Monthly Archives: June 2011

Pls Mr Postman…….

Two big events in the house since I returned from a week in a very hot Andalucia; first of all, news that Hannah, the daughter of my mate Adrian and her ‘young man’, Matt are getting married.  Apparently, he whisked her off to the top of some hill in the Lake District and proposed, so whether it was the altitude or something else, she said ‘Yes!’.  Actually, everyone who knows these two is delighted – they stand out from the usual milling throng of twenty-somethings as a ‘proper’ couple – it was just meant to be really.  Hannah is a delight; beautiful, smart and funny in equal measure, whilst Matt, apart from being a United fan, is a solid, no-nonsense ‘bloke’ who comes from Whitehaven and likes his beer and his football and his music.  They are a very good match.

What has really tickled me about this though, is the way I found out about it.  Hannah’s best mate is the Partner’s niece,  Eddy,  and she has already been asked to be a ‘maid of honour’ (whatever one of those is) at the wedding in 2 years time.  She had been sworn to secrecy about the whole thing, so predictably, she bottled up this huge secret for all of 24 hours before getting on the phone to her favourite Auntie to spill the beans.  The Partner is congenitally incapable of keeping anything secret, so Eddy might just as well have taken out a full page ad in ‘The Guardian’.  I think there may have been a fair bit of this going on because within another 24 hours Hannah had sent out a text message to the inner circle of friends and family announcing the glad news – news that most people probably already knew. 

Being a complete Luddite where much of this new technology is concerned, I found this a fairly extraordinary step.  To me the growth and dominant position of the whole texting thing in the lives of today’s youngsters is already something quite remarkable.  It seems somehow to have led to an apparent inability to make firm arrangements; everything is fluid and interim  – ‘I’ll text you when I’ve finished here’ I hear the Princess say to her mates on the phone.  Then they text her back ‘Sorry got held up -txt U later’, so she sits down to watch a movie awaiting the next text, after which it’s usually ‘2 late now – txt U in the morning’  And so it goes on.  Without wishing to get too fogey-ish about this, when I was that age, you arranged to meet someone on the steps of All Saints Church at 1230 and that was it.

Although I’m aware of my Luddite tendencies and try to embrace all this stuff (up to a point), I did find the decision to communicate something as life-changing as a decision to get married via a text message (with all its attendant abbreviations) quite startling.

To render things yet more complex, Matt’s proposal occurred at a time when (purely by chance) Hannah’s parents were on holiday in Greece, so perhaps he texted Adrian in Cephalonia to gain consent – ‘Pls can U give yr consent to Han & I getting hitched?’  The mind boggles…..

Actually, just to show that not everything can be facilitated via social networking sites, there will be a traditional Engagement Party here in Birmingham next weekend, so confused, elderly types like me will be able to make some sense out of it all…..

The second big event of the week came yesterday, with the Princess getting the results of her Finals.  This, too, has become an event mediated via the Web.  The Princess was up and about surprisingly early yesterday morning and trying – unsuccessfully to log on to her Uni website/intranet to get her results… no avail, so many of her peers were trying to do just the same that the site was continually crashing.  By mid-morning, levels of anxiety were edging upwards just a fraction, especially when the Princess was fielding some incoming texts from colleagues who had managed to get through to obtain their results.

It was at this moment that the postman arrived and included in his delivery was an official looking envelope for the Princess.  This was, of course, the snail-mail version of her results and for all that I was delighted that she got the 2.1 she was hoping for, I was also predictably and rather smugly amused that for all that she lives in a wired world of tweets and texts and e-mail, it was a far more traditional ‘platform’ that offered her the news that she wanted so badly.

Spanish Castle Magic

LTSN is going on a temporary hiatus as I’m off with my Dad for a week’s tour of the major Moorish cities of Andalucia.  As an ‘independent traveller’ of many years standing, this is going to be pretty odd for me as we are going on an organised coach trip, but when travelling with an 86-year old, I think that it’s a case of ‘the fewer surprises, the better’.  

With no transport or accommodation issues to worry about, most of the imponderables in the scenario are duly removed – and I feel that this has to be a sensible arrangement for all concerned. Luckily, I’ve visited all of these cities and sites before, so whilst I may not get as long as I might like to stroll round the Generalife Gardens in Granada, it’s not as though I haven’t been there before – and indeed might well return at a later date.  After all, it’s the kind of place that will repay repeated visits.

Inside the Alhambra…..

For my Dad, most of this trip will be breaking new ground.  Amazingly, he’s never been to Spain before, though he was in Gibraltar quite regularly during the Second World War.  For a man who saw at least as much of the world  between 1941 and 1945 as I have in my 50-odd years, he (and my late Mother) could be incredibly blinkered about where they would or wouldn’t go on holiday.

