Blog of Cheap Flight

Blimey! Five months since Christmas already! Where’s all that time gone? In another blink it will be Christmas all over again. Perhaps we could slow down the perception of the passage of time by permanently keeping the festive season on and therefore making things pass as one kind of giant amorphous Yuletide blur. The Picallili industry would do well out of this for starters-thinking that through though, leads me to realise that the rate of heartburn induced mortality would shoot through the roof. Better leave things as they are and keep the season of Domestic tension to its current August-January timespan. Harking back to the original question about the ever increasing rapidity of the passage of time, this week has seen a lot of hours frittered away on the grinding medium-level misery which is modern air travel.

It’s been an extraordinary week for the miles of travel per tune played, as my three engagements this week have been-in order- in Rome, Cockfosters and Monte Carlo which represents an aggregate distance from the front door of The Gables to, I’d say, Omsk, and having had a quick count up, has resulted in the playing of a grand total of twenty eight pieces of music. Google maps inform me that this represents 2906 miles, give or take, which works out at 103.7 miles per ditty. Tunes 1-8 we’re sounded off in Rome. This was originally presented to Her Indoors and me as a standard Commando-style raid sort of gig, where the deal is to fly in in the early morning of the gig on the cheapest, and therefore, most obscenely early flight available, hang around in a large room which for some reason will be devoid of chairs for hours while bearded chaps in three quarter length black trousers with big bunches of keys build a stage rig large enough for stadium rock and encroach on the allotted rehearsal time to the extent that the allotted rehearsal time then encroaches on the alloyed dinner time with the result that the dinner ceases to exist, play the music through the previously mentioned stadium rock PA system to around twenty four conference delegates attending this years’s mastitis research awards and inspiration dinner, get bundled into a minibus for a forty minute drive to another, cheaper hotel for three hours sleep before getting on the cheapest, and therefore most obscenely early flight home and find yourself in the Gatwick South Terminal car park feeling dazed and slightly mugged.

Boxing clever, Her indoors and I asked if we could have our flights out a couple of days early, and so last Monday, we found ourselves walking out on the balmy boulevards of Rome, in search of Balmy Roman Lager. I don’t want to sound too hippy dippy here, but there is a very different energy to Rome, and I reckon that it is due to the fact that so many human beings have lived and died there in a recognisably modern civilisation for the last two thousand seven hundred years. Being right in at the hatching of the entire rubric of western civilisation, the place just feels emote experienced and wiser than, for example, Milton Keynes. The Grub’s good too- just off the Via Nacionale is a little restaurant called Santa Cristina. In there some of the greatest dinners of all time are created- regular readers of this column will quake with awe when I guarantee that the nosh in there is on a par with such classics of modern cuisine as the Lobster In Squid Ink served at Galvin at Windows, the set dinner at Mr. Kong’s, or even, and I don’t say this lightly, the liver and back dinner at Sunny Side Up Cafe in South Oxhey. There’s also an Indian quarter out there, which led to a spot of Roman curry tasting. I now have enough data to start compiling a European curry ladder, which runs more or less as follows- in first place, by quite a long chalk, oddly, is Malta, then Us, then France, Monaco, Italy, Greece and Spain. It was a tough thing between the Italians and the Monagasques- things could have been very different for Italy if they’d eased off the cumin in the vindaloo.

Here’s a picture of me at the Vatican last Tuesday. Perhaps even more startling a feature of this place that the Michaelangelo stuff inside is the incredible scope and quantity of Vatican Tat available in the surrounding gift shops. Given that we are led to believe that His Holiness the pope not only has the ear of The Almighy, but also his private mobile number, twitter handle and access to His Facebook page, and that quite a lot of those visiting are the most ardent supporters of this whole system, it came as quite a shock to find the bulk of the iconography then applied to tea towels, clock radios, and my own personal favourite, fag lighters. We got my mate Paul, who is partial to a drop of Catholicism, but being from Glasgow, a drop of lager too, the perfect gift. A bottle opener with a picture of the Pope on.

