Blog of Discipline

It’s been a while since I’ve put pen to paper to fill the interweb with yet more personal trivia. Apologies for this, but just at the moment I have something of a rarity on my hands, a great big arranging job. What I actually have to do is sit down with two hours’ worth of Irving Berlin music in orchestral score form, and re-distribute the parts for a conventional 16-piece big band, more or less. As I’m being paid by the hour, I’ve calculated that I can do around thirty bars in an hour, which sounds slow, or one bar every 120 seconds, which sounds much faster. It’s made me feel a bit like I did when I worked for the Nat West Bank briefly and disastrously in 1984. Constant attention has to be paid to tiny pettifogging facts in order to construct the final score, which is not a skill I normally boast. Luckily for me, I’m interested in music and so I find that my enthusiasm for organising noises coming out of the instruments involved outweighs the temptation I feel to run screaming from the Home Studio, or shed, and so I am just about able to hang on.

It’s a big job, though. I reckon I’ll be done sometime in early January. On day one, I went hell for leather and sat in front of the computer screen for hour after hour, doggedly goading myself on until I’d finished the overture. Clearly, that scene in The Glenn Miller Story where Jimmy Stewart (as Glenn) sits up all night re-orchestrating the band’s entire library before the big opening left a big impression on me- If JS can rewrite two hour’s worth of band music in one night, then surely so could I. Just to get to the end of the overture took six and a half hours, and apart from a short but necessary break to address the thunderbox whilst catching up with the letters column in Diorama Monthly, I was at the computer centre and media suite, or shed, here at The Gables the whole time. Unlike JS, who was only armed with a sharpened 2B and a huge sheaf of music paper, I have computer software, which I’d say speeds the whole operation up by around 300 per cent. Even so, by the end of it, what remained of the brain was stuck to the inside of the skull like those little burnt pools of Cathedral City which can be found in dark recesses of the grill pan the day after Her Indoors has a cheese on toast frenzy. Reflecting in the bath that night, in between the various chapters of the customary re-enactment of the Battle Of The River Plate involving the Airfix Graf Spee and Cuddles, the foam rubber sea horse, I realised that another ten weeks of that and I’d go completely gaga. I decided that as I temporarily have an office job of sorts, I need to apply office discipline to it.

Thus, on day two, I clocked on at 9 a.m., worked through till eleven, where I took half an hour for the customary mid-morning mug of Horlicks and a modest portion of anchovies on toast, then worked from 11.30 until 1.30. An hour for lunch and a bit of a lie down, and then back to the grind at 2.30 until 4.30. Ten minutes break there, and then through to six and clocking off. I was a time and motion miracle! It turns out that Mr. Griffiths, my business studies teacher was right all along. Although by the time I knocked off, the brain had aspects of singed Cathedral City about it, it was more in the way of an underdone lasagne than the aforementioned baked on Magma Of Dairy Origin. Days three to five passed in a similar fashion, and I was lucky in a very odd sense of the word in that no-one had asked me to operate a saxophone for money that week. A routine had been formed, but an upshot of it all is that by knocking off time at 6, I’ve really had my fill of staring at a computer, and the thought of doing more of it makes the burnt bits of my cheese-brain ache and sting. This may come as a surprise, but there is no typing pool here at The Gables, at least not at the moment while the recession’s on. I hate to dispel the mental image you obviously have of your languorous scribe propped up on one elbow upon the chaise longue all dressed up in smoking jacket and fez, dictating to Gretchen who is frenziedly tapping away on the Olivetti to record the subtle depths of the finely wrought reflections on the week’s activity, while Helga stands eagerly nearby with a tray of handmade Turkish delight to aid the creative brain to its next pinnacle of invention, but this is mainly the work of my own index finger doing the job only slightly better than the proverbial infinite monkey cage. You can see therefore that me, my brain and my index finger have really had enough of the Gabletron 3000 by the time that 6pm has rolled around I am no more able to get going typing again than I am trying to learn Cantonese. By the time I’ve got back to feeling normal, it’s generally been off up the hill to The Swan for last orders and a refreshing pickled egg.

