Monthly Archives: January 2013

My man cupboard. What’s in yours?

Behold: Paul Nettleton's man cupboard. What's in yours?

Behold: Paul Nettleton’s man cupboard. What’s in yours? Photograph: Louise Nettleton

I might have chosen the garden shed, but it was my youngest daughter who took the photograph and suggested: “Why don’t you blog about your man cupboard?”

Then, she said, I should empty the three shelves and keep only the essentials – creating room for, oh, some of her sprawling adult collection of Lego.

In return, her ironing might make its way from the dining table to her wardrobe.

So, from top left, here’s what sits in one of the two cupboards above the ageing Alienware PC on which I’m tapping out this piece. It betrays my inner geek.

 

Top shelf

 

  1. A Playstation with a couple of dual shock controllers nestles behind the stylus from a Wacom graphics tablet (hers) that may be in here somewhere. Favourite games from my two daughters’ childhoods, Wacky Races and Crash Bandicoot 3 Warped. They’re stored in the other cupboard (not pictured, or we’d be here all day). There’s a Brian Lara cricket game too, that I never quite found time to learn. I saved the abandoned console so I could play at being Dick Dastardly.
  2. Rear panel of my first standalone CD deck, a Philips. It still works but was retired when I upgraded to hi-fi separates. Value on eBay? Not worth the postage. It’s sat under metres of phone extension cable removed during decorating and never missed.
  3. What’s in those brown envelopes under the deck? Ah, my degree certificate from LeicesterUniversity. BA (Hons) Combined Studies third class and I took Ripple weekly, thank you. It’s in with a note accepting me for matriculation at the University of Wales so I could attend the Cardiff postgraduate course in journalism. And there’s a black & white photo of the class of 79 pictured in Cathedral Road. I could be sued by some very senior journalists if I published the hairdos.
  4. Another envelope, I’m a  few years older and working at the News & Star in Carlisle, holds my proficiency certificate from the National Council for the Training of Journalists. Brings back memories of bombing around the Cumbrian fells in the office car (with fish’n’chip papers in the back) covering Ireby Fair and such high jinks.
  5.  Ah, there’s the graphics tablet, at the bottom. You’d never do that to an iPad …
  6. One of a pair of amplified loudspeakers, the sort you could plug a Discman into. The Discman, being second-hand, never really worked properly.
  7. Netgear wireless router. Utterly reliable but we now have BT Infinity 2.

 

On to the middle shelf

  1. In its box, and hardly ever used, a Regulated Multi Voltage AC Adaptor. Still, you never know.
  2. At a slant, a Sony Walkman WM-EX382 Mega-Bass with auto reverse. Didn’t you find that auto reverse stretched the tape after a while? This belonged to a daughter. I needed a record button for use in the House of Lords, where I was a gallery reporter for a year or so. The Commons expected you to rely on shorthand. Hence the huddle of hacks comparing quotes after prime minister’s questions.
  3.  A hidden gem… my wife’s Olympus OM1. Needs a service and a clean. She took some smashing photos. Developed and printed them too, but the darkroom gear is long gone.
  4. Green pot with cable and dock for the OM1’s digital replacement, a Fuji Finepix F601 Zoom. And they were fine pix, but it was so much fiddlier than a camera-shaped camera.
  5. Behind that a stack of ADSL filters to stop the net interfering with phone calls, or vice versa. Behind those, two carry bag containing a Game Boy Color each plus games – Tetris, Pokemon, Rugrats, more Pokemon, Robot Wars, and more Pokemon. Classics.
  6.  Next, on it its side, a BT answerphone. The tiny tape cassette must be somewhere. Overtaken by 1571.
  7. PC cleaning kit and compressed air canister. The tube no longer taped to the side was the wrong one for the nozzle. Who performed that swap? Sat on sheet music from my failed days as a guitar player …
  8. … including The Cream Album, More Cream Album No 2, the Sutherland Brothers (& Quiver era) Songbook. And two guitar and one blues harp tutor books. And Golden Earring’s Radar Love. Plus You’re Moving Out Today which singer Carole Bayer Sager co-wrote with Bette Midler and the prolific Bruce Roberts.
  9. Plus one defunct nVidia graphics card. Replaced that myself I did with a pre-owned upgrade. Told that if I Google the cooking instructions, and bake it in the oven, it might work again. Yes, but if it blows up how much does a Rangemaster cost?

 

Wow, 774 words and a shelf still to go, Never knew there was so much in it.