The Rome gig itself was pretty much what we’d expect- in a huge off-airport hotel, an awards ceremony was taking place, and the event organisers had decided to entertain the forlorn looking group of international delegates with the medium of Opera. Sensibly, they’d booked five cracking singers from London, but presumably because the budget was running a bit tight, the production team had to make the difficult decision on where to save the dough. Being a musical show, they made the obvious decision to reduce the band size to something way below the bare minimum. Heaven forfend they should want to cut back on the stadium sized PA, in case any of the conference delegates from Brisbane, Dar-Es-Salaam, Kalamazoo or Worksop who couldn’t attend could probably just hear it from home anyway. Armed with the line-up of Trumpet, Sax, Keyboard, Bass and Drums, we were able to bring that all-important atmosphere of It Ain’t Half Hot Mum so crucially omitted by Puccini in his original orchestration of Turandot. At least it was nice and loud.

Home on Friday, and over to Cockfosters for ten more tunes in the 100 Years Of Jazz gig at the Chicken Shed Theatre, which strangely seemed to have no lapped wood units construction and a complete absence of chickens. Smashing curry after, though. Exceptional, in fact. A fuller review will follow when I start on my Great Curries Of The Tube Map project.

Then, at 3am today, the whole commando raid thing got going again when Nathan Bray and Miles Ashton turned up at The Gables to join me and The Volvo for a journey down to Gatwick, and as a result of this I am sitting here tapping this into the iPhone in the conductor’s room at the Sporting Club Of Monaco to deliver this week’s final instalment of tunes via the means of jumping up and down and shouting at a big band, while Iain Mackenzie and some other chums bang through the ten allotted Rat Pack Classics at 11.40 pm to the great and the good of the Grand Prix dinner. You remember that I’ve plogged from here before- it was last summer and we had had the benefit of a few days off to enjoy the riviera by rail. Not so this time- as soon as we’re done here it’s back on the coach for a long blink at the Nice Airport Ibis and back home in time for egg and bacon on a flight so obscenely cheap that had they known, the Wright Brothers’ investors would have deemed the whole aeroplane project commercially untenable and withdrawn their support.

Bad Sight Of The Week was yours truly on BBC4 talking about Duke Ellington in a programme about Jazz History. I’d heard that the TV puts three stone on you, but as I seem to have been Espescially Blessed by the gods of beauty, my televisual extra three stone had been entirely applied to my face. I looked like a cross between a bread and butter pudding and a collection of other people’s buttocks. Still, they do say that all publicity is good publicity.


Blog of Letters of the Week and Science Fiction

The newsdesk here at the gables has been buzzing with feedback all week with comments about the last instalment. It seems that the selective nature of gravity and the universal nature of hotel food have not just been noticed by me. Taking the latter first, a Ms. Walsingham of Berkhamsted wrote in to further add to the mystery of the complete absence of flavour when food is generated by a kitchen built in an hotel rather than a restaurant. Her point-and I’m sure most of us have experience of this- concerns the goo which comes inside a round of hotel sandwiches. This goo can be pink, beige or grey depending upon whether it has been sold as prawn, tuna or chicken sandwich filling, but like most things on the hotel catering menu, has that wonderful exotic taste of bugger all. I reckon it might be council fire regs or something. Maybe too much flavour in one place can become flammable. Maybe one day we’ll find that the Great Fire of London was started by a build up of seasoning in Pudding Lane top critical mass. We know from his diaries that Pepys buried his cheese in his garden when he thought his property was at risk. Perhaps they knew something then which has been lost to most of us in the mists of time, but the secret scroll of knowledge was saved from the flames by the proprietor of the local Comfort Inn, put into a casket and now lies buried under The Monument. It could even be that the film, The Towering Inferno was made as a warning sign to the global hotel trade to not mess about with the spicy foods becoming popular globally in the early 1970’s. The fire starts in the Restaurant, as far as I recall. This would explain why even such promising items as a room service Diavolo Pizza, which on the menu boasts such buzzwords as “Hot! Hot!” and “Only For The Brave!” comes with such a tiny element of essence of chilli that only fractional distillation could prove its existence. Should, by its own peculiar flavour related pyrotechnic physics, the hotel then be razed to the ground by fire, and should the forensic department of Messrs. Snitch and Grabber, Insurers discover that spice had been used in the kitchen to a level higher that one part in eighteen trillion, then there would be the predictable letter to the manager opening with the word “Regrettably”.