Mind you, the week wasn’t without its contrasts, as at the weekend, Her Indoors and I got into the Volvo and headed east for the Southend Jazz Festival. A brilliant idea, this, consisting of 48 solid hours of largely mainstream jazz in a great big hotel in Southend all MC’d by the largely mainstream Derek Nash. Back in the day, in such a grand palace up a big hill such a do would have had the feel of a benign version of Colditz, with everyone packed in together in a communal sort of way, but with jazz on the bill rather than interrogation. It is a sad reflection on the parlous state of the mainstream jazz industry that it would appear that the escape committee’s plan has finally worked, and so we were subject to the sorry sight of fabulous ensembles led by such luminaries as Alan Barnes, John Horler and Bruce Adams playing to houses of around twenty people. We could have done with that contraption you see in “The Great Escape” which had loads of shoes (I think) attached to a bicycle wheel which simulated the sound of applause in the gang show when all the lads were going down the tunnel, I can tell you. For those who did turn up, there was a magnificent musical smorgasbord laid on, but by the Saturday evening I was feeling the need for curry. Her Indoors had an early evening set to do, and so I found myself alone in a charming old-school Indian complete with flock wallpaper and illuminated pictures of the Taj Mahal. I even had a view of the railway station, and so all was in order. A solo curry is an occasional massive treat to be administered with sparing care- too many and you become a lonely obsessive git- it’s that fine balance between own space and own vacuum again. It actually took me longer to order than normal. Freed as I was from the need to fit in to the ordering schedules of m’colleagues, and not having to divert any mental energy from the high chance that Her Indoors’ portions would have something technically amiss, I entered a Zen-like state of curry contemplation, with the Victorian majesty of Southend Central station providing a glamorous backdrop. In the end, I knuckled over and played a complete safety shot- Prawn Puri, and Chicken Vindaloo. It was old-school Indian grub at its finest, even down to the complimentary brandy and cash-and-carry After Eight copy.

Uncowed by the bad prognosis about the future of jazz, I’m off to the golden glittering city of Croydon now, to fight the good fight once again with the Jazz At The Phil experiment. Let’s hope we get double figures!


Blog of Cold Set In

In a recent instalment, I made the rather rash claim that my body had amazing properties. At the time, I was quick to clarify that these were only amazing because of their bald bizzarreness, rather than any Schwarzenegger-esque attributes. Retribution has been swift too- this last week has seen the body in question put on a display of paralysingly intense tedium and mundanity. I’ve been mentioning that I’ve been sneezing a great deal recently, to the extent of on one occasion whilst down at the local Tesco megastore having security summoned to help during a sneezing attack whilst attempting to purchase a steam cleaner for Her indoors. As serious as that was, it was one of the many small tropical showers indicating the change in the weather which heralds the approach of the Hurricane.

As luck would have it, I had Saturday off, and so I was in the ideal position-lying on the sofa in the quiet bliss of watching a pleasant documentary about the construction of the Docklands Light Railway- when the metaphorical palm trees along the metaphorical seafront here at The Gables began to twist and sway. I started to feel that terrible hot giddyness which every chap knows is the onset of the dreaded man-flu and before I knew it, the first salvo of coughs were fired by my body, before it had even formally declared war on me. It was like Pearl Harbour all over again, but with phlegm. Wave upon wave of coughs descended on your poor scribe, who was by now writhing all over the living room rug like Johnny Weissmuller wrestling a foam rubber crocodile.

As I reached for the Veno’s in a desperate attempt to quell the attacks of the dive-bombing coughs, the shipborne artillery of the sneezing got going. Holed up in the bunker that was my own skull and scared by the ferocity of these attacks, I was getting confused. Every inhalation became some sort of ghastly tracheal tombola. I’d either cough, sneeze, or cough and sneeze simultaneously. Mind you, at least The Body was being at least partially gentlemanly during the convulsions- at no point was there a hint of it going nuclear in the southern regions, if you get my drift.

