Posts Tagged ‘memories’

I read the news today oh boy, an MP killed just doing their job.


Shocked, just totally shocked that an MP, going about her job has been killed in the UK. I’m not totally surprised. The febrile atmosphere from the media over the last few years about how ‘they’re all in it for themselves’. The hapless MPs who took the piss of the expenses regime. Both have worked together to give the impression that MPs are not people’s representatives but fair game for hate and bile.

OK. Hands up. I was married to an MP and I worked for the same MP. So, I might have a biased view. But anyway, here it goes.

Most people who go into politics do so because they want to make the place they live better. Some get the chance to do so. Some get the chance to move on and have the chance to make the place they live, or come to represent and then live, better. Being an MP is a thankless task. I know, I saw it from the inside. I had to fight to get my wife to take one Sunday a month off and go to the cinema or do something else human. Reading happened on holiday. Otherwise it was politics at work and home 24/7. Hey I’m not complaining, it was a great life. However, go shopping and you have people looking at you, what do you have in your shopping bag? A bottle of wine, oh must be a drunkard! Go to the cinema, oh you’re neglecting your work. Do we want robots or humans as our representatives?

That’s one of the first problems. Consult the supposed expert upon our constitution and the answer is the MPs are representatives. Not delegates. They are sent to Westminster to listen to the arguments and make an informed decision. Not to do what you want. Not to do what you thought they went there to do. They are not delegates. Representatives. Lots of times working for an MP I heard or read people say, I want the MP to do this, they are my representative, therefore they must do this. No.

But enough of getting things off my chest. The main point about this post was that, despite the cynicism about MPs, fed massively by the media, most are good, hard-working people who have only their constituents interests at heart. I say this of Tory MPs of my acquaintance just as much as Labour ones.

After the Cheltenham MP, Nigel Jones, was attacked by a constituent in his surgery, and his member of staff lost their life protecting him, a review was undertaken of the security of offices of MPs and their surgeries. The MP I worked for did not encourage people to come to our office and we were on the second floor, there was a well populated reception area of another organisation and people were welcomed there and not invited up, unless let into the building by some of the other, clueless, tenants of the building, so we could invite a member of the public into the foyer of the building, if we had to, and there were plenty of eyes looking at what was happening. That did not happen often.

Surgeries were different. People came, by appointment, and were alone with the MP and a member of staff. An essential requirement to make sure the MP could focus on the needs of the constituent, the member of staff could take notes, and that there was a witness and a written record in case any argument ensued about what happened afterwards. Initially these surgeries, in the case of the main local council area the MP represented, were stuck away in a room hidden at the back of the building. The room was small and it was only possible to organise it so the constituent came in and sat next to the door with the MP and member of staff facing them. If the constituent got agitated, upset, or, even worse, violent, there was no way past them. The MP and member of staff were stuck there. In a tiny room, out at the far distant edge of the building from the security or other member of staff. It must be OK we were told as that was what councillors did and previous MPs did. It must be OK, there was a telephone in the room. Yes, also behind the constituent. After what happened to Nigel Jones the office requested the council move the surgeries to somewhere they were overlooked, especially by their security staff and somewhere the MP could escape from easily. The council were not happy. It had always been fine for previous MPs and councillors, why change things now? The death of an MPs staff member and almost of the MP were not a strong enough argument. I know some of the members of the council would have been happy if a nutter had taken care of the MP, but that was not the reasoning of the body itself.

Fortunately we managed to get the local police onside and they recommended that a more publicly visible venue, overlooked by the council security be sought and it was. Security intervened in the case of an old man unhappy at losing what he thought had been left to him, someone known to the community and no threat, just prone to shouting when he got emotional and unhappy.

They were not to be seen, maybe checking the rest of the building, when a man came in to the surgery with two knives in his belt, complaining about a burger chain restaurant in a nearby town, that was crushing up beetles and putting them in his burgers to get him sexually excited. The man was listened to, an undertaking was given to look into his problem and he left. All the time the MP was nearest the door and I was between the man with two knives and her. I was glad he left happy as otherwise it was me between them.

