Tuesday, December 3, 2013

It's all about scale

The magnificence of the desert has been commented on since the first European explorers 'discovered' the sandy wastes of north Africa, the Middle East, the Grand Canyon etc. And it is awesome (in the true sense of the word).

The most amazing thing is the scale of it all. Seemingly endless vistas of sand and rocks the size of office blocks set off against stunning blue sky - splendid!

Of course the lack of anything which you can use to give a sense of scale adds to the mystery.

After all, it might just be a pile of building rubble in a car park.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Retail fnarr fnarr

I promised myself I would not indulge in cheap gags about foreign retail products, but as well as appearing to be a little 'does what is says on the tin', this lot seem to be arranged in order of seriousness...

... especially if, like me, you read the 'rn' in Burnol as an m. 

'Should have gone to Specsavers' [You did. Ed.]

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Fish Fence

I was talking to a local guy whose English was pretty good but far from perfect. He told me that all local life forms want to get backstage to hang out with the stars - even fish. Apparently they come up with all sorts of excuses...

"I had one, but I don't have a neck and it slipped off. What do they think we are, stupid? But they keep trying so we have to use a special fish fence to keep them out."

At least I think that's what he said.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

The cheques on the posts

A new Guinness world record was on October 24th  when over 250 people twirled chequered flags at the same time.


This may not sound like much of a record, but where would you even get 250 chequered flags in the first place? How about on the beach at Abu Dhabi. It seems a second world record was achieved inadvertently for the greatest number of chequered flags simultaneously indulging in bondage and sunbathing.

For aspirant chequered-flag-world-record-breakers, here is a slightly easier one to go for.

The most chequered flags on a forklift.

Go on, you know you want to...

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Something in the Air (Con)

Another star feature of my room in this splendid hotel is that my it is above the air-con farm.

It runs 24/7, but thanks to high quality double glazing, only a low hum is noticeable, and then only at night.

The real upside is that that I cannot hear the slight buzzing of tinnitus... (see here)

Monday, October 28, 2013

Vegging out

Classy hotel this. Nothing left to chance.

All I need now is some dirty veg.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

The Chelsea Cabbage Show

There is a backstage 'best garden' competition for Chelsea production folk. Last year Herb won a Silver medal for his Safety Garden. This year's brief required "Innovation, Sustainability (liquid) and the inclusion (this year only) of fantastic creatures OTHER THAN GNOMES (which the judges feel have been rather overdone)" 

The Brief
Again the garden was inspired by Herb whose cabbage plants provided the central theme.

The Banner
The Blurb

The Brassicas

The Bait (and sustainability element)

The water feature
(just incase we had misunderstood 'Sustainability (liquid)' in the brief)

The Fantastic Creature*
However the display of edibles needed some context and Simon demonstrated a surprising ability to source and arrange a wide range of plants, props and materials to show the garden off in style.

The Flower Arranger / Scrounger assesses the display

Herb waits for the judges.
The judges arrive...


...and take the bait.
Due to work of a very important nature we missed the awards ceremony but managed to grab this quick shot of the judges deciding what to do next. We imagine the ceremony included words to the effect that...

"...the Gold goes to The Cabbage Garden"
[cheers, applause etc from the vanquished competitors]

The Medal

The Cabbage Garden in all its splendour


*The Fantastic Creature: The person who actually leaves the office when the fire alarm goes off.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Chelsea Flower Show - History of the wheelbarrow...

In the early days, before mechanical handling, rocks and other gardeny things were manhandled and carried in wheelbarrows which were carved from solid oak and weighed a couple of tons when empty.

Wheelbarrows have progressed since then. Four early iterations are shown here, with their principal usurper lurking in the background.  

An alternative view of the same thing...

This is a hybrid barrow from John Deere.

And here are some more...

I'm bored now... can I stop? 

[Yes - Ed.]

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Chelsea Gnome Show - Little and Large

Gnome fever continues with the unveiling of the 100th anniversary commemorative sculpture.