After the first wave had passed, I took stock. It felt as if the entire contents of my head had been replaced with not quite enough stationery adhesive – you know, that brown clear stuff in the bottle with the little rubber applicator which gums up, and then breaks- so that every time I moved, it slowly sloshed around. Enemy commandos had got in during the storm and so now every part of my breathing apparatus had now been booby trapped with coughing or sneezing landmines. Therefore, the whole respiratory process had to move ahead very slowly and deliberately. By the evening, things had calmed down enough to enable me to experiment with my own personal cold remedy- very hot curry. A phone call was made, and within half an hour Sanjeev and his motor scooter had appeared bearing a Chicken Phal. I reckon I might be onto something- I certainly felt that some air had been let into the clogged tubes by the intense fumes emanating from the dinner, and briefly I could concentrate on the television rather than monitoring the body for the next round of Incoming. I shall write a paper, and present it to Jeremy Hunt. Surely the provision of curry on the NHS is exactly the thing William Beveridge had in mind when he drafted his eponymous report in 1942.

If Saturday was the onslaught, then Sunday was the war of attrition, complicated by the fact that I had to find my way to Margate, and conduct a concert for Kevin Fitzsimmons. Regular reader(s) of this column will know that at the last Sinatra Seaside Spectacklear I did for Kev I was in more or less constantly in pain due to a poorly selected pair of trousers, which I had clearly last worn in 1977. In the second form. This time, the constant medium level discomfort was all from within. On the way down, I probably only had to stop the car twice to get some really big sneezing done, and I knew that I was on the mend as a ferocious appetite was upon me. Had the route not been so well served by petrol stations, all bearing the delicious wares of Messrs. Ginster, I was so repeatedly hungry that I may have been tempted to have a go at the trim on the Volvo. I’d also equipped myself with a bandolier stuffed with Lem-Sip, so after the bandcall and before the show I found a nice sofa and a kettle and embarked on my own version of showbiz drug hell. As luck would have it, I was, in the words of the great Sir Les Patterson, busier than a one armed taxi driver with crabs that night, all of which helped take the mind off the germ warfare equivalent of the Battle Of Thermopylae raging within. Because the theatre’s fire regs would only permit thirteen musicians on stage, I had to fill in on one of the sax parts as well as conduct, and most importantly don the fez during the bar scene part of the show, where I get to play the part of the genial barman and can genially help myself to Kev’s bottle of Bourbon, which he kindly lays on as a prop. Good cold medicine too, bourbon. It will have to join Phall on the paper I submit to the NHS.

As I had no engagements yesterday, I earmarked it as the proper day for having the cold. It felt very much like the Christmas holidays- cold and wet outside, and exhausted with illness inside. At least my Sapper antibodies had cleared my air tubes of the landmines and I was able to breathe normally. All I had to do was wait for the battle to end and keep feeding my army with whatever it requested, which yesterday was mostly anchovy sandwiches and a couple of illicit excursions int Her indoors’ box of Milk Tray. It really felt like a drab day off school- I couldn’t move about the house, except to shuffle off to the fridge, and as I was lying on the bed staring out of the window, I noticed that the four o’clock sky was a uniform mid-grey, just like the paper we got to paint on in the school art block. I’ve not had the time to notice a sky like that for that long in years, and it was all rather beautiful. Every cloud, as they say.


Blog of Personal Standards And 6 Notes

This week sees a return to bachelor lifestyle, as Her Indoors is operating her trumpet for money in Denmark until Friday. Therefore, for the duration of this instalment, I shall be referring to Her Indoors as Her Overseas. It’s been a while since I have been home alone, and despite my best efforts to keep up with the hoovering, washing and plant watering, 48 hours into the sentence I found myself sitting down to a wonderful home-prepared luncheon consisting of an old K-reg bagel and a pot of mint sauce lurking in the gloomy hinterlands at the back of shelf 3 on the fridge. I’ve got to say, a bagel so past its best that it has self-toasted with chilled Jus-De-Menthe actually tasted ok, but then the bachelor palette is a robust sort of thing, weaned in many years ago on a diet of morning-after kebab fragments, cheese rind, inevitable curry and tinned anchovies.