While we’re on peculiar physics, there has been quite an influx of gravity-related observations. Mr. Brill of Addington noted that a paint pot on top of a stepladder is way more likely to fall off and deposit its contents all over the one bit of carpet which hadn’t been protected with a dustsheet if he leaves the room. Many have noted that gravity’s aim and timing improves exponentially if there are small children about. My mate Dean was here in the middle of the week, staying in the West Wing between a couple of gigs. He was having a shower, and somehow Gravity managed to coax a stream of water through the bit at the back of the shower screen where the hinges are, and then round a corner and onto the floor, to land in an area about three inches square. Where his trousers and pants were. I myself have had a trouser-related gravity trauma in the week, showing the amazing ability of Madame G. to time her assaults. On Friday, I had to go into town for a meeting. As I had observed the rule, calibrated in minutes that O=g+(gx1.3) where O is the time I need to leave The Gables, and g is the calculated time for getting up, and gx1.3 is the factor by which this estimate was incorrect, I had had to pull on the suit and set off in the Volvo for the station car park at Moor Park to continue the journey in the relaxed charm of the Met Line. The result of this hurried pulling on of the suit was to omit the belt, but as the suit felt that it fitted, I didn’t worry overly. I don’t know if this happens to you, but if I start off from home a bit late, all manner of minor things go wrong, gradually forming into a large bolus of lateness from which often there is no return. If I leave on time, it’s plain sailing. Back in the choppy waters of last Friday, though, I arrived at the station Car Park at Moor Park to find it full of workmen, apparently shoring up the embankment over which the tracks run to make sure that it all doesn’t slide away and into the Costcutter opposite the station. Never mind, I thought, and carried on in the Volvo to the next stop down, Northwood, which boasts a very large car park. By now, I was quite sweaty and flustered, which I’m sure is a device placed in our species to illustrate to the gods clearly which of the Pilgrims are running late and therefore can be good subjects for further divine mischief. Glowing like a beacon, I pulled up in Northwood Station , getting as close to the pay and display machine as the situation allowed. These machines now take credit cards, so equipped with wallet, I ran to the machine, only to find the card slot closed with a metal plaque, and a note sellotaped onto the screen saying “Sorry no cards”. The day’s parking was £4.10. Running back to the Volvo, I had a rummage through the glove compartment and found- £4.10! Running back to the machine, there followed five attempts at getting the money in, and now to add to the fun, I could hear the mobile, still in the Volvo, ringing and ringing. I then noticed another small sign on the machine, saying “Sorry, this machine does not accept the new 5 and 10 pence coins”. It only struck me later that a fee ending in 10p was an unusual choice for machines which couldn’t accept 10p coins. Pay by phone was now my only option. Another 8 minutes of time had been squandered on this machine’s apology notes, and by now, I was very sweaty and flustered. Blotchy, in fact. Running back to the Volvo, I retrieved the phone which stopped ringing the instant I picked it off the seat. The caller was the chap I was supposed to meet. Now a dilemma- do I ring him, or the pay to park people. Running back to the machine, I reasoned that I was probably better off parking and dealing with him in a bit. As I lifted the phone to make the call to the parking company, the phone rang again in my hand. Maximum stress had been reached, Madame G chose her moment, and down fell my unbelted suit trousers in the middle of the car park. At least there was a bit of fresh air around the trossacks to make up for it.