How we beat Margaret Thatcher – What the 1980’s were really like


This post follows a discussion at lunch and two films which are being shown at the moment. One, Pride, which seems to have been on release since I returned from working in the UK in the middle of September, I saw it on 21 st September as I thought it might not be on much longer. (My local UGC cinema says it is on for the 5th week which would fit. Trailer below).

The other film is one which has just started at the cinema this week and is called “White Bird” here in France but is known as “White Bird in a Blizzard” elsewhere. (Trailer below)

Both films are set in the 1980’s but there the similarity ends. Whilst Pride is about the efforts of members of the gay community to provide support and solidarity to members of the mining community during a long struggle against a right of centre government in the UK in the 1980’s, White Bird is a kind of coming of age of a teenager film set in the USA set against the backdrop of the disappearance of a girl’s mother.

I tried not to like Pride. I am fed up with heartwarming tales of overcoming the nastiness of the Margaret Thatcher government and imgres-1people on the left coming out victorious. At the time it didn’t feel that we ever won. It is a retelling of history that everyone was against the government of Margaret Thatcher. They weren’t. She won three elections. She beat the Miners. She introduced Section 28 which fostered a climate that was anti-Gay, Lesbian and Transgender people as a time when the start of AIDs and HIV meant we should be working together. As an example of the climate that was fostered at the time, ten years after the film I was an elected councillor in Reading and was one of a number on a committee that gave out grants to voluntary bodies. The local Gay and Lesbian helpline had applied for a grant of less than £1,000 to provide a telephone helpline to people in the area. Not a large amount for a committee that gave out much larger annual grants like that of over £150,000 to the local Council for Race Equality. The Tory spokesperson (Now an MP for the area, pictured right)images-3 on the committee, in line with their then ideology, challenged the grant on the basis it was illegal in view of Section 28. Section 28 outlawed the promotion of homosexuality to school children. How does awarding a grant to phone helpline comprise promotion to schoolchildren? Anyway, people were so scared of the prevaling climate that we had to get legal advice and face down the Tory attempt, supported by some people for questionable motives in the Labour Party. (One of whom went on to be a Labour MP, pictured leftimgres-2.) So, I was minded to dislike the attempt at re-writing history. However, it such a well-made film and heartwarming story that it is not possible not to like and enjoy the film.

Leaving the film the colleague who had seen the film with JTO commented that it isn’t really possible for a film to capture just how bad things were for people on the left in the 1980’s. Especially I guess for something that is being made for entertainment.

When I went to see White Bird I hadn’t really known what it was about apart from it being about a teenage girl’s loss of her mother. I hadn’t knowingly seen any other films by the same director. I must also confess that part of the reason I went is that I’ve had something of a thing about Eva Green since seeing her in Casino Royale and particularly liked what I saw of her in Sin City II.

The correctness of the reflection of the late 1980’s and early 1990’s was also the subject of our discussion of the the ‘White Bird’. The soundtrack was written by Robin Guthrie, at the time a member of the Cocteau Twins and sometimes of This Mortal Coil, whose songs open the film and are the third of the 16 songs to feature. I liked the type of music that featured in the film at the time. (In fact I made a spotify playlist of the songs here.) Most of the 16 songs I own on vinyl. The thing about the 16 songs is that they are being played in the film, whether, for example, on a walkman, at an ‘alternative’ disco or just when hanging out. Some of them were from before the time the film was set, but then we all play songs from the past. The music is what an American 17 year old high school student and 21 year old university undergraduate might have listened to at that time. In late 1988 what became know as ‘Madchester‘ bloomed and brought with it clothes different from those of the early 1980’s, baggy trousers and tops. By 1991 though in the UK the music and clothes would have been different. But did those things cross the pond? Would someone who liked UK alternative music in 1988 developed and gone with the changes which took place in the UK too, or stayed frozen with what they liked in 1988. It was something I found unconvincing in the film. Although I enjoyed it.

So, the 1980’s reflected in films has become a story we tell about the time. Plucky, heartwarming leftists overcome nasty, brutish rightists and win, er when they don’t. A teenager who likes UK music and clothes in 1988 doesn’t notice any change in UK music and clothes by 1991 when there has been a massive change. Anyway all that depends upon my memory and how reliable is that?

