Tag: Bassman

Who will sing for England


I watched a documentary about The Proclaimers over the New Year. I take an interest in musicians and how they achieve success in the creative field. I’m not over-judgemental and try to find aspects to admire even if I don’t like the final product. Hence I can appreciate the clever construction of a song or piece of music which is not to my taste at all. I exclude the tuneless Bananarama from this. For those of you who do not know, The Proclaimers are a couple of identical Scottish twins who burst onto the scene with great energy (a must-have in my book) in the late 80s with their anthemic song “I’m gonna be”, which most will know better as “500 miles”. They arrived as something different in the music landscape, heavily influenced by punk, folk music and the musical political activism of Kevin Rowland of Dexys Midnight Runners (“Come on Eileen”.) They made a deliberate decision to sing in their broad Leith accents. In the documentary they came across as intelligent, articulate and rather dour, by no means an unwelcome attribute in these days of emotional incontinence. Talking heads were wheeled out to show that the band generated a strong Scottish fan base, not least by openly espousing the cause of Scottish independence. Krankie described how they had radicalised her and many of her generation. As we know, their intervention was not decisive on the 55:45 vote which, much like Brexit, apparently remains open to “interpretation”. Nevertheless, the twins produced a pivotal song called “Cap in Hand”. Here is the chorus:

But I can’t understand why we let someone else rule our land
We’re cap in hand.

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The last betrayal?

bassman, Going Postal
Traitor and all round loon

There are those on this site who think that the Tories are sleepwalking in a trance towards the destruction of their electoral prospects, possibly forever in their current guise. I spend a lot of time reading round the points we raise on here, which means I am forever about 465 comments behind in a permanent state of catch-up. I thought I would devote some of my time to reminding myself how we came to this critical moment, and perhaps some of you would appreciate a refresher: there will be some cutting and pasting so it’s a bit cheap to claim much of a writing credit, but: hey ho. It’s a fairly brisk canter through some of the salient features as you can go on and on in the detail of it all, but any cursory study of the period will expose the hostility and dishonesty of successive governments on a grand scale towards their own citizens, and the persistent thread of bloody-minded opposition to being ruled from Brussels.

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Rite of Passage

The driving test! Cue stage thunder and lightning and dungeon torture screams. If your life is fairly ordinary and doesn’t include abnormal episodes, a serious accident, an illness, experience of battle – you know the kind of thing – then the driving test can occupy a grim and sweaty place in your memory. Most of us, though not all, will have been subjected to the procedure. We will have differing opinions and recollections, but I am clear in my mind that it was a stressful and nerve-wracking event like almost no other. As a youngster I was aware that my father was taking lessons as I saw him tootle off in a BSM Morris Minor from time to time. I don’t recall his exposure to the test but I know he passed first time, leading to the acquisition of a Morris 8 with wondrous leather seats. My mother had a lesson or two from dad but quickly rejected further involvement. My older brother did the business first go aged 17 and acquired a convertible Morris Minor that took him to Cornwall before the block cracked. I also vaguely knew that my Uncle Jim, who lived opposite, had left the army with a dubious piece of paper that served as a licence. He drove, er, a Morris Minor. More manly than the Ford Popular, if you ask me. Apart from dabbling in a bit of motorcycling (and passing the test first go!) I allowed all motoring activity to pass me by, in fact early experiences of travel sickness left me averse to the whole thing. I also had the possibly strange notion that I would never be able to work the gear stick. I think I knew that I was missing an important component to efficient living but like most people who are avoiding a perceived ordeal I had strategies that meant other people taking the driving strain. I remember a school pal drove us to the pub where we became fairly pissed: he cornered too fast on the road home and sheared off a front wheel. He knew enough to leg it from the scene. Also at rugby clubs I was never in the frame for drunk driving though I now know that it is just as dangerous to put your life in the hands of someone over the limit.

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The race for the North Pole

Bassman, Going Postal

My interest in polar exploration was first kindled in about 1958 when a member of the Sir Vivian Fuchs expedition which completed the first trans-Antarctica crossing came to my primary school and gave us a talk with slides. I recall that he was satisfactorily bearded as you would expect of an explorer. He asked for any questions, and I piped up with “Why is the sky blue?”, thinking that it was always blizzarding down there. He pretended to think it was a good question. A feature of that expedition was the use of the Tucker Sno-cat, about as cool as a tracked vehicle gets. I believe there is one in the Science Museum. It is interesting that Amundsen genuinely thought that the only way Scott would beat him to the South Pole was by using his tractors. Scott may have settled on the plodding British way of man-hauling, but the ex-torpedo officer was innovative enough to trial Wolseley tracked vehicles. Unfortunately one fell through the ice being unloaded, and the others couldn’t overcome technical problems and freezing fuel.