Last Sunday, Her Indoors and I were relaxing in the Home Cinema, or living room, here at The Gables and ITV had put Star Wars III on. I like Star Wars, so Her Indoors indulged me and we sat down to watch it. As a chap, I am used to earning a curled lip by not noticing a new hairdo/clothe/necklace/etc , but here the boot was refreshingly on the other foot when I was asked if we were watching Star Wars or Star Trek. I did baulk a bit when she asked me what the difference was. Basically, for the layman or woman, Star Trek is middle class Americans with latex foreheads, and Star Wars is loads of robots and lighty-up swords that go fzzzzzzzzmmmmzzzzzmmmmmzzzzz.
Star Wars had a huge impact on my early adolescence. For my 13th birthday treat my Mum took me and my chum Richard to see it at the Purley Astoria. As an indirect result of that night out, I became a musician. I bumped into Richard’s dad on the train a few years ago, and it turns out that Richard moved to the States and has made a good living in the explosive and demolition business. Maybe it had a huge impact on him too. As a rule, I’ve never really gone in for mass-culture fads, but Star Wars shook me to my core. It was the first time anyone had ever seen sci-fi that looked completely real, and not like the stiff made out of yoghurt pots, rubber gloves and fablon on Dr. Who. Philosophy played a part too. Alec Guiness dispensing proto-Buddhism in his descriptions of The Force was particularly appealing, especially when he gets onto the bit about stretching out with your feelings. Stretching out with feelings and using The Force enables our hero Luke to drop the laser equivalent of a hand grenade down a small hole in the Death Star whilst flying a small space fighter at trillions of miles per hour and thus save the universe. As a developing young lad with piss poor co-ordination, I can remember trying to stretch out with my feelings and use the force a few days later at cricket practice. The prompt arrival of a cricket ball straight on the knuckles indicated that clearly I wasn’t to be a Jedi Knight for a while. I was also very taken with the soundtrack, especially the jazzy thing played by the chaps in the fly costumes in the bar sequence. Reading up later that the instrumentation for this was three saxes and Caribbean steel pans, I asked if I could have steel pan lessons at school. The old chap at school who taught percussion looked into it for me, but drew a blank, so as second best, I went for sax lessons. With that, my parents’ dreams of an Olympic-standard sportsman/high-powered Q.C. were dashed like the myriad specks of laser light that once were the Death Star.

Two more Star Wars films were produced until 1983, so the whole thing neatly spanned my years at secondary school, and set me up for life. Of course we all wanted more, as the three films hinted at a whole universe’s worth of backstory. Luckily for us, producer George Lucas had a particularly nasty divorce in the early 1990’s and needed some dough. As the only chap in the world with the capability to magic squillions of dollars out of thin air by telling stories about proto-buddhism, robots and lighty-up swords that go fzzzzzzzzmmmmzzzzzmmmmmzzzzz, Lucas promised us a prequel trilogy outlining the tragic tale of the story’s principal baddie, Darth Vader, from innocent boyhood to terminal tumble to the Dark Side. Sunday’s televisual feast was the last in this trilogy, dealing with the final tumble. Although spectacular visually, the narrative thrust of the script has all the verve and flair of a year 9 drama project, with clankingly awkward lines delivered by a cast, for whom the only option seems to be stretching out with their feelings in order to feel the fee. Lucas even blows the pivotal scene, for which we’ve all sat through two and three quarters’ films’ worth of this stuff to see- the horribly mutilated Darth Vader, nearly killed in a lighty-up swordfight that went fzzzzzzzzmmmmzzzzzmmmmmzzzzz with Ewan MacGregor from Trainspotting but on the rather more inviting environment of a planet consisting entirely of lava (it was once a hotel planet which put on a curry night)- being rebuilt into the iconic masked baddie who has loomed over all of us since 1977. In the film Robocop, there’s a similar scene where our copper is having all his bionic bits added by doctors, saying things like “Of course, he’ll never be able to eat real food again” and “With that mechanical heart of his, he’ll not sleep in a way we would understand”. Surely to God this is what we all wanted when it was time to make Darth out of all the spare bits. It’s not as if they were short of a robot or two in that neck of the woods. To be fair, we do see the evil-looking German-Soldier-In-A-Gas-Mask hat going on over the horribly (but not too horribly, it’s a kids’ film) burnt face, and we do get to hear the first drawing of the scuba breath, but I do feel that in a trilogy concerned with the lapse of an innocent soul to a world of mechanised semi-organic evil, we could have done with about thirty five minutes more science and less faffing around with epic battles on remote planets.

The next day, there was a Ray Bradbury short story on the radio called “The Sound Of Thunder”. Half an hour long, it was the very opposite of the Star Wars prequel trilogy- at half an hour long, we got to know , and in one case, dislike, the characters, we had a good old dollop of bogus sci-fi physics, and a rip-roaring alternative timeline good story to boot. But Star Wars is my friend- as duff as that film was, I sat through it all again, willing it to be good, in the same way as you’d be internally egging your best mate Dave, now drunk at a party, to not throw up on that girl he’s chatting up. Disney have bought the franchise now, and are releasing another one next year, called Steamboat Darth or something. Disney are good at films, so hopefully we’ll get a decent story or two. I notice that they’ve got the chap on board who directed the last two Star Trek films- perhaps we’ll have middle class Americans with latex foreheads and loads of robots and lighty-up swords that go fzzzzzzzzmmmmzzzzzmmmmmzzzzz all together for the first time.


