Monday, 28 March 2016

Idle Frets

I've started taking guitar lessons for the first time in my life.

When I was given my first guitar at the age of about 15 it was a classic case of reality falling short of expectation. My expectation was based on one of those red Fender electric beauties played by Hank Marvin - the reality was one of those cheap Spanish guitars brought back from Spain alongside sombreros and stuffed donkeys by the thousands of post-Franco tourists in the 60's. Try as I might, there appeared to be no way on earth I was going to replicate the sublime echo plus tremelo lead of "Apache" on my undersized, wide necked acoustic. Every single one of my school exercise books was adorned with doodles of that iconic Stratocaster body shape but my Spanish guitar was more like a battered tennis racket, and about as tuneful.  

In those days there were just two ways of becoming proficient in playing guitar. One had to either have a musical ear and pick up popular songs by simply listening to them (that let me out) , or one had to go through a painful process of working through books such as Bert Weedon's laughably titled "Play in a Day" which took months to get you to play such groovy standards as "Bobbie Shafftoe". 

How different things have become today! For a start, you can purchase an electronic guitar tuner for four quid which is light years ahead of the useless pitch pipes which we used to (try and) use. That means you can start with a realistic chance of playing along to a record in the right key.

Then there is the multitude of "Tab" web sites where one can enter the name of virtually any song and find "crowd sourced" renditions of lyrics, chords and tabulated note-by-note guides to the most desirable guitar solos you can think of.  In the sixties, the equivalent was to travel miles to a music shop and order expensive sheet music which normally included no chords and was only decipherable by a proper musician. 

And you don't even have to work out where to put your fingers today - sites such as provide easy access YouTube videos of all your favourites, from simple accompaniments to stratospheric Mark Knopfler solos.

On my first lesson, my tutor described me with deadpan expression as "a guitar tutor's worst nightmare" and I wondered if I should simply give up and plough all my energy into a law suit against the late Bert Weedon's estate. However, I've started to make some progress and am really enjoying it so look out Eric Clapton and Richard Thompson!

Tuesday, 9 February 2016

One of my many rejection letters ....

Channel Four Productions
Portcullis House
London WV2

16th November 1998

Dear Mr P.

Thankyou for your letter of 12th October 1998 containing your suggestion for a new Channel Four programme.

Having given your submission some scrutiny we regret to advise that our commissioning appraisal team see little point in pursuing the matter further. 

The overall idea of an hour long show comprising two estate agents showing people round houses is suspect to say the least. Estate Agents are not highly regarded role models and there is no "aspirational" element in watching ordinary people turning their noses up at houses they don't deserve. The prospect of maintaining interest over a 60 minute programme is, IMHO, zero.

Your other programme ideas have also met with a negative response from our creative team. These included:

A. Six people baking cakes in a tent. (Not even with Joan Bakewell presenting)

B. Michael Portillo sitting on Trains ("We'd rather watch paint dry")

C. Joanna Lumley goes somewhere expensive and patronises the hell out of the locals (Not on our budgets)

D. Two local auction dealers drive around Britain in an old car and buy stuff. (Nope)

E. The keyboard player out of D-Ream goes on a World Tour pointing at the heavens. (Frankly, what are you on?!)

We trust you will understand that we have to be very certain a programme will appeal before we commit substantial production budgets and we trust you will continue to let us have the benefit of your valued opinions and ideas

Yours faithfully

Graham Watson-le-BoƮte
Head of Commissioning

Thursday, 21 January 2016

Mountains out of Molehills

If your life is full of drama and crises, I should imagine that finding a tyre issue on your car comes as a very minor and possibly even welcome diversion. On the other hand someone who is lucky enough to be going through a reasonably trouble-free stage of life may find it very stressful and worrying to discover a slow puncture. It's all relative - a bit like someone who has spent most of their life in Norfolk being transported to the Malvern Hills and thinking they are in the Pyrenees.

Now just imagine an unstressed Norfolk chap finding a puncture - in the Malvern Hills! Yes, exactly.

When I got my first car (actually a Ford Anglia Van) I used to check the tyre pressures every time I filled it up with £5 worth of petrol (Tyres were relatively expensive then, but that's inflation for you). I even had a little metal gauge for checking between fill-ups.

As I progressed to better cars everything seemed to be so much more reliable and my tyre checking would become less frequent. Eventually it got to the stage where we had our last car two years and I never checked tyre pressures once. It seemed like tyre checking, like the use of indicators in German cars, had become a thing of the past. 

Then the other day I was driving our 6 month old Citroen through the Malvern Hills when a message started scrolling across the video-interface-console (or "dashboard" as we used to refer to it) saying something like "you have reduced pressure in one tyre. Please stop". This came as a big shock as I never knew we had tyre pressure monitoring, having only got to page 45 of the 2000 page handbook that came with the car. The message could easily have added "I'm not going to tell you which tyre has a problem so this will force you to check them all".

This Citroen has de-skilled me and taken away my practical human faculties. If it gets dark it switches the lights on, if it stops it applies the handbrake and if it rains it turns on the wipers, all without my intervention. It has carefully lulled me into a state of dependence and now suddenly hit me with nitty gritty needs. This car is Kit from Knight Rider and I have turned into the Hoff. 

Or more accurately ...

It took three days of worry to get the problem sorted out, including an embarrassing 10 minutes spent queueing up to use the air line at Morrisons only to discover it was a vacuum cleaner with a squirty thing for putting an aroma in the interior. Having three dogs on board we didn't need any more than we already had. 

Eventually a very nice man in Ledbury located which tyre had the problem (it was the one with the 2 inch nail in it) and repaired it. Kit's onboard sat nav located him for us.

I never thought I'd reach the stage where my car is more intelligent than I am. I feel deflated.

Tuesday, 8 December 2015

A History of British Eccentricity

My late father, no stranger himself to the odd eccentricity, used to love telling the story of the late Sir William Eden.

100 years ago, this baronet father of the future Prime Minister Sir Anthony Eden, was in the habit of tapping the barometer in his hall each morning. Once, when it was pouring with rain but the barometer forecast sunshine, he hurled the instrument outside yelling: "Go on, you damned fool, go and see for yourself!".

Sadly, I found myself this morning following in this fine tradition by demonstrating the outside rain to my iPhone Rain App.

Thursday, 19 November 2015

Thursday Picture Quiz

When we were away the other week I really quite took to Eggheads.

It's a programme I'd only glanced at before as it just looked like two bunches of social misfits sitting uncomfortably close to each other but now I realise it's great TV.

Anyway, it's inspired me to devise (in my morning coffee break) a modest picture quiz to detain you for about 25 seconds of your busy day.

What do the following images have in common?

Thursday, 29 October 2015

Norfolk Flatlands

Yesterday me and my brother cycled from my house to the North Norfolk Coast at Brancaster.

It was pelting down cats and dogs for the first half and my back brake stopped working altogether but hey, Norfolk is completely flat right?

Anyway it was all worth it for the final section when the sky brightened and we cycled triumphantly down a 3 mile Roman Road into Holkham Estate through beautiful beech woodland. It really is amazing just how many miles of virtually car free country lanes there are left in our beautiful County.

Saturday, 24 October 2015

Ziggi You Legend!

If anyone happens to find this dusty forgotten little corner of cyberspace than I must urge you to:

1. Read THIS.

2. Count your blessings

3. Send your very nicest vibes to Ziggi a.k.a. Linda, her two gorgeous daughters and the N.H.S.