Cold, cold, cold….

As 2010 winds inexorably toward its date with destiny in the shape of Jools Holland’s Hootenanny (surely The White Heather Club of the dad rock generation…) its time for me to reflect if not on the year soon to pass then at least on the last week. A tip of the stovepipe hat may be in order toward Saint Nicholas, Old Father Time, Jack Frost, Bruce Forsythe and other seasonal deities, as despite the combined best efforts of freezing weather, BAA, Heathrow Airport and rampaging influenza to keep us from enjoying our festive cheer we have made it though the myriad of obstacles strewn in our path to enjoy another Christmas in the UK.

Those who follow our (mis)adventures on Facebook will probably have more than an inkling of the travel woes that beset us just over a week ago… in a nutshell, one hour from Heathrow we were diverted to Copenhagen where we spent three days waiting for our flight to be rescheduled. It was cold. No, rephrase that, it was freezing. We only had our hand luggage as all other bags were sealed in the airplane. Rather sensibly Anita and Otis had packed some additional layers in the event of just such an event, but I was garbed in traditional north highland winter ‘lads wear’, namely jeans and thin shirt with t-shirt below. Conditions were, however, much more savage than those of a traditional north highland winter, so not surprisingly I was feeling extremely chilled in body, but not so in temperament. Although we were treated to absolutely wonderful and charming Danish hospitality in the hotels they shunted us between we couldn’t actually do much other than hang around as we were on alert for our flight being called. Which, after three days of sharing the manifold germs of, and observing the best (and the worst – one young gentleman was determined to single-handedly clear every free bottle of beer from the hotel during lunch – we were allocated two each, and I observed him concealing eight around his person, then coming straight back for more – yes, advancing age is turning me into a jobsworth – I didn’t fight the punk wars for nothing, you know!) of our fellow passengers behaviour at very close quarters, it finally was.

In life, nothing is certain. At airports, absolutely nothing is certain. Ten hours after check-in, and after six hours sitting on the runway, we were being placated by the smiling Thai Airways staff with reindeer jerky wraps, which along with water and orange juice were the only forms of sustenance still available on the plane. Clearly not even Santa was going anywhere and had been reduced to slaughtering and processing his flying friends in order to survive the rigours of this particular Christmas. Shocking. Not quite as shocking as the news that filtered through that Heathrow had already allocated and cancelled ten different slots for our flight… things were not looking good, but eventually amid much clapping and murmured approval we rose into the sky, leaving behind the frozen runways and deep piles of snow dotting Copenhagen airport, to wend our way to what must surely be the winter hell of Heathrow.

We were all rather surprised to see just how minimal in comparison to Copenhagen the volume of snow surrounding Heathrow was. Surprise turned to shock when we saw just how much the airport resembled a post-disaster movie, with passengers lying sleeping where they could and clearly overstressed and overstretched staff trying to manage the waves of anger and people surging at them as they attempted to send all of us including those with baby buggies and additional needs, down stairs and escalators and narrowed off passages as it appeared that ‘essential reconstruction work’ was going on… the mind boggles, and without a doubt heads should roll at senior level for the utter debacle that Christmas at Heathrow was…

Enough negativity – we were among the really fortunate ones as Anita’s wonderful Mum and Dad had come to meet us, so we were soon sped away from the scene and esconced in the warm and cosy house where we would be spending Christmas. By now we were also all suffering from flu (and we still are as I write this), so the build up to Christmas was fairly low-key, with the exception being Christmas Eve, when we all went for a nostalgia-inducing trip on a steam engine. It was a grand day out indeed and Otis was particularly excited when he spotted the actual real Thomas the Tank Engine sitting in a siding en route, and he even got over his fear of Santa (and his motley Victorian garbed chums – one of whom Uncle Paul pointed out bore a somewhat unnerving resemblance to the Childcatcher from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang… so that’s what happens to naughty girls and boys….) long enough to allow the bewhiskered gent to sit beside him and pose for photographs. Christmas day was most enjoyable, with Otis awakening at a very sensible hour and being completely engaged and sweet regarding the whole thing, and a rather magnificent Christmas dinner with all the trimmings and crackers and things that went ‘bang!’ was the undoubted highlight of a truly happy family day.

More musings on the festive season to come and the announcement of my first annual ‘Album of the Year’ award – watch the skies (and this space!).

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MERRY XMAS EVERYBODY!