I end with a quote from Remembering and Forgetting Milan Kundera by Aaron Retica published in the New York Times on April 18, 2011:

“It isn’t simply that “the struggle of man against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting,” as the novel’s most famous line has it. Kundera was showing us not only how one major event sweeps away another, but just how hard it is to remember at all, how disorienting to our own point of view and sense of time it is to try to follow what is going on around us. I get paid to do it and I can barely manage, and events often seem to me to happen in the wrong order, like spasms from an earlier history we thought we’d left behind or from a future we weren’t expecting so soon.”

Words of the Seventies


Things are supposed to come in threes. That’s what they say. So, it must be true. It certainly has for me recently with books about the music industry in the 70’s.

For a long time I’ve been meaning to buy a copy of Danny Baker’s autobiography, ‘Going to Sea in a Sieve’ and didn’t get round to it then in April I did. I listen to his radio show on five live as a podcast and enjoy the warm and positive attitude he has, though he could do with listening to what the people who call in say a bit more often! I had already heard some of the anecdotes from the show but enjoyed reading a lot more about growing up in south-east London and then going to work in a record shop after leaving school and then to New Musical Express(NME) in the seventies and into television in the eighties. I enjoyed reading his take on a time and music that had a big impact upon my teenage self.

The next two books I read I had pre-ordered to get them on publication so the timing of their arrival was outside my control.

I first came across Mark Ellen on the music programme ‘The Old Grey Whistle Test’ though it might have been modernised to, ‘Whistle Test’ by the time he joined it. I loathed him. I thought he was a smug, self-satisfied public schoolboy and I just wanted to slap him. This opinion continued for some time. Together with his only slightly more acceptable sidekick, although it was probably the other way round and he was the sidekick to David Hepworth, he had been involved in running Smash Hits, the magazine for girls, that as a reader of NME, you looked down upon as been ephemeral and so not serious. Cause pop music isn’t supposed to be fun and ephemeral is it? As I grew older I stopped reading NME and stopped being interested in music for a while. Around the middle of the last decade I started buying different magazines, Q, Mojo, and the Word. As regular readers will know I fell heavily for the Word and was a subscriber for the last few years of its life. I came to look forward to a literate but not showy magazine about the latest releases and things which were happening in the music world but also had interesting coverage of writers, books and films. I even came round to a fondness for the podcast, it was the Word podcast which first hooked me onto what has now become a heavy podcast habit, and I would enjoy the conversations involving Mark Ellen and David Hepworth. I recognise from the book being bitten by the music bug as a teenager, it being the only thing that is important. Reading books because they’ve been referenced by the latest idol, seeing films because the idol has talked positively about them. Mark went on to work for the NME too and then went onto work and edit magazines like Smash Hits, Q etc before the Word. For me there was too much about interviewing Lady Gaga when she didn’t have a stitch on or what it was like touring as part of a massive press and fan entourage following Rhianna around five cities in five days and not enough about the Word. But then I can understand that might be a minority view. I saw Mark Ellen on ‘Later with Jools Holland’ last weekend and they showed a clip of him introducing the Smiths on Whistle Test. It says something of how he has grown that his response to seeing his 80’s self doing a poncey introduction was that he needed a slap.

The last book of the trilogy is ‘Clothes, clothes, clothes, music, music, music,boys, boys, boys.’ by Viv Albertine. Viv also grew up in London, north, and was different from the previous two, as well as being a woman, because she made music rather than wrote about it. From being a music obsessed teenager via a job at a venue and the epiphany that Patti Smith showed that a girl like her, and from Johnny Rotten that someone from a council estate like her, could  play in a band. The first attempt, ‘Flowers of Romance’ with Sid Vicious failed but then she joined the Slits and wrote some of, recorded and released the seminal album, ‘Cut’. I remember the shock the subjects of the songs created when it was released, songs about a girls experience, that’s not music! Something added to by the cover of the album where they are topless covered in mud. Like the previous book this brings the story up to the present day, through a career as a fitness instructor in the 80’s and attempts at domestic bliss up to the album ‘The Vermilion Border‘ released in February last year and one of the albums of the year – different from ‘Cut’ but then she’s a different person – singing about being a woman in her 50’s, how many times do you hear about that? Here she is talking about the book:

It’s not only that the first two are written by men and the last by a woman and that they wrote about music whilst she played it that differentiates them. The first two are very heavy on anecdote and told in the boy way to create camaraderie with other boys sat around in a gang. The last is searingly honest, talks about experiences and emotions, talks about the failures as fully and in as much detail as the successes. The bad times as much as the good times. The first two are mostly failure free, unless it can be turned into a funny anecdote against themselves, even the failure of the Word is dealt with in a throw-away remark. I was entertained by the first two, I learnt something and was engaged emotionally and personally by the last one.

