarter earnings report on Tuesday, Netflix revealed that in the first four weeks on the service, Gerard Way and Gabriel Bá’s UCP-produced comic book adaptation of Umbrella Academy was watched by 45 million households (a number which included mine).

I wanted to put 45 million households in context. One and two thirds times all the households in the UK certainly does that.

I am astounded.

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Raised highbrow?

I read Carlos Acosta's autobiography about three years ago (Icons passim). It is a terrific book that has now inspired a film Yuli. It doesn't seem to be widely distributed in the UK, but it is on at the HMV Curzon so I will try and catch it in Wimbledon over the Easter weekend.

I saw Rupert Everett's The Happy Prince about the last day of Oscar Wilde at the same venue last year. I thought it was great and was astounded it didn't seem to get a nod for anything come awards season. It is on Netflix now so I recommend you catch up with it if you have a subscription.

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Notre Dame

In the 1790s, Notre-Dame suffered desecration during the French Revolution; much of its religious imagery was damaged or destroyed. In 1804, the cathedral was the site of the Coronation of Napoleon I as Emperor of France.

It is probably gonna take more than a fire to see it off.

We went to see it once when I was in Paris for a rugby international. One of the party was genuinely gephyrophobic, a condition that had been brought on by being blown across lanes in a high sided vehicle by heavy winds on the Severn bridge.

I can distinctly remember him having to stiffen the sinews and summon up the blood to race across the Pont d'Arcole, rather than go home without getting on to the Île de la Cité.

I am still amazed we didn't laugh at him. That is how serious it was.

Monday, April 15, 2019

Show Hole

I finished the Umbrella Academy on Netflix yesterday. I suppose that 18 days for a six part series isn't strictly binge-watching. For my next project I am now one episode in to Idris Elba's Turn Up Charlie. I think it got lukewarm reviews but I am rather beguiled by its hang-shaggy-dog-begging.

I was astonished to discover that people I know intended to stay up (or set alarms) to catch the first episode of the last series of Game of Thrones spoiler free in the early hours of this morning. I watched five episodes of the first series in 2014, before taking a five year break.

Perhaps I can catch up with these handy precis ......

Sunday, April 14, 2019

I Trawl the Megahertz

I learned from the invaluable Sodajerker podcast of Prefab Sprout's Paddy McAloon's re-release of I Trawl the Megahertz. It passed me by completely when it came out in 2003, but the 22 minute title track is a bitter-sweet masterpiece, the like of which I haven't heard before. Listen to the podcast for the extraordinary story of its creation.