Although the minty bagel incident did actually precipitate a drive down to Sainsbury’s, this was more out of guilt about my all too quick-to-plummet personal standards than any desire to eat anything other than the remaining contents of the larder. I reckon I could quite happily eke it out to Friday on a nourishing diet of oxo cubes, freeze-dried shitake mushrooms and sandwich spread, whilst walking around the house in the dressing gown until it was time to go out to work. It’s not laziness, I think, but rather the solitary chap has a different priority system to that of the coupled one. For example- if there’s no-one else in to see, how can doing the ironing, or buying food possibly be more interesting than lying on the sofa with a nice boxed set of Star Trek? Once there, how then can the ironing, washing etc, possibly measure up to the rich excitement of another episode, or better still, a snooze? A vicious circle of diabolic proportions- whole days can drift by whilst pondering the energy giving miracle of the dilithium crystal, or wondering how I’d get on at a Vulcan wedding. It seems to me that doing stuff for yourself takes around three times the mental effort that doing it for the pair of you does. It gets to a stage where doing anything, -and I don’t want your monocle to jolt out of your eye socket and into your tea when you read this-even working on the Seaplanes Of The Axis Powers diorama gets to feel like a bit of a chore. It seems that Her Overseas has left in her wake a snowballing load of apathy. This metaphor works better if you replace the snow in the vision with blu tack. A giant ball of blu-tack rolling round on a great landscape of blu-tack getting larger, heavier and stickier with each revolution… I’m a bit embarrassed to say, but in the bath the other day, the apathy reached such levels that I had to really force myself to reach for the Airfix Graf Spee for the customary re-enactment of the Battle Of The River Plate. Acts of wanton slobbery are becoming more frequent- with Her Overseas around, it’s highly unlikely that I’d water the front garden plants dressed in my rugger shirt, boxers and her green furry slippers with the big smiley monster faces on. I’ve now been doing exactly this since Thursday last, and it was only this morning when I saw the look of raw distress on the face of the rag-and -bone man as he drove past that I thought I’d better take a spot more care. Having your own space is one thing, and is often cried up as a bonus in the media by the defiantly single, but whirling like a nutter in your own vacuum is quite another.

I’m not giving in to it though- like any period of solitary confinement, self-discipline is the key, so I am staying right on top of the housework, and I have, as you can see, dragged myself from the joy of the John Lewis Duvet to come to the kitchen table and tap all this into the laptop. And all at the crack of 11.15 am. I am doing it, but it weighs a ton.
Helping me through these lean times is that shining example to all stranded chaps who have had bachelordom thrust upon them- John Tracy from Thunderbirds. Marooned in orbit in the space station that is Thunderbird 5 for months on end, John is at all times immaculately dressed, and the interior of his spaceship is of operating theatre cleanliness. Here he is-