Here’s one of my favourite songs from ‘The Vermilion Border’, ‘Confessions of a MILF’;


I don’t know much about classical music…..


I have been listening a lot to Sibelius this week. JTO says she thinks it sounds cold, drawing pictures Sibeliusof the Finnish countryside in the current season. I, on the other hand, hear warmth in the music. People in the warmth of their homes. The ending of the long cold winter and the arrival of the spring and the warmth. The CD contains symphonies 5-7, The Oceanides, Finlandia and Tapiola played by the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Paavo Berglund. As you will see from the cover of the CD they did not go with the cold and snowy Finland but with the land of lakes.

The title of this piece is half of a saying usually made about art and attributed to people who are philistines. It continues “…but I know what Sibelius III like.” I never learnt about classical music, I don’t really know much about it and that which I like I came to via a different range of influences. Take Sibelius. That’s him on the right of this post.According to the notes on the CD, “the ‘age of Romanticism’ was bound up with an outbreak of nationalist fever in those countries outside the well established French/Austro-German/Italian musical traditions.” It goes on to mention “Glinka in Russia, Liszt in Hungary, and Smetana in Bohemia followed by Grieg in Norway, Nielsen in Denmark, Albéniz in Spain, Alfvén in Sweden and Elgar in England.”  It places Sibelius in this tradition. The Fifth Symphony is the one I started listening to this CD for. The notes go on to say, “Compared to the agonisingly bleak and introspective Fourth Symphony, Sibelius’ Fifth is a far more outward-going and positive affair, the composer’s final musical statement in the heroically conquering mould familiar from his first two symphonies. Originally cast in four movements and completed just in time for his 50th birthday celebrations, Sibelius later telescoped the first two movements into one to produce one of the most exhilarating utterances in the history of symphonic form. The gently contemplative central movement provides a sobering contrast before the indelible horns calls of the finale push the music ever onwards towards its exultant conclusion.” Ah the horns.

In November 1984 I first heard ‘Since Yesterday’ by Strawberry Switchblade. I loved the ‘indelible horns’ at the start of the song and that recur during it. A friend who worked in a record store knew of my love for this song and, when clearing things out from his record collection, gave me the whole album it came from. It was some time later that I learnt that the musical theme in the song had been taken from the Third Movement of the Fifth Symphony by Sibelius, which was why I bought it and now listen to it.

That has pretty much been a theme of my life. If I find something I like I go back to the things that inspired the author or musician. It was from my love of Echo and the Bunnymen that I went back to the inspiration of the lead singer and found Leonard Cohen. It sometimes went astray. When, as a young man in my late teens/early twenties, I loved the writing of Jack Kerouac I sought out his inspiration Thomas Wolfe, the American writer from the early part of the twentieth century. I instead found Tom Wolfe the then writer of new-Journalism and now noted author.

So, I discovered the late String Quartets of Beethoven from the book ‘The Unbearable Lightness of imgresBeing‘ by Milan Kundera, one of my all-time favourite books. The main character is agonising over whether to return to Soviet Prague from Paris to follow his partner. She loves Beethoven and introduced his music to him. The last movement of Quartet 135, the last, is called ‘the difficult decision.’ It has a theme running through it “Muss es sein? Es muss sein.” (Must it be? It must be.) The main character reflects on this whilst agonising over the decision and, when he has made a decision he justifies the decision my “Es muss sein!” Beethoven fits into other themes in the book about heaviness and lightness but it was listening toimgres-1 the music after reading that section of the book and hearing the theme as described that led me to fall in love with the piece of music.