I just wouldn’t let it lie, would I… having said all my Christmas-greetings-peace-on earth-goodwill-to all-ho-ho-ho-happy-Christmas-Tiny-Tim-gawd-bless-you-Mr-Scrooge-etc etc in the last blog I return once more to briefly interfere with the smooth passage of your lives in the run up to the portly bearded gent coming down your chimney. Yes, the late Peter Grant, former manager of Led Zeppelin, is coming to YOUR house to personally collect YOUR Zep bootleg CD collection and smash it to bits before your very eyes, and he will come down your chimney wearing a bright red suit to do so on Christmas Eve… you have been warned…!

‘I is the N-M-E!’

In the newsagents today my eyes alighted upon something claiming to be the bumper Xmas edition of the New Musical Express. Gazing at the garishly glossy cover I initially thought it was those cheeky folks at Smash Hits (does it still exist?) foisting a merry Christmas jape upon us, but no, the comic before me was indeed the once mighty NME, now seemingly a refuge for mass advertising with the occasional one or two lines about music breaking up the eye-straining blocks of fluorescent frenzy about this phone or those trainers… this grumpy old man of course began to reminisce about the good old days of the 1970’s, when the NME Christmas and New Year bumper edition was indeed a thing of wonder and joy to behold, guaranteed to smear your hands with copious quantities of newsprint and generate intense debate in the pub over a Christmas special of a pint and a cheese toastie for a pound…we cannot bring back those glory days, but in the spirit of the great NME Christmas pop quizzes of yore, here follows my pathetic attempt to enliven your miserable existences with my very own Christmas pop and entertainment quiz, part mystic, part cryptic, part unfathomable, part narcissistic. Because that’s the way my mind works, the answers to some of these may be informed or hinted at by the previous answer. Or maybe not. Some answers may even be the same as other answers! (Please do not complain to OFSTED about this.) You work it out for yourselves (That’s the trouble with young people nowadays, they expect everything on a plate.)You may also find that only those of a certain age, gender, nationality and mindset will be able to complete it, as I now grudgingly admit that I know little or nothing (and pretty much care little or nothing) of what has happened in popular music or entertainment over the last twenty years. Who cares anyway, just award yourself one point for every answer you believe is correct, and when you have reached three points drink a double of your favourite spirit and mixer, or two cans of beer. Or, if you are in that 70’s mindframe anyway, have a snakebite. Or a lager tops. Or a lager and blackcurrant. Mine’s a Moscow Mule. Continue until you are very happy indeed. I’ll give you the answers according to me (and my decision is final, absolute and unswerving…) in a future blog (no cheating please, Hiro…). Alright… are we ready? Then off we go…

Section One – Waxing lyrical

(Go on go on go on – have one point for each part of the following questions, and don’t skimp on the measures…!)

1)‘does anyone know the way, did we hear someone say ‘we just haven’t got a clue WHAT to do’…’. Band and song, please.
2) ‘ …who would think a boy and bear would be well accepted everywhere, it’s just amazing how fair people can be.’ . A cover song! A great cover song – original writer/artist, cover artist and name of song this time, please. Then you can have a drink! (clue to the writer – ‘to infinity and beyond!)
3) ‘ I saw two shooting stars last night – I wished on them, but they were only satellites…’ A cover song again – same as above, then another drink!
4) Really difficult unless you are British, this one. What connects the above answers? (cryptic clue: Track 1 side 1 of ‘the Third Roxy Music Album’ may point you in the right direction…)

Section Two – cryptic and just plain ornery…

5) What connects Mr. Pitiful, a certain mighty Eskimo, Michael Jackson’s rat of a friend and those who were born of frustration? Only certain persons reading this may get this one… they should have a Tequila slammer if they do…
6)Who was moody blue, but had the balls to go off and fight for his country before growing wings? Please say you don’t mind me asking his name…
7) What is the point of U2?*
*this may not be cryptic

Section Three – Who are you?