Blog of Putting It Off

It’s been a while since the last riveting instalment, I know, but what I thought was a case of writer’s block (and its sister condition, getting off the arse and doing anything at all block) has actually turned out to be a case of low-level viral infection. In addition to the huge amounts of bugger all achieved over the last few weeks, I had been getting aware of mysterious pains in my neck and under my chin, so, like all blokes, after the statutory three weeks’ or so of putting it off, I slothfully took myself and my hurty neck off to the quack’s, where I was told that the source of the pain was a nice pair of swollen glands, and that once the bit of goo extracted from the glottis on an elongated ear bud which for all the world looked as if it belonged in a Dali painting has been sent off for analysis, we’ll know for sure the full extent of my lergy. The funny thing is, during the statutory three weeks’ or so of putting it off, there was a concomitant three weeks’ worth of nodding off last thing at night imagining the worst, and so discovering that I was not a victim of bubonic plague, tonsillitis and/or malaria came as a considerable relief. So much so, that upon being deemed to have a minor infection which could be staved off by gargling brine I virtually skipped out of the surgery like Fotherington-Thomas singing songs to the flowers, trees and sky, and started to catch up with all the tasks accrued in the intervening period of bugger all.

Mind you, it’s not been all fervid inactivity here at The Gables. As I was finishing the last missive, I was girding up the loins to spend a forty-eight hour stretch looking after Her Indoors on the road in my capacity as the Dennis Thatcher of British jazz. The first leg of this took us up to Southport, where H.I. was due to give a Sunday lunchtime recital of syncopated classics as the guest artiste with the local big band. It was an early start, so we were to check into the hotel the night before and enjoy the sights that Southport had to offer. Aside from the topography of the town, which must be fairly unique for a seaside resort in that the glorious regency front doesn’t actually overlook the sea, the sights were many and varied. They ranged from a nice old-fashioned pier with an amusement arcade and hall of mirrors, to a charming family teaching their children by example to spit and swear in public.
Disappointingly, and probably in some way due to the possibility of the unique charm of some of the resort’s visitors, the sit-down chippy tea we’d hoped for wasn’t going to materialise as all the chippies in town seemed to shut up shop at around 6.30.
Jung would have it that all events are linked, and proof came with our visit to Southport. As a chap treads his way down life’s stony highway, he can formulate theories of existence drawn up from his experience. Two of mine are-