Morrissey is to blame for another. The only time I saw the Smiths the first song they played was the eponymous first track from the album, The Queen is Dead, which starts with actress Cicely Courtneidge nostalgically singing the First World War song ‘Take me back to dear old Blighty‘ from the 60’s film ‘The L Shaped Room‘. Before that the Montagues and Capulets from Serge Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliette was played through the PA. I was aware of the piece of music but after being put to such a use I had to have it on record.

There are other similar stories to each of the pieces of classical music in my record collection apart from two which feature Mozart’s last three symphonies. Those were given to me by my mother when I left home and I have played them a lot of times and have come to love them a lot.

2012 in review


The stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

4,329 films were submitted to the 2012 Cannes Film Festival. This blog had 18,000 views in 2012. If each view were a film, this blog would power 4 Film Festivals

Click here to see the complete report.

On the rails


Back in Strasbourg, trying to survive the canicule, after a few weeks working on the south-coast of England, there’ll probably be more about that later, and listening to the last day of the last test match of the series against the South Africans.

Staying at my parents in Twyford before and after the work I travelled through Reading a few times using the railway. It was interesting to see the progress on the redevelopment of Reading railway station. The first picture shows the new footbridge, being built over the railway to the west of the current footbridge, taken from the existing footbridge.

I am particularly interested in developments at this site as I have a personal interest in the redevelopment of the station as I played a part in starting it off when I was a councillor on Reading Borough Council, in particular as the Chair of the Transport committee. At the time I started Reading was a District Council with no power to do anything much for transport in the town. Two years later the County Council was abolished and Reading had more power on transport for the town, but not to do with the railway. However, at the start of my work in the role I had three main ambitions for the railway:

  • the redevelopment of Reading station,
  • work to Cow Lane bridges to remove a bottleneck there, and
  • Crossrail to happen with Reading as the Western terminus.

The second picture shows the new northern end of the station and the third the inside of the waiting room between what was platforms 5 and 8. From the first meeting of the Transport Committee I pushed forward on the three items. Not too long before I left the council in 1999 they were successful with a large bid to rebuild the M4 junction south of Reading, largely because the slip-roads to the motorway had become unstable and had to be rebuilt, and I was afraid that such a large amount of money being spent by the Government on the town would result in the massive amount of money necessary for the station and the bridges not to become available. Well I was wrong and the Gordon Brown government gave the go-ahead for the project and the coalition government confirmed it would happen. The project to rebuild the station that was approved included the work on the Cow Lane bridges to remove the bottleneck. In the 1990’s when I was pushing for this work to happen never in my wildest dreams did I think that the £850million work would happen so every time I travel through the station I look with great interest, and not a little pride at having played a part in it coming to pass, at the work taking place to improve the station for travellers and to remove a bad bottleneck on the rail network.

In the last decade Crossrail was given the go-ahead providing an east-west link under London giving extra capacity for people wishing to travel in those directions, whether as a whole journey or as part of it. On journey’s into London it has pleased me to see work on the scheme going ahead, whether the tunnel opening at Paddington or at different sites around London. The good news was tempered because the western end was to be Maidenhead and stop short of Reading.

From the 1990’s when the dying Major government cancelled the project Reading Borough Council’s official position was to campaign for the scheme to happen. With the encouragement of the then leader of the Council, David Sutton, as Chair of the Transport Committee I worked with the City of London to campaign for the scheme. So, in the middle of the last decade, when the then Labour Government announced consultation on the scheme I was overjoyed. However, the Leader who had been so supportive to me in campaigning for the scheme the decade before now went along with my successor, John Howarth, in his weak support for the proposal as part of Howarth’s work to undermine and deselect the Reading East MP, who was such a strong public supporter of the scheme. This lack of support and campaigning for the scheme from the Reading Council played an important part in the decision to stop short of Reading. It is a crying shame that the pathetic small town politics, of two people elected by the people of Reading to do their best for the people of Reading, has resulted in Reading missing out on what would be a bonus for them. Shame on Sutton and Howarth.

The last picture shows work taking place on new state-of-the-art train sheds between Scours Lane and Reading West junction on the west of Reading station. In the background, but perhaps not visible, are the stages and other preparations for Reading Festival.