 

Bottom shelf

 

  1. Other daughter’s Polaroid digital camera (defunct with Vista), sits on top of the charger for my Nikon D80 (satisfying clunk when you take a shot), which sits on top of the charger for a Creative Zen MP3 player with a slightly dodgy on-off switch in use by my wife.
  2. Tamron binoculars bought for walking and sailing and watching the Greek airforce flying to and from Kalamata (from a beach 35km south). Focus is wonky since sand got in the works.
  3. Above are sat on two boxes of assorted cables and mini-discs (does anyone still make a recorder?).
  4. Foreground: various batteries, some not discharged, audio cassettes and a Scart cable (overtaken by HDMI connectors).
  5. Shoebox lid  of CD-Roms including Dorling Kindersley’s: History of the World 2.0, Children’s Dictionary, plus Dinosaurs 3D, My Secret Diary (not), and various imaging and web software never used in anger. Plus leaflets about a NatWest bank account I no longer have.
  6. Anyone want to make a Crawlybot?
  7. If I put the batteries in, the Early Learning Centre Walkie Talkies still work. Press the button to speak.
  8. A brace of Grecian Holidays brochures from the late 80s. We travelled with SunMed but it was Grecian’s snapper who happened by on Koumbaros beach, Ios. You had to walk there in our day. Or hitch a ride in a three-wheel delivery van. I see there’s a bus now.

 

Memo to self: you don’t need all of this stuff. Do you?

What’s in your man (or woman) cupboard? Replies welcome.

Michael Gove’s solution to political meddling in A-levels? More political meddling

The Conservative party is continuing in its crusade to make Britain a place safe for Daily Express readers in the hope that turning the clock back will win David Cameron an overall majority at the next general election.

Into the EU wilderness

The prime minister’s promise on Wednesday of on in-or-out referendum threatened to make the recession permanent by leading the country out of the EU and into the economic wilderness.

The poor are fat

Then Anna Soubry, allegedly a health minister, claimed to be able to spot poor people because they tend to be overweight. But she still blamed the parents for filling up their children with bad food, while relying on voluntarism to achieve reductions in the fat, salt and sugar content of products made by members of the Food and Drink Federation.

Education policy based on prejudice

And Michael Gove announced that the solution to political meddling with A-level exams was more political meddling with A-level exams.

The education secretary never makes policy based on evidence when he can make it based on prejudice against the state system. He must believe in six impossible things before breakfast each day, and instruct his civil servants to implement them in our schools before the consequences have been considered. Of which just the latest is that headteachers and their staffs will be managing the introduction of the Ebacc for 16-year-olds at the same time as ripping up modular A-levels for a return to the memory test of exams at the end of two years and stand-alone AS-levels.

Full square behind him are the Russell Group of elite universities, fighting the corner for the traditional subjects they champion: mathematics and further mathematics, English literature, physics, biology, chemistry, geography, history and modern and classical languages.

His critics for this latest initiative to stifle creativity in our young people included the University of Cambridge, industrialists, the Association of School and College Leaders (who must clearly be worried about how schools and colleges will be able to find leaders in the future given their workload and burnout rates) and Labour – accused by Gove of the meddling that he cannot resist every hour he remains in office.

By the end of the day, Gove’s latest wheeze for a winning policy (to get him into No 10 in Cameron’s stead?) had slipped off the Daily Mail online front page, and was receiving a far from universal welcome from readers. Sadly, it was still carrying the mistyped headline: University chiefs will vet tougher new A-level that aims to end ‘resist culture’ that has led to dumbing down of qualification.

I couldn’t resist a smile at the error, but it’s a tragedy for sixth formers that their efforts are still being belittled by this government’s every pronouncement.

 

 

 

David Cameron and the Costas question

Is Britain sleepwalking towards the exit door from the European Union under David Cameron, as Ed Miliband fears, or will the prime minister wake up and smell the coffee before making his on-again speech about Europe?

As a country we’ve never really got Europe since belatedly arriving at the party. We demand always to be treated as a special case, like the spoiled brat at a sleepover. Westminster politicians bewail their loss of influence while blocking efforts to improve direct EU democracy.

Press coverage driven by owners who prefer to turn nation against nation – usually England v Germany, but any Johnny Foreigner will do for the likes of Simon Heffer – has been another obstacle to understanding that the EU was always about greater economic and political integration for the benefit of its people, not just a free-for-all for big business and the hated Eurocrats.

People are entitled to ask what Brussels has done for us. One answer is that it would have been a lot more without opt-outs from the employment directives intended to give workers some protections in a single market of 500 million, or the Schengen agreement on open borders that enshrines freedom of movement within Europe – giving true meaning to the exhortation to get on your bike to look for work while giving labour the power to seek the highest wages.

There is loose talk of Europeans from poorer countries swamping the nation from Boston to Bognor, as if nary a Brit ever decamped for the Costas or Corfu. No mention of the businesses young Poles and Portugese are setting up in otherwise empty shops on our high streets? They’re hardly a drain on the benefits system – more a reminder to the supermarkets to boost the choice of continental foods on their shelves.

The growing number of UK students taking degrees on the European mainland, to escape ever increasing tuition fees, find their horizons expand beyond the passport control queues at our borders.

Business doesn’t entirely get it, with some in the City backing an in or out referendum, apparently oblivious that quitting the EU will hasten takeover deals that relocate the financial capital of Europe to anywhere but this island Square Mile. But they’re the bankers, the forex and futures dealers with only tougher regulation to anticipate as the Eurozone tries to head off another mauling by speculators and ratings agencies accountable to no-one.

In the real economy should the UK step outside the single market, with no special deals likely, watch the Chinese, Japanese and Indian owners of manufacturing businesses in the Midlands or the North start to shut their factories here and shift across the channel.

