Sunday, 29 April 2007

A distracting, musical evening in York

Whilst Mrs Refugee stewed and fumed most of the weekend after receiving a patronising letter from school, the rest of the Refugees perked her up an evening of Italian cuisine, lovely company and fab music.

Back in the elegant 80’s, Mrs R was pally with Mister Loudon Wainwright the Third and they’ve kept in touch since. Last night, we met up with LW and his ex, Suzzy (of The Roches), and his daughter Lucy Wainwright Roche. Good to see LW again but the real delight was meeting Suzzy and being charmed by Lucy – a real pearl.

If you haven’t caught LW3 live I entreat you to sling a few quid his way for a show: his songs are a unique mix of personal, angsty, satirical, bitter, sweet and bitter-sweet (The tour de force ‘Half Fist’ is a stonker). His performance is evocative, witty and enthralling. What we weren’t prepared for was Lucy’s captivating opening show – all we can say is LOOK OUT for the third of the Wainwright offspring.

And Mrs Refugee went home very happy.

Friday, 27 April 2007

A Yorkshire fog

The strangest of experiences this afternoon, but first a prologue....

In my life I have a wife, the gorgeous Mrs R, and 3 girls who shine brightly in our firmament. In our homestead we also have the 4th sister, a rescue hound called Poppy, along with 5 female guinea-pigs and 4 schnickled male guinea-pigs - for all intents now eunuchs - a snake of indeterminate sex....and previously 2 rats, 2 gerbils and a hamster ALL female. Then, there is my mother and 2 sisters. There's something missing in my life.

Now to strangeness. I was due to collect IS from school this afternoon and it so happened that I was asked to collect a further 5 pilgrims for the journey home. I arrived at school and IS got in. 10 minutes later - detention had stalled them - these 5 strapping 13 year-olds threw themselves into the car...and almost turned the car on its side.

Off we went blithely homewards over the North York Moors. I chatted to IS about her day. SILENCE from the seats behind. Not being one to ignore the flower of Yorkshire youth I made the odd enquiry of a lad or two. Suddenly, I began to detect an odour. It was a recognisable odour but I couldn't quite place it. Another 5 more minutes and I began to feel myself suffocating along with the stolid silence behind.

AT LAST I cracked it - the overpowering fug of burgeoning, teenage testosterone, missing from my life for many years. A suffocating cloud enveloping my head and senses. I stopped the car and let 2 lads out. Fresh Yorkshire air - clear and cool.

Next time I do a similar journey I might need an oxygen tank!

Wednesday, 25 April 2007

Sky’s the very limit

After lunch....(of course, it’s ‘dinner’ in Yorkshire)...the phone rings....
Fiona (VERY nice Scots voice): Hello, is that Mr Refugee?
LR: Yes.
Fiona: Hello, I’m Fiona from Sky television and I just wanted to ask you-
LR: I cancelled my sub a couple of years ago and you keep phoning me every few months
Fiona: Why was that?
LR: ‘Cos Rupert Murdoch’s a scumbag.
Fiona: (taken aback) err-hum…James Murdoch is now in charge-
LR: He’s a scumbag too..
LR: And the whole family…
Fiona: Mr R-
LR: ...have far too much power and money. So, Fiona, you were about to ask me.
Fiona: I don’t think so. (PHONE DOWN)

A very early start

I must be dreaming……there’s laughter and chatter, which I can’t decipher – it’s me as a child, happy, maybe I’m rolling over and over down a hill……then a thump from above and the bed’s creaking through the ceiling and giggling and chatter. The clock reads 3.10a.m. I stumble upstairs and find IS (from her bedroom below) and ES under the duvet, bouncing on the bed and giggling. I ask what’s going on? No reply. Go to sleep!

Back to bed, back to zzzzzzz….. Double giggles, chatter and creaking beds again. The clock reads 3.45a.m. I haul myself upstairs. What is going on with you two? No reply. It’s school tomorrow (in fact, today). Go to sleep!!

Back to bed, back to zzz….. The giggle-in surfaces once again. The clock reads 4.20a.m. I storm upstairs. I’ve had it with you two, mum’s really annoyed…etc…etc…etc… GO TO SLEEP!!!

Back to bed. I sleep another half an hour. What now? I can’t sleep – the birds are singing so bloody loud! I get up and my quiet hour is now 2 hours.

Later, I ask IS why she was awake from 3. “Dunno”, giggling.