A Gnaurd of Honour

The media appeared more interested in the little people than the large sculpture.

The law of unintended consequences is alive a well in SW3

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Gnomestonbury Flower Show


Michael Eavis blags his way into
Chelsea Flower Show.

This is the first time in 100 years that this disguise could work.

Chelsea - Shed End

The Hemingways Shed Quarters

'Hind Quarters' may have been a more appropriate title...

...and continuing the bum-theme, a water butt

...also available in brown.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Chelsea Royals

Always good to have a spare. Ask any responsible monarch.

Chelsea Gnome Show

The 99 year ban on gnomes at the Chelsea Flower Show was lifted this year so The Gnome Appreciation Society snuck a couple in.

They appear to be making up for lost time.


Chelsea Gnome Show-ho-ho

Ho-ho-hose all round.

My! How we laughed...

Saturday, May 18, 2013

No really, it stinks.

I found myself thinking about Nik the other day, no particular reason, he just popped into my head the way people do from time to time.

Nik is that strange combination, a confirmed petrol head and hippy. He used to live with his mum, two brothers, sister and a selection of miscreants too numerous to name just up the road from me  (it was a big house).

I am reliably informed that he is presently in Oz building machines for the new(ish) Mad Max movie Fury Road. I tried Googling him to see of there was a link to works in progress and to see if I could tempt him with my brillint idea for a road warrior battle sequence (which I have subsequently forgotten), but the only reference I found was to his brother, Andy, on this Polish web site:

 It reads (approximate Google translation from the Polish) "Andy Smulion had a debt recovery service. He turned up in stinking rags so that those unable to stand its smell, without batting an eyelid, gave money."

Celebrated for a while in the tabloids in the 1980s, Andy was known as the Smelly Tramp Debt Collector. He would dress as a derelict (his general demeanour gave him a head start in this respect) and, accompanied by a vicious stink, visit the offices of the debtors where he would present a copy of the unpaid bill which (we were told) was usually paid PDQ provided he promised to get out. The stink was carried by a disgusting old tweed coat which had been dowsed in a home made concoction reportedly whipped up from 'the juice of rotten cheese, eggs and kippers', but were, I suspect, simply the more mature contents of his fridge. He kept this garment in the garage of the family house. When the wind was in the right direction we could smell the damn thing from our house - they could probably smell it in Poland.

I hadn't though about him and his niffy dunning activities for ages - funny old thing this Internet...

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Going Deaf for a Living

There is a parachute school just up the road from the Chicken Ranch. During the summer we hear the planes climbing in circles prior to chucking their students out at 10,000 ft (or whatever height you make your first jump from). I did a bungee jump once and have some idea how it feels to stand on a threshold trying to take a step that 10 million years of natural selection has told us is 'not a good idea'.

They say that public speaking comes just ahead of parachute jumping in the list of 'scary things to do'. Until the mid-1990s I would have put them equal first, but at that point I had not been pushed out of a plane in the line of duty...

For six years I was tour manager with John Watts' band, Fischer Z. John is a particular individual with very strong ideas about what he wants. For most of the time we toured together he did not like being introduced at the beginning of a show and many gigs would start with him wandering on stage strumming his guitar and taking the audience by surprise. This changed on the last tour I did with him. He decided that he wanted to be introduced and he wanted me to do it.

I am a backstage sort of chap, I am not a performer. In fact I have always tried to avoid having anything to do with the actual process of running a live show, but if Wattsey wants something he usually gets it and I gave in. After all, I thought what can go wrong? I stand up in front of an audience of (mostly) foreigners and talk bollocks for a few minutes and end up introducing the band.

What could go wrong was that he wanted me to start off talking about something important and suggested AIDS would be a good topic. And then after a couple of minutes I could introduce the band.

