The Plastic Hippo

January 29, 2013

One day without you

Filed under: Music — theplastichippo @ 7:00 pm

Image via - Paul Reid

Image via – Paul Reid

Four years ago today, Iain David McGeachy OBE died. Better known as John Martyn, he successfully divided the human race into two distinct groups; those that have never heard of him and those that adore his music.

Way back in 1973, he made an appearance on the Old Grey Whistle Test which was in those far off days the only television programme to air an alternative to The Sweet, Mud, The Osmonds and Dawn featuring Tony Orlando. Saving up the money from a Saturday job, I went to an independent record shop and bought the Solid Air album on vinyl and then played it to death. Fingers and a heart bled as I tried to emulate the hammer-on, pull-off percussive guitar style and 40 years later the technique has still to be mastered. It was only with the coming of the internet that I realised that the bastard was playing the stuff in DADGAD tuning which remains a black art to players like me who lack the imagination to progress beyond standard tuning and the ubiquitous three chord trick. That`s 25 years of trying to work out May You Never in standard tuning that I will never get back.

I first saw him live at a student union gig a few years later. I wasn`t quite a teenage girl screaming at a Bay City Rollers concert, but it was close. Back in a grotty student flat after the gig, the cheap acoustic came very close to being hurled out of the window. It was the same every time I saw him over the years in York, London, Bristol, Hull, Newcastle and Glasgow. How could anyone play so well and sing with a voice that could melt steel? For this unashamed devotee, his career seemed to have three distinct stages. First was the beautiful boy singer-songwriter breaking hearts with raw emotion. Then the rock star with sharp Armani suite and shades, hanging out with Clapton, Phil Collins and David Gilmour blowing people away with overdrive, Echoplex and swell pedal and then, sadly, a decline. In saw him at the Robin 2 in Bilston in 2006 and a few months later at the Fairport`s Cropredy festival. Overweight, unwell, looking very old and unfortunately missing a leg, his voice had deepened and his guitar occasionally out of time. It looked like the start of a long goodbye but that did not stop us worshipping the ground he now hopped on. I last saw him at Symphony Hall in Birmingham a year later on his Solid Air revival tour which now seems like an insurance policy for his wife and kids.

Living a life of grace and danger he was, by all accounts, “difficult” at times. As is so often the case, outward aggression seems to have been a defence of inward sensitivity. There is a lovely story of a fan persuading his heavy metal buddies to go to a John Martyn gig. Utterly converted, the youths headed for the stage door in the hope of an autograph. Taking a chance, the missionary asked for a photograph of himself and the great man. As John Wayne left the building, the reply to the request was typically brusque. The fan, far from being humiliated achieved glory. “You lucky bastard”, said one of his mates. “You`ve just been told to f**k off by John Martyn.”

John Martyn was grumpy, bad tempered and sometimes nasty. He also wrote and performed some of the most moving songs we are ever likely to hear. After four years, I still love the bad old bugger.

This from 1975 and Sunday`s Child:


January 28, 2013

Something in the air

Filed under: Politics,Rights,Society,Walsall — theplastichippo @ 1:14 am
Image via Chang W. Lee-New York Times

Image via Chang W. Lee-New York Times

On Sunday morning, the snow that lasted a week had finally gone. Hopefully, this will bring to an end the irritating background whine of complaints about gritting, bin collections and school closures. Some new distraction is required.

The end of the snow, at least for the present, means less frequent encounters with a rather feisty elderly neighbour a few doors down. For the sake of anonymity we shall refer to her as “Annie”. Since her husband died, Annie has lived alone and her children and grandchildren are making a life far away. As bright as a button and still very active, meetings with this lovely octogenarian usual consist of a cursory good morning as we pass in the street but, in the spirit of the big society and when the snow is on the ground, we knock on her door. The game of cat and mouse is always the same. First she is puzzled and then a little irritated that we should suggest that she is incapable of shopping for bread, milk, tea and cat food and after a somewhat curt thank you, the door is closed. By the second or third day the tone softens to: “Well only if you`re going shopping anyway”. By the fourth day we are drinking tea in her kitchen and it is clear that another human being to talk to is more precious than a bag of groceries.