I am telling myself the story of my life,
stranger than song or fiction.
We start with the joyful mysteries,
before the appearance of ether,
trying to capture the elusive:
the farm where the crippled horses heal,
the woods where autumn is reversed,
and the longing for bliss in the arms
of some beloved from the past.
I said 'Your daddy loves you'.
I said 'Your daddy loves you very much';
he just doesn't want to live with us anymore'.
The plane comes down behind enemy lines
and you don't speak the language.
A girl takes pity on you:
she is Mother Theresa walking among the poor,
and her eyes have attained night vision.
In an orchard, drenched in blue light,
she changes your bandages and soothes you.
All day her voice is balm,
then she lowers you into the sunset.
Hers is the wing span of the quotidian angel,
so her feet are sore from the walk
to the well of human kindness,
but she gives you a name and you grow into it.
Whether a tramp of the low road or a prince,
riding through Wagnerian opera,
you learn some, if not all, of the language.
And these are the footsteps you follow
- the tracks of impossible love.
12 days in Paris,
and I am awaiting for life to start.
In the lobby of the Hotel Charlemagne
they are hanging photographs
of Rap artists and minor royalty.
All cigarettes have been air-brushed from these pictures,
making everyone a liar,
and saving no-one from their folly.
As proud as Lucifer, I do nothing to hide
my kerosene dress and flint eyes
- which with one steady look, are able to restore
to these images their carcinogenic threat.
So what if this is largely bravado?
I have only 12 days in Paris
and I'm waiting for life to start.
I'm setting out my stall behind a sheet of dark hair,
and you, the hostage of crazed hormones,
will be driven to say:
'I am the next poet laureate
and she is the cherry madonna,
and all of the summer is hers.'
At first I don't notice you,
or the colour of your hair,
or your readiness to laugh.
I am tying a shoelace,
or finding the pavement fascinating
when the comet thrills the sky.
Ever the dull alchemist.
I have before me all the necessary elements:
it is their combination that eludes me.
Forgive me ... I am sleepwalking.
I am jangling along to some song of the moment,
suffering its sweetness,
luxuriating in its feeble approximation of starlight.
Meanwhile there is a real world ...
trains are late, doctors are breaking bad news,
but I am living in a lullaby.
You might be huddled in a doorway on the make,
or just getting by, but I don't see it.
You are my one shot at glory.
Soon I will read in your expression
warmth, encouragement, assent.
From an acorn of interest
I will cultivate whole forests of affection.
I will analyse your gestures
like centuries of scholars
pouring over Jesus' words.
Anything that doesn't fit my narrow interpretation
I will carelessly discard.
For I am careless... I'm shameless... and -
('Mayday, Mayday, watch the needle leave the dial')
I am reckless,
I am telling myself the story of my life.
Soon, I will make you a co-conspirator:
if I am dizzy I will call it rapture;
if I am low I will attribute it to your absence,
noting your tidal effect upon my moods.
Oblivious to the opinions of neighbours
I will bark at the moon like a dog.
In short, I'm asking to be scalded.
It is the onset of fever.
Yesterday they took a census.
Boasting, I said 'I live two doors down from joy.'
Today, bewildered and sarcastic, I phone them and ask
'Isn't it obvious? This slum is empty.'
I am listening to the face in the mirror
but I don't think I believe what she's telling me.
Her words are modern, but her eyes have been weeping
in gardens and grottoes since the Middle Ages.
This is the aftermath of fever.
I cool the palms of my hands upon the bars
of an imaginary iron gate.
Only by an extreme act of will can I avoid
becoming a character in a country song:
'Lord, y'gave me nothin', then y'took it all away.'
These are the sorrowful mysteries,
and I have to pay attention.
In a chamber of my heart sits an accountant.
He is frowning and waving red paper at me.
I go to the window for air.
I catch the scent of apples,
I hunger for a taste,
but I can't see the orchard for the rain.
There are two ways of looking at this.
The first is to accept that you are gone,
and to light a candle at the shrine of amnesia.
(I could even cheat).
In the subterranean world of anaesthetics
sad white canoes are forever sailing downstream
in the early hours of the morning.
'Tell the stars I'm coming,
make them leave a space for me;
whether bones, or dust,
or ashes once among them I'll be free.'
It may make a glamorous song
but it's dark train of thought
with too many carriages.
There is, of course,
another way of looking at this:
'Your daddy loves you, ' I said
'Your daddy loves you very much;
he just doesn't want to live with us anymore.'
I am telling myself the story of my life.
By day and night, fancy electronic dishes
are trained on the heavens.
They are listening for smudged echoes
of the moment of creation.
They are listening for the ghost of a chance.
They may help us make sense of who we are
and where we came from;
and, as a compassionate side effect,
teach us that nothing is ever lost.
So... I rake the sky.
I listen hard.
I trawl the megahertz.
But the net isn't fine enough,
and I miss you
- a swan sailing between two continents,
a ghost immune to radar.
Still, my eyes are fixed upon
the place I last saw you,
your signal urgent but breaking,
before you became cotton in a blizzard,
a plane coming down behind enemy lines.

Ain't that something? I think I will go for a lie down now.

Saturday, April 13, 2019


As if I needed any more convincing that an Echo Link or an Echo Link Amp ought to be on my shopping list considering the cost-me-an-arm-and-a-leg speakers and sub-woofer that have been festering unused all these years.

Friday, April 12, 2019

Black Dog

If you're walking along the beach and you hear Black Shuck's breath behind you, you must not turn around or you'll see his read eyes and you'll be dead in twelve months.
Black Shuck, Old Shuck, Old Shock or simply Shuck is the name given to a ghostly black dog which is said to roam the coastline and countryside of East Anglia, one of many ghostly black dogs recorded in folklore across the British Isles.

All very well but the quote above is all I have got from reading Christopher Howse's Soho in the Eighties. Slim pickings when you think I was already in London then, and I revere the Auberon Waugh/Richard Ingrams/Peter Cook et al triumvirate (? for want of a better word).

Thursday, April 11, 2019

The Universe's Greatest Mystery

Evan Davis: Hello. Excitement in Brussels.
Generic European Accent: If there is a big moment for all of us, it is today.
Evan Davis: Finally we get a clear picture of that dark vortex sucking in all time and energy.
Generic European Accent : It feels like really looking at the gates of Hell. At the end of space and time. The point of no return.
Evan Davis: Its not what you might be thinking but a black hole 55 million light years away. Meanwhile, back on earth, across the road in Brussels ....... Brexit.
In general lately BBC current affairs and news coverage has been driving me spare. The bait-and-switch at the start of PM on Radio 4 yesterday afternoon however, made me laugh out loud. Herewith.

Also courtesy of the BBC, here is a documentary following the researchers as they attempted to take the first-ever picture of a black hole, travelling the globe to build a revolutionary telescope that spans planet Earth.

Have I been too hard on Auntie?

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Mojo Pork Cubanos

I came back from Cardiff with - among other things - cucumber left over from making a kachumber salad, and a pork butt marinading in John's home made mead and spices.

We also watched a little bit of Chef the movie on Netflix over the weekend. The pork has been cooked and the cucumbers pickled so last night I made Mojo Pork Cubanos, an official recipe created for and made in the film Chef Roy Choi.

Tuesday, April 09, 2019

Let no man ignorant of geometry enter here.