8) ‘ Happy Christmas my arse, I hope it’s your last!’ How often have we thought that when we’ve been stuck in that queue in HMV for ¾ of an hour… but who said that to whom and in which song?
9) Who produced the Clash album ‘Give ‘em enough rope’?
10) And what was the biggest hit achieved by the band that he managed for his day job?
11) By what names did the following achieve fame (actors also included in this one, so make those doubles triples…!) a) Mark Feld b) David Jones c) Archibald Leach d) Marion Morrison e) William Broad f) William Pratt g) Vincent Furnier
12) What kind of animal was ‘Happy Jack’? (By now you should be very happy also…)
13) Who was the space cowboy, gangster of love and Maurice? (clue: this question has nowt to do with the Bee Gees)
14) Who is the arguably more famous other half of incredible guitar picker Dave Rawlings?
15) Who had a dog called Strider, immortalized in song on the third album from the band that started life as the New Yardbirds? And what was the song? And why do the birds keep on singing? Why does the sea rush to shore? Don’t they know it’s the end of the world…??

Section Four – What’s the point of sections anyway? Trivia, its all trivia

16) On which Morrissey album does the amplified sound of a power drill stand in for the sound of a motorcycle revving?
17) …and on which Roxy Music track did they actually record a motorcycle speeding down Basing St. in London to add authenticity to the rebellious nature of the lyric?
18) How many deadly Finns were encountered by Brian Eno?
19) Who was Blank Frank?
20) Which group rode the equestrian statue to the edge of the popular music charts, then were shocked to find a doughnut in granny’s greenhouse? And what exactly was the doughnut anyway….? You might need your Mr. Hanky for this one…
21) ‘the path was deep and wide from footsteps leading to our cabin, above the door there burned a scarlet lamp…’ ooo-er missus – the son of whom was singing this, and what was he better known as to the world of 60’s soul?
22) Which animal links the legendary Goodies with the band who gave us ‘Cheap Sunglasses’?
23) My son Otis currently sports a hairstyle inspired by which of these seminal 80’s bands a) Modern Romance b) the Thompson Twins or c) A Flock of Seagulls? (I currently sport a hairstyle influenced by Alf Garnett)
24) They had a friend called Stan from far, far away (he was a banging man) and this time of year wouldn’t be the same without them – who were they?
25) In which Carry On film did The Great Kenneth Williams utter these immortal words ‘infamy, infamy! They’ve all got it infamy!’?
26) …and whose first album included a lengthy musical workout about a woman named Suzi Q?
27) What was the name of the South African born record producer who was the mastermind behind feisty little Suzi Quatro?
28) which band, favourites of the Old Grey Whistle Test and the darlings of many 1970’s music critics exhorted quarreling lovers to ‘turn up the Eagles, the neighbours are listening’ and advised us that ‘showbusiness kids, making movies of themselves, you know they don’t give a f*** about anybody else…’?
29) Which famously eccentric American studio wunderkind released an acclaimed solo double album in the 1970’s featuring a pop operetta taking up one side entitled ‘baby needs a new pair of snakeskin boots’? And what was his far from flattering nickname?
30) Which 1970’s Frank Zappa album tells the sad tale of Billy the Mountain, Ethel the Tree (growing off of his shoulder) and FBI agent Studebaker Hawke? (completely useless clue: it’s the only Frank Zappa album I own).
31) Which former NME writer and soon to be famous female rock star played rhythm guitar briefly with Johnny Moped in 1978?
32) …and which legendary NME writer (clue: no friend of Sid Vicious) gave up his day job briefly to front the short-lived Subterraneans?
33) On which 70’s Rolling Stones song does Mick Jagger sign off by whispering ‘good night – sleep tight…’?
34) Where in Scotland would you find the John Lennon Memorial Garden. And why?
35) Which of these apocryphal stories is actually true – a) TV quizmaster Bob Holness played the sax solo on Gerry Rafferty’s ‘Baker Street’, b) Tony Iommi of Black Sabbath has metal fingers, or c) Rod Stewart played harmonica on ‘My Boy Lollipop’ by Millie

Section Five – ‘That’s Entertainment’

36) who was famously described thus at his first screen test – ‘balding, can’t act, can’t sing, can dance a little.’?
37) which 50’s and 60’s British star appeared in a dreadful movie based on his hit song about an albino baby bull. Have another drink if you can name the movie and the song, because that makes you as much a saddo as I am.
38) catchphrases…. what would we do without them, eh? Which legends provided the English language with the following gems…? a) ‘stop messing abaht!’ b) ‘shut that door!’ c) ‘hello playmates!’ d) ‘wakey-wakey!’
39) comedians making records… what would we do without them, eh? Which mirth-inducers tickled our fancies with these shellac curiosities from the 1960’s…?
a) ‘Gossip Calypso’ b) ‘Goodness Gracious Me’ c) ‘My Boomerang Won’t Come Back’ and d) ‘Right Said Fred’
40) Elvis had an old one and John Noakes had one that always appeared to be up when it shouldn’t have been – ooo-er missus, to what am I referring?