Fiercely independent, she is imbued with a cheerful natural racism that only those old enough to have lived through a war against fascism are allowed to possess without vehement challenge. Her casual use of words and phrases that could start a fight in a pub display astonishing prejudice yet are strangely tolerated and shamefully ignored by this hunter-gatherer returning with three litres of blue top and a medium sliced loaf. There is innocence in what seems offensive that suggests the words she uses are just descriptors and not intended to be insults. She is, it would seem, simply retaining the language she learned growing up before and during the war. Understandably an admirer of Winston Churchill, she maintains old style working-class conservatism. That is, until recently. (more…)

January 25, 2013

Jeux sans frontieres

Filed under: History,Media,Politics,World — theplastichippo @ 4:34 am
Knock out

Knock out

No stranger to wearing a penguin suit and playing the joker, David Cameron is currently sliding around Davos at the World Economic Forum. The game he is playing is certainly without frontiers and the uncontrolled laughter is probably audible from outer space.

Cameron`s long delayed and much anticipated speech setting out the future of the UK and Europe was a masterpiece of comic timing. Presiding over zero growth, increased government borrowing, an imminent triple-dip depression and catastrophic austerity to maintain the lifestyles of his chums, our unelected leader`s vision was completely meaningless. Playing to a tiny, braying gallery of Tory newspaper editors, back bench dinosaurs and an increasingly deranged UKIP, Cameron managed to alienate an entire continent and the largest market in the world. Like watching a bad magician, it was obvious how the conjuring trick he was performing was done. By keeping the slow-witted distracted, he ensured that an in/out referendum will never happen. How we laughed as a polystyrene giant wearing weighted boots fell over.

The in/out referendum will never happen because it is dependent upon two distinct hypotheses. Firstly, the plan assumes that Cameron will be elected for a second term of government in 2015 with a clear Conservative majority. Given the woeful inaction of the current Labour party in opposition, this unlikely proposition has some credibility. However, it will not be Ed Miliband or his necessary successor that will unseat David; it will be a small coalition of vested interests that will persuade the team captain of le Royaume-Uni to undertake a series of lucrative lecture tours before becoming a European Commissioner. Once the Tory back benchers, newspaper editors and “influential” Tory donors who wrote The Times realise that they have been duped, Dave`s days are numbered. The in/out referendum is not going to happen. Add to this the possibility of irrelevant Liberal Democrats realising that Clegg is a Tory and dump him and we may find that the coalition government of Vereinigtes Konigreich collapses under the weight of its own shame and Liberals turn to Labour in the hope of avoiding extinction. (more…)

January 23, 2013

Blue Monday

Filed under: Politics,Rights,Society,Walsall,World — theplastichippo @ 2:21 am
Utter nonsense

Utter nonsense

Monday was a depressing day. Not because of some very spurious psychobabble invented by a bogus “scientist”, but because of the writhing of a dying society. We are sinking fast with little hope of redemption.

The failed Sky Travel channel invented the most depressing day of the year in an attempt to flog holidays. To do so, they recruited some shyster or other to legitimise the marketing plan with a meaningless formula. Within this complete bunkum, W=weather, d=debt, T= time since Christmas, Q=time since the failure of new year`s resolutions, M= low levels of motivation and Na= the realisation that action needs to be taken. Quite what D is equal to has never been defined or explained. Using nonsense masquerading as logic, it is little wonder that BSkyB pulled the plug on the ridiculous Sky Travel channel.

As Tom Jones might growl, it`s not unusual to feel a little bit down after Christmas but wistful melancholia is nothing compared to real depression and actual despair at what is happening and what is about to happen. Even after years of meaningless and illegal conflicts, Monday saw a British Prime Minister again standing before parliament talking of threats to national security and a mission to pursue and destroy terrorists wherever they are hiding. He said that this mission could take decades and described it as a “generational struggle”. As one military adventure ends in defeat, or tactical withdrawal if you prefer, another is about to begin. It`s oil and gas, you see; not the lives of British servicemen and women.