  1. Gravity is alive, and is also a bit of a bugger
  2. There’s something funny about Hotel Food

Incidents have occurred over the last couple of weeks which seem to have confirmed both of my suspicions. Taking gravity first, I’ve had a love-hate relationship with it for years. Newton missed a trick when the apple fell on his head, I think, because if my reading of the facts is correct, he only observed that the apple fell. He didn’t consider that the bloody thing fell on him. At the exact moment he was under the tree, in exactly the right place. Gravity, it seems, is only mostly constant, generally when it can’t be naughty. Physics would have it that it is a straight force of attraction between objects which increases in proportion to their size. The largest nearest object to us is of course our planet, which is why things fall on top of it. It is why we can have swimming pools and lying down. Whilst this is true, it is, in my view, not the whole truth. Consider the simple act of hoovering. In order to hoover the Televisual Leisure Suite, or Front Room, here at The Gables, I will often put the occasional tables, Her Indoors’ furry owl slippers, the TV Times, my half eaten Chicken Phal from last night etc. etc. temporarily on the sofa, in order to get a good old go at the rug. It is now clearly marked to Gravity, or Madame G as I call her, that the purpose of this exercise is to not have the recently repositioned items on the floor. This new status quo will last, generally until I am no longer looking, or have become distracted by the phone, an itchy nose or Her Indoors mellifluously addressing me from up the stair. As soon as I look away, there is what gravity experts refer to as the Inevitable Cascade. Inevitable cascades of all forms, be they the simple hovering trauma illustrated here or the rumble and crash from the cupboard under the stairs, display some evidence of conscious input. Generally occurring twenty seconds after you get settled into the armchair or bed, an Inevitable Cascade will often display ingenuity and attention to detail. We are all familiar with the buttered toast thing, but any opportunity for irritating minor destruction will be seized upon. Taking the Hoover and Sofa incident, for example, it came as no surprise that the now partially upended chicken Phal now proudly boasted my fountain pen, cap off, as one of its ingredients. Anything that can ooze will, but only if it can ooze over or into something porous and valuable. Madame G is adept at keeping up with technology too. A few years ago, I was busily toiling away at the desk, and because I had lots of clutter about I had a large flat mobile phone sat flat across the top of a small round mug of tea. If you tried to fit the phone into the cup, you’d have a job since it was only just big enough, and you’d have to get the phone straight in, in a perpendicular manner. Predictably, the phone rang, and the buzzy thing inside it wobbled it just enough for Bloody Gravity to get hold of it and suck it down so it was completely immersed, writing off both the phone, and as I recall, some of the tea. This is beginning to sound like whining, so I’ll get to the proof.
So far, we have ascertained that gravity will have a go at any teetering pile of things at the moment of maximum irritation. Anything put on top of anything else will slide off at the crucial moment. So what does she do when we have a teetering pile of things which we’d like to fall over? It was Her Indoors who spotted this, at the penny shovers in the arcade on Southport Pier. There we have an exhibition class pile of tuppences, not only teetering and wobbling, but also being moved on hydraulic arms. If I so much as have eight or nine coins on the kitchen table, one of them will be on the floor within fifteen seconds. Madame G. just can’t keep her fingers off. All the laws say that an Inevitable Cascade should be happening any second, but what happens? Bugger All. And that’s if you’re lucky. Gravity is alive and naughty. The defence rests.

Hotel food now. After the great gravity revelation on the pier, Her Indoors and I made our way back to the hotel, where we thought we’d try the restaurant, which was advertising itself as Fine Dining, and smelling enticingly of chip fat. Delicious as it was, the menu was somewhat eclectic. H.I. plumped for a main course of Tandoori Chicken on a tagine of wilted greens, with peas and roast potatoes. I had a barbecued pork chop (bacon joint) on couscous with new potatoes and steamed veg. I must say here that the lad in the kitchen could certainly cook- it all tasted lovely and the tandoori chicken, although patently not done in a Tandoori was a masterpiece in tenderness. Where this is all leading is, given that a hotel restaurant must presumably be decked out with the same kit as a regular one, and governed by the same council regs, why is hotel food so weird? Anyone who has done as many weddings in hotels as your jaded scribe here will be very familiar with mass produced chicken in white wine sauce, and will know all too well the explosion of oral ecstasy when something that tastes of anything other than humidity rumbles across the taste buds. Funnily enough, Her Indoors and I found ourselves in a swanky spa hotel the other week, and as the restaurant looked dead posh, and we had the run of it for free, we gave it a go. Lovely service, great menu, and all the grub looked amazing. Unfortunately, like the mass produced wedding grub, our bespoke boutique dinners ended up tasting of, as far as I could tell, and with the exception of the bits of my rare steak which were still raw and hadn’t been exposed to the taste-annulling sorcery, sand. On the other hand, I am currently sitting writing this in room 37 of the Ibis in an industrial estate in Coventry, waiting to get a taxi to the Jools Holland gig. I’ve just had their room service green thai chicken curry. Even though the bits of chicken had the texture of the inside of an old tennis ball, it tasted more of curry than anything else, so perhaps more research is necessary.

Another quick food story before I go. I was with Jools last night too, in Skeggy. Mr. Holland is a generous employer, and often when we’re out for a night he arranges for a take-away to be in the bandroom at the end of the show. Last night it was Pizzas. Tour manager Steve told us that when he got up to the pizza place, he was having a spot of bother understanding the menu consisting as it did of unusual choices which you might find, say, in an hotel in Southport, and so the lady serving informed him that their best-selling line was Doner Kebab pizza. Steve asked if she could do anything more Italian, to which she replied “Chicken Kiev Pizza”. If it wasn’t true, you’d not believe it.