Who remembers the Armenians – I do


24 April is the day to remember the genocide committed by the Ottoman Empire against the people of Armenia. There is a very good piece on Armenia, with information about the country and its history here in the New York Review of Books. After the US and Russia, France is home to the third highest number of Armenians outside the country. As well as in Strasbourg there were events to commemorate the Armenian Genocide in many towns and cities in France, including a large rally in Paris attended by both the Presidential candidates.

In Strasbourg a group of people including; municipal councillors, the Armenian Representative to the Council of Europe, an Armenian parliamentarian who is a representative to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, priests and representatives of different religions and peoples, formed up near the Palais du Rhin and walked, behind a banner saying “No to genocide” to the Monument to the Fallen in the centre of the Place de la République.(first picture)

The crowd listened to three people talk about the genocide in Armenia listing places where particular events happened during the genocide at the end of the 19th century and between 1915-16.(second picture) At different stages during this people walked up and placed flowers at the base of the monument. First it was the Armenian Representative to the Council of Europe, Mr. Armen Papikian, and the Armenian parliamentarian, Ms Hermine Naghdalyan, then the second group featured the three municipal councillors, Robert Herrmann; 1er Adjoint to the Mayor – Coordination municipale et démocratie locale, conseil des jeunes – Adjoint de Strasbourg centre, (left) Jean-Jacques Gsell; Adjoint du quartier Gare, du tourisme, du commerce et de l’artisanat (right) and Henri Dreyfus. I did not catch the names of the last two people (pictured) placing flowers at the monument.

There were also short speeches including one from a survivor of the genocide in Rwanda who talked about her experience of genocide denial, where an MEP said that there were only 2 or 3 people killed in her village when she lost more than three members of her own family. We heard from the Armenian Representative and then from a representative of the Kurd community in Strasbourg who apologised to the Armenian people present for the Kurdish people’s participation in the genocide; there was a Kurdish battalion established specifically to carry out the genocide.

We finished up having a prayer from an Armenian Orthodox priest followed by the Priest in Charge, Father Harold Nahabedian, from St Albans Anglican Church in Strasbourg who is from Canada of Armenian heritage.

At the end of the remembrance the crowd dispersed and JTO and I left for to introduce her to a, for her, up to now unexplored Irish Pub where we had some fine food and I, of course, had a drop of the black stuff.

N.B. The headline comes from a question Hitler posed when questioned about the holocaust. His reply was “Who remembers the Armenians?

Finding things that weren’t lost


I mentioned before that I have a health examination tomorrow. I don’t think I mentioned it was at 7:45 in the morning and it is in a place some distance across Strasbourg from home. One of the first things which will happen is a blood test so I’m not allowed to eat anything during the 12 hours beforehand but have to buy breakfast to eat after the blood test and dental check-up. This will undoubtedly involve something of the baked goods variety – especially as there is a boulangerie between the tram-stop and the health centre which has been going since 1279 and I know sells wonderful baked goods.

In my time here I have had a several medical tests, blood tests and x-rays particularly. As they need you to go without food beforehand I normally go somewhere nearer.

As well as the completed four page questionnaire which I have to take I must bring any results I have from earlier tests. It’s not like the UK, where a blood test or an x-ray is prescribed and in the larger surgeries you have it done by the nurse and they keep your records or you have to go to the hospital and they keep your records. Here in France the Doctor usually prescribes a blood test or x-ray and it is then your responsibility to find a laboratory to carry it out. After you have done it they send a copy to the doctor and a copy to me. I think it is better this way, I feel I am playing more of a part in, and I am more responsible for, my own health-care. At times like this when I have to see a third-party and they want to see the records I have, they tell me to bring them, I fish them out and take them with me. I will then be able to talk about my medical history explaining why I have each item.

I have had a two draw filling cabinet similar to the one pictured for a number of years. Some time ago I lost the keys to the bottom draw which was not good as it was locked. However, stuff like bank statements etc were in the top and it was more personal things in the bottom so I haven’t been worried about not seeing them. I did wonder about vaccinations and other medical records. For the first time in over ten years I was able to manoeuvre the draws so that I could get at the items stored in the bottom draw. But, in doing so I remembered that vaccinations and similar items were all in the front of the top draw anyway. A quick search revealed vaccination records going back to 1965 and hospital appointments of the same vintage. I don’t think they’ll be much use  but I’ll take them anyway, What will be useful is the record of vaccinations I had in November 2002 before a trip to Southern Africa which probably details the inoculations I have had that are still current.