On Monday evening we were treated to news footage of a young man actually fighting in Afghanistan. He told us that his dexterity at computer games helped him in his tasks and how much he enjoyed serving his country and being one of the boys. Seated beside his aircraft, the suggested similarity to a Battle of Britain Spitfire pilot was perhaps a little over stage managed. All we needed was a scramble to allow the warrior prince to jump into his kite and get in amongst Jerry. You do not need to guess what happened next. With his tour of duty over and presumably enjoying another game of strip pool with some young lovelies, young ginger`s comments are not exactly helpful. There is more to being one of the boys than simply sitting at the sharp end of an Apache gunship shooting and killing people. Blue blooded talk of computer game death and taking a life to save a life will be of little comfort the next time one of the boys or girls walks into an IED or a madman explodes a rucksack on the streets of a British city. The following day, with the media full of the warrior prince, the MOD announced 5,000 redundancies.

Back in the House of Commons on Monday, Michael Gove continued to destroy education and later, MP`s voted to pass disgraceful “Welfare Reforms” into law. Tory MPs cheered as 200,000 more children are condemned to a life of poverty. They were, as usual, supported by the majority of abhorrent Liberal Democrats. To be fair, nine of them with a vague recollection of the concept of honour and honesty, voted with the opposition but 37 of the vermin gobbled the table scraps thrown to them by their masters and 11 of the bastards didn`t have the courage to turn up and vote. Roll on 2015 and good riddance. If the Liberal Democrats are below contempt, then the Labour front bench are rapidly descending to join them in the duplicitous mire. Miliband has consistently refused to say if he will reverse the madness of austerity for the poor and the comfortable and the obscenity of tax breaks and bonuses for the very, very wealthy. When talking head Stephen Timms seemed to suggest as well as opposing a one per cent benefits cap, Labour would restore the link to inflation; this stance was quickly spun back to the default Labour front bench position of saying nothing not very much. Instead of fighting for the welfare state, Labour seems to be coveting the emperor’s new clothes. (more…)

January 21, 2013

Invisible men

Image via Walsall Council

Image via Walsall Council

You can`t beat a good ghost story. Months beyond Halloween, it is deliciously chilling to know that spectres still haunt the streets of Walsall that are beyond the imaginations of Sheridan Le Fanu or even Edgar Allan Poe. The terrifying ghouls are invisible Walsall snow spirits.

To everyone`s great surprise, snow fell in winter on a small island just off continental northern Europe. Oh the humanity as car drivers trembling with fear at the covering of white ectoplasm used first gear and a floored accelerator in the hope of escaping the horror by spinning their wheels to polish snow into ice. If the “right foot make car go” boneheads cannot master driving in snow, what hope for them next week when the pot holes of Hell have opened up again. It is likely that the boy and girl racers lacking in the competence to drive to the conditions are the ones complaining of an absence of rock salt treatment to the highways and byways. Others, however, report experiencing ghostly visitations from huge yellow monsters spewing out grit in some malevolent attempt to keep the roads open. We might never be able to explain the presence of the creatures of the night on “the other side”. Mwuhahahaha…

Okay, Walsall does not boast of the best track record for gritting when the snow descends and the ice forms but, the ghost busters claiming that the roads received no grit seem to be as knowledgeable of physics as they are adept at driving in the white stuff. It seems that the amiable snow rider Brownhills Bob pointed out on the dreadful Facebook that rock salt was not magic and would probably not slaughter household pets. The reason that I don`t “do” Facebook is because it is difficult enough to cope with idiots on Twitter and apparently Bob`s sensible comments were removed from idiotville Facebook because of complaints by some very stupid people. The truth is out there, but some folk still believe in ghosts. (more…)

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