Apart from the fact that he weirdly looks like an Aryan Frank Sinatra in this picture, we can see that JT ran a very tight ship indeed. When not directing his brothers to their latest atomic volcano landslide rescue, he clearly spends an awful lot of time on personal grooming, and housework. He must have special tools to get the hair mousse into place in the tricky environment of zero-g. Thinking about this further, a few sketches in my notebook reveal something akin to a crash helmet attached to a giant syringe. If I’ve got my Einstein right, time in space goes quicker than time on earth. This means that JT has to spend an even larger portion of his day than the average OCD chap on terra firma with the space hoover. There’s never any mention of robots in the series, so I’m assuming that fabulous shiny interior is all the work of his own fair hand. Or, in his case, the work of the bloke’s hand they use for the close up shots. If that was me up there on a three-month tour of duty, by the middle of the run I’d make sure that my transmissions back to earth were performed in very subdued lighting indeed, so that the stubble, dressing gown and wine-soaked t-shirt were harder to discern in the murk. Murk would be the word, too. As I’ve said before, it’s zero-g up there, and part of the preparatory work in putting a transmission together would be to herd the great revolving asteroid cluster of coke bottles, kitchen roll middles and curry trays which would inevitably appear from the overfilled space bin (which won’t have been taken out for far too long) out of camera view. I know that my broadcasts would have an uneasy quality- as thunderbird five tacked round the planet, I would take on the appearance of someone having to read the news while simultaneously dancing on hot coals, having as I would to try and kick away the debris cloud whilst simultaneously transmitting the co-ordinates for the stranded little boy on the rim of the chasm, whilst also concealing the fact that instead of my International Rescue standard issue trousers and boots, I was sporting a rather mangy pair of pants and Her Overseas’ green furry monster slippers.

Outside in the real world, away from the bachelor cave with its stalactites and stalagmites of washing up, laundry, bottles and food wrappers, life has been quite normal, with quite a varied programme of work. Last Tuesday, for example, I was playing a load of Count Basie stuff for not too much dough, but a nice free dinner. Loads and loads of notes were involved in that and by sharp contrast, on Thursday, I was in the massed ranks of the BBC concert orchestra at the Festival hall playing about six notes for hundreds of pounds! It’s a funny one, the concert orchestra, as they only pull in sax players when they are needed for a particular programme, and you only ever get one of two things- the aforementioned six notes, or music of such migrane inducing complexity that you have to take the next six months off in Gstaad with a counsellor.

The flip side of having six notes to play is the sitting to attention. Doubly so in this case, as we were being recorded for TV but cunningly, we of the sax section had brought back the after eights from the inevitable curry, and were thus able to regulate the blood sugar and avoid an embarrassing televisual nodding off in the heat of the Festival Hall lighting rig, or grill. By jingo, it was hot. As well as being slowly sautéed in your own clothes, another unusual aspect of sitting onstage at the Festival hall is that due to the proportions of the auditorium, it is quite difficult to work out how big it is. It seats two and a half thousand people, but you’d never think it. Your Roving Reporter took this snap just before the second half began to illustrate the point. 2,500 people here, and as it was a concert of Don Black’s lyrics presented by Michael Grade and the eponymous Don, 2,500 people mostly from Stanmore.

The show is going out on BBC 4 at Christmas, I believe, so tune in then and see if you can spot the six notes! I’m off for a lie down now- it’s that or the washing up.


Blog of Body Clock

I have an amazing body. Before you reach for the absinthe whilst directing your computer to another site, I need to explain further. I’ve lived in this body for quite a while now, and while the mind is still pretty much identical to the one I was operating back in 1974, the body, like the Volvo, is prone to occasional erratic behaviour over which I have little control, and often little clue as to its origin. The body is amazing in that it does amazing things which I can’t explain, along with all the mundane things which, with the aid of Google, I can. Amazing thing number one is its propensity to stop watches. I’ve tried and tried with all manner of corporeal timepieces over the years, but clockwork, electric or solar, wrist or pocket, the longest one has lasted has been seven months. One of the drawers in the desk in the shed bears testament to this- I feel so guilty about sentencing wristwatches to their premature deaths that I cannot bring myself to throw them away once the inevitable last tock has sounded. They lie in there, like a strange bejewelled miniature terracotta army, waiting to be taken to watchhalla or wherever.Perhaps one day I’ll organise a funeral for them, and push them all out onto the big lake over at Rickmansworth in a burning shoebox whilst Her Indoors stands at the bank in a horned helmet and ponytails with the Ghetto Blaster blaring out the main theme from “The Vikings”. Perhaps not, though.