I ask ES why she was awake from 3. “Dunno”, with a smile.
“Well, it won’t happen again...WILL IT?!”

Tuesday, 24 April 2007

'ebaygum'...and a teardrop slowly trickles down

I’ve had a weekend of…..Bubble wrap, parcel tape, tippex, marker pen, scotch tape, brown paper, Handle With Care tape, Customs Declarations and Air Mail stickers – yes, I’ve been ebaying. This was a weekend of ebaying with a certain finality. After 28 years I sold ALL my photographic equipment. Back in 1979, fFor want of something else to pursue, and as Phil Collins said to me, "well, it keeps you off the streets", I started photographing music concerts. I finished 4 years later when I discovered something I DID want to pursue, I started writing.

I had the most beautiful camera (I think) ever made. A Nikon F2A, black body with a bevy of precision Nikon AI lenses – holding the camera you could be seduced by the weight, the balance and the smooth, precise action of the shutter. The F2A was pure scientific artistry!

I’ve started to recall some of the most memorable concerts I snapped……
CHRIS REA – my first at The Venue, Victoria (Branson’s short-lived venture into music venues). He leapt off stage and started jumping onto tables playing a mean guitar.
CHARLIE DORE – again at the Venue, very hot. And the lovely Charlie was blistering.

JUDIE TZUKE – Dominion Tottenham Court Road. I arrived and got my camera ready, except…that I could not get the cover off the camera body. Nothing would budge the cover - I had jammed it on at the previous gig. .I just stood in the pit and watched a great show…feeling a complete twat. Next week, I went out and bought a second camera body.
THIRD WORLD – Hammersmith Odeon, a thunderous performance and a sweeeet lingering atmosphere.
THE TOURISTS (later The Eurythmics) – Hammersmith Odeon. The best singers/musicians ‘give’ photographers great shots. Annie Lennox KEPT giving me terrific shots. I was the ONLY photographer that night – remember this was 1980 and they were not big then – and as I walked out the Stage Door, Annie came up to me and asked if I wanted to join them upstairs. Naively, I replied that I had to get the rolls to Melody Maker asap. What kind of fool was I? I TURNED DOWN ANNIE LENNOX!!!
AL STEWART – Hammersmith Odeon. Not the greatest Stewart fan but a man’s gotta earn a crust. I was snapping away when I realised that the bassist was throwing me glances. 2 or 3 more snaps and I realised that it was an old schoolfriend, Robin Lamble, brother of Fairport drummer, Martin.
JOHN SEBASTIAN – Dominion. Leader of the much-lamented Lovin’ Spoonful played a solo gig of wit and great songs. Wonderful!
SQUEEZE – Rainbow, Finsbury Park. Rock’n’roll at its best.
JOHN MARTYN - Apollo, Victoria. Crap venue… the pantheon of unique Brit singer-songwriter-performers. A guitarist of exquisite beauty and peerless invention. Phil Collins was on drums and invited me for a beer.
MARIANNE FAITHFULL – Dominion. In front of an adoring audience a rare and mesmerising performance. She 'gave' me some wonderful shots.
RICHARD AND LINDA THOMPSON – Dominion. The acrimonious last few months of their musical partnership. Thompson is Britain’s finest axeman – and that includes you too, EC.
FAIRPORT CONVENTION - Half Moon, Putney. I was the only photographer at the release of Patrick Humphries' biog of FC. After the obligatory glad-handing and self-congratulation, Fairport played for the invited audience - the ONLY performance with Linda Thompson as lead singer. A boozy lunchtime time was had by all.

Not many of my crummy hand-printed photos left but here are 3………

....perhaps I could ebay these now. Who'll start me at a tenner....okay then, I'll take a fiver....look, final offer - 3 quid and I'll sign the lot!

Monday, 23 April 2007

An ASBO for the swallows

Back to the school run today – with a vengeance. Do I hate the internal combustion engine? YES! When the oil has been sucked from this whacky planet and cars and planes rust en masse all will be….quiet! But I transgress…..

I returned from the first school run, got the valet to park the auto and….got buzzed by a large swallow. I turned to see it zoom through the open barn window when a following swallow buzzed 2 foot overhead. Another 3 swallows were swooping and swerving over the garden as the first swallow exited the barn again to join the frolics. I spent the next 20 minutes, when I should have been working, transfixed like a tennis spectator at a 50-stroke rally watching the antics of our swallow compliment.