Section Six – ‘You know my name, look up the number.’

41) ‘I am not a number, I am a free man!’ Which actor said this, in which TV series? And what was his number?
42) How many Screaming Dizbusters did the Blue Oyster Cult warn us about?
43) Add the number of ?’s tears to the Yardbirds Little Indians and Traffic’s Headmen and what number do you get?
44) What was the number plate of Bryan Ferry’s girlfriend’s car at the time of the first Roxy Music album (this is not as obscure as you think, folks…!)?
45) Which LP record sported the catalogue number K50008, although this was impossible to find anywhere on the cover or inner sleeve (much to the annoyance of the woman in Clark’s Electrical in Thurso when I tried to buy this album in the 70’s. )

Section Seven – ‘and when I am in Camelot, I like to push the pram a lot’.

The source of the following lyrical gems, please!

46) ‘ I saw a lion he was standing alone, with a tadpole in a jar’
47) ‘dancing in the nude and feeling such a dude, it’s a rip-off!’
48) ‘ where do we go from here – is it down to the lake, I fear?’
49) ‘ he went out tiger hunting with his elephant and gun – in case of accidents he always took his mum.’

And finally! Question 50! ‘what WERE you thinking?’

50) which bands took their names from the following sources…?
a) a giant metal pleasure device in the William Burroughs novel ‘Naked Lunch’?
b) the victim of a fatal shooting by student Gavrilo Princep?
c) the part conjoined names of two Mississippi bluesmen?
d) an acronym of their family stage name?
e) a character from the movie ‘Barbarella’?
f) a beer and a desire to get back to the roots of rock ‘n’ roll?
g) a palindrome of their first initials?
h) a superstitious fear amongst US building contractors?

If you did, thank you so much for taking part, however by now you should be very drunk and more than a little bored, so why don’t we just switch off our computers and go and do something less boring instead? After all, in the immortal words of Enid Blyton…

‘ IT’S CHRI-I-I-STMAS!’

Sorry, that should have read ‘the immortal words of Noddy…’

Nid Nod

Goodnight All, mind how you go… and remember ‘Save the cheerleader, save the world…’

(extra question which has just occurred to me– whatever happened to the BBC’s flagship Christmas day programme ‘ A Merry Morning’? That Noel Edmonds, oooh, he was ever such a nice lad…)

red-headed stranger

You may well (indeed almost certainly) have noticed that the titles of these blogs often coincide with the titles of some well known songs. On occasion there is some diversion into music discussion within the blog with an often at best tenuous link to that song. Yes, I freely admit to being one of those terrible I-think-I–know-it-all people like Mark Ellen or David Hepworth. That’s why we have magazines like The Word and Mojo and television programmes like ‘Later with Jools Holland’. It’s for people like me who publicly scoff at people like them but are much more like them than we would care to admit. I am so bad that Ani insisted on one of our wedding vows being that I could only bore her with little known but useless facts about the wonderful world of popular music once a day, a vow that I now publicly confess to breaking, yes, you’ve guessed, on a daily basis.

So, to ‘Red Headed Stranger’, the title of this latest blog (though I do think that ‘blag’, or even ‘blah’ is probably a more accurate description of these rants). A Willie Nelson tune. So, are we headed for a digression into country music once more? Are we going to off on a tangent to discuss the outlaws of country music, those maverick souls who bent the boundaries of the rollin’ redneck prairies? No. Will we wander into the fabulous world of those red-headed strangers who have brought beauty and mystery into our lives, the Rita Hayworth’s, the Dylan Thomas’s, the Ben Sheridan’s…?
Well, sort of.