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You are what you eat

Bassman, Going Postal

I was reminded in a discussion with Mrs Bassman (yes, we do have them) that in our youngest days the only place you could lay your hands on olive oil was inside the medicine cupboard. Its sole function was to loosen earwax, working away beneath a layer of cotton wool. It was commonplace to see people in the street with cotton wool in an ear as it was to see a one-legged man, or a child with a blocked-out spectacles lens (National Health, of course,) to correct a lazy eye. I recall that my mother’s medicine cupboard also contained a dropper bottle of tincture of cannabis for relieving toothache. Absolutely no connection was made with narcotics. I digress. Not only was olive oil missing from the cooking repertoire, but I don’t recall the presence of any herbs apart from mint, the onlie begetter of mint sauce for lamb. Nothing alcoholic was ever sloshed into an aromatic sauce, Keith Floyd-style; no cream was ever whipped up, no pasta – well, no pasta. The nearest we came to the joys of the Italian cucina was a tin of Heinz spaghetti which, it has to said, I enjoyed on a slice of toast. I don’t want to lapse into a “lived in a rolled-up newspaper” contest. We are not quite talking post-war here, and although rationing existed in my childhood I don’t really remember it. In fact, things were probably improving as far as my war-weary parents were concerned. They were on the property ladder and my father had a good job. My mother’s problem – and I see this now in hindsight – was that she wasn’t a very good cook. I was aware that cooking could be of a higher standard, because her own mother, my nan, was better. Mind you, she had the wonderful produce of a Lincolnshire garden to play with. She also deployed brown sugar from a blue bag, something that seemed to elude my poor mum. So there we have it. My diet was constrained by the ingredients available and my mother’s lack of skill (and interest, I now think) in the kitchen. It must have been so boring for her to come up with meals from scratch every day. Shopping bags had to be made of durable materials in those days, so frequently were they used. There were flashes of pleasure: a lemon meringue, home-made chips, tinned peaches with condensed milk, but, alas, the picture was more one of boiling cabbage, plain cakes and indifferent pastry.

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The Ghost of Hougoumont

Bassman, Going Postal

The Duke of Wellington has many remarks attributed to him, but most are likely to be inventions of Victorian romanticism: early fake news. One thing we can be sure he did say, because he wrote it, was that the success of the battle of Waterloo turned upon the closing of the gates of Hougoumont. This famous action was painted almost a century later by Robert Gibb of The Thin Red Line and other war paintings. What was the importance? I’m sure many of you are aware of it, but it bears repeating that Wellington’s right wing rested on the farm complex which stood almost half way between the opposing lines. Over the years historians have argued that Napoleon intended only to mask the farm with enough of a threat to draw forces away from Wellington’s centre, allowing for a crushing infantry assault. In fact, the reverse happened and the struggle over the farm became a drain on French manpower. Others contend that Napoleon was fully committed to occupying the stronghold and to roll up the English line. There is no room for debate over Wellington’s view of the outpost’s importance. He sent an aide-de-camp twice to ensure that his order to hold the farm at any cost was quite understood.

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Pataphysics: the science of imaginary solutions

“Joan was quizzical, studied pataphysical science in the home.” So warbled a winsome Paul McCartney in one of his most loathed compositions “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer”. Lennon despised it and McCartney wore out the last of his dwindling credit with the band by insisting on a marathon studio session to get it right.

The pataphysical reference did not gain much traction at the time, but those in the know were pleased to hear the word uttered at all. It was one of those rare occasions in my life when I was indeed “in the know.” I was studying French at Leeds University in the late 60s, and the department was populous enough to warrant an annual student-produced play. I have to say that the onset of my intake caused a considerable earthquake. We suddenly descended on the faculty in a flurry of hair, denim and attitude. Pipe-smoking, sports coat-wearing staff and students looked upon us like modern men must have observed a tribe of Neanderthals shambling into view. We were trouble. Forced to live in digs terrorised by craggy landladies, we took on the establishment for the right to live wherever we chose – and won. We lacked deference. We were surly to lecturers who preened and primped around in a bubble of secure academia. We were overtly lazy. We drank heavily in the Union Bar. Substances were inhaled. We started a band (with me, a left-hander, using an upside down bass.) Not a pretty picture, but it turned out that we were the future. The individual who had hitherto produced the French plays decided to stand down, and the mantle passed to yours truly. The choice of play was obvious: Ubu Roi by Alfred Jarry.

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Snouts in the EU trough

Cameron’s place is assured

Most, if not all, of us on here enjoy a good rant against the relentless Gravy Train and its on-board trough entertainment, but how many of you have had the chance to dip your snout into it? Well, back in the early nineties I experienced some of the largesse at a junior level. It went something like this:

As a career civil servant in the Home Office Immigration and Nationality Department (as it was then known) I had relatively few jobs, since for quite a long time expertise and experience in the handling of the casework was highly valued, and promotion could be achieved through competence. Then a different kind of management began to move in: types who had no intention of dirtying their hands with something as unpleasant and difficult as casework, and who eventually skewed the job so that almost anything other than casework was more highly valued and rewarded. These people replicate themselves so well that caseworkers like me who saw through the flimsiness of their approach began to be regarded as The Awkward Squad. They would come up with ways to devalue the case-working procedures, we would point out how it couldn’t possibly work, and, hey presto, we were the villains of the piece (“unhelpful intervention”…”unacceptably negative” etc etc). I’m sure that many of you are familiar with the way that “functional experts” are frozen out to the advantage of those who have no wish to master the work, but who do wish to be seen floating about proposing worthless “initiatives” and the “way forward”, before moving onward and upward to what we old hands wryly referred to as “proper jobs” – i.e. non-immigration.

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