One week after the first swallow I can now report the state of swallowness at Great Bickering Farm…..2 swallows in the shed, 2 swallows in the garage and 5 swallows in the barn – now, my imaginative feeling is that there is one very lucky swallow in the barn.

I think I’m also pretty close to cracking what goes down in the first week of the swallows returning. The scout swallow arrives to check out the old homestead, kicks out the noisy pigeon neighbours and then goes and gets some fresh straw and mud for a comfortable new bed. Then, it’s a couple of raucous days, without the impending missus, buzzing around town, chatting up a few different birds and gorging on some very tasty morsels.

(There are 2 swallows who are so aerially frisky with the most contorted courtship that I fear for their safety)

When the others arrive they all put on a series of aerial pyrotechnics, obviously for the sake of us poor disadvantaged mortals, and after dark it’s constant carousing and rampant nookey. I’m not sure I could get 100 foot in the air after a heavy night in a dark barn but these energetic blighters can. Some neighbours we have here.

Thursday, 19 April 2007

Answer: Bush and Blair

Question: Who will ascend to the Kingdom of Heaven after the Iraq ‘war’ ends?

I was intending to break from my musings on the North-South divide and write a piece on anti-war songs but I was so appalled at the bloodbath in Iraq yesterday that I remain amazed at how quickly Iraq has fallen apart.

Recently, the UN produced a report stating that Bush and Cheney’s bright shining lie will have cost them $3trillion……so far it has cost us (the UK) £5+billion – contrast that with the NHS deficit of £500+million – but the mind-numbing figures are 2 million Iraqis that have fled their country, the 2 million who are displaced and the obscene (holocaust?) number of 600,000+ Iraqis who have died, let alone those maimed and traumatised.

Very soon, the neo-conservative Blair will depart and we’ll have no more of the messianic, money-grubbing zealot and we’ll welcome, errm….Gordie, his pathologically sulking, witless paymaster and fellow war criminal.

And now for a musical interlude. Anti-war protest songs have played a long and honourable part for centuries. As a teenager, I recall the scores of excellent and potent songs that accompanied those many anti-Vietnam war rallies.

Of all the Iraq anti-war songs – Neil Young, Billy Bragg, REM, Lenny Kravitz – the 2 clips that I’ve posted are the best......

Randy Newman is the finest writer of songs the past 45 years – arguably with Dylan.

I used to knock around with members of Fairport Convention in the late 60’s in North London and Richard Thompson, even at the age of 17-18, was a wizard guitarist. Richard tended to have a socio-political edge to many of his songs but ‘Dad’s gonna kill me’ is a stunning piece of writing and a wonderful song.

Monday, 16 April 2007

The BEST hot chocolate in the WORLD

When we were Londoners in London we would tend to visit SC’s parents 2, or sometimes 3, times a year – dutifully at Christmas and invariably summer. Now Scarborough would not be high on my list to visit in high summer but it certainly is for thousands who jam themselves into the hotels, b&bs and caravans and then spill out onto the streets and beaches and sea but, on one occasion in 1999 on our sojourn north we decided to experience Scarborough. (Now I know the time to happily visit Scarborough is the months from September to May)

To escape the Barbie-pink bodies, their overheated children, the fume-inducing traffic and the overpowering odour of fish’n’chips, we looked to take refuge from the teeming Foreshore Road and headed in the tram upwards to St Nicholas Cliff, exiting to…Caffe Italia. This unprepossessing caffe had crammed and limited seating and had a stop-still sign ‘NO PUSH-CHAIRS INSIDE THE CAFFE’: but we did spy a genuine Italian coffee machine on the side counter AND a free table for 4.

Somehow – perhaps we looked like desperate strangers and SC was heavily pregnant – the proprietress allowed us to prop our buggy against the wall INSIDE. We all enjoyed our toasties but, surprisingly, the cappuccinos and hot chocolates were as good as or better than any London cafĂ© could concoct.

TODAY…we took advantage of the continuing school hols and a beautiful spring morning, and loaded everyone into the car including our 6 year-old rescue hound of dubious parentage, Poppy. We headed for Scarborough’s North Bay and had an exhilarating – sunny but cold - walk on a deserted beach throwing stones for the inexhaustible Poppy.

Then, into the car and directly to the South Bay and our obligatory visit to Caffe Italia. The Caffe reminds me of the sitcom
Cheers – a regular cast of great characters, a lot of topical and witty chat, great food and drink all held together by the lovely Jeanette.