Back in the real world, my personal Timex death-ray forcefield has led to an unusual domestic upshot. My entire ability to earn money stands or falls on my ability to turn up on time, which in turn depends on my ability get behind the wheel of the Volvo on time in its private hangar-based maintenance facility, or lean-to. As I am quite a big fan of lying down and snoring, and am unable to wear a watch, I need a clock in every room. It’s a good job that Her Indoors doesn’t mind a clock or two about the place. One of the more important items in the Gables’ temporal inventory is a small silver plastic Marks & Sparks £4.99 travel alarm clock which sits atop the thunderbox in the main bathroom, and is indispensable to The Modern Gentleman in the all important art of timing the pre-leaving for work dip. Without it, one of my re-enactments of the Battle Of The River Plate involving the Airfix Graf Spee and mountains of Radox bubbles could overrun with disastrous effects on my employability.

It was in contemplation of this little clock this morning that I became aware in a focused way about Amazing Thing Number Two. As alluded to earlier, the body in which I currently reside is becoming, like the Volvo, a little clanky with age and is beginning to require nursing round tight corners etc etc. One of the things it does, and I know I’m not alone in having my body behave is such a treacherous manner, is to wake up all on its own in the night and inform me that it needs to, er, regulate its fluid levels. Luckily, thus far it has always warned me before the actual regulation has occurred, but more or less every night I find myself in the bathroom at some ungodly hour addressing the thunderbox, and ipso facto the small chronometer situated thereon. Amazing thing number two is that I’ve recently noticed that my body only does this when the big hand is on the twelve. Yes, for some reason my whole micturation infrastructure is geared to only bother me with its qualms on the hour. I think this is quite incredible. There I am, lurching around the house with one eye open, and half the brain still immersed in the dream where I am talking to a bus with legs, one of which is Jim Reeves, while the other half is navigating patchily down the upstairs hall, and accurate to a couple of minutes, something within my system is able to keep time to a standard which would I’m sure at least make NASA sit up and take notice. Equally baffling is why it should choose to do this- as far as I can tell, my body is organic, so why does it structure its activities so rigidly to the ticking of the privy clock? Thinking it all through, the final irony is that if I could consciously be in touch with my inbuilt chronometer, I could do without all those bloody clocks.

More involuntary motor neurone benefits occurred last week. Last year, Her Indoors and I won a charity raffle. The prizes on offer were a weekend away in a nobby country house hotel near Cheltenham, or two tickets and backstage passes to the One Direction gig at the O2. As you can easily understand, we were galled to be pipped to the post for the gig tickets, and had to put up with a 48 hour pass in the five star luxury bolt hole in the Cotswolds. Part of the deal was an afternoon out clay pigeon shooting. As the diary was emptier than Bob Cratchit’s wallet after tax, we decided to cash in our voucher last week.

It was brilliant- sunshine,Her indoors and guns. I was dreading it a bit, as I have always been a dead loss at any kind of sport let alone one which has as its centrepiece the use of lethal weapons. Possessing as I do the natural co-ordination of a millipede who is drunk for the first time, I must have been a river of disappointment as a toddler to my extremely sporty dad. Now, at last at the age of forty eight and three quarters, I have found a sport I can do. It turns out that I am a bit of a natural at blasting ceramic frisbee from the sky, and scored a hit rate of 85%, so maybe that’s three amazing things my body does without involving me.


Here’s a picture of us (me and the body) doing it-that’s us with our back to the camera with the gun. I know it looks like the other chap is begging us to stop but in fact he was the instructor, helping us with our posture for maximum airborne ceramic destruction. I honestly didn’t really have a clue what I was doing, it was as if I was sat in an observation lounge somewhere in the top of my skull whilst the body was taking care of business all on it own the whole time.

So that’s the story of my amazing body. Without really bothering me with the details it is able to tell the time with wee in the night and shoot straight whilst rendering neutral all small mechanical devices in the immediate vicinity. Perhaps in a former life I was a missile guidance system. Funny old world.