Ben is in Florida with Jane visiting Rayburn and his family over Easter as usual at the moment.

We met in the Merton Apprentice last Thursday evening after work, before I drove to Wales on Friday and he flew out on Saturday.

He was talking about the number - or constant - Φ (phi) and how it appears in the proportions of, among many things, the human body? I said I hadn't heard of it and asked him if it was related to the golden ratio that the ancient Greeks knew about. He hadn't heard of that.

It turns out that Phi and the Golden Ratio are the same thing! Early in the last century a mathematician Mark Barr proposed using the first letter in the name of Greek sculptor Phidias, phi, to symbolize the golden ratio. Amazing eh? See

When he is back, perhaps we can get together again, blow the froth off a couple of cold ones, and really start digging into the Fibonacci sequence?

I didn't see this one coming.

Monday, April 08, 2019

an Gorta Mór

Rattling the pots and pans in the kitchen last night after I got back from Cardiff, I commanded "Alexa, play In Our Time" so I could catch up with whatever Melvyn Bragg and chums had been discussing last Thursday. It was The Great Irish Famine.

The Great Famine (Irish: an Gorta Mór, [anˠ ˈgɔɾˠt̪ˠa mˠoːɾˠ]), or the Great Hunger, was a period in Ireland between 1845 and 1849 of mass starvation, disease, and emigration. With the most severely affected areas in the west and south of Ireland, where the Irish language was primarily spoken, the period was contemporaneously known in Irish as An Drochshaol, loosely translated as the "hard times" (or literally, "The Bad Life"). The worst year of the period, that of "Black 47", is known in Irish as Bliain an Drochshaoil. During the famine, about one million people died and a million more emigrated from Ireland,] causing the island's population to fall by between 20% and 25%
From what little I have managed to do with my family tree on the Ancestry site I can see that on my mother's side I have great, great, great grandparents James and Margaret Brian; born 1826 and about 1831 respectively in Ireland. Their daughter (also Margaret) was born around 1856 in Cardiff and married William Milton (who was born in 1850 in Somerset). That is where my mum's maiden name comes from.

On his father's side Dad's great grandfather James McDonnell was born in 1831 in Ireland, then married Joanna Griffin who was born in Cardiff. On his mother's side great grandparents Michael McDonald and Joanna Driscoll were both born in Ireland between 1841 and 1845, but their son Michael was born in Cardiff in 1874.

All lived through and fled the Great Hunger I shouldn't be surprised; babes in arms, children, teens, or barely adults.

Sunday, April 07, 2019

the apple doesn't fall far from the tree

My sister didn't know, or forgot, that I would be in Wales yesterday helping John move his things out of Skewen.

The logistics of the operation meant we have to store some stuff temporarily in Mum and Dad's. When Caroline drove past thinking no-one should be be home and saw a large van in the drive, she thought there must be a burglary in progress.

Leaving her three children, all under the age of five, strapped in their seats in the car, she strode into the house to confront ........ me in the kitchen making a sandwich.
Foolhardy is a combination of the noun fool and the adjective hardy, meaning "brave" or "bold." Put them together and you’ve got “foolishly brave.” Someone who is foolhardy throws caution to the wind and takes reckless chances. A foolhardy mistake is typically the result of this kind of impulsive behaviour. But foolhardy doesn’t always imply foolishness or stupidity; foolhardy can convey courage and romance, as in the case of a foolhardy passion or desire.

Saturday, April 06, 2019

Peanut butter, banana and bacon sandwich

My brother John is going to come along to Reginald D Hunter on my birthday. It will be exactly a year to the day since he took me to Taylor Swift, a friend of my nieces having dropped out.

I was droning on and on about my idea of pre-booking one interesting event each calendar month as we were driving from Cardiff to Skewen and explaining that I had already banked events up to August.

When you are taking the M4 on the way from Cardiff to Skewen, you pass junction 37 which is signposted for Pyle and Porthcawl.
The Festival
Every September thousands of Elvis fans descend on the Welsh seaside town of Porthcawl for a unique celebration of The King.
The feature events are the Official Shows taking place in the magnificent Grand Pavilion. These include The Elvies, the World's leading award Show for Elvis Tribute Artists.
In addition, The Hi Tide hosts over 100 shows over the weekend, many with free admission.
Finally, over twenty venues in and around the Town form the Fringe Festival, making Porthcawl the largest Elvis event in Europe.
Fate played the straight man, and September is now sorted as well.

Friday, April 05, 2019

"each month", "every month" or "once a month"?

I am putting meat on the bones of my plan to have one interesting night out booked in advance "each month", "every month" or "once a month".

Fiddler on the Roof has already done April's duty, I have got the Mad Professor sorted in the Hideaway for May, the Shakespeare in the (Merton Hall) Park for August.

They aren't booked yet, but I am minded to see Reginald D Hunter - Facing the Beast in the Shepherd's Bush Empire on June 22 (my birthday), with ExpeRience: The science of music taking the strain for July at the Royal Institution on the tenth.

September can wait.