Jeanette does not suffer unacceptable customers lightly and we feel privileged that, as outsiders, we have been accepted into this happy coterie. Jeanette’s home-made soups are superb, her filled and toasted foccaccias and ciabattas are terrific, her range of coffees (and dandelion tea) are as good as Bar Italia in Greek Street, Soho, BUT……trying to describe Jeanette’s dark, and white, hot chocolate (Ciobar) drink is nigh impossible except to say that it is undoubtedly the BEST hot chocolate in the WORLD.

Disbelieve me if you dare but the only way is to go to Caffe Italia - tell Jeanette that London Refugee recommended you.

Sunday, 15 April 2007

The return of our barn swallows

There are some times I wish I could instantly transport myself from the torpor of 'up north' back to London just to savour the many aspects that make it such a compelling metropolis. But on this day of this year I wouldn't be any other place in the damn world. Mark the time and day well – 11.10am on Sunday the 15th April: because today saw the return of the first barn swallow of the year - all the way from...well, who knows where - Morocco, The Nile Valley, the Sahara...covering up to 200 miles a day. One day the swallows are absent from our lives and the next day they return and their antics and life-cycle enhance our lives.

This year I was the first to spot that graceful swoop of the first (male) swallow into the open window of our derelict barn. And within 15 seconds the swallow had zoomed out again and was soaring away…probably to find some tasty morsels after many days on the wing. I mean, if you’d just flown hundreds of miles to reach home after 7 months away, what would you do – of course, pop down the corner shop and get a pinta milk and some chocolate digestives. So, this first swallow probably dashed off for some water from the beck and a few tasty flies and bluebottles.

In 7 years of seeing these remarkable birds at close quarters it never fails to amaze me, so I’ve been really told, that swallows’ homing instincts are so precise that the previous year’s broods invariably return to their same barn year after year. Maybe this swallow was one of the youngsters who hatched just 10-11 months ago.

Meanwhile, each early morning is now a symphony of birdsong. This tends to start around 5 (yes, in the morning) with the avian alarm clock of a droning pigeon on or around our roof. By the time I make my way downstairs to my workroom for my ‘quiet’ hour before the rest of the house wakes I can look out of the kitchen window and see a bevy of frisky, communal sparrows flitting in and out of the ivy/Russian vine hedge and making a chirrupy cacophony. Yesterday I heard a gorgeous, solitary song thrush slowly and methodically cracking away at a snail’s shell for its breakfast – later I heard its stunning song as it sat on the wall. There are plenty of blackbirds as the day progresses overriding the sparrows’ twitterings - the male singing to the female and the female returning a complex melody. And occasionally I may wake in the night and hear the sound of an owl in a nearby high roof or the church cross. (In the next week or two the swifts will arrive and their screeching swoops will be the new early morning alarm clock) But for me the finest sound and sight is the happy chatter and playful swooping and interplay of the swallow.

Strewth! Never did I think that I would behave like a man whose gone ga-ga watching and listening to birds. I make no apology for saying that I'll be waxing ad nauseam about our barn swallows over the next 6 months. So it flies.

Saturday, 14 April 2007

An everyday story of country folk

Last week SC and I were told a tale which left us open-mouthed and angry.

I remain incensed now so if you're sitting comfortably.....let me recount, as best I can, a tale of everyday Yorkshire country folk. And who can be more countrified and folkier than farming folk.

IS has a close and loyal friend, R, who is also 9, whose parents, D and J, have a farm 5 miles away. One evening last summer, D and J decided to venture far from their local pub and visit Great Bickering for a round of drinks at one of our fine hostelries.

After their drink they set off at a leisurely pace in their pick-up truck.....and they noticed a quartet of (drunken?) youths causing a commotion in the street by kicking cars as they stopped at lights. As D pulled up at the traffic lights, the lead youth came over and starting kicking D's pick-up. D is not a big man at all but he got out to remonstrate with the 6 ft youth whilst J, terrified, locked herself in the pick-up. The youth then punched and kicked D, who, in self-defence, grabbed a piece of timber from his pick-up and hit the youth twice over the shoulder and arm. The second youth then brandished a knife at D who bravely warned him off. Naturally shaken, D promptly got back in his truck and drove off home.

The next day, D and J were BOTH arrested and locked up for several hours. The police drove home a charge of assault on D, and a couple of very anxious months later, D appeared in court. In response to his solicitor's promptings, scared that he would be jailed and to expedite the entire sorry incident, D, in his naievety, pleaded guilty and he was fined over £2000. D and J had to fork out a further £6000 in fees etc. As a result, D now has a criminal record. D has now lost his shotgun and his licence, both crucial to a farmer. D and J can no longer foster children as they have for the past 5 years. And all this happened to a man who, we were told, had never incurred a parking ticket.