Having the draw open anyway I spent sometime looking through the contents. Mostly it was nothing exceptional, cuttings and leaflets from a politically active past; records from a public inquiry I took part in and gave evidence at and then the big surprise. There were many letters. In the 80’s and 90’s I was a keen letter writer. The letters I received when I was a student unfortunately seemed to disappear from my parents house where they were stored. I was surprised to find letters form a German school student I took part in an exchange with in 1979 and 1980. I was pleased to find letters from my brother from the time he left the UK to go travelling and then after he had left to make his home in Australia.

I also found letters from female friends from the 1990’s and the tone and content surprised me. If asked now I would have said our relationships was not as the letters state. I would say that some of the things stated in the letters didn’t happen, subjects being talked about casually that, if quizzed before seeing them, I would be sure were never explicitly talked about. It is possible that the more subtle, the more nuanced parts were not picked up and I am very good at not noticing things said subtly. But this is not that. This is not remembering how things were. If this is remembered wrong, what else is too? How much of what I believe my story to be is just totally wrong? I found something this afternoon. I didn’t know it was lost.

Happy New Year and 2011 in review


I would like to take this opportunity to wish a happy New Year to all readers of my blog. If you wondered who you were and where you came from here’s the information.

The stats helper monkeys prepared a 2011 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Syndey Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 10,000 times in 2011. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 4 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

One of the best things I heard this year was from an old band, Wire. The LP, ‘Red Barked Tree’ was one of my best for least year. Here’s the track Clay, enjoy:

Fist up II


Continuing from yesterdays post about the first time I went to Albania, the second time was for my birthday in March 2007. The work to finish the ambition to visit every European capital before the end of 2010 was well underway and this was the first time JTO and I were to visit the Balkans. So this time it was the capital Tirana we visited. I didn’t know it at the time but it is quite typical for a Balkan capital in being on a piece of flat land with mountains circling it. The main square of the city is Skanderberg Square, named after the national hero who features on a large equestrian statue in it. Skanderberg fought to keep the country free from the Ottoman empire and had an impressive record winning 24 of the 25 battles he took part in. He took the double headed eagle, which forms the basis of the current Albanian flag, as his flag. Next to it is the Et’hem Bey Mosque on which construction started in 1794 and was finished in 1821 by Et’hem Bey with frescoes outside and in the portico which depict trees, waterfalls and bridges – motifs rarely seen in Islamic art. The city is very human in scale, easily walkable and very green from the tree-lined streets to the many parks. In an initiative, which I am surprised has not been copied elsewhere, the concrete Soviet-style apartment blocks have been painted a number of colours which makes them much more attractive and the cityscape more appealing. In one of the two main parks, Rinia Park is a complex which has been described as having the look of the lair of a James Bond villan, called Taiwan, possibly for being an island in the park. In the building there are restaurants, a terrace cafe, bowling alleys and a casino. The main attraction however is the fountain in front of Taiwan which in the evening fascinates hundreds of young and old onlookers with its light show. The park is now the proud focus of the evening xhiro, when thousands of people dress up and stroll around to meet up and chat with friends. Nearby is the Clock Tower from 1822. Started off by Et`hem Bey, completed by the locals and extended to 35m in 1928, when a German-made clock was also installed, it was for long the highest building in town, and with views of the city centre from the top. The shadow of the tower strikes the mosque at sunset, an event long used to mark the closing time of the formerly adjacent market place. One other building which you can’t miss is the National History Museum with massive mosaic on the facade which represents the development of Albania’s history with everyone from Illyrians to partisans represented.

It was surprisingly inexpensive place for food with the restaurant at the hotel on the square being affordable for an evening meal. All together it was an enjoyable Spring visit to an especially pleasant city, although one for a week-long visit and not for longer. To close a video of Enver Hoxha celebrating 1st May – plenty fist up. See if any of the buildings pictured here can be seen in it:

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