The EU is far from perfect but you can’t change the rules of a club from outside. When Tories and Ukip talk about diluting Britain’s membership and repatriating powers, or quitting the EU altogether, they’re proposing to surrender influence over the people with whom we do at least half of our business. That’s not a recipe for the job creation and living wages the UK’s young people need, but for a perpetual cycle of decline in a low-wage economy with a shrinking role on the world stage.

Is that the legacy David Cameron wants? This week we will have part of the answer.

Shear Shazar – review: greetings from Woodstock

Jules Shear and Pal Shazar have broken their silence to make an album – their first together – for grown-ups who have been there, done that, picked up some baggage along the way, but moved on. Love has found a way.

The producer, Julie Last, has a track record including John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s Double Fantasy. It could all be too sugary for words, but their mastery of the song-writing craft means the traps are avoided with deft lyrical turns, harmonies that take unexpected directions and deceptively simple backing with a touch of country – all present in the opening track Beauty to my bones.

See that star has a piano and guitar-driven lilt well illustrated by the stills of a walk in the park in the YouTube video. You can hear the emphasis in the line: “I don’t need anyone to agree with my view of life BUT YOU.”

On Passion flowers, feet are on the ground but the stars “sparkle like rare confections / They fill my eyes like candy bars / They sweeten my recollections.”

Mr softee celebrates “the promise that no-one can revoke, the promise between man and wife” with two cherry cokes. If this all begins to sounds a bit too autobiographical, then Pal’s watercolour illustrations for the lyrics, available as pdfs on their website, illustrate two young lovers to keep you guessing.

The mermaid of Lake Hollywood is a story of seduction: “This lovely fish grants your wish as the warm winds blow across LA from Pasadena.” There’s a small psychedelic moment, a Beatle-ish interlude in the strings and la-la-las , for “this experience is magical, this experience is mythological”.

Like One more heatbreak with its discarded phone book, What you’ve heard about me brings up past lovers and files them under history. It kicks off with a confession straight out of Nashville via the Troubadour: “Come to think of it there ain’t much about love I understand” but confirms “there’s no need to analyse each circumstance”.

Hesitation town is “a state of mind not where you were born” and a gem of a song. A guy has messed up over the wrong girl “now any kindness and your heart might break”. But there’s a waitress who’s caught the eye. “A customer jokes, you hear the waitress a laugh and a crack begins to break your shell / You leave the counter – but this time you’ll look back – just in case she’s looking back as well.”

Shear and Shazar are, like Last, based in Woodstock and working outside the traditional record industry system. They’ve made a timeless album, 10 songs and a rich 32 minutes of reflection and insight.

HMV and the lost chords

I can remember when Richard Branson swept away the cushions and headphones and put security guards on the doors at the Virgin store in Manchester in the early 80s to stop the shrinkage.

It was the end of of any illusions that a national chain of record shops could be a flagship for youth culture, a place where you could discover Phaedra by Tangerine Dream or Gong’s Camembert Electrique among the chart mainstream.

HMV was always more corporate – a retail outpost of EMI, the first label that couldn’t handle the Sex Pistols – and marched across the land in tandem with the other store chains that turned our high streets into clone streets.

It long ago afforded DVDs and console games equal shelf space with CDs and token specialist vinyl. Only on Oxford Street in London has there been space for the widest range of music and staff with thorough knowledge of jazz or blues or folk or opera or heavy metal to support the genres and share their enthusiasm with potential buyers.

On the high street and even in the bigger malls – Bluewater or Westfield – the choice has been little better than in a Boots or WH Smith of the mid-70s. That is, execrable.

The latest attempt to turn round HMV’s fortunes – by shoehorning in tablets and other “technology” at higher prices than Currys PC World ­– reduced even further the choice of music. It was hardly a strategy to lure people away from the download sites.

So the news that HMV is about to go into administration – the morning after they sent out emails announcing a Blue Cross sale with 25% reductions – will be mourned by me more for the likely loss of jobs than for the threat to the last record store chain. See the Guardian’s story here.

Does this mean there’ll be an opening for a latterday Rob Gordon to turn in a decent profit from his enthusiasm for the music, ­­without having to satisfy shareholders or get the branding just so, let alone discounting to compete with the fake top 40 that the supermarket down the road never quite keeps fully stocked and where the staff can never introduce you to the next big thing.

It may even be that a sensible landlord or two will take the long view and offer up some floorspace at an affordable rents for a small business to do more than limp along before closing. High Fidelity? High hopes.

While you’re waiting

Welcome to my blog. I’ll be writing here about the adventures of a former Guardian staff journalist striking out on his own after 27 and a 1/2 years. While I get to grips with this new outlet, please take a look here where you can watch the YouTube video to the delightful See that Star and consider buying the first CD made together by Jules Shear and Pal Shazar. Pal tells me it’ll be on Amazon soon but there is a shop on their site. Here’s a piece I wrote for the Guardian’s Old Music blog on a duet, Dreams Dissolve in Tears, from a Jules solo album, The Great Puzzle. My fuller thoughts to follow.