Some salient facts also came out. The lead youth, BJ, had had several brushes with the law in his 18 years. BJ was ‘asked to leave’ GB’s only Wine Bar prior to the assault and this was recorded on CCTV - yes, even Great Bickering has an array of technofangled equipment. The CCTV recording was suppressed by the police. The youth with the knife has since being arrested and is on bail. BJ was allegedly so drunk that day that he was unable to make any statement at all.

The irony is that D later heard that his solicitor and the presiding judge later went to a funeral and the judge expressed his surprise that D had pleaded guilty! Too right!

So ashamed and shocked were D and J that they did not tell us until now, for several months. Now, whilst we shouldn't get too sympathetic for the plight of D and J, let us not forget the poor drunken 'victim' who apparently now has a burgeoning career serving Her Majesty in Iraq (I’m sure other squaddies can deal with BJ but pity the poor Iraqis).

Oh, and one further fact – would this case have ANYTHING to do with the fact that BJ’s darling daddy has a very prominent position in the local police force.


Friday, 13 April 2007

Staying in the George Dubya Bush Suite

Oh, say can you see, by the dawn’s early light….we had a visitor – my very dear and (very) old friend Peter – eminent neurologist and humourist – staying for a couple of days. It was his first visit to Great Bickering so we gave him the refurbished George Dubya Suite.

The suite consists of the usual furniture but a few choice furnishings….
Double-bed with duvet imprinted with figures of Paul Wolfowitz and Karl Rove, with Scooter Libby bedpan,
By the bed, the Richard Perle alarm clock,
The Entire Collected Speeches of Dick Cheney comprising half a chapter,
An effigy of Ahmadinajad and several sharp pins,
A wall-to-wall mural of John Bolton – God Bless Him,
The Condi Rice medicine cabinet – full of pure opium,
Kneeling Bush and Blair Prayer Dolls (facing AWAY from Mecca),
A television with only ONE channel - Fox News,
The Donald Rumsfeld bidet – one hefty yank and everything gets flushed down to Iraq,
Charlton Heston singing “Maybe it’s because I’m a neocon…”

Peter lives in…the land of the free and the home of the brave.

NOTA MOLTO BENE: Peter is a GREAT American unlike any of those aforementioned.

Wednesday, 11 April 2007

Shock! Horror! Blitzen! Disaster!

We’ve just returned from our first Easter holiday out of England in a decade with a first visit to Majorca. Apart from suffering a good deal of….rain, thunderstorms, cold, no sea-swimming and Brit TV in the villa, the shock was just how delightful Majorca and the Mallorcans were.

There are 3 activities guaranteed to make our (essentially, our girls) holiday go swimmingly….
1. The Sea
2. The pool
3. Animals – anything from a stray kitten to a beached jellyfish.

As 1 and 2 were out of order, we trekked to ‘Safari-Zoo’ near Cala Millor. The reality didn’t quite match up to the glossy leaflet. Whilst the train ride through the Park allowed us to see various ‘wild’ animals roaming ‘wild’, the zoo section was distressing: in particular, a lone giraffe ploughing a furrow up from left to right to left to right…..tigers and lions looking scruffy in their respective 20foot square cages…worst of all, 2 lovely adult chimps who appeared to be stir-crazy. Amazingly, one German – probably about 40-ish and probably the CEO of Audi Deutschland – started to leap up and down in front of the chimps. As a result, the 2 chimps ran around their cage and threw themselves against the bars. This caused great mirth to most of the watching Germans, French, Spanish, Brits. Bloody astonishing and depressing!

If you visit Majorca you can’t fail to see and/or tangle with the wave-like hordes of German bikers. Germans of every size, sex and shape cycle and sweat and drink their holiday away in migraine-inducing coloured lycra over the Majorcan landscape. Pass me another plate of paella.

Returning from the airport we drove into our glorious township only to find Great Bickering had become….The Town With No Name. The town sign that read ….”GREAT BICKERING TWINNED WITH BADER-MEINHOF” and then a small German flag”…had disappeared! (see pic below)

What has happened to our town sign?
Has GB been merged with…Bader-Meinhof?
Am I the only concerned citizen in GB, er B-M?

I will investigate, write to that supersleuth Mr Blair and report back.