I’ve blogged previously about the composer Frederick Delius and how I grew up in a house filled with (recorded or broadcast) classical music.  Another house favourite was Manuel de Falla’s lush romantic tone poem, ‘Nights in the Gardens of Spain‘, first performed in Madrid in 1915 and subject to frequent airings throughout my childhood.  Although Falla was born in Cadiz, he had clearly visited the Moorish cities of Andalucia and absorbed something of their unique atmosphere.  In fact, following the First World War, Falla actually moved to Granada and spent 18 years living there before escaping Franco’s brave new fascist state in 1939 to live in Argentina.  He resisted numerous lucrative invitations to return to Spain and died in Argentina in 1946.  His remains were returned to Spain and interred in the cathedral in Cadiz.  So, a man of principle as well as a great composer….¡no pasaran!

Anyway, the lush soundscapes of ‘Nights in the Gardens of Spain’ always went down well in our house and I, for one, determined that I would visit one day to see if the place was worthy of such a lush and evocative piece of music.  It was, and then some, but that’s not really the point; my folks were early adopters of European holidays and visited Belgium, Holland & Germany on more than one occasion even before I was born.  I distinctly recall hearing the saga of how my Dad’s Hillman Minx was loaded on to a plane at Lydd Airfield (near Ashford in Kent) and flown across the Channel to France – now that was adventurous stuff for the 1950’s!  All the more surprising, therefore, that they became so conservative in their holidaying habits as they got older. 

They became caravanners, which I suppose goes some way to explaining this conservatism; easier after all to hitch up the van and drive to Cornwall or Scotland than contemplate a gruelling three-day drive to Andalucia or Italy.  Mind you, they did take their ‘van’ abroad to Germany and Switzerland and northern France, but rarely ventured further south – and never with the caravan in tow.  However the caravan doesn’t explain why they never visited Ireland – a country they would have loved had they given it a chance.  The answer of course is that they chose to put on blinkers – and pretty xenophobic ones at that.  Ireland was full of mad bombers who hated the English and just wanted to kill us all.  Spain was full of English drunks throwing up all over the place.  Italy had beautiful art and buildings but was full of arse-pinching Lotharios who wanted to rip you off.  As for anything further afield – Morocco, Egypt, Greece – these places were right next door to the Seventh Circle of Hell.

To be fair to my Mum, she never dealt well with heat and would have struggled to cope in the summer temperatures encountered in Andalucia or Provence, but Germany – a favoured destination for many years – can also get pretty toasty in August and she seemed to survive that OK.  So, in the end,  I am reluctantly compelled to conclude that it was largely blind prejudice that kept my folks from exploring the wonders of the Alhambra and the Alcazar of Seville, not to mention many other cities and landmarks of Mediterranean Europe.

Anyway, when my Dad started to hint that he wouldn’t mind taking a holiday with me in tow, the best he could come up with was a fortnight in Scotland or Cornwall – places that carry a good deal of emotional freight for him; he and my Mum would have long caravanning holidays in both places once they both retired – at 61 in my Dad’s case.  Whilst I love my Dad to bits, I will confess that the prospect of a fortnight in either Scotland or Cornwall had very little appeal where Cornwall is concerned and none whatsoever where Scotland is concerned.


A fortnight of this?  Don’t think so….

Cornwall is a place to take your kids; the further down the peninsula you go, the closer the beaches on both coasts.  I remember when we used to take the Princess down there – we regularly stayed in Stithians, a typically ramshackle Cornish village on the high ground between Falmouth (to the south) and St Ives (to the north).  After breakfast each morning, I would go outside and check where the weather was coming from.  If it looked cloudier to the north, we would head for the south coast, clouds to the south and we would head north.  It wasn’t infallible, but pretty nearly so and we were able to take advantage of Cornwall’s spectacular micro-climates.  One afternoon, I spent  a couple of hours messing about in the surf at Porthcurno beach with the Princess; the sun beat down – it was glorious.  All dried off, we jumped in the car and headed up the hill out of Porthcurno village to the point where the road joins with the main Land’s End- Penzance route.  As we neared the junction, the sky ahead was battleship grey and by the time we turned on to the main Penzance road, a mean drizzle was blowing in from the northwest.  Two miles behind us, the sun still blazed down on Porthcurno beach.

Personally, I wasn’t convinced that a fortnight of fish and chip cafes and picturesque harbours was viable for us, but at least that was a better bet than Scotland, where my Dad spent a disastrous 3 weeks last autumn.  It had initially seemed like such a good idea.  He was going to base himself in Oban for about 10 days, buy a CalMac pass so that he could hop on and off all the Hebridean ferries, then travel slowly across to the northeast coast via Glencoe and Loch Ness to see his sister who lives just outside Elgin.  A lot of driving for a man just turning 86, but he felt confident enough to do it and I figured it was better for him than to be stuck at home all summer.