Close your eyes tightly, click your heels together three times and repeat over and over in a very loud voice ‘there’s no place like Phnom Penh, there’s no place like Phnom Penh…’ and we will travel back in time to last Saturday in Phnom Penh, when the little O and I were in the house together whilst mummy Ani was out visiting her Thai friends in street 240 who give her a ‘glamorous Hollywood starlet of the 1950’s’ wash and blow dry on a regular basis (and give me an ‘0h God what can we do with this but pretend to snip a little and push those wispy bits around to cover the wide open spaces’ haircut on a slightly less regular basis). We were getting ready to go out and I had showered as Otis played in the bedroom, making contented little ‘broom-broom’ noises and seemingly quite absorbed in whatever new skill he had developed in the last few moments. As previously mentioned I am now severely follicly challenged, but that did not prevent me from picking up mummy A’s hairbrush and running it jauntily through the few remaining strands whilst slipping into a nostalgic reverie for the days when I would have given Rick Wakeman a run for the money in the ‘that man is wearing Harmony hairspray – no he isn’t. Yes, he is!’ beautiful blonde tresses stakes. Snapping out of that bit of foolish reminiscence (but pausing to remind you that one of the truly great organ solos of all time can be heard on ‘Roundabout’ by Yes, played by that very same blonde bombshell. Rick Wakeman, that is. Not me. Obviously. I can’t play organ, but boy can I bore with useless information…) I scooped the O up, tucked him under one arm and carried him down the stairs. He giggled as we went, looking up at me with a naughty boy grin spread across his cherubic features. At the foot of the stairs we paused, ostensibly to play peek- a – boo with his reflection in the large mirror at the bottom of the staircase, but really so I could have one last check of my rapidly fading grandeur before heading out into the unforgiving blazing sunshine.

Jebus! I nearly dropped the by now hysterically chortling O as I gazed at the red headed stranger who faced me in the mirror. No…not even red. What little of my former tonsorial glory that remained was now crimson. Crimson and erect, like a pathetic middle aged attempt at a mangy Mohican, a Kings Road original gone to seed that not even a hopelessly myopic Japanese tourist would bother to photograph…I am so sorry God, please forgive me for criticising the UK Subs in that last blog, I didn’t mean it, I take it back, please restore what little dignity I have, please…please…

Thankfully it was not a punishment for excessive sarcasm handed down by God. It was a punishment for not paying attention, handed down by little O assisted by Max Factor. As I was trilling tuneless versions of various 70’s hits from KC and the Sunshine Band through the Sex Pistols and even some Fox (remember them?) and swallowing mouthfuls of soapy water in the process, little O had been smearing mummy’s lipstick liberally over the hairbrush in preparation for the grand humiliation of daddy that would surely result. I had to wash my remaining hair a total of 6 times to remove all trace of the caked on crimson, although my scalp remained tinged with red for several days after…

I am writing this in the cool (ha ha) of a winters evening in England, as we have flown back to the Yoo-Kay for the festive season. Our flight was a little fraught, as the young master decided that if he was to be put out by overnight travel on a jumbo jet, then everyone else in economy class should suffer also. That meant incessant high pitched screaming coupled with frequent attempts to crawl over under sideways down into every nook and cranny on the plane. Nappy changing during turbulence is also not recommended, although he seemed to enjoy the many push that-pull this-turn that-press this delights of an aircraft toilet cubicle more than most of the toys we have bought him in these last few months. Efforts to calm him by feeding proved mostly ineffectual. One cabin staff member, a very smiley Thai woman, seemed to completely fail to understand my accent as on each occasion that I asked for ‘some baby milk, please’ or ‘some breakfast cereal, please’, or ‘a sandwich, please’ she shook her head affirmatively then offered me some Singha beer. Maybe she just expects every middle-aged man who wanders up to the galley at three in the morning to be looking for beer… anyway, the flight was hell but we are here now and girding our loins for the coming Christmas extravaganza. We went into Basingstoke briefly this afternoon, but everywhere was monumentally busy with incredible queues, and everyone just looked so wholeheartedly miserable that the experience was probably marginally worse than being tied into one’s seat for every date of the Black Lace reunion tour then made to buy the T-shirt afterwards. And wear it.

Still, mustn’t grumble. ‘Strictly Come Dancing – the Final!’ is on telly tomorrow. It’s so good to be back in a country whose cultural heritage has inspired the world…

As this is probably the last blog I will write before Christmas strikes (I’m not sure if that is really the appropriate terminology to use, but what is appropriate about Christmas anyway? Baby Jebus hardly gets a look in on his birthday these days…), may this eternal Ebenezer Scrooge wish all his readers a big ‘bah, humbug!’ and truly a very Merry Christmas and if I don’t blog before then, a very Happy New Year 2008 to you all.

‘I mean it, ma-a-a-n!’