John baffles RPJ with a song which may (or may not) have been aboutAIDS

It is the first night of the tour. I cannot think of anything to say about AIDS but think I can get away with some nonsense and leg it back to the safety of backstage. This is based on my experience of the Fischer-Z audience who are invariably supportive, enthusiastic and, well, nice. I work on the basis that regardless of how good their English is, they will think I am immensely cool and clever and will not suspect that the words I speak are tosh and nonsense.

Anyway, I have faith that something will occur to me, if not I will say something like ‘AIDS is bad, don't get it, here is Fischer-Z’ and go and hide somewhere with a beer.

Keeping my head down backstage with the accounts.

We are playing The Paradiso in Amsterdam. The stage is set, the band are waiting in the wings, well, The Paradiso does not have wings as such, but they are waiting to come up from the subterranean dressing rooms. I am standing down-stage centre.  The lights dim and I am looking at a room full of expectant faces. Looking up I notice they have opened the balcony as well. This is a full house. I have no idea if they understand English. Well, this is Holland, so of course they do, but how well? 

What can I say? I start with a fairly safe opening: "Hello". They shout "Hello" back. I say that John has asked me to say a few words about the state of the world and how we should all be looking after ourselves, especially our health... at this point my mind, working at some fabulous rate that has more to do with fear than ability, comes up with something which I cannot remember now, but seems to meet with general approval and I leave the stage with applause ringing in my ears.

This was not an entirely new experience. I have spent much of my working life and leisure time in close proximity to loud music.

My first working gig, cuddled-up to the PA - and probably talking shit.

I have lost count of the times I have come home from The Marquee, The Roundhouse, Dingwalls or some gig in a squalid pub with a loud ringing in my ears. It would still be there in the morning and would slowly fade during the day. Over the years I learned that this wasn't a good thing. When I started touring with John I started wearing earplugs during soundchecks and shows. I did not intend to join the squadron of my colleagues with tinnitus. But I did not make a big deal of it because it is cissy. Real rock’n’rollers just kick out the jams with no-nonsense, head-banging boogie, turned up to Number 11, hoping to die before they get old - and talk a load of shit.

At the next gig I am back on stage, looking at a crowd of young, impressionable people. Many of them may well find some of the gigs they attended too loud but do not want to admit it. They go to many more gigs than I had at their age, they have stereos at home to rival some of the early live PA systems, they have portable tape and CD players and listen on headphones everywhere they go. Music is ubiquitous. Young people today seemed to have more opportunities to be deafened by the music they love than ever before.

My subconscious  may have remembered what my conscious mind had completely forgotten, that the second Fischer-Z album cover featured an ear being attacked with a pneumatic drill. The album  was called Going Deaf for a Living. This may have been a complete coincidence, but it is then that I realise I am really  wimping out. Not by wearing ear plugs, but by not proclaiming it. All that will change,  I will do something good, something worthy.


“Do you like music?” I ask. “YEEEEES” comes the emphatic reply. “Do you want to listen to music forever?” Another "Yeees".

“Well, you won’t be able to if you go deaf. And some of you will go deaf.”…  I blurt out and continue “Most of my colleagues have hearing problems… being deaf is not cool… that’s why I wear ear plugs on stage…” and I pulled them out and wave them about a bit… This thesis develops as the tour proceeds and my half-minute turns to several minutes. I am in my stride, ear plugs are cool… And then it is over. I have no idea if it changed anything. I fear not.

Anyway, that was nearly 20 years ago. In the inertevening years I have met a lot of people with tinnitus from years of working with bands. Most of them regret their failure to protect their hearing. Tinnitus is serious stuff and I have always been thankful for my good fortune or good luck in remaining unafflicted.

Around 5.30 on the morning of 23 October 2011, I woke to the distant sound of the parachute school  plane circling overhead. It does not usually start that early in the morning, and they tend not to jump in the dark. I pull the pillow over my head in a pathetic attempt to get back to the silence of sleep. But there is no silence. There is no plane. There is just a very low pitched buzzing sound that will not go away.