Anyway, things did not go well: in chronological order, he had terrible weather for most of his Oban stay, had his car clipped by an over-enthusiastic 4 x4 driver, developed a horrible chest infection and rounded it off by having a major (and probably terminal) falling-out with his sister.  Two weeks revisiting his misery north of the border had very little appeal, on top of which, whilst Scotland (especially the northwest) is stunningly beautiful, you must have good weather,  because if you don’t there’s really not a lot else to do away from the major towns and cities.  On top of that, I have been slowly fashioning some blinkers of my own when it comes to visiting Scotland.  I had a lot of childhood holidays up there and loved it despite the weather.  The people were always great, too, but post-‘Braveheart‘, I have noticed a distinct ‘hardening’ of Scottish attitudes where the English are concerned and though one of my dearest friends is now semi-resident up there, my enthusiasm for visiting the place has slowly ebbed away to almost zero.  Ah well; it’s a big world, as Joe Jackson observed and in my life, I’ve spent enough time in Scotland.  Certainly, the idea of a fortnight up there with Dad was a non-starter.

Definitely don’t want any Caledonian murk….

And so to the internet….I did some research and found out fairly quickly that there could well be some coach tours out there that would fit the bill – especially the Andalucian round trip that we are about to embark upon.  Not a hint of ‘Y viva Espana’ but instead a week-long tour around the principal cities and sights of Al-Andalus: Malaga, Granada, Cordoba and Sevilla.  There’s even a short stop in Gibraltar on the final day, which will allow my Dad to re-visit another of his wartime haunts. 

Gibraltar’s docks in their Imperial heyday

5 years or so ago, he and I did a month’s trip to Sri Lanka, where we revisited a lot of places where he had been stationed out there and even visited the Commonwealth Cemetery near Trincomalee where Bill Allen, his best Fleet Air Arm mate was buried.  One of his comments about Sri Lanka was how in some ways, very little had changed since his time there in the War, but I suspect that he will not be able to say the same about Gibraltar.  Of course, the unique topography of the Rock means that some things cannot change, but I think he will find that the ‘business end’ of the port has been totally transformed, with the old Naval Dockyards demolished and re-imagined as marinas and blocks of luxury apartments.  At least the hostility of the Gibraltarians towards their Spanish neighbours appears undiminished and the Barbary Apes still perch atop the rock picking up the scent of Africa on the sea breeze plus anything the tourists choose to throw their way.

Gibraltar’s harbour today…..

I’m looking forward to the trip on the whole, though travelling with an 80-something isn’t always a barrel of laughs.  Still, I will go well-equipped with a selection of books and a fully-charged iPod.  The only issue now is the weather – apparently it was 99 Fahrenheit in Malaga yesterday. Now that is going to be a bit challenging….

Listening to Susanne Sundfør

25-year old Susanne Sundfør comes from Haugesund, a small port town on the southwestern Norwegian coast between Stavanger and Bergen. She has become a big star in her native Norway, yet is a relative unknown elsewhere – having listened to her 2010 album ‘The Brothel’, I have a feeling that this is something that is likely to change pretty rapidly. 

‘The Brothel‘ is  Sundfør’s third album and sees her working with some of the leading movers and shakers of the Norwegian music scene.  When I first played the album, the opening minute or so of the title track sounds like  an out-take  from a Susannah & the Magical Orchestra CD.  Not surprising, therefore that S&MO keyboardist Morten Qvenild is one of the musicians in evidence here.  Also present are Jaga Jazzist leading lights, brothers Lars and Martin Horntveth, with Lars also producing the album.

 The S&MO reference is probably inevitable but ultimately misleading because  Sundfør’s music is far more expansive than their studied minimalism and unlike S&MO, she writes all her own material.  Helpfully for many of us, she sings in English and whilst the lyrical content is varied and impressionistic, there are deep seams of sensuality running though most of these songs.  This is matched by the instrumentation and arrangements.  Sundfør embellishes her beautiful, powerful voice and multi-tracked self-harmonising  with both guitar and keyboards, but the album also makes impressive use of Lars Horntveth’s multi-instrumentalism and Morten Qvenild’s synth washes, along with a string quartet and trademark bursts of tympani and percussion.

‘The Brothel’ is a great album, and it’s very much a rock album.   Sundfør’s influences are not immediately obvious, but would probably include Radiohead, Jeff Buckley and Björk as well as classical choral composers such as Palestrina; the latter offering evidence of her classical training.

She has had considerable success in Norway, first achieving fame through live shows at Norwegian festivals, followed by a number of TV appearances on NRK.  In 2008, she created  further controversy when she won the ‘Spellemannprisen’ ( Think Norwegian ‘Grammy’) for best female performer, but when accepting the award, she remarked “I am first and foremost an artist, and secondly a woman”, a dig at the chauvinism that women performers always have to endure in the course of such events.  All of this has made her quite a celebrity in her homeland and the local press have been falling over themselves in praise of ‘The Brothel’.  Sundfør won the prize again in 2010 – as ‘Best Popular Composer’ this time.  No ‘gender specifics’ to worry about there….

The fact that Sundfør chooses to sing her lyrics in English would suggest that she aspires to reach a much wider audience and ‘The Brothel’ offers compelling evidence that she may well be able to achieve that aim.  She has recently completed a European tour supporting singer-songwriter  Thomas Dybdahl and will soon surely find people to champion her cause in both the UK and the USA.

You can watch/listen to the video for the title track from ‘The Brothel’ here: